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Machine Polishing Aluminum

Equipment & supplies needed

As an introduction, i would recommend that you go to youtube and check out the videos put together by one of my customers, d c super shine. Many have expressed that these videos are the most helpful videos on youtube for polishing aluminum. The owner of d c super shine (denis) has asked me to put together two kits that he has designed for polishing aluminum using a two step polishing process. We have done so, and both kits are called by the name “d c super shine”. We offer a heavy cut d c super shine kit and a standard cut d c super shine kit. These two kits are available on this website under the d c super shine name. We have kept the price of these kits very reasonable. Both d c super shine kits employ a rapid medium/heavy fast cutting buffing wheel for primary cutting, which we have found to be our best-selling wheel for this purpose. We have also incorporated a finishing white/blue untreated wheel into these kits. The only difference between these two kits is the rouge bar employed in the first stage of polishing. The heavy cut kit employs a more aggressive rouge bar, this kit still allows the polisher to proceed directly to the final finish after the initial cut. The rouge bars used in these two kits are what make these kits quite exceptional. We use specific menzerna rouge bars from germany, which according to denis and many of our customers, are “awesome.”

Machine polishing aluminum with zephyr buffing products, as well as garfield, and keystone supplies, can involve numerous supplies and steps. The number of steps and supplies used in the polishing process depends on certain factors, such as the condtion of the aluminum, the degree of shine desired, and the amount of time one is willing to spend on the project. Many polishers perform their work in two steps. Others prefer three or four steps, or even five to achieve the highest level of shine. We offer already assembled kits to accommodate any one of these various levels. Please check out our popular two stage d c super shine kits under the category by this name, or see our other customized kits under “zephyr buffing supplies” (pg.5, website). In the section below we list the possible choices in wheels and rouges for a polishing project.

1. Rouge bars

The Zephyr gray stainless rouge bar (containing 320 grit emery) is used for very heavy cutting. Use this rouge only when very heavy corrosion and oxidation is present. The same holds true for the Keystone and Jacksonlea gray bars found on our website under “rouge bars & buffing wheel sets.”

The brown Tripoli rouge bar is for primary (heavy) cutting. This is the bar normally used in the beginning of the polishing process. A very popular alternative to this bar is the Menzerna pale green rouge bar, which actually cuts even better than the Tripoli bars on the market. (on a scale of 1 – 10, the average brown Tripoli bar cut is a six cut, whereas the Menzerna pale green bar is an eight cut; and the Menzerna bar produces a five shine, impressive for the amount of cut.)

The standard green chrome bar is for secondary (medium) cutting or semi-finish.

The white chrome bar is for final finishing, thus for achieving a high lustre finish. Two very succesful alternative bars to the white rouge bar are the menzerna 480 blf blue bar and the matchless 8b56 “easy clean” blue bar. Also the Zephyr platinum slate bar can be selected. These premium rouge bars are preferred over the standard white bars.

The Zephyr platinum series rouge bars are for very high luster finishing, a show quality finish. The most popular platinum bar among my customers is either the blue moon rouge bar or the max red rouge bar. These zephyr bars are called “coloring” bars, simply meaning that they are not for cutting, but for adding or enhancing brilliance. The zephyr slate platinum rouge bar can be used instead of the zephyr white chrome rouge bar in the final finish. The slate rouge bar is both a cut and coloring bar. This means it will add brilliance to the aluminum as well as to assist in the final finish stage of polishing.

2. Polishing wheels

The polishing wheels are available in two diameters, eight inch and ten inch. The eight inch wheels are most frequently used by those individuals new to polishing and doing their own work. The ten inch wheels, because of faster results, are often preferred by experienced amateurs and professionals alike. In either case, polishing aluminum is often accomplished in three stages, the primary cut, secondary cut, and lastly the final finish. If the aluminum is in very poor condition, there are instances when a polisher may begin with a “very heavy cutting preliminary step.” In this instance the gray emery rouge bar is used with an aggressive heavy-cutting wheel like the zephyr orange airway wheel or the blue airway wheel. Some polishers, as mentioned earlier, prefer to do their work in two stages. The d c super shine kits are based on this preference. Denis, owner of d c super shine, emphasizes the importance of sanding prior to polishing. Sanding the aluminum, in many instances, will result in more brilliance and clarity. More about this will be presented later. (note: a buffing wheel with the steel center piece is an airway buffing wheel.)

