Guidelines for Polishing Aluminum with Drill Accessories
Before beginning the polishing process, clean your aluminum thoroughly. This will accomplish two things: first of all, it will remove any abrasive material that will cause scratching in the polishing process. Secondly, it will enable you to determine what level of abrasion is needed in an aluminum rouge or liquid polish. Before beginning to polish it will also be necessary to determine if sanding is needed. A good rule of thumb is if your fingernail can catch the edge of a scratch, it will need to be sanded before it can be polished. If sanding is required, begin with about 320 grit wet dry and in most instances working up to 1000 grit is sufficient. Be sure to sand with a consistent motion, without cross hatching. In other words, follow the grain of the material. Sand until there are no scratches visible and a smooth finish is achieved.
Now for the polishing process. Be sure to wear protective gear when doing this work. Using a 1/4″ or 3/8″ variable speed drill, the best results will be obtained by operating within the 2000 to 3000 rpm range. Cordless drills operated at lower rpms will work, but the work is more time consuming.
Begin your polishing by choosing the drill buff best suited to the item you are working on. The purpose of different buffs and bobs, as well as the different sizes, is that they will help you get in different areas of the object you are polishing. At this point you will also want to choose your rouge or polish. If you are using a rouge bar, it is a bit more difficult to get the rouge on the buffs than with a liquid polish. It will prove helpful to place the rouge bar in a vice to keep it firmly in place. Now coat the buff with the compound you have chosen. You only need a small amount of rouge/polish for the buff to work properly. Begin with the coarsest rouge/polish and work toward the finest polish. The exception to this, however, is if your aluminum is in good shape. In this instance, selecting a finer rouge/polish will be all that is necessary. If you are using a liquid metal polish, you may want to apply the polish to the item being polished, rather than to the buff itself. This will prevent the buff “throwing” the polish.
In the process of buffing, let the buff do the work. Slight pressure works the best. You will notice a residue coming off the material as you polish (aluminum will produce a black soot). Continue polishing, reapplying compound as necessary. When you are ready to change from one compound to another, be sure to clean your buff thoroughly. This is done by “raking” the buff, that is, holding a sharp metal tool like a screwdriver or chisel against the rotating buff. Be sure the pad rotation is down and toward the raking tool. Using the drill trigger lock will enable you to hold the front of the drill for good control. For the very best results in this polishing process, it is recommended that you use a new and separate buff for each compound. In any event, buffs need to be cleaned in the manner just described.
Continue polishing until the surface appears shiny with no visible scratches. The project is completed by using the finest applicable compound (rouge/polish). Use a microfiber towel or other soft cloth to wipe off any remaining residue.
Having completed your work, be sure to properly store your buffs, once they are cleaned. Keep the pads sealed in a plastic bag. This will keep them dry and clean, and provide the most future usage.
(with regard to buff selection, we highly recommend the 3″ and 5″ wool balls found under “Lake Country Polishing Supplies.” Be sure to consider a compatible Enkay 8″ extender, which will enable you to get in the hard-to-reach areas.)