Basic aluminum polishing - how to

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Shelby VNT
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Basic aluminum polishing - how to

Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 4:11 pm

It seems in this hobby aluminum parts, be it a skid plate, a pair of aluminum axles, cantilever arms, or anything else for that matter made from aluminum, really dresses a monster truck up. Occasionally you run into parts that need a restoration or parts that could simply benefit from a little more polishing. Here is how I went about restoring a shine to a pair of second hand JPS axles for my Clodbuster. The technique I hope to share with you here can be applied to anything made from aluminum, not just monster truck parts. In fact I will someday get around to polishing up a set of aluminum rims for my 1:1 car in the same manner.

Let's get started! To really get the job done you are going to need some supplies. Mainly you will be needing some very fine grit sand paper. We're talking 400 grit and up. This kind of sand paper can usually be found at auto body and paint suppliers. I was lucky to have a local 'Car Quest' store near home which was listed in the phone book as an offical paint and body work supplier. I have heard that the local Wally-Mart also stocks these finer grits of sand paper as well, and if all else fails you might find some sheets at a local hobby shop (used for finish work on plastic models) , though they are bound to be smaller sheets and probably more expensive.

I'd recommend the following grits - 400 grit, 800 grit, 1000 grit, 1200 or 1500 grit, 2000 grit, and then 2500 grit. You don't necessarily need all those grits. In example, if you don't feel like spending all the money, or you can't find an in between grit, you can always jump from 800 on up to say 1500. Some places sell seperate sheets, and some in packs of ten. Cost can vary. I bought a pack of 10 sheets for $10 - $20. The finer grits are more expensive, but the sheets tend to last longer then the rougher grits.

Pick up some Mother's Aluminum Mag polish while your at it. This is great stuff and really brings the parts to life after you've sanded them smooth. An optional thing you might look into is a Dremel (what do you mean you don't have one yet?!) and some polishing or abrasive wheels. For my JPS axles, having the Dremel came in handy for some deep gouges and scratches. If you are looking to the same kind of work, pick up a couple packs of Dremel's #511 finishing abrasive buffing wheels.
Attachments
Dremel wheels.jpg
Great for taking out deeper scratches when you don't think or feel like you can sand them out with paper.
Dremel wheels.jpg (83.97 KiB) Viewed 3488 times
Polishing materials.jpg
The materials. I found some 3M wet/dry paper in various grits at a local auto store.
Polishing materials.jpg (99.76 KiB) Viewed 3489 times
-Nathan-

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Shelby VNT
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Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 4:24 pm

Alright, so your ready to get started? Good. In my case I was working with some JPS aluminum axles for my Clod. I disassembled them and polished each part individually, but for the actual progress pictures I'm focusing on one of the axle tubes.
Attachments
JPS axle tube start.jpg
Does thing look rough or what? I found that this tube, along with the gearcase must have been run in the rear of the previous owner's Clod. There was an awful lot of dents and dings in the case and the tubes.
JPS axle tube start.jpg (94.87 KiB) Viewed 3485 times
JPS axle dents and dings.jpg
Without a doubt, this was the rear axle in somebodies Clod!
JPS axle dents and dings.jpg (95.06 KiB) Viewed 3486 times
JPS axle more dents and dings.jpg
Ouch, get a load of the big nasty dimple in the gear case!
JPS axle more dents and dings.jpg (95.58 KiB) Viewed 3486 times
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Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 4:34 pm

Needless to say I was a little bit disappointed with the condition of the rear axles and case, but I thought I'd try and bring the parts back to life. I knew I wouldn't be able to remove all the scratches and gouges, but then I wasn't to be worried with that. After all, I planned to run the JPS axles on a truck of my own, so they would probably get more scratches and damage sometime later.

The first thing I did was try out my Dremel with the finer of the two polishing wheels I mentioned above. This seemed to work really well for me. Most scratches were easily taken out with some light passes on a low speed. The deeper scratches took more work. More passes and some gentle feathering of the edges blended them in and smoothed them over. The feathering part was important. If you use a Dremel like this, don't stand in one spot very long or you'll be left with a low spot. If you must take off more material, feather the edges of the surrounding area to at least smooth the difference in height so it's not so noticable.
Attachments
JPS axle tube after some light dremeling.jpg
The JPS link mounts had also left some pretty nasty scratches and clamp marks, but with some light Dremel work I was able to smooth things over a bit. It's already starting to look better!
JPS axle tube after some light dremeling.jpg (81.04 KiB) Viewed 3484 times
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Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 4:50 pm

Once I had worked the scratches out to my statisfaction, I was ready to start some sanding. Depending on the condition of the part you are starting with you may be able to begin with a finer grade of paper. I started 400 grit because I had to. Smoother surfaces may not require that. If you have part with some machining marks in it then I'd suggest starting with 400 grit to take them out.

The actual polishing process is done wet. For a few reasons actually, but the important ones are to constantly wash away the small metal particals so they don't keep scratching the surface on you, and to provide some lubricant. Water also helps keep the paper from clogging up with material.

I prefer to use some regular dish soap in the water for extra lubrication. I typically fill a small bucket with a soap and water mix and keep it close by. This allows me to pre-soak the sand paper before I start using it, which is a good idea. It also makes it easy to dip the parts and the paper into the bucket to flush out any small pieces of material during the sanding process.

