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Old 03-09-2005, 03:08 AM   #1
Burnt71
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Default How do you polish aluminum ?

I recently bought a set of aluminum wheels off a 76 and they have been outside for about 10 years and are in bad condition. How can I polish them like new ?
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Old 03-09-2005, 03:54 AM   #2
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Wheel buffers + mothers alum polish should make 'em look better
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Old 03-09-2005, 06:05 AM   #3
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Wheel buffers?
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Old 03-09-2005, 06:46 AM   #4
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Wheel buffers?
you can buy pads that go in your drill, to help speed up the buffing process, or you can take old terry cloth towels and cut lots of circles of cloth run a bolt, washer and nut thru the center and make your own buffing pads. much easier if you remove the wheels from the car, and remove the center cap. buy lots of mothers or eagle brand polish or jewelers rouge, it's all the same stuff. if oxidized real bad you might try sanding with the finest grit available on a small area first.
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Old 03-09-2005, 07:16 AM   #5
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They should polish up nice..... depending....
If they've got bad corrosion (eg. road salt attack) then they won't come up perfect. Wheel buffers = polishing mops? Polishing mops are used on a pedestal buffing machine (if you're lucky enough to have one), a bench grinder or even a drill. There are several grades of mop, the most common being rough & fine. The rough (sizal?) mops are used to start polishing & use an associated soap to take out minor imperfections. You go over the metal with the mop by pressing it against it fairly hard but DON'T concentrate on one part or you'll end up with dips in it that'll stand out a mile. Once the metal is polished then you swap to a fine mop & soap to put a really bright shine on it. The problems start when the rough mop takes ages to get the metal shiny. If this is due to a poor surface then professional polishers use mops that have different grades of grit glued to them. These tear through the metal (esp aluminium & fingernails/flesh) and are best avoided if you've not done polishing before. What I do is time consuming, but works well. Use wet-or-dry to rub down the surface as flat as possible. I start with 240 grade (120 or emery if it's really bad) & get it as smooth & flat as possible. Then a quick rub down with 400, then 600 to remove the wet-or-dry scratches & then it's on to the rough mop. Not getting the 240 scratches out with 400/600 makes it take a lot longer to do on the mop. Not using wet-or-dry doesn't mean that mops won't bring it up good, they will, but it'll take ages & the surface will be very, very slightly rippled. Getting it flat with wet-or-dry and then finishing off with the mops gives a flat polished surface & a far better final finish.
There is a big potential problem with ally castings. If the surface is very bad then rubbing/polishing it down to remove the imperfections can "break through" the surface layer of metal. Underneath the surface the casting very often has fine bubbles trapped in it, like an Aero chocolate bar (those ones where you buy a lump of chocolate, only to find that 1/2 of it is air!). Hit that layer & you'll never get it back to it's original glory as the surface will always have small pits in it from the bubbles. A professional polisher I know reckons that he can save pieces by using his powerful pedestal polisher & holding the work to it with his entire body weight behind it. He reckons that the heat generated melts the surface of the metal & fills the holes. I dunno about that as I haven't got a polisher that'd turn if I put that much pressure on it, so just take it easy when removing metal from the surface.
Sometimes ally doesn't need polishing with mops, just some heavy elbow grease with something like Solvol Autosol will bring it up as good as new. Tip: if using Solvol (or something equivalent - it's like coarse toothpaste) apply it with a piece of shiny card like a Rizla packet. Use the card until it falls to bits as there will be a build up of thick black grime on it. Keep this rubbing on the metal & the polishing will be done much sooner than it would have been with a cloth. Wipe off & buff up with a tissue or clean rag.
The only problems I've had when polishing are with certain parts off the Vette (rocker panels, windshield trim, etc). Clear anodising is a bugger of a job to remove by polishing, so if they are clear anodised & looking shabby then get the anodising chemically stripped as it'll save you a lot of time.
The above has worked for me for 25 years & I've got the grottiest pieces of old engines polished up so good using the above methos that they've won shows (it's funny when a Hells Accountant's new Harley with acres of chrome gets beaten by a 30 year old bike that's been hand polished to a better finish. They don't like it, especially if they've spent $5 000 on shiny bits & I've just spent 2 weeks curled around a bench polisher after a week slaving over the kitchen sink with wet-or-dry ). If you use mops WEAR A MASK as the crap that comes off is not good. The air fills with a fine dust of polishing soap, bits of metal & parts of mop. The whole room will be covered in a layer of slimy black gunge if you do a lot of polishing & this stuff filling your lungs isn't good.