For primary cutting, use the zephyr airway orange, blue, yellow fast cut, or yellow mill treat wheels. The yellow wheels are less aggressive than the orange and blue wheels. Base your selection on the extent of weathering and oxidation. Orange and blue would be better choices than yellow fast cut or yellow mill treat if very heavy-cutting is required. Although we mentioned the orange and blue wheels above in conjunction with the gray rouge bar in a possible “preliminary” step, the orange and blue wheels can also be used at this primary stage with the brown rouge bar. Many polishers choose to start with the medium-cut yellow mill treat wheel or the medium/heavy cut yellow fast cut wheel for the majority of their work at the primary stage. The yellow fast cut wheel is a zephyr wheel, and is in between the orange (or blue) zephyr airway and the yellow mill treat wheel in aggressiveness. It is a highly effective medium/heavy cut polishing wheel. At this primary stage the brown rouge bar, or the menzerna pale green rouge bar (heavy-cutting) is used with any of the wheels mentioned here.

For secondary cutting (stage two) you can also polish with a yellow mill treat buffing wheel (zephyr, keystone, garfield). The ideal selections for this stage, however, are the zephyr purple lea buffing wheel, hall green, or the white treated semi-finish buffing wheel. The purple lea and the hall green wheels are medium/light buffing wheels. The Zephyr white treated semi-finish wheel is a light-cutting to semi-finish buffing wheel. We now have a new wheel available from Zephyr, which is a purple/green smooth cut buffing wheel. One of these numerous selections would be a great choice if you are polishing in several stages. At this stage the green chrome rouge bar is employed. Keep in mind that you can begin your work at this second stage if heavy oxidation is not present and the aluminum is thus in good condition.

Whether you are engaging in a second step or starting at this point, the standard green rouge bar is used here. As mentioned previously, many polishers actually skip this step altogether, using only two steps to their polishing work. These polishers will usually begin with one of the yellow wheel selections (yellow mill treat or yellow fast cut), and a brown bar. They then move on to the final finish stage mentioned below using a white untreated buffing wheel and a white rouge bar, or as mentioned earlier, a menzerna blue bar or matchless blue bar. If you prefer to polish in three stages, you may wish to see the customized three stage polishing kit we have assembled on page 5 under “zephyr buffing products.” (note that in between stages of polishing you may wish to wipe down the aluminum with the zephyr pro 50 eliminator. This product will remove residue and open the pores to assist the polishing process.)

The final finish stage (stage two/three) of polishing aluminum is to bring out the “mirror shine.” For this last stage, use the zephyr airway white untreated wheel, the new zephyr blue/white super shine buffing wheel, the keystone white treated wheel (very soft), or any of the cotton muslin buffs in 30, 40, 50 or 60 ply, especially the 60 ply 5 row sewn selection. The majority of my customers prefer to use the white untreated buffing wheel. Keep in mind that this stage of machine polishing can also be used apart from the previous steps in simply maintaining your aluminum’s mirror shine. At this stage of polishing the white rouge bar, or one of the blue bars mentioned earlier, is used. You may also wish to try the zephyr platinum slate bar at this point, a cut and color rouge bar. (note: for added luster and brilliance, the zephyr blue coloring rouge or max red rouge bar is sometimes used as a follow-up, an extra step, using the soft cotton muslin wheels or the white domet flannel wheels, especially the zephyr 8” white domet flannel 40 ply buffing wheel.)

3. Safety flange kit

Always use safety flanges with any buffing wheel that has the steel center plate. This type of buffing wheel is called an “airway” buffing wheel. The safety flanges cover the metal center plate to provide stability and protection in the event a buffing wheel should come apart. We offer zephyr’s composite flange kit, as well as Keystone’s metal flange kit. (also it is recommended that you use a respirator and face shield or goggles).

