Machine Polishing Aluminum (Revised)

Equipment & supplies needed

As an introduction to machine polishing aluminum, 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 among the most helpful videos on Youtube for polishing aluminum. The owner of D C Super Shine (Denis) has asked me to put together a kit that he has designed for polishing aluminum using a two step polishing process. Since making this request, we now offer two styles of kits. The first style we offer is simply called the D C Super Shine Kit. It comes in a heavy cut selection and a standard selection. The second style we call the Ultimate Performance Polishing Kit. This kit also comes in two choices, heavy cut and standard.  The Ultimate Performance Kits contain the supplies that D C Super Shine now employs. The Matchless buffing wheels and Menzerna rouge bars in the ultimate performance kits are used by many of my regular customers. These kits are available on this website under the category, “D C Super Shine Kits & Supplies.” We have kept the price of these kits very reasonable.

Both styles of 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. The Ultimate Performance kits employ a 20 ply fast cut buffing wheel. The only difference between the heavy cut kits and the standard kits in both styles is the rouge bar employed in the first stage of polishing. The heavy cut kit employs a more aggressive rouge bar, the Menzerna 439 t. This kit still allows the polisher to proceed directly to the final finish after the initial cut. The standard kit employs the Menzerna P14 Medium Cut rouge bar for 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.” In the Ultimate Performance Kits we use Matchless buffing wheels which perform incredibly well.

Machine polishing aluminum can involve numerous supplies and steps. The number of steps and supplies used in the polishing process depends on certain factors, such as the condition 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. We offer many already assembled kits to accommodate any one of these various levels. In the information below we list the possible individual choices in wheels and rouges for a polishing project.

1. Rouge bars

The Menzerna 523 BLZ  super heavy cut rouge bar is used for very heavy cutting. The Zephyr gray stainless rouge bar (containing 320 grit emery) is also used for very heavy cutting. Use these rouges only when very heavy corrosion and oxidation is present. The same holds true for the Keystone and Jacksonlea gray bars. All of these bars can be found on our website under “Rouge Bars & Buffing Wheel Sets.” The super heavy cut rouges are most often used with a heavy cutting buffing wheel, usually a chemically treated wheel. An example would be the orange chemically dipped 10″ Matchless buffing wheel. (This can be found on my website under, “Matchless Ultimate performance Buffing Wheels.” Another example would be The Zephyr clear dipped orange buffing wheel which comes in an 8″ or 10″ size (found under “Zephyr Buffing Supplies”).

A very popular rouge bar for the primary cut is the Menzerna pale green rouge bar (439 t), 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 439 t is an eight cut; and the Menzerna bar produces a level 5/6 shine, impressive for the amount of cut. If you want a brown tripoli bar, we recommend the Matchless 751EZ red/brown rouge bar. This is an excellent brown rouge bar and in some instances can provide a nice shine in one step. Another good choice would be the Jacksonlea brown bar (D-32). The primary cut rouges match up well with one of the fast cut buffing wheels. The 20 ply Matchless buffing wheel is a great choice. For a buff with a center plate, try a Zephyr Kwik Kut or Fast Cut buffing wheel.

For a secondary (medium) cut, or semi-finish,  we would suggest the Kocour yellow rouge bar (K-SS17). Some polishers also use this bar for their initial cut. Another excellent choice is the Menzerna P14 white rouge bar. This bar, as was mentioned with the Matchless 751EZ rouge bar, can provide a nice shine in a single step in certain instances. The P14 is a bar you can start with if the aluminum is in relatively good condition , or it can be used in this secondary role with an untreated white wheel for example, or the Zephyr Smooth Kut (Joker). If you are using one of the rouges mentioned here to do your initial cut, there are numerous possibilities. A fast cut buffing wheel, yellow mill treat, or even the Smooth Kut (Joker) just mentioned,  would all be possibilities.

When it comes to a final finish step, two highly effective choices are the Menzerna 480 blf blue bar and the Matchless 8b56 “easy clean” blue bar. It doesn’t get any better than these two choices and which one is better is a matter of personal preference. Use these bars preferably with a white domet flannel buffing wheel. 

For a “coloring” bar or a very high luster rouge bar, try the Menzerna P 175 rouge bar. Use it with a soft flannel buff for a show quality shine. The Zephyr platinum series rouge bars are intended for very high luster finishing. The most popular Zephyr 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. Another great choice here would be the Renegade SS-510 Purple rouge bar.

2. Polishing wheels

Buffing wheels are available in various diameters, but those I sell the most of are eight inch and ten inch. The eight inch wheels are most frequently (not always) 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. I mentioned at the outset of this article that you can get excellent results in two steps. 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 will result in more brilliance and clarity at the end of the polishing process. More about this will be presented later. 

Choosing your buffing wheels can become very confusing. To keep it simple, here would be our recommendations:

Primary Cut: Matchless 20 ply fast cut. This buffing wheel has no center plate so you will need a centering flange kit with this choice. This is our best selling buffing wheel. Another choice, Zephyr Kwik Kut. This buffing wheel has a center plate and would require the conventional flange kit such as Zephyr offers.  Thirdly, Renegade Orange buffing wheel. I have this buffing wheel in a 9″ with a center plate and 10″ without a center plate.