The actual technique is not really rocket science. You just grab the paper and get to it. Basically what you are doing is scuffing up the surface of the metal and as you progress to finer grades of paper, those scratches get smaller and smaller. If you notice the part you are sanding starts to look worse then when you started, don't worry about it. It will get better as you move up to finer grits. Eventually you won't even be able to see the scratches and the part will become as smooth as a baby's butt! :wink:
Attachments
JPS axle tube after 400 grit.jpg
Here's the same tube after the first sanding with 400 grit paper.
JPS axle tube after 400 grit.jpg (90.27 KiB) Viewed 3481 times
JPS axle tube 400 grit grain.jpg
Close up shot of the actual grain of the metal once it's sanded. 400 grit does leave some noticable scratches, but don't worry if you think you've made the part worse then it was.
JPS axle tube 400 grit grain.jpg (91.45 KiB) Viewed 3481 times
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Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 5:07 pm

As you sand with the heavier grits, try and keep the grain (scratches) going the same direction. The finer grits won't really matter so much, and if you can't help chaning directions that's okay too. The next grit paper will take out scratches no matter what, but it does go faster if you can keep working the metal from the same direction. It's fairly easy to look at a part you've been sanding on and decide when it's time to go up to the next grade of paper. With the finer grits, you will actually be able to feel the difference. When things start to feel smooth, while you slide the paper back and forth across the part, then it's ready.
Attachments
JPS axle tube side after 800 grit.jpg
After 800 grit paper it's really starting to look better. Still some deep scratches I couldn't get out, but then these parts will be going on a truck intended to be run anyway.
JPS axle tube side after 800 grit.jpg (98.25 KiB) Viewed 3478 times
JPS axle tube 800 grit grain.jpg
Close up of the grain after 800 grit paper. Getting there!
JPS axle tube 800 grit grain.jpg (96.67 KiB) Viewed 3478 times
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Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 5:22 pm

Next, I jumped straight to the 1500 grit paper. I carried on as described above. Keep in mind it helps to wash the paper clean under running water as well as the part from time to time. You'll be able to see the material getting worked off the part. It looks like blackish grey little streaks of dirt running of the side. From 1500, I went to 2000 grit, and then finished off with 2500 grit paper. It seems the finer the grit you go with, the larger the jump can be from one grit to the next.

You might be more then pleased with 2K grit alone, and it's completely up to you to decide if you want to go any further. My camera (and almost my eyes) really couldn't pick up any noticable difference in the metal's grain after 1.5K grit, even with the macro lense, so we'll jump straight to the shots of the 2.5K finish and spare you the bordem!
Attachments
JPS finished axle tube side.jpg
Nice!
JPS finished axle tube side.jpg (87.6 KiB) Viewed 3476 times
JPS finished axle tube standing.jpg
Beautiful, eh?
JPS finished axle tube standing.jpg (91.07 KiB) Viewed 3477 times
JPS Finished axle tube.jpg
That black looking streak is actually my camera reflecting in the finish!
JPS Finished axle tube.jpg (96.41 KiB) Viewed 3477 times
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Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 5:33 pm

Almost done! Just one more critical step to finish off your polishing efforts, and it's probably the easiest and most gratifying step in the entire process. You might notice even after the 2.5K grit finish, the parts you just polished look a little flat in the finish. Well this step takes care of that flat finish. Grab the Mother's Polish and apply it per the instructions. Nothing to it. Use an old T-shirt, sock, whatever you have to apply the polish and then buff it off. As you begin to wipe off the polish you should notice the metal really starting to pop! In fact it almost looks like chrome! I think you'll see the results speak for themselves! Good luck with your polishing projects.......
Attachments
JPS finished product.jpg
JPS finished product.jpg (97.98 KiB) Viewed 3475 times
Finished product.jpg
Yummy!
Finished product.jpg (93.13 KiB) Viewed 3475 times
JPS polished gear case half.jpg
Remember the case with the big gouge? Here it is polished. The dent is still there (just to darn deep), but everything else has disappeared.
JPS polished gear case half.jpg (98.13 KiB) Viewed 3475 times
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Post by jwrape » Thu Jan 06, 2005 5:49 pm

WOW! Nice Job....
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Post by Shelby VNT » Thu Jan 06, 2005 10:28 pm

Thanks! It's a long process, but worth it.
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Post by jwrape » Thu Jan 06, 2005 10:30 pm

Yea, I never realized that most of it was sanding it. I thought most of it was done by the metal polish...Good info
Thorp Big Brute,JrX10 (RC10 and JrX2 combined), 26.5" Nitro Swamp buggy, TLT/Emaxx Hybrid, 2 TLT Custom Scale Jeeps, 1 TLT Unimog, Blackfoot, Grasshopper w/black`foot conversion, 1/6 Jeep TJ & Misc. Vintage Sears RC

Anonymous

Post by Anonymous » Fri Jan 07, 2005 7:00 am

you know a much easyer step for this would be to use a cone attachment for the dremel.

would get everything nice and shiny except where it wouldnt reach.


none the less awsome job :)

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Post by falty » Tue Feb 01, 2005 7:10 pm

nice write up. I'll probably end up polishing my chassis also.

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Post by 132NHAF » Tue Feb 01, 2005 7:31 pm

Excellent write up. I'd consider doing my Sassy, but it would make the rest of the truck look terrible..lol.
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Post by Shelby VNT » Tue Feb 01, 2005 10:35 pm

Thanks guys!
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Post by Claude Balls » Fri Mar 03, 2006 9:44 am

Your fingers mast have ached like hell!!

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