I polished my Vette wheels & they took ages to get up to the standard I wanted them. If you've not got a lot of spare time (or patience!) it'd be easier just to take them to a professional metal polisher. Not sure what it'd cost, but I think the average cost local to me is about $50/wheel?
After spending time/money getting them mirror polished you'll be able to enjoy watching them fade & dull off over time, particularly if you drive in the rain. I've found that polishing them up & then giving them a coat of Autoglym super resin polish (for paintwork) protects them for ages, especially against water. The polish will dull down the shine slightly when you put it on, but it'll stay like that for a lot longer than just leaving them as nekkid metal. Mine still look OK after 3 years! Not as good as if I regularly polished them, but far, far better than if I'd just left them for all that time.
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Old 03-09-2005, 07:54 AM   #6
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Go to your local new big-truck dealer and ask to talk to their cleanup guy. They have stuff that will clean aluminum wheels and make them look great. They can probably do it very reasonably.
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Old 03-09-2005, 09:27 AM   #7
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I have found FLITZ ball to work pretty well.....I use it with Mothers Alum. polish and it works great! That FLITZ gets into some really small places. You can order it at www.flitz.com

Click the image to open in full size.
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Old 03-09-2005, 09:41 AM   #8
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First off are they clear coated??

If they are then you need to get that off first, a mild stripping agent will take care of it but be CAREFUL it will also eat the aluminum if you let it sit.

This is how I polish rough aluminum

1) Using a FINE wire brush/wheel cut the metal down to a relatively smooth surface , remember you are only trying to take off the corrosion

2) In this order use, 1000, 1500 and maybe up to 2000 grit sandpaper slowly working the areas to a dull sheen

3) Buy 1 or 2 small polishing wheel attachments at Home Depot, Sears or what have you and some jewlers rouge (Looks brick red don't use the white stuff it's too hard) and polish the wheel to your desired glossiness

4) Now use the Mothers or McGuiers aluminum polish using either a cloth or if you bought it the second polishing wheel.

You will have a MIRROR finish trust me
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Old 03-09-2005, 09:57 AM   #9
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Hey,
These guys are giving you some pretty good advice, I think. A lot depends on how bad they are, and whether they are corroded, scratched, dinged up, or whatever.

I did my '81's wheels while I had them off to install new tires. It seems imposssible to do a really good job if the valve stem is in.

Mostly, I used a lot of jeweler's rouge (you can get that at Home Depot or Harbor Freight) and a lot of Mother's aluminum polish.

But the thing that helped me the most was building a turntable to put the wheel on. It was a stroke of Bubba genius, let me tell you. I used an old ceiling fan, bolted upside down on a temporary plywood table. I used another piece of plywood, cut into a donut shape about 18 inches across with the hole in the middle for the snout of the ceiling fan. The plywood donut was attached to the fan where the four old blades screwed onto it. I fabricated four hold-downs out of wood, so I could secure the wheel to the plywood donut. It took a little trial-and-error to get the wheel centered.

I could turn the fan motor on "low" speed, and it worked well with just a cloth in my hand and the rouge on it, using a spray bottle of water to keep it wet and flowing. After I moved up to the finer Mother's polish, I used a polishing wheel in my electric drill. I found the movement of the polishing wheel to be enough to rotate the whole thing without the fan motor turned on at all. Just having the aluminum rim bolted down on a turntable, with or without motor power, made the whole polishing job really smooth....
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Old 03-09-2005, 09:58 AM   #10
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I just had a guy do the wheels on my crotch rocket and he did the most miraculous work.

To give you an idea, the wheels were POWDER COATED and had the texture of 220 GRIT SANDPAPER!

He charged me $125 (including shipping) a wheel to make them look like mirrors. The next lowest bid that I could get anywhere was $300 a wheel and I got estimeates up to $500 a wheel. He also guarantees a 7 day turn around time.

