How To Paint Your F-150 Tailgate Handle
This tech article was originally posted at FordF150.net. It is primarily intended for Ford trucks but the processes most likely also apply to other vehicles.
1. Removing the handle: The first step is removing the handle from the tailgate. This is done by removing the eight Torx head screws that hold the access panel on.
After removing the access panel you will be left with a clear view of the inner workings of the tailgate handle.
The handle is held in by the two nuts seen on to both sides of center in the above picture. At this point it helps to have some body else that can hold the handle in so that it does not scratch anything when it is free. Undo the nuts and the handle will drop out. Now that you have the handle you can take it over where you can work on it easier. The final step before prepping the handle for paint is to remove the locking cylinder. release the U clip that holds it in place and the cylinder can be lifted out. Now you're ready to prep the handle.
2. Preparing the Handle for Priming: You need to sand the texture off the handle so that it is smooth and will match the rest of the body when painted. I started using 200 grit to knock down the bumps and then ended with 600 using some water to ease things along. Your goal here is to make the handle smooth, but you need to leave some surface irregularities so that the primer will take to the surface. Also, just to be safe you should tape off anything you do not want painted at this point. Sorry I did not take a picture of the handle after sanding, but this is pretty straight forward. After you are satisfied that the surface is smooth and free from texture clean the handle up with a lint free cloth. I used denatured alcohol to get all the plastic dust off. From this point on it is important that you do not touch the handle or contaminate the paint at all.
3. Priming the Handle: Your goal for this step is to create a solid base for the color coat. This is the first paint application so be sure to read the directions on how the primer should be applied. Also, be sure you use a primer that is formulated for use on plastics. It will have a flex agent that allows the paint to expand and contract as the surface changes. Follow the directions for application that are found on the can of primer. I sprayed 4 or 5 coats so that I was sure I had covered the entire surface. Between coats I lightly scuffed the surface so that there was some texture for the primer to "grab" on to.
After allowing adequate time for the primer to dry (as per the directions on can) you are ready to move onto the base coat.
4. Spraying the Base Color Coat: This is when it finally starts to look good. I got the paint I used at a local auto parts store. There is a catalog that you look up your factory paint code in and it gives you the spray paint code to use. Our trucks require that we use clear coat to get an exact factory match. More about that later. As with the primer it is important that you spray thin even coats that cover the entire surface. You want a uniform cover, without runs or build ups. Here is the handle after the first coat of base color. As you can see the color barely shows up. It will wake a couple coats to build a solid base:
Be sure to read and follow the directions on the can and wait the suggested time between coats to allow the paint to cure. Between the first few coats of base color I lightly scuffed the surface as I did with the primer. This allows for good adhesion of the paint. Here is the handle after another coat of color, you can start to see the red now:
For the last couple of coats refrain from marring the surface as any imperfections could show through the final coat of base color. Your last coat of color should be perfect. The handle should look completely smooth and should be a close match to the factory paint without the gloss.
5. The Final Step to Create a Prefect Paint Match: In order for the paint to match perfectly you need to clear coat it. This makes the color perfect and also adds the glossy deep finish of the factory paint. This step calls for two coats after allowing the base color to completely dry. The first coat is just like the paint, nice and thin with even coverage.
As you can see the first coat really helps dress it up quite a bit. After waiting the appropriate amount of time I applied the final coat. According to my instructions it is supposed to be a liberal "wet" coat that completely seals the handle and gives the glossy look. I found that it is really important to go heavy on this coat. I wish I would have put a bit more on. So spray it on as thick as you can.
At this point you are done with the leg work. Allow the clear to dry completely and then enjoy your much cleaner looking tailgate. A few tips:
- If you can finish the handle up at night and leave the handle in a protected place until the morning when you install it. This way you know it is dry and you won't damage it at all.
- Let the paint cure for a week before you wash it or try to polish it or anything like that.
- Set aside a whole day on the weekend to get this done. Spray a coat and then go and do another chore that you have to do so that the paint can dry completely. It will be much tougher and look better if you take your time.
- Periodically throughout the painting process tip the can up side down and depress the spray button for a few seconds. This will keep the nozzle clear so you do not get any blobs flying onto your piece.
- Look for other body pieces to paint!
I regret that I did not take a picture of the handle on the truck before I painted it, but you all know what that looks like. So here is the final product installed. It was kind of late when I finished so I apologize for the under exposure, but you'll get a chance to see what it looks like in person when you finish up your handle. Have fun!