This week saw the completion of a new adventure in rabbit holing (wow, that sounds awful): the Silverfrost Bone Shaker Custom Hot Wheel.
I collect exactly one (1) Hot Wheels car, the Bone Shaker. Man, I love that car. Up until recently I had just about every iteration of this vehicle possible. Then I realized that 40 versions of the same car was about 39 too many. I whittled the collection down to my favorites…but something was missing.
I needed to make my own.
Just so you understand me, I often decide that I need to make my own things a lot. I’ve made custom Legos, custom bobbleheads, designed my own shirts, made my own posters….if I could get my act together, I’d be a one man brand. Re-making a Hot Wheels would be no problem.
Something else you should know, I’m a high level perfectionist with a penchant for scorched earth reworks. If I can’t make it work the way I want, I’m perfectly content to destroy all my work and start again.
This goes a long way to explaining why this build took two weeks to do.
Now, let’s talk about the project.
Taking your Hot Wheels apart
Customizing a Hot Wheels to the level that I wanted required a repaint and a wheel swap. And that meant taking it apart and stripping the original down to bare metal. Unless your plan is to spike your car in the driveway and hope it breaks apart the way you want it to, you’re going to have get a drill.
Hot Wheels, if you’ve never flipped one over, are held together by rivets. You can’t get a screwdriver underneath one of these to snap the car open. The rivet is actually a stem on the body of the car that attaches to the base. You need to tear that rivet up, but not the whole body, so best use a drill and drill it out. It’s not as easy as the YouTube videos make it look. You need to be mindful of your setting and your drill speed. Too little speed and nothing happens. Too much and you’ll either drill through the body of the car, or you’ll do as I did and tear the front half of the car off.
Also, drilling out a rivet is a two-step process. You have to drill through the rivet in step one, which is important later, and in step two, you drill off the head of the rivet. So, with my second donor car, I backed off the throttle and drilled a tiny pilot hole with a 1/16 bit then came back with a larger 3/8 bit and drilled off the rivet.
That done, I stepped back and relaxed. After all, I was out of donor cars.
This one is easy. I use a product called Aircraft Stripper, available in the paint department at Home Depot, Lowes, etc., usually with the paint thinners. Man does it eat paint. Lungs, too, so use it with tons of ventilation or one of those Darth Vader-like respirators. Give it a few minutes to do its business then brush off the paint with a wire brush. Rinse with water in a drain other than the one in the basement. Fumes…man…fumes.
EXTRA STEP FOR THE TRUE OCD! Sanding the casting lines.
Hot Wheels are die-cast cars that get sold for a couple of bucks. How much time do you think is spent smooth out the body work at the factory? Did you guess ‘None’? Good for you. Welcome to the OCD Bonus round. Get yourself some micro-files (available at hobby and hardware stores) and get to filing. You should also get some really fine steel wool, or maybe some 1500 grit sandpaper while you’re at. File down the casting lines, then smooth out the body work with your sandpaper/steel wool. Patience is a virtue. Slow and steady wins the race. This part takes some time, but if you keep rubbing and grinding, eventually you’ll end up with a mirror.
Seems like a shame at this point to cover it with paint.
Ohhhh….magic time. Now you’re going to turn that bare chunk of metal into a hot rod (or whatever). Start with primer. Use a primer made for models, which means another trip to the hobby shop. By now they should know you by name. You’ll want to use a fine primer (not a fill primer) , white or gray doesn’t matter much unless you’re going to paint the car a light color, or going to top coat with something semi-transparent. Pick up your other colors while you’re there, unless you like going to Hobby Lobby all the time. I also suggest using a rattle-can (or an airbrush) as opposed to something brushable. If you do everything right with a can, you’ll get a smooth finish. If you use a brush, you’re more than likely to end up with brushstrokes and it looks like you farmed out the paint job to a child.
Slow and steady still wins the race. Apply all your primer/paints in thin, even coats. The paint won’t run and it will dry quicker. Make sure the nozzle is clear and the paint is spraying without hindrance. Why? Because when the nozzle clogs and the paint shoots out in a glop, you might find yourself having to go all the way back to stripping and start over.
Another suggestion, find some cheap needle nose pliers or forceps (available at some hobby shops and hardware stores- Harbor Freight, for example) so that you can hold the car away from you and control the application of paint better. And when you’re applying it in thin even coats, that distance between you and the car is arm’s length, about 18” to 2 feet away (or it was for me).
