The key steps

This is a reference of all the key steps involved in doing high quality body work and paint.  There won't be much detail; that's what all the other posts help fill in.  But the big overview needs to be addressed.  

The big goal for the finished result is to have a vehicle that you can sight down the sides of and not be able to tell where panels start and stop, and not see any ripples of inconsistencies and completely flat paint.   So here are the key steps:

  • All the body panels must be assembled.  There is no body working one panel at a time.  The vehicle should be viewed as a whole, not individual panels.
  • Adjust panels as close as possible.  Then, use long pieces of aluminum flat stock or c-channel (depending on how stiff it needs to be) to lay on the sides of the vehicle.  These determine where all the high and low areas are, and will also show you where all the panel edges need to be moved out to.  Think of it as predicting where the body work will end up, and thin/metal panel edges are required.
  • Fill all low areas first, using the aluminum 'sticks' as a guide.  Always continuously use them to check your work and show what needs to be filled, and what needs to be blocked down.  Once the lows are brought up close to everything else, then bigger areas can be skimmed. 
  • One section at a time.  Establish one area at a time and build off of it.  A lot of times (not all the time) it is the doors.  Start you're body work there, and work your way out.  You need to get something established as 'straight' to work off of, otherwise it is too much back and forth with the body work.
  • Get the entire vehicle straight first.  Use the aluminum sticks as a guide the entire time.  Don't pay much attention to body lines and gaps.  All body work being in 80 grit and fully completed is step one.  Then, tape and straighten the body lines.  And finally, cut the panels gaps open and finalize the gaps.  Body lines and gaps are the very last things to be done.
  • Polyester primer.  Don't abuse it. Usually 5 coats.  Block it out with 100, 220, and 400.  Use a ton of dry guide coat.

  • Sealer & Paint.  Always seal.  And seal over the polyester.  Never panel paint the final base coat (unless it's black, no exceptions).  5-6 coats of clear coat.
  • Wet sand with 600, 1000, 1500, 2000 & 3,000
  • Buff