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Safety: Imperative 2K Paint And Isocyanates Information.

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This brief article is intended to help you better understand the implications of working with or around common 2K paints or other products containing Isocyanates. In the workplace most countries have quite extensive legislature surrounding exposure to Isocyanates which this article is not meant to supplant - it is in your interest to use the information as a brief overview and refer to your local health and safety executive's information. The relative ease of access to these products compared to the need for control/implementation of appropriate safety precautions and best working practice means these product's liabilities need to be brought into perspective for even the limited uses that guitar builders have for them.

The majority of us will at some point come into contact with a painting process either directly or indirectly (visiting a paint booth shortly after spray work for example). A false degree of safety exists due to common ignorance on the health implications of Isocyanates in many paints (including water-based products) and what can be regarded as acceptable exposure or even what constitutes exposure. As a rule, no exposure is better than any exposure. Both the cumulative and the immediate health implications are life-threatening plus exposure can lead to short-term breathing difficulties including respiratory arrest, or in the longer term occupational asthma and cancer risks.

The UK's Health and Safety Executive provides excellent information on Isocyanate as an occupational hazard which is enlightening reading and illustrates the issues far better than I am able to. The pictorial on the extent of a spray gun's distribution over four seconds scares me when I think of how the contents of one or two rattlecans are not uncommon for the hobbyist....




For my own part, my first experience with 2K paint was a rattlecan finish done in the garage adjoining our house during which I used a cheap mouth/nose mask respirator. Unfortunately I was not aware then that I should have covered all exposed areas of skin and checked that the respirator was in fact suitable for Isocyanates. Many are not. I removed my mask about a minute after spraying which immediately left me breathing fumes heavy with Isocyanates (I could smell them) plus I more than likely spread that invisible cloud through part of the house. Realistically I should have blocked off all pathways to prevent fumes spreading, provided far more ventilation (at least 2-3 hours for fumes to dissipate) and worn a full-body coverall suitable for paint use in addition to an adequate respirator. Given that the additional cost of this means that the average builder like me will forego these and cut corners we can immediately see that Isocyanate exposure is not uncommon and will continue to be a problem for amateur builders.

In closing, the costs of paintwork have to include sufficient budget for safety also. If this means that the budget suddenly crosses into the area where subbing the work out to a professional paint house is a proposition, certainly consider it. Going cheap and risking collapse from respiratory arrest from ignorance or corner-cutting is not an option!


Thankfully, educating yourself is more or less free nowadays. It is however your responsibility to do so. Play safe.

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As fas as 2k safety, I'd just like to say straight out - it kills you. How many "old" painters do we meet?

Theres a safety risk in everything we do in our life but it's our responsiblity to reduce these risks where possible.

I wear (and reguarly change) the canisters in my mask. I buy them from a 2k paint store which are made specifically for 2k paint. Dont stooge on these. I wear the mask before I open the tins to mix, during all spraying and then during all inspection. I don't use my workspace for anything until the next day after painting. Not just for the fumes, but I dont want dust floating around either. Paint days are paiont only, no other work done on paint day and paint prep is done outside the workshop.

I wear nitrile gloves, not just latex, latex will melt off your hand after a minute of being in 2k thinner.

A lot of people suggest you should wear goggles as the mist of the paint enters the eyes. I dont do this as I hate the restricted vision. I do however feel my eyes drying out after painting. I often think I should - but I'm not always a role model!

It is suggested to wear full head to toe solvent proof suits. I dont. I just wear clean work wear, most of the time long sleeve.

In a working environment most work places make the painters wear oxigen fed helmets. If they only wear the masks we use, they change the cannisters every half hour. How often do we change r our canisters?

Air flow and fume removal is definitely important. The cost of explosion proof fans though is usually out of the question for the hobbiest. Normal fans can explode with the 2k fumes - imagine a room of highly flamable paint fumes being ignited by the brushes in a normal fan... not a pretty picture. Better no fan than that. In painting a single guitar or two we're only spraying in relatively short bursts, unlike painting in a car where theres heaps of product floating around the air, so it's not as intense and us as hobbiests can survive without the use of a extraction fan, but the breathing and skin contact is of upmost importance and should not be overlooked.

One last thing to consider is many councils/cities have laws that prohibit people spraying 2k in a domestic situation. You might want to look into that also.

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Good information. It does go some way as to showing how the cost of safety is high also - many of the precautions common in the workplace are just impractically expensive for the hobbyist, especially somebody who is just working on just the one instrument. I often have concerns whenever I see hobbyists attempting work with 2k (been there) epoxy and even carbon fibre without understanding the inherent dangers of the product we are working with. Often it is what you don't see that is the danger.

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  • 8 years later...

I worked for many years in the HazMat investigation and remediation business.  I have extensive experience in selecting PPE and advising on safety procedures.  If anyone on this forum ever has any questions I will do my best to answer them or point them to where they can find answers.  

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