Vapor Blasting Q&A

What exactly is vapor blasting?

Vapor blasting, also known as vapor honing, is a blasting process using a mix of water and blasting media such as glass beads or aluminum oxide.  The process was developed in Europe a number of years ago and that might be where the misleading 'vapor' part of the name came from.

What type of media does Houston Vapor Blasting use?

We use a Mil. Spec. No.13 glass bead, which is the finest grade that is readily available.  The cost is triple that of the common No. 8 or No. 9 glass bead that you might see in stores like Northern Tool, but is the only way that we have found to restore the finish back to the original color, luster, and texture.

Why not just bead blast the part in a conventional dry blast cabinet?

I began bead blasting parts in the mid 1980s when I saw what a huge improvement that it was over using a wire wheel on a bench grinder.   Sometimes dry blasting is still the way to go and what I recommend for sandcast parts that are to be painted or coated.  For parts that will remain bare, and all diecast parts such as a motorcycle engine case or automotive distributor, vapor blasting is the best way to maintain the original surface profile while restoring the color and luster that it had when it was new.  We have all seen parts that have been dry glass bead blasted and recognize that bleached whiteish gray color that is left on the part.  Examine a new aluminum part and you will see a clear silver with hints of blue, purple, and grey with an unmistakable metallic luster.

Does vapor blasting offer any other advantages?

You bet!  About 80% of the media is water, which cushions and lubricates the impact, keeping things cool, so no warping of valuable parts.  Also, the finest details of the part are maintained, such as casting numbers, date stamps, and even tiny flashing remnants from the casting process.  Also, since the pores aren't opened, like with dry blasting, none of the abrasive media is embedded in the surface.  Another advantage of not opening the pores on the surface is that the parts stay clean much longer.

So what are the downsides of vapor blasting?

First, since the process id gentle, it is more time consuming than dry blasting.  Also, since the media is carried in water, the residue gets EVERYWHERE.  I do my best to rinse the parts very thoroughly and any part that will fit in a 30 liter ultrasonic cleaner gets time in there, followed by another rinse.  That said, it is your responsibility to ensure that your parts are free of residue during reassembly just as you would with engine parts that you just got back from the machine shop.

My parts are rare and valuable, can you be trusted with them?

Absolutely!  I have been involved with automotive restoration for 40 years and understand that some parts simply cannot be replaced if damaged.  Every part is treated as if it is my own and we will discuss whether vapor blasting is your best option.  Rare parts that we have blasted for customers across the country include engine components from a four cam Ferrari 275GTB, a carburetor body from an original 1964 Shelby 289 Cobra, many Boss 302 and 428 Cobra Jet valve covers and intakes, 1957 Thunderbird 'E' factory 2x4 aluminum intake, Penton Six Day 125 motorcycle engine and wheel components, Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R engine parts, and many more rare and valuable items.

How big can the parts be?

The dimensions of my cabinet are 33" wide, 30" deep, and 28" high.  Keep in mind that I have to handle the part while blasting in order to turn it and get the blasting nozzle to all area, so items that are long can be difficult.  A good example of a part that is at my limit is an in-line six cylinder head.  Blasting the combustion chambers is not difficult, but each end of the head can be difficult to get to.  On the other hand, an in-line six valve cover is light enough to be manageable, even though it is about the same length.  It's always best to call or email before getting your parts to me so that we can discuss the job. 

Do you only blast aluminum?

No, we can blast any metal as well as most plastics.

How clean do the parts need to be?

That is up to you, but the hourly rate is the same whether I'm vapor blasting your parts or degreasing them before blasting.  Pre-cleaning the parts is a good way to save some money.

So, how much will it cost me to get my intake manifold blasted?

That depends on a lot of things.  I have learned the hard way not to have set prices on types of parts, but instead charge an hourly rate, which is currently $75.  I can typically give a close estimate based on photos and a quick conversation with you.  That said, intake manifolds typically take an hour or so.

Do you have a minimum?

Nope.  If you have a small job that only takes five minutes, then it's only $5.00.  The hourly rate is $60, so $1 per minute for whatever you have.

What is the turnaround time?

Depending on workload, typically one day.  Arrangements can be made for those in the greater Houston area to drop off the parts, go have lunch, then stop back by and pick up their parts.  I have a number of customers who do this in order to save a trip.

What if I'm not local, can I ship my items?

Absolutely!  I have done parts for customers as far away as Sweden.  Here's how that process works:

Where are you located and what are your hours?

We are located in League City, TX at 370 Amber Lane, which is about one mile west of I-45.  We don't have a storefront, so request that you call and make arrangements before you stop in.  My hours vary based on the workload, but I'm retired from a real job, so almost always here.  Many customer's schedules only allow them come out on evenings or weekends, so we do our best to accommodate them.