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 How To Polish Paint Part III: Hand Polishing

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The Engine Guy
The Engine Guy

Posts : 172
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Join date : 2009-02-10
Age : 40
Location : Austin, AR

PostSubject: How To Polish Paint Part III: Hand Polishing   Sun Mar 01, 2009 9:49 pm

Hand Polishing vs. A Car Polisher or Buffer

I get a lot of questions regarding the difference between hand and machine polishing. My general response is, "Time and the final finish." There's not a lot you can do by machine that can't be done by hand using the correct materials and methods, but it takes a lot more time.

Let's establish some basic rules for polishing:

Polishing rule 1: Use the least aggressive tool or polishing material necessary to get the job done. Hand polishing is the least aggressive, followed by a dual-action (DA) polisher, followed by a rotary buffer.

Polishing rule 2: Do not mix polishing materials. Do not use the same polishing pad or cloth with multiple abrasive materials.

Polishing rule 3: Work in good lighting conditions, and frequently check your work. You will rue the day you polish through your paint because you couldn't see what you were doing or polished in one area too long.

Polishing with a rotary buffer requires skill and training. We're going to discuss the proper use of this versatile tool later. For most car appearance enthusiasts, a rotary buffer is not a necessary tool. It is essential for professional detailers and painters, who need to properly machine-compound a car.

Polishing with a dual-action machine, such as the Porter Cable 7424 car polisher, is a great way for most car enthusiasts to create a perfect paint finish without a lot of elbow grease. Although a dual-action polisher does not have the power and speed of a rotary buffer, it also does not have the potential liabilities.

Car Polishing Basics

No matter what method of polishing you choose (hand, dual-action polisher or rotary buffer), the basic process is the same. You start by removing imperfections, and gradually decrease abrasive materials until you have achieved fully glazed paint. In this section I'll address hand polishing specifically, but, as I have said, the basics are the same. I'll go into machine polishing in the next section.
Removing Imperfections & Paint Damage

If your car's paint has minor surface scratches (micro marring, swirl marks, etch marks, water spots), then you should start by spot treating each imperfection with a fine compound. Never compound the entire car unless it is absolutely necessary for problems like these:

Severe water spots or swirl marks

Heavy oxidation due to sun and weather exposure

Heavy swirl marks or other micro marring

Poor repaint or paint repair blending

Poor surface finish (orange peel)

Heavy surface pitting from sand or road stones

Compound will remove minor scratches and scuffs by hand with very little effort. Most detailers I know compound by hand incorrectly. In fact, most compound manufacturers do not give proper instructions. Rubbing compound is nothing more than a fine sandpaper in paste form.

Compounds should be used in the same way and with the same respect as a sandpaper. My dad taught me to use a flat household sponge to apply compound by hand. This method works okay, because flat sponges are fairly dense and remain flat on the paint surface, but hand compounding is no longer a viable method to buff out a car. Modern paints are simply too hard. If your whole car needs compounding to remove scratches and other damage, you will need an electric polisher or buffer.

Before compounding, you must protect all trim that you don't want compounded with masking tape. If you don't mask off the trim, your cleanup work will increase significantly, and you risk damaging the trim. As an example, rubbing compound will quickly make flat or textured black trim very shiny and smooth. So, please take the time to do the job right, and use a little masking tape.

When compounding small areas by hand, it's not necessary to mask off everything as you would when compounding by machine, but you should mask the surface trim. Apply a small dab of compound to the pad itself, not to the car, and begin polishing a panel. Use moderate pressure and a medium speed. Compound no more than a 2' by 2' area at a time.

If you're spot-treating small scratches, keep the compounding to the area being treated. Aggressive compounds work fast, so be careful. All you're trying to do is cut down a small amount of the paint surface to remove the imperfections and level the paint. A compound will not restore full gloss, so don't be discouraged. You will use a finishing polish for the final step. Here are some tips for better compounding results:

* I have found that lightly spraying the polishing pad with a quick shot of detailing spray makes it much easier to apply any compound. One quick shot will do (just enough to make it slightly damp, not wet).
* Stay away from sharp edges on the body of the car. The paint in these areas will be thin. Don't make it thinner by compounding it.
* Compound using a dense foam applicator with a handle. It's safer, and the results will be much better.
* If you're trying to remove a deep scratch (you can feel it with your fingernail), don't try to do more than lessen its appearance. If you compound to the full depth of the scratch, you may cause the paint to fail. Better to be safe than sorry.
* Buff away the compound residue with a quality microfiber detailing towel.

Compounding may cause your paint to haze slightly or lose its high gloss. This is okay, because the next step is to re-glaze the paint with a grade 2 polish, like Sonus SFX-2 Enhance.
Use A Fine Polish To Refine The Finish
If your car did not require compounding to remove surface imperfections, that's great. You're way ahead of the game. Let's get started on learning hand polishing techniques. The purpose of polishing is not to fix paint imperfections. That's what we used the fine compound for in the previous step.

Polishing is used to refine the paint surface and to begin the process of glazing. When a paint is fully glazed, it has taken on all of the natural gloss and reflection it can without assistance from a wax or sealant. Just as with compounding, you need to adjust your thinking with polishing. Many people and product manufacturers suggest using a terry cloth towel or terry cloth applicator to apply polish. This is no longer the best polishing tool.

Today, the best tool for polishing is a high-quality foam applicator. Likewise, for buffing off polish residue, do not use terry cloth or flat cotton toweling. A good microfiber polishing cloth is far superior and is many times less abrasive than cotton terry cloth toweling. The procedure for polishing is not much different than it is for compounding. The idea is to keep the polishing applicator as flat to the paint surface as possible.
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