4. Variable speed sander/grinder machine (0 – 6000 rpms)

A popular polishing machine is the dewalt 849x polisher, sold on this website under “polishers, sanding discs, etc.” The recommended rpms for polishing aluminum is between 2000 and 3500. The rpm level chosen may pertain to what stage of polishing with which one is engaged. In using a very high luster combination of wheel and rouge the rpms may be reduced. The dewalt 849x is a variable speed polisher that provides a range of 0 – 3500 rpms. Some have called this polisher “the workhorse of polishers.” We also offer the milwaukee sander/grinder under the same category mentioned. This machine offers a variable speed range between 0 – 6000 rpms. The maximum recommended rpms for the airway buffing wheels is 3400 rpms for the 8″ wheels and 3200 rpms for the 10″ wheels. Some polishers prefer to polish at higher rpms, such as around 6000. To polish at 6000 rpms is well beyond the recommended rpm ratings, but many polishers feel their results to be both faster and superior to polishing at the recommended rpms. We do not recommend this but acknowledge such to be the case. In choosing a polisher you will need one with an arbor about one inch in length in order to accommodate the safety flanges and airway buffing wheels. The arbor must have 5/8″ x 11 thread. There should also be a spacer on the arbor to keep the buffing wheel from rubbing against the polisher. Many of our customers purchase the zephyr 2″ extender kit found on page one under “zephyr buffing supplies.” The 2″ extender kit is a handy accessory that bumps everything a couple of inches away from the polisher. If the arbor of your polisher happens to be too short, this kit provides an easy solution to this problem.

5. Zephyr pro 40 metal polish along with some microfiber towels.

Many polishers will do a final wipe down of their aluminum to remove any remaining rouge residue. This is done with a metal polish (your favorite!) And microfiber towels. This step helps to seal and prolong the reults of your hard work. Make sure your microfiber towels are kept in a bag or in such a way as to keep them free of dirt particles. Microfiber is great material, but it is a magnet for dirt and must be kept clean so as to avoid collecting abrasive material.

The polishing process

Make sure to clean and dry your wheels prior to commencing. In preparation, an acid wash is sometimes recommended. One of my customers uses a product (varsol) similar to a low odor paint thinner with an sos pad to prep the wheels, removing any tar and heavy grime. For a lighter, milder prep product, try the pro 50 eliminator. (this product can be used in between stages to assist in removing residue and opening the pores of the aluminum.)

If pits and deep scratches are present in the aluminum, or to obtain the ultimate brilliance and clarity, sanding may be necessary prior to the buffing process. If sanding, you can start with about 180 – 320 grit and work up to around 1000 grit. Denis, owner of dc super shine, prefers dry sanding, and generally starts at 320 grit. He then does a second step at 400 grit, followed by a third step using 600 grit. (there are some instances when he finds it necessary to start with 180 grit.) After the third step with the 600 grit, he begins the polishing process. We offer 6″ solid hook and loop sanding discs in all of these grits (and more) on our site under “polishers, sanding discs, etc.” We have dc super shine sanding kits available that offer the four grits mentioned here (180,320,400, 600). These kits can be found under “dc super shine kits ”on our website. Hook and loop discs (velcro) are generally preferred to “stick on”, which can do just that – stick on! After sanding, denis then initiates the polishing process.

1. Primary cutting (brown rouge)

After your initial preparation, choose the buffing wheel most appropriate to the condition of your aluminum. For heavier cutting, use the orange or blue buffing wheel. For less heavy cutting, choose the medim cutting yellow mill treat; or for something in between, you may want to use the zephyr #4 yellow fast cut buffing wheel. This particualr wheel, as mentioned, is very popular with professionals. Many professionals almost always begin with one of the yellow wheels. At this beginning point in the polishing process the brown rouge bar (or menzerna pale green 439 t) is used. If using a wheel that has been used before, make sure it is clean and free from abrasive particles.

