How to built a paint booth for less than $50


Headlight mask, front fender, and tail section sanded and primed

Last summer, I decided to repaint my Honda CB600F Hornet – I love the matte black but it needed a touch up on the tank (because the factory put the clear coat OVER the decals – so when I pulled them off, you could see where they once were :( ), and the aftermarket front end’s color was off from the rest of the bike.

I had everything I needed for this project: a spray paint starter kit, a bucket of matte black paint, and no clue what the hell I was getting myself into.

But one essential piece was missing: a proper paint booth.

I don’t have a garage so sealing up my garage wasn’t an option. And for those who consider painting their motorcycles in a sealed-up garage instead of a paint booth to save money: think again. The advantage of a spray booth is not just about quality; it is also about safety (the paint fumes might spontaneously ignite if they reach the ignition threshold of a plug in the garage wall, or when the compressor kicks on …)

So, I decided to build a paint booth on my patio. It didn’t have to be big – the compressor was going to stay outside (safer that way!). It just had to fit a front fender, a tail section, a tank, and the headlight piece, plus the 5′ 5″, 120 lbs girl that I see in the mirror every morning.

I decided that 4 feet (120cm) wide by 4 feet (120cm) deep by 7 feet (210cm) tall would do it. I drew up a blue print on a sticky note, did some math (yes, I am a bit of a geek – it’s not my fault though, I was raised by a physics professor), and ran off to the hardware store for some 1.5″ PVC pipe and joints, a couple of air filters, a box fan, and some clear plastic tarp.

IMG_7555I cut the PVC pipe to the right lengths, attached the joints and started building my paint booth.

IMG_7556I didn’t glue the joints and pipes together, because I wanted to be able to disassemble and re-assemble it later. A rubber mallet makes it much easier to fit the pieces together – as my dad (yes, that physics professor) always says: If force doesn’t work, use more force!

IMG_7560Here it is, the skeleton of my paint booth. The ground is wet because I didn’t want to take any chances with dirt getting into my paint booth and ruin my paint job later.

IMG_7562Next, I attached the air filters to the frame with a bunch of zip ties and sealed up the crack between the two filters with some painters tape (on both sides – can’t be worried enough about those pesky dirt and dust particles).

What’s with the humming bird feeder?, you might ask. Not sure … haven’t seen a humming bird in Georgetown in 5 years … but hope dies last. :)

IMG_7564Next was the box fan. By the way, there is a reason why the air filters are up high and the fan is down low. You want to create a downward air stream (air gets sucked in through the air filters and goes out through the fan) for two reasons: 1) pulling the fumes and paint particles down will keep them away from your respiratory system (yes, even with a charcoal-activated filter face mask, you will want to keep as much of that shit away as possible); and 2) it will suck dust particles down that you might kick up with your feet – wouldn’t want those to stick to any freshly painted surfaces.

IMG_7565Wrapping the frame with the plastic tarp was admittedly a much more annoying enterprise than I had imagined. I reinforced the tarp with duck tape where I cut small openings to slide zip ties through the tarp and around the pipes (see right side).

I cut the tarp around the air filters and box fan and used painters tape to seal any cracks.

I also realized that the frame wouldn’t do a very good job of keeping the “ceiling” tarp up, particularly if it starts raining and water would collect on the “roof”. So I spun a web of heavy-duty string across the top pipes before laying the tarp over the top (sorry, I don’t have a picture of how I did that).

The added advantage of doing that was that I created a perfect system for hanging up my motorcycles parts and let them dangle off the ceiling while painting – gave me much better access than having the parts sit on a box.


I cut a double-layered piece of tarp to serve as a floor (again, keeping dirt and dust out) and … DONE!

IMG_7568All in all, it took me about 2 1/2 hours (including the pipe cutting) and cost me less than $50.

Lessons learned:

1) When I turned on the fan, it sucked the tarp inwards, effectively diminishing the inside space of the booth. I used the same trick I used for the ceiling and spun a web of string across the side walls to keep the tarp in place.

2) The “door” wasn’t really as air-tight as I had hoped (I had the tarp overlap by about 2 feet and used a system of zip ties and carabiner snap hooks to keep the overlapping parts in place. If I ever build another paint booth, I would definitely design a different door.

The paint job itself is another story, waiting to be written. I can tell you this much now – it was a labor-intensive, somewhat frustrating project, but the end result was totally worth all the sweat, blood, and tears.


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Light of the wicked – snuffed out

I think this is a bible reference – hope God doesn’t mind. :)

This post explains how to troubleshoot a broken brake light.

Today, as I was getting the 2007 Triumph Speed Triple ready for a potential buyer (yes, we’re selling her), I noticed that the front brake wasn’t engaging the brake light. Not sure how long that’s been an issue but I didn’t want to sell the bike with a major safety feature not working properly, so I went into troubleshooting mode.

Triple wiring diagram

Triple wiring diagram

The light itself was definitely working, because it lit right up when I engaged the rear brake. I pulled the tank and the air box to get a closer look at the wires. Multimeter in hand, I incrementally went backwards, from the rear brake light switch towards the front of the bike.

