12.06.2010

Polishing: the never ending job

One of the best improvements for an Airstream is polishing the aluminum. The average price for having an airstream polished is $125 per foot! WOW! That would almost come out to $7000-8000 for our airstream!  One thing comes to mind with a price like that “time to do it ourselves”.  The average time for one person to properly buff a 31 foot airstream is about 400- 500 hours. Although this will be labor intensive, it will save thousands of dollars and should only cost less then a 1,000 in the end. The pictures shows a “before and after” shot. Its not anwhere close to the mirror finish yet but you can see the improvment already. I removed the clear coat using an industrial paint stripper (aircraft stripper) and then started buffing. This picture was taken after I used the first grade of polish Nuvite F7. After about an hour of polishing, you can already see a huge difference.



I had the intention to build a scaffold from scratch but I realized that it wouldn’t be worth the work. My original thought was building it myself would save money but it really wouldn’t. I would have spent around 60-80 bucks at Home Depot in lumber with no value in the end, just wasted materials. Purchasing a scaffolding unit would not only be faster, safer, easier to setup and adjustable but it would be something I could sale after I was done with it. I picked this one up off CL for about 150 and should have no problem selling it again for the same price.





Before
Buffing is tedious but the reward in the end is amazing! Here is an example of what Nuvite polish can do. Notice the amount of damage in the before picture. Heavy scratches, heavy pitting and multiple dents. Nuvite F7 is capable of removing scratches and dents become less noticeable. I tried multiple brands of polish and stand behind Nuvite 100%. It's amazing how effective nuvite is. I know the price is high (1lb for 50 bucks) but a little goes a long way.




After










Before
This part of the airstreams had the most damage. But with about 3-4 hours of work it comes back to life


After.

All the lines you see are caused by the circular buffer. Those will be removed latter when the
Cyclo buffer is used.





Before




after




 





NUMBER ONE QUESTION ABOUT POLISHING:
QUESTION: “What do you seal the Airstream with after you’re done polishing?”

ANSWER: "Nothing"

Some people say you need to seal it with a wax or Walbernize. Sealing an airstream after polishing will help with oxidation and prolong your polish about another 6 months. But the down side is oxidation will eventually happen no matter what sealer you use. And after a year it will need to be polished again. But before that can happen the sealer you used will have to be removed first creating twice the work. In my opinion, just polish every 6 months or so. I went a year and it wasn’t that difficult to bring it back to a mirror finish.







Before
After


First I used aircraft stripper to remove the clear coat. I picked some up at auto zone and purchased some brushes to apply. Use heavy duty rubber gloves to protect yourself when you brush it on. After it bubbles up spray it off (I used a pressure washer). Once the clear coat is removed it’s ready for buffing. I used a 7” buffing pad on a rotary polisher and cover with terry cloth. Use Nuvite F7 polishing compound. I tried multiple compounds and stand by Nuvite 100%. Nuvite is a little $$ but a little goes a long way and personally I believe it to be at least 3x as affective then other brands on the market. Next you’ll need a Cyclo orbital polisher (with terry cloth). It’s the only way to remove the swirl marks left by the 7” buffing pad. I purchased mine used on craiglist.

To clean the black residue left behind by the polishing compound add 2 ounce (+or-) of vinegar in a spray bottle mixed with water. Spray the area and use a microfiber towel. For tough spots use terry cloth but be careful because terry cloth will leave scratches. The best way I found to remove residue is to cover the Cyclo buffer with the microfiber cloth or a clean Terry cloth. It works really well and is quicker than doing it by hand. Here is a list of what I used:

After the aluminum has been cut, finish using the cyclo with terry cloth and nNuvite "S" grade

 
Buffing pad: Presta Double or single sided BLACK wool cutting pad
http://www.amazon.com/PRESTA-Single-Sided-Cutting-Buffing/dp/B0082LFSPG

Buffing pad attachment: Quick connect adapter
http://www.autodetailingwarehouse.com/dewalt-polisher-makita-polisher-drive-adapter-DP1900.html

7in Sander/Polisher
http://www.homedepot.com/p/Makita-7-in-Sander-Polisher-9227C/100594840

Cyclo buffer:
http://www.eastwood.com/cyclo-model-5-dual-headed-polisher.html?srccode=ga220010&gclid=CMWBrfz24L0CFS1eOgodX3oAyw

Nuvite polish: F7 cut and finish with S
http://www.aircraftspruce.com/pages/cs/cleaners_znuvite/nuvitenushine.php