It is unnecessary, and in fact should be avoided when applying rouge to the buffing wheel, that pressure is applied. Simply “touch” the rouge bar with the outside edge of the buffing wheel until the rouge adheres to the wheel. The rouge bar should be placed on a clean surface to avoid collecting debris. Do not overapply the rouge to the wheel. (when using menzerna rouge bars this is especially important since a little goes a long way. More is not better; rather, as well stated by the old charmin commercial, less is more.) The polishing work itself is done by letting the rouge compound do the cutting and polishing. Avoid the tendency of applying excessive pressure to the buffing wheel. It is also important to avoid excessively high rpms as the heat generated on the work surface will interfere with the rouge working properly. The recommended rpms for polishing aluminum is around 3000 rpms. The vast majority of my polishing customers don’t polish below this, at least not at this stage. As stated earlier, there are polishers who prefer to polish at much higher rpms. These polishers have been doing this work for a long time and have developed a technique that works well for them. They feel that their results are faster and superior to polishing at lower rpms. We again mention it, but cannot recommend it, due to the fact that the buffing wheel manufacturers all place lower rpm recommended limits on their wheels.

In general terms, you will want to start at the top or bottom of the item being polished (fuel tank for example) and polish by sections. Use a smooth left to right, right to left polishing motion. Make several passes using an overlapping motion, as you work across, top to bottom or bottom to top. Don’t move too quickly, and clean your buffing wheels periodically during use with a polish cleaning rake. (a rake is included in our polishing kits.) Applying your wheel to the polishing rake should be a matter of only a second or so. Do this every few inches of work, or as you notice a silvery-gray build-up beginning to occur on the buffing wheel. When overlapping, as you move up or down the tank, move only a half inch to an inch at a time. When you are finished with a buffing wheel, be sure to clean it with a polishing rake. Store the buffing wheels in a plastic bag to keep them from picking up abrasive material.

2. Secondary cutting (green rouge)

For secondary cutting, if you choose to do so, the ideal choices in buffing wheels, as mentioned earlier, are the zephyr purple -lea, zephyr hall green, zephyr white treated semi-finish buffing wheel, or the new zephyr blue/white super shine wheel. If you are beginning your task at this stage, you may want to use the zephyr or keystone yellow mill treat wheel and then proceed to the third (final shine) step. At this secondary stage, the green rouge bar is used.

Use the same motion and direction as in the preceding step. If you notice that the rouge compound is “caking” on the edge of the buffing wheel, use a buffing wheel “polishing rake” (included in the kits) to clean the excess compound from the wheel. You do not want to have a build-up of rouge and crud on the buffing wheel, or the aluminum surface. A common mistake is to use too much rouge. This makes it difficult to remove from the aluminum. If you should get a build-up of rouge on the aluminum, back off the rouge, and go over the area without additional rouge.

3. Final finish (white rouge, menzerna blue, platinum slate, matchless blue)

For the final step in the machine polishing process, choose the zephyr white untreated airway buffing wheel, the new zephyr blue/white super shine buffing wheel, or the keystone white treated airway buffing wheel. You may also opt to use one of the cotton muslin buffs which come in 30, 40, 50 or 60 ply. The 30 ply has the least width and the 60 ply is the widest. Most polishers as mentioned earlier, however, prefer the untreated airway buffing wheels. Use the same procedure as in the previous steps. Before you begin, however, you may wish to wipe down the surface area to remove any residue from the previous polishing stage. The zephyr pro 50 eliminator may be used for this purpose. This effort may improve the polishing results of this final stage. After this third step, if you are looking for the ultimate shine, you may wish to follow with the blue moon rouge or max red rouge and a soft cotton muslin wheel, or a zephyr white domet flannel 40 ply wheel. The blue rouge and max red are not cutting rouges, but coloring rouges, meaning that they are used to add or enhance the brilliance of the aluminum.)