But the wires seemed fine – I had plenty of juice everywhere. So I studied the wiring diagram, making sure I wasn’t checking the wrong wires.

Nope – everything checked out. After a few minutes of head scratching it occurred to me to check the switch: It clicked happily as I pulled the brake lever.

FrontBrakeSwitch-02The switch is right under the brake lever, it’s a little black piece of plastic, the size of a quarter / 1 Euro coin.

FrontBrakeSwitch-01I disconnected the wires from the switch (the connectors pull right out) – lo and behold, as soon as I connected the wires (you can either use a piece of wire and connect it to both wire ends, or, even simpler, just put the wires ends together), the brake light come on. Yay!

Not sure why I didn’t start there – would have saved me 20 minutes of futile multimeter-troubleshooting and another 20 minutes of tank/airbox removal/re-installation.

FrontBrakeSwitch-03View from below: I removed the switch (it’s held in place by just that one screw) and took it apart (disclaimer: don’t do this if the switch is still working properly; you’ll probably break it!) – it was pretty corroded.

FrontBrakeSwitch-04I cleaned it up so I could show what it looks like on the inside. It’s an extremely simple switch: the pin (red arrow) is usually pushed all the way in by the brake lever, breaking the connection in the switch (green arrow). When you pull the brake lever, you release the pin, the contacts connect, and the brake light comes on (as shown in this photo).

I ordered a new switch for less than $18 on (#13). I love BikeBandit, they sell OEM parts for virtually any bike at very competitive prices.

Hope the switch will be delivered before the weekend, we have a few more people coming to check out the bike. Riding isn’t an option right now – after 70 F / 20 C degrees last weekend, we’re back to 9 inches/22cm of snow. The Hornet is NOT happy. Neither am I.

Oh well, I guess God DOES mind that I (ab)use bible quotes on a motorcycle blog. :)


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Selling the Triple

2007 Triumph Speed TripleYup. We’re selling our black 2007 Triumph Speed Triple.

She’s been a great companion for the past 6 years but it was time to upgrade to the newest model and we’re running out of garage space… Oil, spark plugs, coolant, and tires are new — and the bike comes with the 2013 Speed Triple headlights (check out the pics).

Basic specs

IMG_8018Color: Black

Displacement: 1050 ccm

Engine type: Three in-line cylinders, four-stroke

Power: 132 HP (at 9250 RPM)

Dry Weight: 416 pounds

Seat height: 32.1 inches

IMG_8021Miles: 47,953 miles

Year: 2007

Asking price: $5,000 OBO (cash or cashier’s check only; no PayPal, etc)

The Speed Triple is the mother of all naked bikes: mean, aggressive and a lot of fun to ride through town, on the track, and in the mountains. With its higher-than-usual seat height, this is the perfect bike for average-height as well as tall people.

IMG_8017It’s been so much fun to ride, we put a lot of miles on it riding all over the East Coast, including an epic 4,000-mile trip to Newfoundland in 2011. We did all of the maintenance ourselves, using only top quality parts. And we’ve done some performance upgrades as well: To add some oomph to the lower RPMs, we put a bigger rear sprocket on the Triple (+3 teeth), accompanied by a top-notch chain. The bike also has a K&N air filter that comes with a lifetime warranty and has noticeably improved the bike’s performance.

And because Triumphs are known for their electrical issues, we replaced the OEM stator and regulator/rectifier with much better aftermarket parts. It has always been kept in a cozy barn in Montgomery County, MD.

IMG_8027We also replaced a lot of other OEM parts with LSL aftermarket parts (LSL is a German manufacturer that specializes in high quality Triumph parts), including the handlebar (black!), hand grips, front brake fluid reservoir, brake and clutch levers.

The bike has some minor scratches on the tank and stator cover from an unfortunate drop on gravel, and the seat has a small hole (from leaning it against the hot engine) but other than that, it’s in great shape considering its age and mileage.

IMG_8018If you’re interested in the bike, shoot me a message (admin[at]freeranging[dot]net) with your name, email and/or phone number.

Or check it out on eBay or Craigslist.





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’2 Million Bikers’ head to Washington DC on September 11

Disclaimer: As stated by its organizers, today’s motorcycle rally in DC was politically motivated. Be that as it may, the following article is about motorcycles, not politics.

Flag at the U.S. Dept of Treasury flying at half-mast today

Flag at the U.S. Dept of Trea­sury fly­ing at half-mast to­day

Bikers don’t like to be told what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do. So when the organizers of the ’2 Million Bikers to DC’ (2MB) motorcycle rally received a letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service yesterday, denying them a permit for a “non-stop ride” through Washington DC to commemorate the victims of the 9/11 attacks, they decided to come anyway.

And they came!

My day began with rumors about thousands of bikers from all over the region meeting up at a Harley dealership south of Washington DC. No one knew exactly, when they would begin their ride towards DC and which route they would take (the 2MB Facebook page cited security concerns for their decision not to disclose the route but I’m thinking they wanted to keep the authorities guessing so the police wouldn’t strategically put up road blocks in advance).