Terry cloth and Microfiber cloth





              Update as of 11/24/2014

So I just wanted to give an update on the polishing. I’ve had a few comments come in from “professional polishers” that give their opinion on my polishing methods. First, understand I am a DIY polisher. Second, understand that my technique are from information found on other websites and from airstream owners who have already gone through the process. I shopped around and was told prices of up to $9,000 to have mine polished professionally. I have spent a little over 400 bucks and it has been over a year since I have polished and I am COMPLETELY satisfied with the results. Now if I had the money and paid the 9k I’m sure our Airstream would have I shinier surface then it does now but "9k vs 400 bucks??" . I found polishers that were better, higher rpm but i could not afford them. I used what I had and it worked.  I don’t mind if a have to touch up every year or whatever it comes out too. All polished Airstreams have to be tuched up. The point is I achieved a shiny airstream WITH NO SWIRLS at 2,150% in savings with tools that did not run thousands of dollars. So… I’m sure there are plenty of wrongs and rights to my advice but people asked me what I did, not what professionals do. Here are some pictures about 1.5 years later. I will post more up-close.  
 




                              BEFORE
 
 
 
 
And here is the after. THIS IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE. And tust me, we get compliments anywhere we go. I have parked next to professionally polished airstreams and the difference was "marginal"

 
 
More pics:
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

9 comments:

  1. do you have a tutorial i guess on how to do this?

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  2. Let me get something together this weekend and ill publish it. You’ll need to look into purchasing a standard buffer and Cyclo buffer at some point. I picked up a Cyclo buffer for $125 on craigslist. Also my advice for the polishing compound is to us Nuvite only! I went with Nuvite F7 (its one of the higher cutting grades). I bought mine from Perfectpolish.com because they don’t charge shipping. This stuff is more expensive but IT’S MORE THEN WORTH IT! You use less product and it does 20x the work of other brands (in my opinion). I did the test myself and started out with cheaper brands only to find out that all the reviews of Nuvite polish are true! I say it cuts 10 hours of work into 2. I’ll compile a list of materials and step that I took. I also need to upload new photos. Also, if you order Nuvite from perfect polish they include a ton of information on polishing.

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  3. Just out of curiosity, why did you remove clear coat? Is this necessary to polish correctly?

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    Replies
    1. The clear coat is VERY IMPORTANt to remove. I used Klean-Strip aircraft pain remover. You can buy it at pepboys and most automotive stores. Trying to buff over clear coat is almost impossible so it must be removed. Steps:

      1. Pick up the aircraft stripper and some paint brushes. You’ll also need something metal to hold the stripper like a metal bucket or a cookie sheet.
      2. The paint brushes are only going to be good for a few hours because the stripper will start to eat the brushes (dont use foam brushes). WEAR protective gear- glasses, long sleeves and some serious rubber gloves up to your elbows.
      3. Start brushing it on (work in sections) You will start to see the stripper bubble up after 10 minutes or so.
      4. Then simple use a water hose and spray it off. I used a pressure washer which was much easier and more effective.
      5. You might miss a few spots or see brushstrokes. Simple brush on more stripper, let it set for a few minutes, and then hose off.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. How often does the exterior need to be polished to maintain the mirror look? Hannahshirley88@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From what I’ve learned you don’t need to continuously polish an airstream to keep the shine. Once the level of polish you want is achieved, you simply apply oil/wax to the body every 4-5 months. It helps keep water stains and oxidation from building up on the body. On my airstream, with no oil or wax, I’ve noticed after 6 months a haze will build up on the body. But that because I haven’t applied anything yet. I’m still buffing the airstream and it would be pointless to apply a protective layer until I’m done. When I finally reach a level of shine I am happy with (hopefully the end of this year) I will do a quick pass with a light grade polish using the Cyclo buffer and then apply oil to the body.

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  6. Did you ever publish info on your polish process?? I would be extremely interested as i am looking at picking up one that is heavily oxidized and want it to look like yours

    Thanks

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  7. I have been polishing aluminum for 22 yrs, and done at least 15 airstream finish restorations. You will become very frustrated and acheive marginal success using this so called process as described above. To accomplish a profession, long lasting and uniform mirror finish requires wheel buffing rather than rotary style buffing, with high rpm-4500-6000 rpm, using a three stage process that leaves the finish scratchless, swirl-free and sealed. Depending upon the alloys in the aluminum, or year the airstream was manufactured, there are pre-polishing preparations that will make the polishing go much faster and have a better end result. I would be happy to share some tips but you really should consider allowing someone with years of experience help you than the do-it yourself internet surfer.

    ReplyDelete