Finishing Materials for Aircraft Painting

A wide variety of materials are used in aircraft finishing. Some of the more common materials and their uses are described in the following paragraphs.


Acetone is a fast-evaporating colorless solvent. It is used as an ingredient in paint, nail polish, and varnish removers. It is a strong solvent for most plastics and is ideal for thinning fiberglass resin, polyester resins, vinyl, and adhesives. It is also used as a superglue remover. Acetone is a heavy-duty degreaser suitable for metal preparation and removing grease from fabric covering prior to doping. It should not be used as a thinner in dope because of its rapid evaporation, which causes the doped area to cool and collect moisture. This absorbed moisture prevents uniform drying and results in blushing of the dope and a flat no-gloss finish.


Butanol, or butyl alcohol, is a slow-drying solvent that can be mixed with aircraft dope to retard drying of the dope film on humid days, thus preventing blushing. A mixture of dope solvent containing 5 to 10 percent of butyl alcohol is usually sufficient for this purpose. Butanol and ethanol alcohol are mixed together in ratios ranging from 1:1 to 1:3 to use to dilute wash coat primer for spray applications because the butyl alcohol retards the evaporation rate.

Ethanol or denatured alcohol is used to thin shellac for spraying and as a constituent of paint and varnish remover. It can also be used as a cleaner and degreaser prior to painting.

Isopropyl, or rubbing alcohol, can be used as a disinfectant. It is used in the formulation of oxygen system cleaning solutions. It can be used to remove grease pencil and permanent marker from smooth surfaces, or to wipe hand or fingerprint oil from a surface before painting.


Benzene is a highly flammable, colorless liquid with a sweet odor. It is a product used in some paint and varnish removers. It is an industrial solvent that is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because it is an extremely toxic chemical compound when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. It has been identified as a Class A carcinogen known to cause various forms of cancer. It should be avoided for use as a common cleaning solvent for paint equipment and spray guns.

Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK)

Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), also referred to as 2-Butanone, is a highly flammable, liquid solvent used in paint and varnish removers, paint and primer thinners, in surface coatings, adhesives, printing inks, as a catalyst for polyester resin hardening, and as an extraction medium for fats, oils, waxes, and resins. Because of its effectiveness as a quickly evaporating solvent, MEK is used in formulating high solids coatings that help to reduce emissions from coating operations. Persons using MEK should use protective gloves and have adequate ventilation to avoid the possible irritation effects of skin contact and breathing of the vapors.

Methylene Chloride

Methylene chloride is a colorless, volatile liquid completely miscible with a variety of other solvents. It is widely used in paint strippers and as a cleaning agent/degreaser for metal parts. It has no flash point under normal use conditions and can be used to reduce the flammability of other substances.


Referred to as toluol or methylbenzene, toluene is a clear, water-insoluble liquid with a distinct odor similar to that of benzene. It is a common solvent used in paints, paint thinners, lacquers, and adhesives. It has been used as a paint remover in softening fluorescent-finish, clear-topcoat sealing materials. It is also an acceptable thinner for zinc chromate primer. It has been used as an antiknocking additive in gasoline. Prolonged exposure to toluene vapors should be avoided because it may be linked to brain damage.


Turpentine is obtained by distillation of wood from certain pine trees. It is a flammable, water-insoluble liquid solvent used as a thinner and quick-drier for varnishes, enamels, and other oil-based paints. Turpentine can be used to clean paint equipment and paint brushes used with oil-based paints.

Mineral Spirits

Sometimes referred to as white spirit, Stoddard solvent, or petroleum spirits, mineral spirits is a petroleum distillate used as a paint thinner and mild solvent. The reference to the name Stoddard came from a dry cleaner who helped to develop it in the 1920s as a less volatile dry cleaning solvent and as an alternative to the more volatile petroleum solvents that were being used for cleaning clothes. It is the most widely used solvent in the paint industry, used in aerosols, paints, wood preservatives, lacquers, and varnishes. It is also commonly used to clean paint brushes and paint equipment. Mineral spirits are used in industry for cleaning and degreasing machine tools and parts because it is very effective in removing oils and greases from metal. It has low odor, is less flammable, and less toxic than turpentine.


Naphtha is one of a wide variety of volatile hydrocarbon mixtures that is sometimes processed from coal tar but more often derived from petroleum. Naphtha is used as a solvent for various organic substances, such as fats and rubber, and in the making of varnish. It is used as a cleaning fluid and is incorporated into some laundry soaps. Naphtha has a low flashpoint and is used as a fuel in portable stoves and lanterns. It is sold under different names around the world and is known as white gas, or Coleman fuel, in North America.

Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is the most commonly used carrier in oil paint. It makes the paint more fluid, transparent, and glossy. It is used to reduce semipaste oil colors, such as dull black stenciling paint and insignia colors, to a brushing consistency. Linseed oil is also used as a protective coating on the interior of metal tubing. Linseed oil is derived from pressing the dried ripe flax seeds of the flax plant to obtain the oil and then using a process called solvent extraction. Oil obtained without the solvent extraction process is marketed as flaxseed oil. The term “boiled linseed oil” indicates that it was processed with additives to shorten its drying time.

A note of caution is usually added to packaging of linseed oil with the statement, “Risk of Fire from Spontaneous Combustion Exists with this Product.” Linseed oil generates heat as it dries. Oily materials and rags must be properly disposed after use to eliminate the possible cause of spontaneous ignition and fire.


Thinners include a plethora of solvents used to reduce the viscosity of any one of the numerous types of primers, subcoats, and topcoats. The types of thinner used with the various coatings is addressed in other post of this site.


Varnish is a transparent protective finish primarily used for finishing wood. It is available in interior and exterior grades. The exterior grade does not dry as hard as the interior grade, allowing it to expand and contract with the temperature changes of the material being finished. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. It has little or no color, is transparent, and has no added pigment. Varnish dries slower than most other finishes. Resin varnishes dry and harden when the solvents in them evaporate. Polyurethane and epoxy varnishes remain liquid after the evaporation of the solvent but quickly begin to cure through chemical reactions of the varnish components.

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