Plasti-Dipping Sawppy the Rover’s Wheels

Plasti-Dip is a spray-on flexible coating that has found a niche of car customization, which was how I encountered the product and used to turn ideas into reality. One subset of Plasti-Dip users take advantage of its temporary spray-on peel-off status to customize their car’s wheels, sometimes changing them around as often as other people change fingernail colors. It’s common enough that dip is available in “wheel kits” tailored for the purpose.

For automotive wheel customization, the dip goes on the metal with the rubber tire masked off from dip. I’m going to dip Sawppy’s wheels but doing the reverse – putting dip all around the outside perimeter of the wheel and by doing so, give Sawppy the rubber tire that it current lacks. The motivation comes from the fact Sawppy’s climbing ability is currently traction-limited despite the grousers printed on the outside surface. Experimentation has proved that 3D-printed hard plastic wheels lack grip against certain obstacles that I’d like Sawppy to climb. There are several ideas on how to improve traction on these wheels, the easiest one to try first is Plasti-Dip as there are a few spray cans on hand from earlier car projects.

Again as a reversal from dipping car wheels, I’ll mask off the interior surfaces. I had hoped this will give a nifty two-tone appearance, white innards contrasting with the outer coat of black dip. To accomplish this without tedious masking tape work, wheel covers were designed and printed.

Sawppy Wheel Dip 1 - Caps

They are installed to either side of the wheel on a 8mm steel rod.

Sawppy Wheel Dip 2 - Caps Installed

Plan A was to use an old rover wheel prototype as the base for a spray stand. This did not work as well as hoped because it meant the I had to move all around the stand in order to cover all sides of the wheel.

Sawppy Wheel Dip 3 - Stand

Plan B was to hold the steel rod and rotate it by hand during spraying. This dramatically reduced the effort but the results were uneven.

Sawppy Wheel Dip 4 - Handheld

Plan C worked the best – install 8mm rod into cordless drill chuck, set the gearbox to “Low”, and use it to turn the wheel at a much more consistent rate, which directly translated to a much more consistent coating.

Sawppy Wheel Dip 5 - Motorized

Sadly, all the effort spent on masking off the insides with wheel covers failed to deliver a crisp white/black contrast.

The first problem is a nature of 3D printing: gaps between layers are great at pulling liquids along with capillary action. Many of these gaps pulled liquid dip into various crevices between layers, resulting in an uneven coloration.

The second problem is user error. After a wheel was sprayed, it was set aside to dry and cure while the next wheel is sprayed. The smart thing to do would be to keep the wheels far away from the work area, or provide a divider, or at least make sure the work area is not upwind of the drying area. None of these occurred, which meant the white parts of the wheel now look really dirty thanks to overspray. Thanks to capillary action, a small droplet soaks in to make a big mess that is impossible to clean.

These are valuable lessons to remember if I try this again.

Sawppy Wheel Dip 6 - Overspray

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