Paint buffing takes a lot of practice, but once you get comfortable with the process, your vehicle will always look its very best!
Before starting a polishing project, it is very important to tape off the
moldings, emblems, and panel edges with masking tape.
You can use painters tape, I've always had great success with 3M body shop tape. Masking these areas reduces the risk of the buffer causing damage, it also makes cleaning up excess polish in hard to reach places much easier.
Here you can see I've started masking off moldings, emblems, and edges on this 2009 Corvette.
Once you have decided on what polish and pads you want to use, there are a
couple things to do before you begin paint buffing. First off, you need to
prime your pad. I like to have a spray bottle full of water by my side at
all times when I'm polishing. You can prime your pad by giving it a mist of
water. The moisture on the pad will prevent it from marring the paint, which
would happen if you began with a dry pad.
Apply 2 or 3 dime sized blobs of polish on the pad and spread it around the
section you are working on before you turn on the polisher. This will help
reduce polish spatter, which also makes cleaning up a lot easier.
Once you turn on your machine, its very important to keep it moving at all
times. This is especially true if you are using a rotary polisher. If
it is allowed to run in one spot for an extended period of time, it will burn
through the paint.
Clear coat is so thin, if it is allowed to get too hot, the buffing pad will burn through extremely fast. Keep in mind, paint is thinnest at the edges of the panels.
For best results, keep the speed of the buffer in the 1000-1200 rpm range.
Keep the polishing pad as flat on the surface as possible. You can tilt
the rear of the pad slightly if you wish to prevent it from dragging across the
When a pad drags, it tends to leave behind buffer lines or holograms in
the paint. If that occurs, don't panic, it can be corrected!
Notice the fender on this Corvette Z06. The marring, buffer lines/holograms
are very noticeable. Buffing with a dry or dirty pad, and not completing all
steps of the polishing process is why this awesome car looks like that!
When you are doing paint buffing, its important to polish in no more than 2
ft. by 2 ft. sections at a time. This will allow the polish to do its job
properly without breaking down too fast and drying up.
You want to make sure your polish stays moist while buffing.
For the most effective scratch removal, work in a grid pattern in your 2x2 section. That means start at the top working side to side until you get to the bottom of the section. Next, work the polisher from top to bottom.
After a couple of passes with the grid pattern method, wipe off the polish
residue with a micro fiber cloth and inspect your work. If there are still
scratches remaining, repeat the process.
Keep in mind, if the scratches look really deep, run your finger nail across
them. Does your finger nail catch? If it does, the scratch is too deep to
polish out completely.
Clear coat is so thin, attempting to remove really deep scratches could cause you to polish through it. This results in clear coat failure which is much worse than having a scratch!
When polishing, the key is to remove the defects while removing as little clear
coat as possible. Polishing scratches that are too deep to remove completely
will definitely make them less noticeable. Its just not worth the risk to
attempt complete removal.
Paint buffing using the grid pattern method on this 1940 Chevy trunk lid shows how taking your time will produce dramatic results!
During the paint buffing process, clean your pads often. Having spare pads on hand makes the job a lot easier and efficient.
To clean pads, you can spray them with water and blow them out with compressed
air, clean them with a pad cleaning tool, or use a specific polishing pad
cleaner. I don't recommend putting the pads in a washing machine, they can get
beat up and warped that way.
Polishing with clean pads is essential. If you notice your pad is filling up with polish and getting gummed up, clean it. Dirty pads can damage the clear coat, leaving tiny pigtail looking scratches behind.
If you used a compound polish as a first step, repeat the process with a swirl
remover and a finishing polish. Finally, follow up with a wax or sealant to
protect your hard work!