Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Skin a Cat

I have been polishing. Many people love a polished Airstream. Many people have a lot of opinions on how to achieve it. This is just one way. It works for me. I really do not want to debate other techniques or tooling.

I find, the most efficient method is to use the tools that work best for you. About 10 hours into holding the tool a little light bulb will go off, you will have an epiphany, and suddenly you will understand how to make the tool do what you need it to. 

Results always vary. One panel will polish perfect, the next will try everything in it's power to resist the effects of the polisher. Dents you never knew existed will suddenly appear. Scratches will show up like neon lights on a flat Texas horizon. 

Many try for that perfect mirror finish. It is rather difficult to achieve. I find this reflectivity from 10 feet to be more than acceptable. a 10 at 10 is always my goal.
Some readers(Tom) may note I have gone back to my high end Canon pocket camera. 

So, how do I get to this polished state? I will show you everything. Over the years I have been sent a number of secret polishes to try out. Some have worked fairly well. I have never wanted to revel their names since things were not actually perfected. This time around however I am impressed enough with the polish to state exactly what it is...

On previous jobs I have relied heavily on the Jestco System. It is a sown cotton wheel and two rouge bars. Over the years I actually changed the system a bit. It uses a grey and red bar. I stopped using the grey and substituted the white. I find this combination works better. You can polish an entire trailer with this system. The problem however is it creates a lot of lines you notice. I now use this system to do detail work. It can cut in very tight areas. 

So this is the magic polish I used this time...
 It was sent to me by Vintage Trailer Supply to try out. I suspect they sent it out to numerous commercial guys to test drive. I am rather impressed with this polish. I used the No. 2(course) on a wool bonnet to do the first cut. The issue I have with wool bonnets is they create big circular swirls. These are a little harder to break up than the lines produced by the Jestco system. I find this Airbrite on the bonnet to be the fastest at removal of the heavy oxide. It just eats it up. I will caution you that you need the smallest of a dab. Too much is very easy to put on. It takes a long time to remove the glaze of too much of this polish. It is a bit greasier than the Nuvite polish it is looking to replace. I works better than Nuvite in my opinion.

After that first cut I switched tooling. I went over to the Cyclo Polisher. I used blue pads and the No.4(medium) polish for this round. Doing it over I would have done the yellow pads for the second pass, then switched to blue pads for the third pass.  This pass really brought out the shine. It actually is all that is needed for my tastes. I like it shiny but do not care for the mirror look. I spend more time seeing the imperfections than seeing the total glow of the aluminum when it is mirror polished. I did not stop here...

A final pass with the No.6(super fine) and white pads. 
So pads; I generally buy 4 boxes of each color for a job this size. That gives me 8 changes. I use the pad till it starts to get a little polish build on the surface. I then wash them out in hot water and citrus cleaner. They get rung out and left to dry. I will use that pad one more time before throwing it away. You need to know that the foam is part of the grit doing the polishing. When the surface starts to degrade, so does the quality of the surface you are going to achieve.

Almost as important as the polish and the tooling is the rags. You will blow through tons of rags removing the polish haze and residue around edges and rivets. I buy them in a 50 pound box. I bet we used 30 of those 50 pounds. You MUST use 100% cotton t shirt material. Some like micro fleece towels. I do not. I find the nap in the micro fleece has a tendency to catch grit and metal bits. It is very easy to scratch the skin due to this. I have found that 100% cotton T shirt material to be the best.  The rags at Home Depot and Lowes are not good quality. There will be knits and polyester mixed in. The rags will be irregular also. Go to an auto body supply house or to a high quality paint store for these rags. Ask for 100% cotton T shirt rags. Not wiping cloth, not staining cloth, 100% Cotton T shirt.
I will give you another hint; Fold the rag carefully. Each face will grab the black residue for only a very short period. Keep folding it over, exposing a new face. Just balling it up will result in a lot of wasted surface area. Maybe you do not care, it is just a rag. I care because quality rags cost about $1.50/ pound.

I will be glad to answer any questions you might have about what I have posted here. If you want to debate technique, method, or polish, please go to Airforums where people love to argue that stuff. I am just reporting on what I do. I look forward to your comments below.