I decided to write an article dedicated to removal of paint on M-1 helmets. Over the years, I've seen a lot of helmets mistreated in an attempt to restore them, and I think that the method I use could do some good in this matter. I am not saying my method is the definitive answer, but my experience with this method is quite good.
First of all; this method is for US helmets, not for German or other type helmets from other countries. The method might work, but I have no experience or knowledge on other then US helmets, specifially on the original paint characteristics.
As we all know; US helmets have a texture, a cork texture. This cork texture is of course original to the helmet, so if a helmet is overpainted, and we want to remove the non originally applied paint, we would want to preserve this texture. This is where some of the restorations go wrong for people, because they use a much to agressive way of paint removal.
The cork on US helmets is embedded in the original paint, so if cork is removed, we remove original paint. We don't want that. I'll get back to this later in the article.
Assesment of the situation: When deciding on wether or not the helmet has been non originally overpainted, make sure you now what you are dealing with.
What type of paint was used for repainting? spraycan, housepaint, 2pac paint, etc... Some types are harder to remove then others.
What is the least invasive way of removing this non original paint? Inspect the helmet carefully, and see if there is allready evidence of paintloss. If the basepaint wasnt degreased properly, or is contaminated, it is highly likely the paint will come of relatively easy. One thing you can try, is taping a small place with masking tape. Best spot would be on a place where some paintloss is allready occuring. !!! Avoid these tryouts on places where there might be insignia. (follow me bars, ranks, unit markings, etc..) !!! When the small piece of tape is placed, press it in with the bed of your fingernail, to ensure a good adhesion to the surface. Don’t do this with a metal tool, as this might damage the underlying paint finish. Remove the masking tape. Now you can see if the paint comes off. If it does, using the masking tape technique might be a good, non invasive alternative to paint stripping. If the paint does not come off, a more aggressive technique might be needed. This technique is explained below.
Paint on US helmets is very tough. This might have something to do with the lead contained in the paint, or the fact that the paint on US helmets is baked on. This is an advantage, because common paint stripper is not as potent on these type paints.
Preparation: Make sure you have a good clean and stable working environment. Clean space is clean work. Make sure you have a chair handy, because you will be there for a good while. Make sure you have adequate lighting.
Tools needed: Paint stripper: any common paint stripper from the DIY shop
Acetone (DIY shop)
Clean rags (lots of them)
Stiff round paintbrush, medium size, clean
Luke warm water
Soda crystals or dishwasher soap
Foam dishwashing sponge
WD-40 spray can
Technique: First mask of any remaining chinstraps. Mask off the whole chinstrap, for ease of mind. This avoids accidental spills on the straps.
Take a small amount of the paint stripper, with your brush, and apply a reasonably thick coat of stripper, on a small area. Thickness 3 or 4mm, area not bigger then the base of a coke can.
Wait a few moments. If all goes well, you should see the paint starts to bubble up.
When this happens, remove the paint with your clean rag. Ideally no stripper touches other parts of the helmet not yet treated, or already treated. It is important to minimize the time the stripper is on the helmet. Alltough US helmet paint is very tough, paint stripper does however weaken the original paint, so the less time the stripper is in contact with the original paint, the better.
In most cases, a first wipe of the stripper takes off a lot of non-original paint, but leaves a lot of spots of this non original paint. This is where we use our brush again. Dip it in the stripper, and use the brush as a scrubber (like brushing your teeth). If you notice the paint comes off, immediately wipe it off with your clean rag. Don’t be too aggressive, because the brushing action may remove the corking, so take it easy.
Repeat this process until the whole helmet has been treated, taking extra care to check if no original markings appear from under the paint. If this is the case, extra extra care should be taken not to damage these markings.
After all this, this is where most people stop. We have some more things to do.
Your helmet is now relatively free from non-original paint, but faint smears remain, also, small spots where there is some rust, etc… We then take a clean rag, and saturate it richly with acetone. Do this outside, because acetone reeks, and makes you dizzy after a while. With this acetone rag, wipe off the whole helmet. Rub with your whole hand, not just between your fingers, because the wiping in small spots might be too coarse. Remember, the original paint is somewhat weakened at this time, and rubbing on a small spot might remove the original paint. We need to do this carefull, but fast, because we need to take advantage of the weakness of the paint. The non original paint is weak too, and we use this to our advantage. (I would not recommend this acetone for use on originally painted insignia)
This acetone wipe should take care of any remaining paint still on the helmet. Any non original paint on the helmet should be reduced to 0.5%.
As paint stripper is caustic, it is a good idea to stop the reaction with something. Wash the helmet in luke warm water with added soda, or dishwasher soap. Use a foam dishwashing sponge, the soft side. Wash it very gently. No scrubbing. Dry the helmet afterwards with a clean towel. Don’t rub, dab the helmet with the towel.
Once dry, the helmet will appear lusterless, and has a somewhat faded look, like the paint has been desaturated. This is normal, and caused by the stripper and acetone. I give the shell a good onceover with WD-40, and then dry it off again with a clean rag. This brings back the shine we like on our helmets, and after a day, the greasy look has evaporated.
Edit; A word of caution! After posting this tutorial, several members pointed out that using WD-40, especially repeated use of WD-40, can cause deterioration of the paint and cork texture. I would advise NOT useing WD-40. This was new for me too, and I thank the members that pointed it out.
Don’t forget to remove the masking tape from the straps. Masking tape bonds with surfaces over time, so remove asap.
This is a technique I have been using for a few years now, and it has served me well. I have used this technique on 15 to 20 helmets. I hope it can help someone out!
And here are some pictures of the latest helmet that got this treatment. Unfortunately, I do not have 'before' pictures. This perticular helmet had 2 layers of postwar repaint. Top coat was military green, and the 2nd layer was a shade of sky blue.
The finished project;
Edited by Peace, 05 December 2013 - 09:21 AM.