Conflicting news started coming in through Twitter, ranging from Metro PD threatening to arrest every biker making their way in town, to Metro PD granting last-minute permission for the rally. As always, the truth was somewhere in the middle: no, still neither police escort nor a permit for a non-stop ride, but yes, police would cooperate with the rally organizers.

#2MilllionBikersToDC chatter on Twitter

#2Mil­l­lion­Bik­er­sToDC chat­ter on Twit­ter

A quick digression: The District of Columbia is not an inexperienced newbie when it comes to hosting a biker rally. After all, more than a million bikers flock to DC every year on Memorial Day for “Rolling Thunder”, one of the largest biker rallies and non-stop rides in the world. The reason for not giving permission to this particular rally was purely out of concern for commuter traffic – which is already one of the worst in the country. Add confusing traffic patterns (one-way streets that change directions depending on the time of day, for example), all sorts of motorcades, and lots of tourist buses to the mix, and you have what the potty mouth in me usually refers to as a clusterfuck – and that’s on a regular weekday. There’s no telling what even just five or ten thousand bikers would do to the local traffic around here. Anyway …

At 10 am, there were still no news on the when’s and where’s of the rally, so I decided to swing by the National Mall on the way back from a meeting – there is an advantage to having an office two blocks from the White House after all. :) I ran into a group of three dozen bikers along Constitution Avenue by the Washington Monument. They had come up the 130 miles (200 km) from Charlottesville, Virginia, but decided to skip the Harley dealership and head straight into the heart of DC instead. They told me that the others would leave the dealership at 11 am, broken up into 50 or so groups, and ride into town with the regular traffic. At that point, more scattered groups of bikers started pouring in the National Mall area, going in opposite directions, stopping here and there, seemingly unsure about what to do next. The thermometer of a nearby bank showed 92 degrees F (34 Celsius) already and it wasn’t even noon yet. Not a good day to be sitting on top of a hot motorcycle engine in slow-moving DC traffic …

Bikers parked on Constitution Avenue

Bik­ers parked on Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue

Shortly after I got back to the office, the 2MB groups had begun their descend on Washington DC – clearly visible on the many traffic cameras in and around the metro DC area. As helicopters started filming and live-streaming the progress of the rally, it became obvious that the original plan had been changed. The “official” route no longer included downtown DC. Instead, the ’2 Million Bikers’ (which, unfortunately, didn’t even come close to living up to their name) seemed to be content with simply riding around the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495). Wise choice, given the heat and the growing traffic chaos around the National Mall.

'2 Million Bikers' on MD-210 heading north towards DC

’2 Mil­lion Bik­ers’ on MD-210 head­ing north to­wards DC

While the official rally route had been changed to stay outside of DC, more and more bikers arrive at the National Mall in downtown DC

While the of­fi­cial rally route had been changed to stay out­side of DC, more and more bik­ers ar­rive at the Na­tional Mall in down­town DC

For a taste of what this rally could have done to downtown DC traffic, here are a few pictures of backed up traffic on the Beltway after a motorcycle wreck involving one of the 2BM riders (screen grab from a helicopter cam’s live-stream on the WJLA/ABC 7 website).

Bikers stopped on the Beltway after accident, talk to police

Bik­ers stopped on the Belt­way af­ter ac­ci­dent, talk to po­lice

Emergency responders at accident site on the Beltway

Emer­gency re­spon­ders at ac­ci­dent site on the Belt­way

Traffic back-up on I-495 / Capital Beltway after motorcycle accident

Traf­fic back-up on I-495 / Cap­i­tal Belt­way af­ter mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent

For lunch, I headed back down to the Washington Monument area to snap a few photos and talk to the bikers who kept pulling into town. They were clearly not part of the actual rally and also seemed fairly confused and somewhat lost.

Bikes parked on Constitution Ave across from the White House

Bikes parked on Con­sti­tu­tion Ave across from the White House

Biker turning in front of the White House

Biker turn­ing in front of the White House

Bikers stuck in slow traffic

Bik­ers stuck in slow traf­fic

Cop getting ready to issue tickets to bikers illegally parked near the Monument

Cop get­ting ready to is­sue tick­ets to bik­ers il­le­gally parked near the Mon­u­ment

After seeing a motorcycle cop pulling up behind them, ticket pad in hand, this group near the Washington Monument hit the road as quickly as they could …

Metro PD blocks intersection near the White House for a Cabinet member's motorcade

Metro PD blocks in­ter­sec­tion near the White House for a Cab­i­net mem­ber’s mo­tor­cade

More riders stuck in DC traffic

More riders stuck in DC traffic

This is just my very own estimate but I’d be surprised if there were actually more than 1,000 bikers in downtown DC today. Still, it was fun to watch this rally and the news stories surrounding it unfold over the course of the day.

Next year, dear ’2 Million Bikers’, please plan your rally for the weekend and enjoy having the whole city to yourselves, including police escorts and as many permits as you like.

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