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Paint Polishing Guide - How To Make Good Paint Great

Cut It, Sand It, Buff It, Polish It

This is the scary time. You've just spent weeks, perhaps months, prepping the body for paint, laid on that expensive, two-stage paint with the color followed by the clearcoat, and now it's time to even it out and really make it shine. When done correctly, the results can make the paint job look spectacular. But the path to a show-winning finish is fraught with danger and potential damage if a hack takes a stab at cutting paint without the proper knowledge, technique, and equipment. The good news is that it doesn't require thousands of dollars in tools. Mainly it takes a few sheets of wet/dry sandpaper, a variable-speed polisher, loads of patience, and a soft touch. Load up on the patience part, and you'll probably do fine.

Since we know better than to think we know something about rubbing out a good paint job, we jousted with the freeway crowds and pushed our way down to our painter pal Pete Santini's shop in Westminster, California, where he turned us loose with his expert polisher, Raoul Regino. If you're new to this and would like to try your hand at rubbing out a new paint job, take your first shot at something less valuable, like a junkyard fender or a hood that must be repainted, before you attack that brand-new paint job.

Paint Plans
Everyone knows the quality of a paint job is really the effort put into it before the paint goes on, but how much paint (or more accurately, clearcoat) you lay down is also important. Santini says with today's in-vogue two-stage paint jobs, the key to quality is to lay down plenty of material. If the job calls for nothing short of the best, Santini usually sprays four to six coats of clear or even more compared with two to three coats for a production version.

If your search for the ultimate paint job leads you to a Grand National Roadster Show-winning effort, Santini claims the masters will go so far as to cut and rub then spray additional coats of clear that are further cut and polished. This takes weeks, if not months, to accomplish. On the opposite side of this insanity is a factory paint job that is applied with the fewest number of coats of clear possible. The danger, says Santini, is sanding these paint jobs and removing one or more of those precious few layers of paint. While the initial effort may look great, the image will be fleeting when the remaining clear begins to fail.

The idea here is to plan your paint job in advance, and if you can afford to lay on additional coats of clear, you have a better chance of coming up with a good-looking paint job.

Tools And Materials
Description PN Source Price
DeWalt grinder/polisher DW849 $189.00
3M 1200 grit wet/dry, 10 ct. 32022 $7.95
3M 1500 grit wet/dry, 10 ct. 32023 $7.95
3M 2000 grit wet/dry, 10 ct. 32044 $7.95
3M SuperBuff 9" wool pad 5701 autobodystore $22.40
3M Pad adapter 5710 autobodystore $5.50
3M Wool pad, 3 85078 autobodystore $5.50
Sure Finish black foam pad N/A autobodystore $14.80
3M Perfect-It Fine, 16 oz. 39002 properautocare $10.95
3M Perfect-It Polish, 16 oz. 39009 properautocare $11.95
Meguiar's No 3, 16 oz. 0316 properautocare $9.95
Meguiar's No 7, 16 oz. 0716 properautocare $8.95
Dragon-Fiber micro-fiber VIP-BUFN properautocare $7.95
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