The Art of Custom Pinstriping
Custom pinstriping puts finishing touch on antique machinery
Doug Humble hand-lettered this 1920 20 hp Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. steam traction engine. "Not that many people do hand lettering anymore," he says. "You see a lot of vinyl these days. But lettering is not really any harder than pinstriping, if you use the right brush." The engine is owned by Kenton Sutton, Seward, Neb.
For all the technological innovation of the last century, the finishing touch on a restoration project – custom pinstriping – is still best done by hand. But the artists who do that work today are few and far between. “It’s a dying art,” says Doug Humble. “I think decals will ultimately replace hand-striping.”
Doug is a skilled practitioner of the delicate, time-consuming art of hand pinstriping. Experienced in custom painting cars and motorcycles, he first turned his talents to antique farm equipment in 2008. A massive Reeves steam engine was his canvas.
“I had to work on a ladder,” he recalls. “It was not an easy project. Those wheels, with all those spokes … and it’s not the kind of thing I could move by myself, so I about had to stand on my head to do some of it.”
Doug (who lives in Iowa City, Iowa) went on to tackle a project or two at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and soon found his dance card full. In 2008, he hand-striped antique machinery for four days during the show. Last year, he worked there for over a week.
With 35 years’ experience working on classic cars and motorcycles, Doug is accustomed to the smooth finish of sheet metal. Cast iron presents new challenges. “It can be the very worst for a pinstriper,” he says. “Some of it’s so rough, it’s like trying to paint on gravel.
“It took me about a day to figure out the right consistency of paint so it won’t run into the crevices,” he explains. “You do a lot of compensating for the rough casting. The rougher it is, the thinner the paint should be – but there’s a fine line before it runs. And if it’s not right, nothing works.”
Subtle differences between collectible categories further complicate the process. “What worked on the stationary steam engines didn’t necessarily work on the traction engines,” Doug says. “The stationary engines are very rough.”
His paint of choice is 1 Shot lettering enamel, thinned with mineral spirits. Changes in paint formulas have required technique changes. “They’ve been phasing out the lead for the last 10 years,” he says. “The new formula doesn’t cover nearly as well as the old lead-based paints. You have to double-coat quite a bit.”
He uses Mack sword striping brushes (named for the bristle’s sword-like shape) made from squirrel and sable hair. “They hold the paint well,” he explains. Different features require different brushes. “A stiffer bristle seems to work better on raised lettering,” Doug says.