Save Your Hands! Metal Buffing Made Easy.

As I've mentioned in other entries, I am a bit of a rare-wheel "fanatic". I seem to spend more time seeking out and deciding on the wheels I am going to be running on a project, than I do picking a paint color! Because of my love for rare, old wheels; I often end up with a set of wheels that need a lot of love. In the past I have been a stickler for polishing wheels all by hand. This means starting with 6-800 grit sandpaper, and working my way all the way up to wet 2000-2500 grit paper, and hand rubbing the finish out with Autosol. This takes a LONG time, is messy, and often left my hands sore for days after polishing up a set of wheels. I considered using a buff motor, but as with any DIY'er, I am always on a budget and I couldn't justify buying a buff motor and supplies.

Here at Eastwood, we put together a Polishing/Buffing Kit that makes my life so much easier when it comes to polishing up an old set of alloys (and doesn't break the bank!). The kit comes with the essentials to get that mirror-polish look that everyone wants. I took the kit home and found a good way to turn your regular home electric drill and vice into a buff motor.

I first laid out the kit to see everything that I got with it, and pulled out specifically the buffing pads and compounds I would need.

For the job I was doing, I was restoring some polished aluminum lips on a set of vintage three piece race wheels. The lips were quite tarnished from years of use on a dedicated track car. I had previously used a few of our Hot Coat Powders to coat and restore the rear barrel and center portion of the wheel. Here are a few shots of the parts I powder coated. You can see in the first picture an example of how the lips looked almost gray before I used some buffing magic.


Before I began, I decided to get the dirt, grime, and residue from the sticky wheel weights off of the lips. The buffing wheels and compound will not work miracles, they do need clean/residue free metal to begin with! I used a can of PRE, a rag, and some elbow grease, which made the residue came off quite easily, even the old duct tape residue they had over some of the weights!

Next, I got the drill clamped into the vice and a polishing wheel into the drill. At first I tried an upright position with the drill, but I later found that clamping the drill into a horizontal position really made things more comfortable for me while buffing. I decided to start with a triple stitched buffing wheel and the brown compound. The brown compound is quite aggressive, so if you have a part that still has some shine to it to begin with, you may want to start with the less aggressive gray or the white compounds to avoid causing yourself more work.

You can see below that even just starting with the brown compound, the difference between the area I had worked and what I started with. Luckily I was only working with 13" wheel lips, so this process went quite quick.

Although the stitched pads seemed to be the best buffing wheels for the job, there were some heavily tarnished areas in the valley of the lips that I couldn't get to with the stitched pads. I changed out to a small cone wheel, and it blew right through the tarnish.


I also began using the softer "pear shaped" buff cylinder with the white compound to get the base of the lip where it bolts together. These spots are important to get nice and polished, as the bolts are so close together, it is nearly impossible to repolish them by hand with rubbing compound. So the better they look to begin with, the less work it is to maintain that finish in the future.

After a few hours of work I had all 4 lips polished, and WOW what a difference! You can really see the mirror polish coming out when doing the last step with the white compound. For the final step I used a microfiber rag and some Norton Detailer to remove any final buffing compound residue. Finally after assembly I could stand back and admire the difference between the wheels before and after.

To keep the mirror polish in place, and seal the lips from further tarnishing, I like to use our Metal Protect for an invisible barrier and easy cleaning in the future.

As I mentioned, any of the Eastwood Buff Motors will do the job just as well, but sometimes we can't always justify the space or money required to own one, and have to come up with creative solutions like this. Feel free to comment with any of your tricks, tips, or hints when buffing!

11 thoughts on “Save Your Hands! Metal Buffing Made Easy.”

  • Ken-do-polishing

    Nice work. There is no substitute for a little power tool usage! I find for a beginner or someone that is not doing a big job a normal bench grinder work WONDERS over trying to do it by hand. This will save HOURS!! And hey its a multi purpose tool, so buying one 2nd hand for ~$20 is a worth wile investment. :) Polish on!