I'm sure that he could do your already smooth, once polished wheels VERY cheaply.

His name is Matt Klinger, his number is (619) 216-0103 and his email is mdk56@hotmail.com.

Hope this helps. I found it very much worth it to pay this guy a little, rather than work my fingers to the bone trying it myself. Its really hard work and takes a considerable bit of time.

Bryan
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Old 03-09-2005, 10:04 AM   #11
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Madmikee, can you take a picture of the items you have listed? Also the sanding is done dry right, not wet?
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Old 03-09-2005, 10:52 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by mvftw
Madmikee, can you take a picture of the items you have listed? Also the sanding is done dry right, not wet?
Polishing mops: http://thepolishingshop.co.uk/
The mops shown with the associated soaps (assuming that it's the same stuff I've got) are black for rough polishing & white for finish polishing. The blue if for a very high shine but it's very difficult to keep it as bright as the finished results (the 1st application of a polish such as Solvol will bring it up bright again, but not as bright as it was when it left the mop).
If you look closely you'll see a pig tail. The one shown is for mounting in a chuck but others can be got that will fit onto a bench grinder (much better for polishing with as the motor is usually more powerful, it's solidly mounted to a bench & you hold the work, not the polisher, so it's easier to use).
Sanding can be done both wet & dry. For finishing the sanding phase I do it dry as it's easier to see how far you've gone/got left to go. In the initial stages I do it wet as the paper doesn't clog so quickly. When doing it wet use water with a very small drop of dish detergent in it as this also helps to prevent the paper from clogging. I assume that paper grades are the same over the world? If so you don't have to worry about going to the very fine grades as the rough mop & black soap will get the marks out from 600 grade no problem (I've been polishing for years & stopping at 600 grade saves hours on large jobs).
If using a drill & pigtail to mount the mop on be very careful. If the end of the pigtail touches the work it'll chew the surface up. Another downside with using a drill is that it's easy to **** the bearings by placing the side loads on it needed for polishing.
Multiply prices by about 1.8 to get the price in $'s. You don't need a kit as shown, just 2 mops & soaps will do (coarse & fine). The extra fine isn't needed. I've got a bar that I bought over 15 years back & it's hardly been touched. It's good for precious metals & ornaments (including show cars/bikes!) but is a waste of time using on a vehicle that's actually used (unless regularly taking parts off to polish them is your thing). I've been polishing parts for people for over a decade & haven't had any complaints (yet), so I'm not convinced that the extra fine is really required.

Bryan,
I've polished wheels from crotch rockets & a couple of guys went a bit further & brought me the frames. Don't know what sort of bike you've got but if it's got an exposed aluminium frame then they look awesome mirror polished (but you'll have to strip the bike to do it properly & then keep it polished afterwards ).

Hi Gator
I've been under an illusion. I thought you were sitting out in the snow polishing your wheels by hand with lots of sweat & hard graft. I didn't realise that you'd made a turntable so you could idly sit watching TV & drinking beer while one hand casually held a cloth on the turning wheel
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Old 03-09-2005, 10:59 AM   #13
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Quote:
Clear coating - If they are then you need to get that off first, a mild stripping agent will take care of it but be CAREFUL it will also eat the aluminum if you let it sit.
Any product name that you can supply for this? I have a set of clear coated aluminum rims that the clear coating is peeling off. I need to know what might be available to pull the rest off. Thanks.

Steve
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Old 03-09-2005, 11:23 AM   #14
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good question, strip the clear and not attack the alum.
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Old 03-09-2005, 11:30 AM   #15
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Send them out to be chromed. I got tired of the cleaning mine over and over. So I bought chrome stock rims. Never have to spend time sitting on a milk create cutting and scaping my knuckles for hours.
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Old 03-09-2005, 11:33 AM   #16
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Quote:
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good question, strip the clear and not attack the alum.
Percisely!
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Old 03-09-2005, 11:34 AM   #17
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Okay, here's the tip of a lifetime. AFTER you get the best possible shine using any and all methods- if you want aluminum to shine like chrome, do a final buff with India ink. That's right india ink. Not for on the car polishing. And there is no such thing as removal of stains on non metal parts. Be careful. The show guys (winners, that is) are gonna kill me. Before I die, I'd like to have owned and driven my own 68-72 convertible w/ automatic. If you can help my last request please, pm me.
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Old 03-09-2005, 12:28 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve's74
Any product name that you can supply for this? I have a set of clear coated aluminum rims that the clear coating is peeling off. I need to know what might be available to pull the rest off. Thanks.

