Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

Ultimate Playfield Restore - Clear Coating a Playfield Ultimate Playfield Restore - Clear Coating a Playfield Hot

Ultimate Playfield Restoration Guide

  1. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Getting Started
  2. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Repairing Inserts
  3. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Advanced Repair
  4. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
  5. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Advanced Touch-Up Painting
  6. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Clear Coating a Playfield

This is part six of a six part series on doing a high-end playfield restoration.  This article covers the equipment and techniques necessary to apply automotive clear coat to a playfield.  For an overview of the process see the Ultimate Playfield Restoration Guide.

  1. Equipment
  2. Playfield Preparation
  3. Selecting the Clear Coat
  4. Clear Coating the Playfield
  5. Questions and Answers


The investment is quite small, as long as you can borrow someone's compressor.  Way under $75.  You spend $150 on a plastic ramp, so by comparison, this stuff is cheap!

You'll need an air compressor with a bigger size tank, 30 gallons or larger (nobody ever complained they bought too large of a compressor).  That's the High Volume part of High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP).  If you are going to get a really big air compressor to use with air tools and the like (60-80-100 gallon), don't get a crappy aluminum head Husky or Craftsman. 

Get a real iron headed compressor (like a Saylor-Beall, see Image 1) used on Craigslist.  It will outlast you and cost less than the Husky.  The iron headed compressors can be completely rebuilt, unlike the aluminum.  Look for USA made.

You'll need a water separator, you'll need a moisture filter that installs at the gun, you'll need a regulator that installs at the gun (you don't want to keep walking back to the compressor) an you'll need the HVLP gun.

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Ultimate Playfield Restore - Clear Coating a Playfield

Of course once you have a nice sized air compressor, you can wet sand pneumatically and get the playfield really flat.

An oil-less compressor sounds like a good thing ,but its not.   They just don't last long and tend to be really noisy.  A regular compressor will need an oil change after so many hours, but will last 10x as long before a rebuild is necessary.

When buying a used air compressor, first download the manual and find out how long it takes to recharge the tank from zero.   Then look online for valve rebuild kits and don't buy a compressor that does not have them commonly available.

Drain the tank, then time how long the recharge takes. If it is within a minute or two of the manual, you are probably in good shape.  If you take the head off and run it for 5 minutes (I know what you are thinking, it won't hurt anything), you should not see a puddle of oil forming above the pistons.  If you do, it needs new rings.

If it takes forever to recharge, and the rings are good, you probably need new valves.  You can order a valve kit (for good compressors, probably not the Husky) or take it to any local compressor shop.

The shop won't want the whole thing, just bring them the head.  They will put new valves in it and send you home with a new gasket to use when you put the head back on.

For home use, a real air compressor, rebuilt, with yearly oil changes and a belt every so often, will probably last 15 years before another rebuild is necessary.

Playfield Preparation


Selecting the Clear Coat

I restored a Dupont guy's machine who wanted everything stock.

I mentioned Diamond Plate and it's secret formula and he just laughed and said there are no secrets at Dupont.  A week or so later, I've got 5 gallons of the stuff on my doorstep.  It dries really hard, you can tell when you are sanding.  It's pretty "hot" stuff, so I still prefer JC661 with fast JH6670 hardener for many repairs.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Dang.. just bought this compressor yesterday.  Will this do the job just more slowly or MUST you get a large 30 gallon compressor?

Answer:  Sorry Joe, that compressor only puts out 3.8 CFM (maybe) and you are going to need more.

The problem is that compressors overrate their output, and spray guns underrate their air consumption.

If you were refinishing chairs, you would do a lot of start-stop spraying as you rotate the piece, so the compressor might have a little time to charge back up.

But a playfield requires you to do long, even shots as you flood and overlap the surface.  You don't want to be caught waiting for the compressor to charge back up as your last pass starts to catalyze.

An experienced shooter can eek out a little more performance from a small compressor and an expensive gun, but that is not you (yet), so hit Craigslist and get a real compressor.

Just for a worst case scenario: figure that a HF cheap gun needs to run @ 6 CFM and 47 PSI to smoothly shoot Shopline JC 661 clear.

Question:  What type of clear coat paint do you recommend?

Answer:  For a beginner, nothing is easier to lay down and get perfect than JC660.

Question:  Where can I buy the JC661 and Hardener?

Answer:  Any PPG auto paint dealer will have it.

Question:  So would you recommend doing all the paint touch ups, then clearcoating, then applying decals, then clearcoating again? Or clearcoat, decals and touch ups, then clearcoat?

Answer:  Usually I remove Mylar, Magic Eraser, and scrape paint off worn inserts.  Then I put down a light coat of clear, which will:

  1. Lock down worn wood fibers, letting the paint adhere cleanly, without fuzz or texture.
  2. Lock down existing paint - so masking tape and frisket don't lift paint and make more work for me.
  3. Fill in planking and swirl. Sometimes the tiny cracks simply fill in and do not need further painting. 
  4. A new coat of clear highlights low spots that need to be brought up so the playfield is dead flat.  A quick run of 220 grit sandpaper over the field will show much work needed.  If you see shine, that spot is low!