4. Final wipe down

After finishing the above process, this last step will take care of any dust and caked residue in the pores of the aluminum, and help to extend the results of your hard work. Apply zephyr pro 40, white diamond metal polish, nuvite s grade, or another favorite (see “choosing a metal polish”) to a microfiber towel. Rub the surface, going with the grain of the aluminum, or the rotational direction of the buffing wheel, until it becomes black. Going with the grain or the rotational direction of the buffing wheel on a tank, for example, means rubbing up and down as you move across the tank, and not horizontally or side to side . Engaging in this step may also help in lessening the appearance of polishing “lines” in the aluminum. (if you go horizontally or side to side, you will create a hazy look by making fine scratches, thus detracting from your desired end result.) Now, when the aluminum turns black, let the polish dry to a haze, and then rub off with a clean, dry microfiber towel moving with the same up and down motion.

It must be mentioned that not all polishers do this final wipe down with a metal polish. Some polishers feel that the results achieved by their polishing method makes this entire step unnecessary. Keep in mind, however, that the application of a metal polish which contains some protectants, will help to entend and prolong the shine.

Possible issue

The most common problem and complaint about machine polishing aluminum, is the appearance of “lines.” A helpful solution to this problem, in addition to hand polishing mentioned above, is to use an orbital polisher (avoid rotary polishers at this point) with a soft flannel material (wrap) placed loosely over top a foam pad. Dab a very small amount of fine metal polish a few inches apart on the aluminum, and go over the compounded area with the wrap. An alternative to a wrap is to use the new bright work customized kit we offer on our website under “metal polishes, single items.” In using this kit, apply a thin coat of the finishing polish to the aluminum with a soft cloth. Using an orbital polisher with the flannel bonnet over the wool pad, polish the aluminum to a shine. It is best to follow up the first bonnet with a second clean bonnet (included in kit) to remove any remaining residue and bring the aluminum to a bright mirror shine.

Another technique employed by some individuals we know of to minimize lines or marks is to use a lake country blue ccs pad with an orbital polisher. The way it works is to apply a very fine finishing metal polish to the aluminum and buff the aluminum until it turns black. Let the metal polish then haze and dry for awhile. Subsequently, take a new, uncompromised blue ccs pad and buff the dried residue to a bright mirror shine. (you will find these pads on our website under “lake country polishing supplies.”)

5. Conclusion

Well now that you have finished your work, enjoy your results!

For further help on machine polishing, be sure to check out the “how to polish aluminum the right way” videos of d c super shine on youtube. We also offer the new video by zephyr, “how to polish aluminum to a mirror shine.” This dvd can be found on page 1 (website) under “zephyr buffing products.”

Alternative method to polishing aluminum?

There is at least in certain instances an alternative to what has been described above in the use of buffing wheels and rouges. For this alternative method some employ an orbital polisher with a wool buffing pad and a metal polishing cream or compound; others will use a rotary polisher with a metal polish cream or compound. This step is then followed with the orbital polisher and a “wrap”, along with a fine metal polish. We have also discussed above as an option the use of the bright work blue polish and a swirl remover bonnet. If heavy oxidation exists, it may still be necessary or preferable to begin the process by cutting with a buffing wheel and rouge bar. In fact, an alternative method may be best suited where there is light to moderate oxidation. Having noted this, there remain instances where some polishers would prefer an alternative way of polishing aluminum.

It may be asked, “why would someone opt for a different method of polishing aluminum than described in the use of buffing wheels and rouges?” The answer to this question may pertain to personal comfort, familiarity, speed, or revolve around the best way to deal with “lines” or “marks” often created in the polishing process with the use of buffing wheels and rouge bars. Concerning this last issue, it has been addressed at the end of the section above entitled, “the polishing process.” As suggested there, some polishers have mastered this problem, or at least minimized it to the point where they are satisfied with the usage of buffing wheels and rouges. Others are not so happy with their efforts and opt for an alternative method; or perhaps, they opt for one additional or culminating step to their efforts. (see conclusion to section above, “the polishing process”)

There are various choices in polishing supplies made by polishers who opt for an alternative method to polishing aluminum. While acknowledging this to be so, we would offer a few suggestions based on input received from polishers themselves. Remember, we are not necessarily describing a situation of neglected aluminum or heavy oxidation here; rather we have in mind light to moderate oxidation.