Steve
Here is what I did.I used 400 grit wet/dry and removed all the clear coat. Then polished with buffer using aluminum polish.I could not believe the results. I got the tip from and old hot rodder.
I thought $300 was to steep for buffing at a local shop.
Only thing is,I did it with wheels on the Vette and it took about 3 hours,with beer breaks. Heh.

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Old 03-09-2005, 02:13 PM   #19
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My painter did my wheels.

Before:
Click the image to open in full size.

After:
Click the image to open in full size.

Mike
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Old 03-09-2005, 02:45 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UKPaul
Polishing mops: http://thepolishingshop.co.uk/
The mops shown with the associated soaps (assuming that it's the same stuff I've got) are black for rough polishing & white for finish polishing. The blue if for a very high shine but it's very difficult to keep it as bright as the finished results (the 1st application of a polish such as Solvol will bring it up bright again, but not as bright as it was when it left the mop).
If you look closely you'll see a pig tail. The one shown is for mounting in a chuck but others can be got that will fit onto a bench grinder (much better for polishing with as the motor is usually more powerful, it's solidly mounted to a bench & you hold the work, not the polisher, so it's easier to use).
Sanding can be done both wet & dry. For finishing the sanding phase I do it dry as it's easier to see how far you've gone/got left to go. In the initial stages I do it wet as the paper doesn't clog so quickly. When doing it wet use water with a very small drop of dish detergent in it as this also helps to prevent the paper from clogging. I assume that paper grades are the same over the world? If so you don't have to worry about going to the very fine grades as the rough mop & black soap will get the marks out from 600 grade no problem (I've been polishing for years & stopping at 600 grade saves hours on large jobs).
If using a drill & pigtail to mount the mop on be very careful. If the end of the pigtail touches the work it'll chew the surface up. Another downside with using a drill is that it's easy to **** the bearings by placing the side loads on it needed for polishing.
Multiply prices by about 1.8 to get the price in $'s. You don't need a kit as shown, just 2 mops & soaps will do (coarse & fine). The extra fine isn't needed. I've got a bar that I bought over 15 years back & it's hardly been touched. It's good for precious metals & ornaments (including show cars/bikes!) but is a waste of time using on a vehicle that's actually used (unless regularly taking parts off to polish them is your thing). I've been polishing parts for people for over a decade & haven't had any complaints (yet), so I'm not convinced that the extra fine is really required.

Bryan,
I've polished wheels from crotch rockets & a couple of guys went a bit further & brought me the frames. Don't know what sort of bike you've got but if it's got an exposed aluminium frame then they look awesome mirror polished (but you'll have to strip the bike to do it properly & then keep it polished afterwards ).

Hi Gator
I've been under an illusion. I thought you were sitting out in the snow polishing your wheels by hand with lots of sweat & hard graft. I didn't realise that you'd made a turntable so you could idly sit watching TV & drinking beer while one hand casually held a cloth on the turning wheel

Well that pretty much covers that

No need for pictures really it's pretty much all the same stuff you would do after painting a body with a couple exceptions.

you could do wet or dry on the rims it really won't make much of a difference except for time, dry sanding would make the job faster.

any paint supply shop would carry most of the items I described and the jewlers rouge can be found at any Home Depot, Lowes, or Sears along with the polishing wheels (Again you don't NEED the polishing wheels but you will be done alot faster LMAO)

As for a name for the Stripping agent, I honestly can't help you there, the stuff I have used before was supplied through a buddy of mine who owned a body shop and I never got the name of it, it was pretty slow acting stuff and I believe it was used for fiberglass mostly. We still ended up using 600 grit to get the leftovers off and thinking about it now I think it might have been just as easy, and ALOT less stressful if we had just used 600 grit in the first place.

Last edited by Madmikeee; 03-09-2005 at 02:49 PM.
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