Do-It-Ourselves adventure with our 31' 1972 Airstream Sovereign
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.
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.
This part of the airstreams had the most damage. But with about 3-4 hours of work it comes back to life
All the lines you see are caused by the circular buffer. Those will be removed latter when the Cyclo buffer is used.
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.
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
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.
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"