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Buffing and polishing using wheels and ‘compounds’ is somewhat like using wet and dry sanding paper, only much faster. Instead of using ‘elbow grease’ you will be using the power and speed of an electric motor. The edge, or face, of the wheel is the ‘sanding block’, which carries a thin layer of ‘compound’ which is the sandpaper. Varying types of wheel are available, and the different grades of compound are scaled similar to sandpaper. The compounds are made from a wax substance which has the different abrasive powders added to it. When this hard block is applied to the edge of a spinning buffing wheel, the heat from the friction melts the wax, and both wax and abrasive are applied in a thin slick to the face of the wheel.
The objective of buffing and polishing is to make a rough surface into a smooth one and, of course, each work piece will be in a different condition, so will need different procedures. Imagine the surface magnified thousands of times, it will look like jagged mountains and valleys. By repeated abrasion, you are going to wear down those mountains until they are old, soft, rolling hills! Then they will not dissipate the light, but reflect it. It is the reflection that makes the buffed part appear shiny. There are different types of wheels and these have different effects on the compound they are used with. For example, the SISAL wheel is a coarse ‘rope like’ fiber, which frays out to make a sort of brush. These fibers have a very beneficial effect on scratched and rougher surfaces, almost stroking them smooth. When used with a course ‘EMERY’ compound, they ‘cut’ the metal down very rapidly. You could use this compound on a SPIRAL SEWN wheel and it would work, but the job would take much longer because the softer SPIRAL SEWN wheel is not going to thrash the metal so aggressively. As you progress through the buffing compounds, you will change your buffing wheel, ending up using the softest polishing wheel, the CANTON FLANNEL with the least abrasive BLUE or RED compound which only polishes, it has no cutting action. So, depending on the job in hand, you will determine which abrasive compound and wheel you are going to use first, then step down through the stages until YOU are satisfied with the results. Compounds are made from a mixture of fine abrasive fillers and a sort of greasy wax. The compound is melted, by friction heat, as the bar is pressed to the revolving wheel. This applies a thin layer of abrasive, ‘glued’ onto the cloth wheel, making it similar to an emery paper, only much faster!
Do not apply the compound after the workpiece, or on its own. This wastes material and is much less efficient. By applying the material before the workpiece, you actually use the workpiece to force the compound into the buff. This is much less wasteful, more efficient and will actually speed up your buffing times. DETERMINING GRIT SIZES of SANDPAPERS and BUFFING COMPOUNDS. We often get asked, ‘Which grit should I use first?” Unfortunately, there is no cut and dried answer to this, because it really depends on the condition of the part. So, lets discuss some examples: 1) Aluminum Side Cover with one deep scratch. To successfully remove the scratch, ALL of the material around the scratch has to be disposed of. In our example, this means a lot of aluminum! Initially, we are concerned with getting as much aluminum sanded off as quickly as possible, so we would use the coarsest abrasive available, say a 40 grit sandpaper.on a flat block. It would be of NO USE to try to buff out this deep scratch with a buffing wheel, because the wheel would remove more material from the hole, as well as the surrounding areas. By keeping the abrasive on a flat block, no further material can be removed from the hole. As the scratch is lessened, the grit size of paper is reduced from 40, to 80, 120, 240, 320 and finally 600. Once the surrounding material is removed, then the actual polishing can be started. Buffing compounds will be determined by the size of the scratches. If you have used a 600 grit paper, you may like to proceed directly to a white buffing compound. If fine scratches are visible, then you’ll need to ‘back off’ and go to the black compound before retrying the white. 2. Aluminum Side Cover – just dull. Obviously, it would be a step backwards to start treating this piece by using the technique in our first example. As there is no large metal content to be removed, you could virtually dispense with the sandpapers and move directly to the polishing aspect of the part. The Brown buffing compound with a spiral sewn wheel could be employed to see if the shine is good enough. If not, then use a black compound, and then rework the part using the brown compound. The system is ideal for making felt bobs more abrasive. Using a knife or spatula, the thixotropic adhesive is spread evenly around the face of your wheel. Finally, (see picture) roll the wheel into the abrasive using light pressure, ensuring a heavy pickup of the adhesive 3. Aluminum Wheel Casting. any wheels are prepainted, directly over a rough sand casting. Remove the paint using VHT Stripfast, to expose the aluminum. The ‘pimples’ caused by the sand cast have to be removed to flatten the metal ready for polishing. Because of the difficult contours of the wheel, it is virtually impossible to sand with a flat block, so this is where Greaseless Compound comes in. Start off with the 80 grit, using a spiral sewn wheel or, for the awkward areas, a felt bob. Then proceed through the various grit sizes of Greaseless, until the metal is smooth , all ‘pimples’ are removed and an even ‘flat’ finish is achieved. The polishing should only begin once all traces of ‘pimples’ are gone. Use Black Compound for most of the polishing work, and finally, on a fresh or cleaned wheel, buff lightly with the Brown compound.
Source to this information: http://www.caswellplating.com/buffs/buffman.htm