Removing Paint from a Bicycle Frame the Safe(r) Way

Mercier fork

The 1940’s/50’s Meca Dural bicycle that I am currently restoring had an unfortunate encounter with an amateur spray painter.  While this bike’s frame is made from duralumin, a form of aluminum alloy which needs no paint because it cannot rust, the bike’s fork was steel.  When I purchased the bike, I knew it had a number of issues, the horrifically painted steel fork being one of them.

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As you can see from the photos, the spray paint appeared to be hiding rusting and pitting on the fork blades.  While I normally send all paint jobs out to the professionals, feeling that frame painters deserve their due, I decided that I wanted to prep this fork for painting myself so that I could assess the usability of the fork.

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Before venturing out into this unknown territory I did some research to determine what materials and tools I would need for the job.  I ordered emery cloth and wet-dry sandpaper in varying grades, some brass brushes (which will not scratch steel), and a few other items such as tack clothes and dish scrubbers.  All based on advice from Randy at who has done some very nice paint work on his collection of bicycles. I knew that I did not want to use harsh, environmentally unfriendly chemicals for this job.

I fired up my new (non-wimpy) Dremel to use for the hard to access areas near the fork crown, but for the fork blades themselves I wanted to do all the work by hand, the old fashioned way. Unfortunately, whoever painted the fork did so while it was covered with rust.  When I began to remove the paint, I was disappointed to see just how bad the fork blades looked.

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The blades are pitted near the fork crown.  I wondered whether I should try to remove enough material to eliminate this pitting, worrying that I might take too much off and weaken the fork blades.  Then I remembered that fork blades are very thick and sturdy, given the job they must do, so I decided to keep going after observing the very nice brazing done on the dropouts and fork crown.  The fork is well constructed, and deserved my efforts, I felt.

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Cleanly brazed dropouts

While I was working, I was reminded of the bicycle frame that I built, and the effort required to sand the frame and remove excess brazing material.  This is a very similar process.  Using vigorous and speedy strokes with the emery cloth and sandpaper was the key to bringing the fork back to life.  Wearing a mask is a good idea, since you will be creating a lot of dust in the process.

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You can see the progression in these photos.  This process took about 4 hours, and yet  I still need to continue sanding with finer grade sandpaper to complete the work and have the frame ready for paint.  One thing to know:  it is most efficient to sand very quickly, mimicking the action of a power tool.  While my hands are now sore, I am happy with the results, and look forward to the finish work needed before I send this fork off to be painted.