FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ABOUT VAPOR BLASTING
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What is “Vapor Blasting” exactly?
Vapor blasting is a surface refinishing process that was originally used by Rolls Royce in England many years ago, to clean and resurface aluminum jet engine parts to eliminate corrosion and facilitate inspection. It is quite simply cleaning via high-pressure surface blasting, but instead of dry abrasive media, it uses a slurry of water, compressed air, detergents and abrasive media. The vapor created is much gentler to soft aluminum than other processes, yet it will remove a microscopic layer of oxidized metal and corrosion. This process also seals the pores of the aluminum making it look better longer, and be more resistant to future corrosion. Vapor blasting differs from dry blasting in other respects as well – it will not dimensionally change a part, the media used is much finer and gentler, and the resulting surface is much smoother and shinier.
What is the process like?
It can vary a bit depending on the parts being refinished, but it generally follows this:
Your parts are inspected and photographed, and any potential issues identified and discussed.
Oily or greasy parts will get a trip through the parts cleaning sink to remove any heavy deposits of grease, sludge or oil before their trip through the blaster.
Engine oil passages, blind holes, and threads are plugged when possible as a precaution, through-holes generally are not.
Parts are then vapor blasted, then immediately rinsed with clear water, dried, and packed for shipment.
Finished parts are photographed before they are carefully packed and returned to you.
How big a part can I send?
The blast cabinet is 30 inches square, and has a carousel for heavier items. If it can fit in a 30-inch cube, send it!
How much will shipping my parts cost?
As of 1/1/2017 your return shipping is FREE, and we also offer deeply discounted inbound shipping label service that will save you around 50% over retail shipping rates at places like the UPS Store or PakMail. Visit the Vapor Blasting Order Form to request inbound shipping labels once your project is packed up and ready to go. See the Shipping Information page for more details on how this works.
Can I send steel parts?
This process is optimized for aluminum, but yes, we can. We routinely do steel and iron cylinders and heads and it is a good pretreatment for repainting, but ferrous metals will need to be painted or otherwise coated after vapor blasting, as ferrous metals are prone to flash rusting using this process. We use a vapor anticorrosion additive in the slurry that will forestall the nearly instant flash-rusting that would occur otherwise, and ferrous parts can also be treated with metal protectant after vapor blasting if they are not being otherwise coated.
How do I prepare my parts for Vapor Blasting?
Disassemble the parts, removing any brackets, bolts, bearings, dowel pins or any other ferrous metal parts you can. Threaded steel inserts, brake linings, iron cylinder liners, cylinder studs, valve seats and or pressed-in bearing surfaces obviously can’t be removed, we will immediately clean and treat these with protectant to prevent flash rust. If you find you cannot safely extract blind bearings or dowel pins in a few instances, leave those to us and we will take care of that for you.
Clean and remove the worst of any grease, gunk, sludge etc before sending parts, or you’ll just be paying us to clean them, adding time and expense to your project. Gaskets and heavy sealants must be removed prior to blasting – the blaster will not remove them.
If you’re shipping an engine or other whole assembly you may lightly bolt it back together for shipping if that makes it easier for you to pack it up. See the shipping instructions on the order form for more information. Or give us a call.
What is the finish like?
The finish can vary somewhat, depending on the condition and quality of the metal in the part, which can vary really widely. In general parts will emerge from the process with a very fine lustrous satin finish. This finish is fantastic as-is straight out of the blaster for many parts including cylinders and heads, valve covers, wheel hub centers, and just about any rough-cast engine parts commonly found on British, American and European motorcycles. Bolt it on.
Many vintage motorcycles had their diecast engine side covers finished to a smoother, flatter finish, what we'd call a 3/4 polish. Some hand finishing or polishing will be needed to restore that finish to those parts.
I am planning to repaint or polish my parts - should I have them vapor blasted first?
Vapor blasting is an outstanding prep step prior to painting or polishing that will save you a lot of time and help you get a better result. Vapor blasting will remove the super hard layer of oxidation and the remnants of factory paints or clearcoats, and reduce the amount of sanding needed to prepare for buffing. This helps preserve the original shape and fine detail of your valuable parts.
How long does it take?
1-3 days in shop is standard, but we would be happy to expedite your order if you need it sooner. Call anytime to discuss your project, we want you to be happy and well informed.
Services are billed by the hour ($80 per hour), and the time it takes to complete a project depends somewhat on the condition and cleanliness of the parts furnished. If we need to clean your parts or remove gaskets, bearings, or seals that will add a bit of time to your project. All projects are subject to a 1 hour minimum charge, billing is done in half-hour increments thereafter. Return shipping is free, insured, and tracked. Visit this page for a slideshow of representative projects and pricing. Or better yet contact us or use the quote request form - we'd be glad to talk about your project anytime.
Tell me all the secrets, techniques, materials and helpful tricks and tips
Everyone that does this work has their own “Special Sauce” and we’ve got ours too. We’ve had parts blasted by other outfits to see where we stand. The answer is, “As good as any, better than some”.
What can possibly go wrong?
This process results in a very fine lustrous satin finish. It’s important to know that up front, so your expectations are properly set. As prior, quite a lot of parts look fantastic as-is straight from vapor blasting, to assemble or bolt right on. Some parts will need additional hand finishing to look just right, and there are different techniques and materials that are used to replicate original factory appearance, if you’re trying to achieve a certain look or finish.
Once in a while there are surprises lurking under the ‘patina’ of old parts. Vapor blasting reveals all, and in fact that was its original purpose – to facilitate cleaning and inspection of critical parts. Old metal parts frequently have scratches, gouges, pits and pockmarks that are much harder to see on oxidized or dirty old aluminum. When they emerge from the blaster they are front and center in all their glory. Existing cracks or other damage that were formerly unseen will emerge – and while that is sometimes a bummer, it’s good to know before something gets put back into service.
Some parts of Japanese motorcycle engines in particular were painted at the factory, or sprayed with a clearcoat that is usually yellowed and flaking by now on bikes that have seen the outside of a garage. Once that’s stripped away, any casting flaws or dings or pits will be easier to see. But a freshly vapor blasted part is going to look different than a formerly painted or clear-coated part. Just know up front what you’re going to get from this process and you’ll probably be delighted with the result.
Will every atom of corrosion be removed from my parts when they are returned to me?
We have to advise you, sometimes the answer is no. Once in a while a spot of old paint or corrosion deep in a crevice can't be dislodged without 'parking' the blast gun over the surface for too long, resulting in a 'hot spot' that is undesirable. If it's in a highly visible location we will stop and clean it by hand, then resume blasting, but if it's between fins or on the underside of the engine (for example) where it is unlikely to be seen, we may leave it. We will also spend a lot more time on the OUTSIDE of components looking for a new-looking appearance then we will on the inside. View the example galleries closely and you'll see, we left some light discoloration on the inside of some engine cases because we don't think it's worth more of your money to make those as spotless as the outside.
How to you prevent blast media from becoming trapped in my parts?
With regard to blast media, the first order of business is to start with a clean part, including in the oil passages and galleries, which are very thoroughly cleaned. Oil and other engine passages are then plugged or masked. Any part with a thread is also plugged to prevent media from lodging in the threads. After vapor blasting parts are immediately rinsed, several times, and then dried with compressed air. Then the plugs and masking are removed and the process is repeated. It is however the customer's responsibility to verify that no blast media is present and the parts are ready to be put back into service.
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