    Before
    http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y205/KENLUDE97/Polishing/Eric-Rims/imglarge_20080522154605_2.jpg

    After
    http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y205/KENLUDE97/Polishing/IMG_7731.jpg

    Reply
  • Joedirt216

    I bought the same kit, but when it showed up all the polishes or compounds, were hard as a rock, do you have to do something to prep these first or did I receive a bad batch of compounds? I haven't been able to use this kit yet, because of the compounds. Do you have any suggestions? Should I return the kit?
    Thanks, Joe

    Reply
    • MattM

      The compounds come in the round tubes. They are in fact "hard" and not a gel. You need to run the cylinder of the appropriate compound on the buff wheel while it is spinning and it will distribute the compound onto the buffing wheel. The different compounds will go on a little easier depending on which compound you are using. I like to try and keep the buffing wheels for each compound separated for best results. Don't try and use white finish compound on a wheel you were using a hard cutting brown compound on before. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  • Ken

    Can I use this to polish a aluminum valve cover on a Mazda Miata.

    Reply
    • MattM

      You can use this on anything that is metal, so it works great for a valve cover! Just strip all of your paint off of the cover and start working through the compounds. You may need to start with wet sanding depending how rough the valve cover casting is to start with.

      Reply
  • Mike Reiser

    I was glad to see that I am not the only person who spends a lot of time polishing parts. I recently made a bracket for my Lokar throttle cable where it comes through the firewall, took about 15 mins to make the bracket but then another hour to POLISH it! I polish as many of my parts as I can and I have one side of my bench grinder dedicated to a buffer. Great article

    Reply
  • bdering

    I use Eastwood products for buffing and polishing, they are the best! See: www.briandering.com (polishing) manifold and distributor...

    To Joedirt216: The compounds are hard...they are supposed to be and it is not a bad batch. You hold them against the buff you are using while it is spinning. That 'melts' the compound and it will stick to the buff. I mark or use a zip-lock bag for each compound I use. I either mark the buff wheel with a marker or place small bobs on a zip-lock bag with the compound type written on the bag. As mentioned in the article, you really do not want to use different compounds on the same buff.

    Also, you do not need a lot of compound on the buff to work. If you are holding it to the spinning buff for more than minute, you have too much on the buff...this can cause the compound to stick to the surface you are buffing and prevent that spot from being buffed...and you can get waves in the final finish.

    You may also want to use the largest wheel or bob possible for buffing and polishing. This spreads out the pressure and the buffing will go a little slower but you will decrease the risk of getting waves in smooth surfaces.

    The last two tip I can give are; Keep it clean (dirt will leave deep scratches in your finish that you may find difficult or impossible to remove). And Keep Moving (staying in one spot too long WILL cause a divot in the piece...keep the parts moving).

    I hope that helps.

    Reply
  • stevec

    One suggestion about the drill -- I learned that you can avoid clamping the trigger handle or body into the vise (and possibly damaging the internal electrics) if your drill has one of those "steadying" handles that clamp onto the drill body between the body and the chuck and stick out at 90 degrees. Since it's just plastic, with no electrics inside, you can clamp it down tight, and it also gives you a lot more flexibility to position your buff (or wire wheel or sanding pad) in just about any direction.

    Btw, I put a buffing wheel on my bench grinder but it doesn't take much pressure when buffing to slow it down. I kept the grinding wheel on the other side -- should I mount a larger wheel for more flywheel effect?

    Reply
  • Joedirt216

    Brian, thanks for the info, this kit has been sitting for along time because i thought it was bad. I'm glad to hear it is still good, and I will be using it soon. Great article also. Thanks Eastwood.

    Reply
  • Rad Stewert

    Can I used this to polish the dashboard of my Honda? This might help me in working fast.

    Reply
  • MattM

    Hi Rad,

    We do include a compound in the kit for polishing plastic, but without seeing your dash, it's hard to confirm if it will be effective on yours. I'd suggest trying a small hidden area first to test the compound.

    Reply

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