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You can now make those old powder-coated and factory-machine-polished wheels look like new! You'll even be able to give them a custom look by painting or powder-coating your wheel accent areas prior to a final protectant coating. Using Eastwood's Wheel Smoothing Kit and Wheel Buffing Kit, we were able to take a used BMW 325i wheel from dull to like-new condition. You can do the same with just about any wheel you choose. You'll want to dismount the wheels from the car, and we highly recommend dismounting the tires too, before the stripping process begins.


Before starting the stripping process or buffing, be sure to read and adhere to Eastwood's Safety Precautions found in the instruction booklet included with the product; paint strippers are toxic. Also, buffing wheels operate at over 2000 rpm, and could potentially throw off bits of cloth and compound.

It's a good idea to put down a plastic drop cloth and wear chemical-resistant clothing while using the stripper. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and suitable eye protection. You'll also need a plastic paint scraper (a putty knife will do, as will plastic filler spreaders), non-woven abrasive pads, a natural bristle brush, and plenty of clean water.

Strip the Wheel

Eastwood's paint strippers are some of the best on the market; however, factory powder coat is tough stuff and may require a few applications of stripper to remove.

Working in a well-ventilated area, shake the can thoroughly and pour right from the can, or use a bristle brush to apply the stripper to the wheel from a smaller metal can. In our case, we used an old kitchen jar with a lid so we could close it between steps. When opening the can of stripper, be sure to release the pressure inside slowly.

Once you apply the first coat of stripper, do not re-brush areas. Allow the stripper 5-10 minutes to work. Check the softening action of the stripper with the plastic scrapper or your non-woven abrasive pad. The surface should "alligator" or "blister" in short order. If this does not happen, give it more time and check again. If the first application of stripper doesn't completely remove the finish, apply another coat of stripper, and wait again.

Remove the stripper using the scraper or non-woven abrasive. Since our demonstration wheel had both large flat areas in the center as well as lots of nooks and crannies, we had the most success with the non-woven abrasive pads.

Have a cardboard box close by to contain the stripper residue you've wiped from the plastic scraper. (Dispose according to your local or state regulations pertaining to hazardous waste disposal.) We also found we needed to rinse out the non-woven abrasive pads frequently as they did load-up with old finish and stripper.

Since powder coat is tough stuff, you may need to repeat the process.

Strip a Third Time

Once you are down to a clean wheel, go through the process a third time to assure a 100% strip. As a final step, wash the entire surface with clean water and a clean non-woven abrasive pad, followed by a clean cloth. Don't be surprised to find your formerly smooth aluminum wheel has a fine texture of open pores once the surface coating is removed.

Allow stripper residues to thoroughly dry before discarding. Observe all applicable waste disposal laws.

Polish & Buff Using A Variety Of Compounds

You will be polishing and buffing your wheel with a series of progressively finer compounds. To do so you will need a high-speed buffer, drill, or flexible shaft (which can help you avoid hand fatigue). We started with a Sears Craftsman Pro-Series High-Speed Drill capable of 2500 rpm, and the Eastwood Wheel Smoothing Kit mentioned previously. The Smoothing Kit contains all the progressively finer compounds, a 4" spiral buff, a goblet buff, wheel arbor, buff taper and detailed instructions.

Using Eastwood's 80-Grit Greaseless Compound, run a slowly moving 4" spiral buff against the compound for an even coating. Permit the compound to dry. Strike the buff with a screwdriver handle to free-up the material a little to do its job.

Following the diagram in the directions, work your buff across the surface to be polished at a 90° angle. As you progress you will see the surface take on a dull, polished aluminum finish. Turn the wheel 90° and polish the surface once again. You may find you will have to repeat each step and recoat your buff several times. Remember, it's important to let the buff dry for about 15 minutes after each application of Greaseless Compound before using the buff. Note the difference in the buffed side of the wheel and the side we had not started on yet, after only one pass with the buffer.

Eastwood's Tapered Goblet Buff is ideal for getting into tight places such as lug nut holes and our finned areas. At this point, before moving on to the next level of compound, be sure to wash your wheel with warm soapy water and make sure it's free of compound residue; dry before moving on.

Once you're satisfied you've produced an evenly polished surface with the 80-grit compound, move on to Eastwood's 220-Grit Greaseless Compound. Once again, run a clean, new 4" buff against the compound and permit it to dry before you begin polishing your surface. Keep your buffing wheel as close to a 90° angle from the previous grit scratches as you can.

You will notice the surface of your wheel will take on a smoother and more polished look, yet a very aluminum look/color will persist. Repeat as needed and use the same procedure to reload Greaseless Compound onto the buff. It's best to use the goblet buff in tight areas with the 220-grit compound.

You will now switch to Eastwood's 320-Grit Greaseless Compound and another brand new 4" spiral buff. Use the same procedures as followed with the coarser compounds.

Note that Greaseless Compounds can dry out. While Eastwood's plastic packaging can be resealed with care, we recommend the use of airtight plastic freezer bags to protect your compounds from drying out before your next session.

It was at the 320-grit stage we could really start seeing some real results in our work. Be sure to continue to wash your wheel thoroughly with warm soapy water between each level of compound, making sure to rinse all the soap away as well.

The Finishing Stage

Proceed to Eastwood's Wheel Buffing Kit for the final finishing stage. The kit contains Tripoli Buff Compound, which is perfect for all base metals such as aluminum, copper, brass and pewter. Also included is White Rouge Buff Compound, which will produce the final brilliant shine. Use the same basic procedures as you followed with the coarser materials, the exception being the use of a 4" Loose-Section Buff for the final polish with the White Rouge.

At this point, your wheel should turn to a chrome-like shine right before your eyes, and the sense of pride in doing it yourself will take hold.

Create Contrast For Dramatic Effect

Since our wheel was originally painted in the deeper nooks and crannies, we want to create the same contrast or drama against the new chrome-like shine of the main surface, fins and rim. We determined we would paint these areas with Eastwood's Silver Argent Rally Wheel Paint. We began masking-off the rim area by applying masking tape over the clean, freshly polished metal. An X-Acto® knife was used to trim the tape by simply running around the inner edge of the wheel and peeling away the excess. We covered our main surface area with masking tape as well, trimming away the excess tape with the X-Acto® knife.

We were now ready to begin the final finish coating stage. We painted a light but even coat of Eastwood's Self-Etch Primer on the recessed surfaces to assure the paint would bond with the bare metal. After the primer had about 15 minutes to dry, we sprayed the open areas with the Silver Argent wheel paint. The end result was a beautiful chrome-like shine on all of our higher surfaces, offset by the satiny silver rough case areas of the insets.

Preserve That Like-New Finish

Once the painted areas had completely dried, we washed the wheel one more time, making sure to eliminate any possible residue from the masking tape. To preserve our new finish, we chose Eastwood's Diamond Clear Gloss for Bare Metal.