Painting Advice Needed


I've been reading archived messages about painting for the past couple of days. None of them have answered a few simple questions I have so I figured I'd ask some of the finishing experts here if they could help me out. I'd appreciate any wisdom you have to offer.
I've been restoring an old video arcade machine. The cabinet is wood, which I've primed and painted with an oil based enamel. I've done a lot of sanding in between coats and have wet-sanded the latest coat of paint with 1500 grit paper. I have a glass smooth surface with some minor scratching from the sanding. I need one final coat of paint before painting some stencils and will then clear coat.
So on to my questions. After the final base coat, should I rub that coat with 0000 steel wool or just leave it alone? I can spray a good finish without rubbing it but since I plan to clear coat I would assume I should rub it first. Should I wait until the stenciled graphics are painted on and then rub the whole thing with steel wool before clear coating? What should I clear coat with? Would clear coating cover any minor dulling/scratching caused by the 0000 steel wool?
I'm going for a clean, glossy finish. I'm using an HVLP setup and have finally figured out how to get a perfect coat of paint out of it. I'm just not sure how to finish up the paint before clear coating.
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I'm doing the same types of restoration. Can't answer your core questions, but based on what I know:
- you are restoring original art (via the stencil)? Frankly, the original paint jobs were probably nowhere near as nice as what you are doing. A perfectly smooth (glass) job will be far better than the original. That also means that a 'rougher' texture is also original quality.
- for a clear coat, I've been told that an automotive clear coat is ideal. It is thin and hard. You might stop by an auto paint supply store or paint shop and see what they suggest. I would think that you want the clear coat over the restored art - thus the last coat you put on the cabinet.
- On the HVLP side, what equipment to you use? Care to share any tips? I'm researching HVLP units and trying to decide on which unit is best for this type of work.
- you might also check with Brian at rgvac.com - restoration is his specialty.
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I know the finish will turn out better than the original. It's hard to duplicate the original so I figured I'd do it up better. This is a Williams cab so they were glossy and covered with lacquer or poly. Not sure which. I'm just not sure if the scratches left by 0000 steel wool on paint will be covered up with a clear coat. I've never clear coated so I'd hate to see that it just enhanced scratches on the paint.

I'm using a cheap Chicago Electric setup from Harbor Freight. It's the same one woodcraft sells (see link below). I got mine at a Harbor Freight sale for $69 and it's worth the price. Like any spray equipment, the key is learning to use it right. The media has to be thinned out significantly, like with most sprayers. The manuals usually recommend the consistency of cream but I thin it more like milk. That gives it perfect atomization and the flow rate I like. No large spots or spatters. I also find that using Penetrol helps paint even out on the piece. It seems to eliminate orange peel when it's used right.
Before anyone flames my cheap sprayer, let me say that I know it's not top of the line and may lack the durability and longevity of a more expensive setup. It works well for me and it's what I could afford for now. I've used it enough that I can get an excellent finish from it. That's what really counts. My only other option was to put up at least $500 for a more expensive turbine setup or a compressed air solution.
http://www.woodcraft.com/family.aspx?familyidX53

Brian hooked me up with stencils. I guess I'm not the only woodworker who also restores arcade machines. I'm ready to work on a couple of wood projects for the winder. An armoire and a cabinet bar.
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