For some the process may begin with a rotary polisher, wool compounding pad and a metal polish (cutter) or compound. A rotary polisher will create swirls, therefore you may opt for an orbital polisher. If so, we would suggest using a wool pad such as the 6″ prewashed lambswool pad found under “lake country products.” A metal polish choice that would work at this point would be bright work red metal polish, or nuvite grade f7 – found under “wheel polishing kits”, “individual components”, or nuvite grade g6, also found under the same category.” All of these polishes can also be found under the category, “metal polishes.” One of my customers generally opts for the nuvite f7 since it is a fine sharp particle that retains its cutting ability throughout the buffing process. Nuvite g6 metal polish is a medium cut polish that breaks down quickly in use to a fine cut. Either polish can be used.

The second step in this process would be to use a da (orbital) polisher such as the cyclo polisher, or for small projects you could use the popular porter cable 7424 polisher (available under “polishers, sanding discs, etc.”). Along with a polisher you will need a flannel wrap (wrapped loosely over a foam pad) and a fine finishing polish. The da polisher is crucial in that it avoids the problem of creating swirl marks, and can effectively remove existing swirl marks created in compounding if you have just used a spinning (rotary) polisher . Concerning polish, nuvite grade f7 (a cream polish) works well at this stage. This selection, if desired, can be followed with the nuvite s grade using this same procedure. If so, be sure to change to a new flannel wrap and new underlying foam pad. Nuvite s grade, along with the other nuvite polishes, is available under “wheel polishing kits”, “individual components” or under “metal polishes.” See also the information at the close of the preceding section, “the polishing process”, concerning this approach to a finishing step in polishing aluminum. We have also explained there the option of using the highway shine customized swirl and line removing kit.

(note: some have asked whether a foam pad can be used in the second step discussed here – without a flannel wrap/bonnet. We have discussed this possibility/technique in the section above this one. I do not doubt that the wrap/bonnet method is superior, but you may find the foam a worthwhile, less complicated option. In order gain more information on this procedure, please see the aluminum polishing kit offered under “britemax detailing products”, “single items”. If you click on the picture of this kit you will be able to read step by step instructions of how one of my oil company customers employs this foam-based kit.) Finally, after polishing the aluminum with an orbital polisher and a wrap/bonnet, it will may be necessary to lightly polish with a microfiber towel.

For additional information or helpful ideas with regard to this technique of polishing aluminum, and especially if you are looking to polish wheels, you may wish to visit the page on this website, “wheel polishing kits” – “kit selections.” The drill kits, offered first under this category, employ the bright work red polish for compounding and the bright work blue polish for finishing. These wheel kits are not intended for heavy oxidation and corrosion, but for light oxidation and maintenance.

Polishing aluminum, along with stainless steel, etc., Is a challenging undertaking. In the information provided here we have presented a sensible and methodical approach that will yield rewarding results. We have suggested that there are options, variations, and preferences that will distinguish one polisher’s approach from another. Most professional polishers and skilled amateurs alike will employ the use of buffing wheels and rouge bars as the primary components of their work; and of course they will develop their own craft “secrets” as they build experience. As with any challenging undertaking, the old well worn adage applies here, “practice makes perfect.” Well, perhaps “perfect” is a stretch. In any event, do consider the kits as affording you the essentials of aluminum polishing, and a great way to tackle your personal project. The two stage dc super shine kits are very effective and popular. The zephyr multiple stage kits, found on page 4 under “zephyr buffing supplies”, offer something for everybody, including a two stage kit employing 8″ wheels. Finally, there are wheel polishing kits based on drill usage, specialized kits for tight places and for finishing. Our objective on this website is to provide useful information and the right polishing accessories at reasonable prices to apply it.

Thank you for visiting Highway Shine Company!