'Bolters helping 'Bolters is a beautiful thing!
You've completed your truck's rehab or restoration and it really looks great. Except there's one final touch needed -- the correct year license plate! Hard to find? Not if you're patient and know where to look. Once in hand, why pay some specialty place hundreds of dollars when Bill can show you how to ...
Restore your own License Plate!
(19 January 2008)
You can find good deals on eBay for old license plates. I was able to find a pair of 1958 Farm Truck plates in good -- not great -- condition for $9.50. NOS plates were listed at the same time for $150. The plates had surface rust, some waviness, and a couple of pinholes. The paint was faded and worn thin. [ Here's how I found them. ]
I first took the plates to my local tax office for them to inspect the plates and to run the numbers to verify that they were not in use. Their main interest was in the correct color scheme for the year. After the color was verified accurate, they ran the numbers and found them to be unused. Lastly, they suggested I “make the plates more readable” because they are required to make a photocopy of the plates when I register them. I took their suggestion to mean the numbers needed to be more white and the background needed to be more black.
I’m not sure if I "reconditioned" the plates or "restored" them. Regardless of the word, the plates are now approved by the State of Texas.
Taking away 50 years of wear
#1. First, collect your required materials. I used 240 grit sandpaper, rattle-can appliance epoxy for the numbers and letters, rattle can enamel for the background, rust sealer/converter, and 5-minute epoxy. All of these items are readily available at a good hardware store. After that, I straightened the plates the best I could, but I wasn’t able to do much.
Buying tip: flatness is probably more important than rust or holes because flatness can be difficult to repair, unlike rust and holes.
Next, I used 240 grit sandpaper and scuff-sanded the entire plate, paying particular attention to the non-flat areas, the numbers, and the pinholes.
#2. I then used 5-minute epoxy to fill the pinholes. After the epoxy cured, I sanded it flush with 240 grit sandpaper.
#3. Because it is easy to leave small areas of rust in recesses, hand-sanding isn’t the best solution to removing surface rust. In consideration of this, I coated the entire plate with rust converter to neutralize any remaining rust. This coating will seal and prime any areas that might have been missed.
#4. I painted the backside of the license plate [ see image ] the desired background color -- in this case, black. I used Rust-Oleum gloss enamel. (In hindsight, I believe semi-gloss would be preferred over gloss.) I painted the entire front side of the plate with gloss white Rust-Oleum appliance epoxy enamel [ see image ] , the desired color of the letters. I painted each side with several thin coats.
#5. I allowed the epoxy enamel to cure for five days. (To speed the cure, I placed the plates in my car and rolled the windows up to take advantage of the 130° temperature inside of the car.)
#6. After I was certain the epoxy was cured, I painted the front side of the plates with the background color, gloss black enamel. [ see image ] I put on a rather thick coat and allowed it to dry for about five minutes, so that it skinned-over. The timing is important for the next step -- if the paint gets too dry, it will be more difficult to remove it from the numbers.
#7. I rolled up a paper towel [ image ] to form a swab that was about the same size as a cigarette. I snipped the end straight [ see image ], dipped it in paint thinner, and then wiped the tops of the large letters. [ Here is a larger view of the image to the right. ]
This is a “progressive clean.” At first, you are just loosening the black paint. As the swab tip gets saturated with paint, just snip it off to get a clean tip to remove more of the paint from the letters. Eventually the letters will be clean and bright. [ see image ] I found it best to work from the center outward.
#8. The smaller letters are actually easier to work than the large letters, in my experience. The small letters tend to have more stiffness, so there is less waviness to them. The width of the letters is controlled by the force that you use to wipe to swab over them.
Another Stovebolter suggests to use fine sandpaper to remove the (black) background paint from the (white) numbers. I tried this technique with mixed results. When I used wet 1200 grit sandpaper and a gentle orbital action, I found that I removed white paint from the high spots before I removed all of the black paint, forcing me to touch-up the numbers. [ see image ]
I found for my application, I could remove the black paint best by using wet 1200 grit sandpaper with a very hard wiping action, not gentle orbital movement. I wiped outward from the center of the characters to remove the layer of black paint.
#9. Through my trial-and-error technique, I decided that my letters E and S were a little too wide compared to the E and the X. The top of the T was frustrating because the plate was bent at this location, and the stamp height was much less than the other letters. Because the letter tended to smear into the flat part of the plate, it was difficult to feel where the letter stopped. I masked off the letters I liked, [ see image ] then painted over the the T E and S for a second try. Success!!
#10. After cleaning thoroughly, a second thicker coat of black on the backside, and a couple of coats of clear on both front and back, the finish plates look much younger than 50 years old and will easily meet the requirements of my tax office.
OLD TRUCKS ROCK!