Secondary Cut: Matchless 20 ply white untreated buffing wheel. Again, no center plate thus requiring a centering flange kit. This centering flange is offered on the website under “Matchless Ultimate Performance Buffing Wheels.” Another choice, Zephyr Smooth Kut (nicknamed the Joker). Very well liked among some of my customers. Thirdly, Renegade yellow buffing wheel. I have this in 9″ with the center plate and 10″ without the center plate.

Final Finish: Matchless Class 4 10″ Domet Flannel Buffing wheel. (No center plate, thus requires centering flange). Another choice would be the Zephyr White Domet Flannel 40 ply  available only in 8″; or one of their white domet airway flannel buffing wheels, available in 8″ or 10.” Renegade has a nice flannel also, available on my website in a 9″ with the center plate or a 10″ without a center plate. A final possibility at this point would be a cotton muslin buffing wheel. Zephyr has a nice 60 ply 5 row sewn buff.

[NOTE: Some polishers will use an untreated buffing wheel for their final finish followed by one of these flannel selections with a very high luster bar. I have found that many of my customers prefer the use of the flannel wheel for the final finish step and will use a flannel wheel again should they perform a follow up step with a high luster rouge bar. Because the flannel material is so soft, it will not leave lines – which you can still get with an untreated wheel.]

High Luster: Flannel choices above.

3. Safety flange kit

Always use safety flanges with any buffing wheel that has the steel center plate. This type of layered 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. (it is also highly recommended that you use a respirator and face shield or goggles).

If you are using a buffing wheel without a center plate, such as the Matchless buffing wheels we offer, as mentioned above you will need a centering flange kit. This type of set up is much preferred among most of my professional customers. It provides a smooth operation and the flange discs cover the clinch ring better for superior protection. 

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 should 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.” Other polishers are offered on my website, including Milwaukee and Makita. The maximum recommended rpms for airway buffing wheels is around 3500 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 that many choose to polish at higher rpms. 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 (not so with the centering flange set up). 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 extender kit provides an easy solution to this problem.

5. Wipe Down

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 results 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. For choices of a metal polish to use in a final wipe down, I recommend Britemax Final Shine and Sealant. I have had numerous customers tell me that this finishing polish has given them the longest lasting shine. A number of other good choices would be Flash Blue, WAB #1, Zephyr Pro 25, and Intimidator Blue. These would all perform well.


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 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 D C 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.  In some instances, however, he will follow up the 600 grit with a 1000 grit step. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to jump more than 200 grit when sanding. When you get to 600 grit, however, you can at this point jump to 1000 grit; or you can go to 800 grit and start polishing afterward.

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 D C Super Shine Sanding kits available that offer the four grits mentioned here (180,320,400, 600). These kits can be found under “D C Super Shine Kits & Supplies ”on my website. Hook and loop discs (velcro) are generally preferred to “stick on”, which can do just that – stick on! 

1. Primary cutting 

After your initial preparation, choose the buffing wheel most appropriate to the condition of your aluminum. (See under “Buffing Wheels” above).

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. Another way I sometimes express it is, “bump and run.”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. The recommended rpms for polishing aluminum is around 3000 – 3500 rpms. The vast majority of my polishing customers don’t polish below this, at least 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 

For secondary cutting, if you choose to do so, see the information above under “Rouge Bars” and ” Buffing Wheels.”

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. Do not overheat the aluminum by holding the buffing wheel at one spot too long. You want to avoid scorching the aluminum.

3. Final finish 

 Use the same procedure as in the previous steps. However, at this point you will want to lower your rpms to around 1800 – 2200. Before you begin 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. Actually, this product can be used in between the primary and secondary step as well. Doing so at this final stage may improve the polishing results of this step.

After this third step, if you are looking for the ultimate shine, you may wish to follow with a flannel buffing wheel and a very high luster (coloring) rouge bar. See the information above under “Rouge Bars” and “Buffing Wheels.”

4. Final wipe down

After finishing the above process, this last step will take care of any dust and residue in the pores of the aluminum, and help to extend the results of your hard work.  Apply a finishing metal polish (see choices and recommendations under “Wipe down” above) to a microfiber towel/applicator. 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 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. You can also remove the polish by buffing with a soft flannel buffing wheel. Many polishers choose to do it this way.

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 extend and prolong the shine. I have previously recommended Britemax Final Shine for this purpose, along with numerous others.

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 a cyclo 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.

A simple alternative to a cyclo polisher and wrap is to use the Bright Work Finessing kit we offer on our website under “Polishers, Sanding discs, etc.” 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. ( yes, you will need an orbital polisher to use this kit. We offer the Porter Cable 7424 under “Polishers, Sanding Discs, etc.” This is a time-proven, affordable orbital polisher.

A final alternative 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. It works much like the last suggestion. 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 when 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 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 (perhaps, a few) 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.

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 f 7 – found under “Metal Polishes, Single Items”, or Nuvite grade g6, also found under the same category.” 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, are available under “Metal Polishes, Single Items.” 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 Bright Work Finessing Kit.

[Note: Some have asked whether a foam pad can be used in the second step discussed here – without a flannel wrap or 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.

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 D C Super Shine kits are very effective and popular. I highly recommend the D C Super Shine Ultimate Performance Kits. 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. A new Zephyr kit that I have customized can be found under “Zephyr Signature Series.” This would be the Zephyr kit I most highly recommend. Finally, there are wheel polishing kits based on drill usage, specialized kits for tight places and for finishing and finessing. Our objective on this website is to provide useful information and the right polishing accessories at reasonable prices. 

Thank you for visiting Highway Shine Company!