For the advanced painter, who wants to do flames or pinstripes or multi-colors, go online and watch some tutorials. Masking a model is one thing, masking a 2 inch long Hot Wheels seems like too much work. At least it was for me. So when they ask ‘Hey man, where’s the flames’, tell them to screw off.
Your other choice for fancy graphics is decals. You can maybe buy some ready-made at the hobby shop, or you can make you own water-slides. I looked into this when I made my own Legos. You can design your own graphics, print them on decal media, and apply them as you would any other decal. If you do go this route, watch tutorials. Ideally, find someone who bothered to write the instructions down. Nothing like trying to watch what you’re doing and a video at the same time. Like masking, I thought this was too much work and went with a simple silver paint scheme.
When you’re done painting, masking and decaling, apply some clear coat and get some air, you’re going to put on new axles and wheels next and you need a clear head.
Axles and Wheels
Okay, when I do one of these project, I go as far down the rabbit hole as I can. Not content with the wheels on the original car, I decided to swap them out. This seems like it should be soooooo easy. Well, guess what, it’s not. It’s a pain in the ass.
First of all, the axles don’t just sit all loosey goosey inside the car. They’re clipped in. Wanna swap ‘em? Gotta take the old wheels out. If your base is plastic, it’s actually pretty easy. Just bend a piece of plastic and the axle can be popped out. If it’s a metal base, well, once you get tired of trying to pry the old ones out, you cut the axle in half and pull them out through the sides. Naturally, my base was metal.
For my new wheels, I went to ebay and searched on ‘Hot Wheels Custom Tires’ and was delighted to find out that it worked. Not all my searches have gone that well. When I got the wheels in, I was pretty happy. Except that the axles were too short for a ‘plug and play’ solution. I had to make my own. There are videos online showing you a couple different methods for making your own axles. I can tell you from experience that they all suck in their own way.
- Glue crimp beads to the ends of the axle. Requires working with tiny, tiny wire and tiny, tiny crimps. Also, the use of glue is basically playing ‘Will My Wheels Spin Roulette’ with your new sweet tires. Next!
- Use a 1/32 or .032 brass rod (which are harder than hell to find, BTW) and hammer the ends of the axles flat. This approach looked so simple in the video…and failed so miserably in reality. I screwed this up so many times. The wire would slip out of the pliers. The wire would bend in the pliers. The end never flattened out. The end just bent and wouldn’t hold the tires on. And ultimately, brass is brass colored, my wheels were silver. Next!
- Once again, I took the most involved approach. I cut tiny (1/16) brass tubes to length, drilled out the axle channel on my base, installed the tubes and glued the old axles into the tube. Sort of. I didn’t want to accidentally glue my tires in place, so I crimped the tubes and it works. Sort of. If you pull on the wheels, they extend out like pontoons. They don’t come out, but they don’t look great either. I’m pretty sure I can fix it in post.
At this point I’m two weeks into my build and ready to put the damn thing back together. Remember back in the beginning where I talked about drilling out the rivet? Here’s the payoff. Instead of gluing the car back together, most customizer websites advise you to screw the car back together. That way, If you should ever have to fix something (wheel axles) the car comes apart pretty easy. All you need is a 2-56 tap, some 2-56 micro screws, some #2 washers and steady hands.
While we’re here, let me mention that a 2-56 tap is NOT stocked at hardware shops. You’ll have to find a hobby shop (Hello again, Stephe!) that carries them or order them online. They’re damn small. Really damn small. And you’ll need something to hold it while you try to thread the hole in the rivet. That you can find at a hardware store, probably a hobby shop as well. I used a drill on LOW, LOW speed and hoped for the best. This is also when you find out that maybe you didn’t drill into the rivet far enough and you have to do that again, except now you’ve painted your car and wouldn’t it TOTALLY suck to screw up now? No pressure.
Once you’ve tapped that thang, you’re ready to put your car all back together. Thread the washer on your micro screw and, you know, screw. Another word of advice, 2-56 screws are NOT available at Home Depot or Lowes. You’ll need to go to a good LOCAL hardware store or an Ace or True Value that have ALL the specialty screw bins. You’re looking for ‘Micro’ screws. I used a ¼ inch screw for my car. Your’s might be different. They cost about .20 cents so you’re not going to break the bank if you decide to stock up.
Anyway…twisty, twisty, screw, screw and bang! You’re done!