The Mole: Finished!

March 23rd, 2010 Posted in The Mole

So there are a few things I need/want to do to get The Mole wrapped up. I need to sand the case, getting rid of the flaws in the surface. I need to prime it, paint it, apply decals and then clear coat it.

Since I have never done anything like this before (I made a couple model cars as a kid, but I’ll be honest, my paint jobs sucked), so I started checking the net for ideas on how to do this. I found a giant thread of completed DIY stompbox project pictures at, and in this thread, I found a post by a fellow that laid out his process.  I thought his results were nice, so I went with it.

1) Sand the enclosure starting with 150 grit. Continue sanding with finer and finer grit. Then sand with steelwool going from coarse to fine.

I cheated a bit here.  I sanded until the case was shiny, and skipped the steel wool. Basically once all the imperfections were worked out, it was good enough for me.

2) Wash box with water and dish soap.

Having worked in the paint department at a hardware store as a teenager, I knew that getting rid of the debris on the working surface was important, so I made sure to do this step.

3) A shot of primer (using Rustoleum). Let dry overnight.

This was a no-brainer. Some paints may have a tough time adhering to metal, so a metal primer makes total sense.

4) Apply spray paint (mostly have been using Rustoleum – have also tried automotive spraypaint from the automotive aisle which works good, but pricey and Testors model spraypaint). Spray once in the morning before work and once in the evening. Typically about 4 coats. Just until the box has good coverage, watching specifically for the edges.

I knew I wanted to use a silver paint with a metal fleck in it, and I knew I could find something that fit that role from Testors. I ended up getting a can of Testors “Diamond Dust” One-Coat Lacquer (1830M) from a local hobby shop.

Here’s where I should warn that I absolutely suck as spray painting shit.  Rather than sticking with thin coats, I second-guessed my approach and ended up overspraying a bit (the metal fleck looked uneven, which led to overspray). So after a few coats, the bottoms of the sides of the enclosure were thicker than I wanted as the paint pooled there.  I let it dry for a few days, sanded it down, and resprayed.  It’s still thicker than I’d like, but much better than it was prior to the sanding.

5) Once happy with paint, let dry for 3 days before applying clearcoat.

This is the hardest step, but it’s the most important.

6) Once I’m happy with the design in Photoshop and I know it will line up with the holes, print off waterslide decal (been using Testors clear decals). I usually do this during the 3 days I’m waiting for the box to fully dry.

This was nice, as it gave me something to do while I was waiting for the paint to dry. I couldn’t find the laserjet version of the Testors decal paper at the local hobby shop (only the inkjet version), but I found another place locally (a model train store) that carried laserjet decal paper under a different brand name (Experts-Choice).

The paper wasn’t cheap ($6.95 plus tax for three 8 1/2″x 11″ sheets), so I was definitely in “measure twice, cut once” mode.  I must have printed 10-20 test prints on regular paper to make sure everything was perfect, but I finally decided on a finished decal design for the enclosure.

(Click image for larger view)

7) Clearcoat decal paper with 3-4 coats.

I knew I was going to be able to skip this step.  The inkjet decal paper needs this clearcoat to ensure that the ink doesn’t run.  The laser decal paper doesn’t have the same issues, however I did read that you can clearcoat the laser paper, if you want, to give the decal a little more rigidity when applying it, but like I said, I skipped this.

8 ) Apply decal. Once dry, apply decal softener. Then once dry again, cut out holes and give it some more decal softener around the holes.

Since I had never done this before, and since I had printed out an entire sheet with copies of The Mole graphics to allow for errors (there was enough space for four copies of the decals), I decided to do a test run on one of the extra joiner plates.  I followed the instructions on the decal paper packaging to apply the decal, and to my surprise, it went on like butter.  The key is being gentle, as the decal it very delicate once you’ve got it in the water.

Without wasting time, I worked on getting the decals applied to the enclosure.  This wasn’t as easy.  The front face went on without a hitch, however the back panel (power, on/off, out) got wrinkled in on itself, and after working with it for a minute or two, failing to unfold it, I gave up and grabbed one of the extras that I printed.  In hindsight, those duplicates I printed were well worth it.  I was able to get the backplate on on my second try.

I let it dry and cut out the holes. I then brushed on the decal softener, and much like waiting for paint to dry, this was tough waiting for.  Once the softener goes on, you can’t touch the box, at all. If you do, you risk damaging the decal beyond repair, and would have to sand the case down and start back at the paint steps. I made sure to wait 24 hours before handling the box, and the waiting paid off, as the decal looked sharp!

9) Clearcoat box. Typically 6 coats. Wet sand (under a running tap) with 2000 grit automotive sandpaper after the first 3 coats. Nothing the final 3 coats.

I did at least 6 coats, maybe more, but I was fighting a dust problem.  I’d spray it (using Testors high-gloss clear coat), and while it was drying, a piece of dirt or dust would inevitably end up on the face of the box.  So I’d sand, and respray, over an over.  It finally got to a point where none of the flecks on the surface were noticeable enough for me to OCD over.  The clear coat process was the slowest taking at least a week, as the Testors high-gloss was agonizingly slow drying.

10) After it’s dry (typically leave it overnight), grab my “Mother’s Carwax” and wax and buff the box.

I skipped this.  In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have, but I guess you live and learn.

11) Grab a drink and enjoy!

This was the easiest step, and I certainly didn’t skip it.

Final notes:

I made a big mistake by switching out a part so close to finish.  While on a regular trip to Ax-Man, I found a momentary switch that was bigger and sturdier than the tiny one I had purchased from I bought it and instantly worked it into the project.  However, I neglected to move it over enough from the side of the enclosure, so in order to fasten it to the face, I had to spin the switch, leaving the bolt on the backside butted up against the side of the enclosure.  Luckily this worked out for me.  An additional error was made with regards to this switch, as I failed to move the label for the switch on the decal, so with the bigger hole, most of the “KILL” label is obscured. So, if you’re going to add something late in the game, make sure you measure EVERYTHING it will effect, or else you’ll end up kicking yourself.  I got lucky, and things worked out, but next time I might not be so lucky.

Additionally, I wish I would have let this dry for a lot longer before assembling.  If I use similar paint in the future, I’ll probably let it dry for a week or two before assembling.  Right now I’ve already put a couple dings in the paint since it was so soft/not completely cured.  Again, live and learn!

And here’s a video of The Mole in action:

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