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Aluminum Aircraft Polish: Step By Step Polishing Guide

Polishing an aircraft vehicle requires time, patience and lot of effort. It’s an exciting endeavor considering the striking results you can get, but you may not get very far without a clear plan.
To ensure the best results, polishing an aircraft also requires a step-by-step process. This process may involve a number of different tools and materials for getting the best shine, but it always involves proper preparation as the very first step.

Step 1: Preparation

No aircraft polishing job can be complete without first preparing the aircraft. Preparation ensures that the essential goals of the polishing process can be accomplished with minimal time wasted. This can make a big difference in the quality of the polishing job.
Before polishing job begins, it’s always a good idea to gather the materials you’ll be using. You may want to start the process with a sanding block. You may also want to have your polishing tool on hand such as a buffer and waxer as well as plenty of cotton cloths. Do a quick test run of each device to ensure that it’s in working order before you begin the polishing process. If not, take care of any necessary repairs and maintenance at the outset.
You’ll also want to take the time before the polishing process begins to remove dirt. Excess dirt can be a problem later on in the polishing process because it interferes with the smooth finish and shine most polishers desire. To do this, you’ll need to wipe down the surface thoroughly. Use a paint thinner to remove oily or greasy residue and a flathead screwdriver or scraper to remove more stubborn excess such as tar or paint.
The beginning of an aircraft polishing job is also a good time to think about what you want to accomplish. Do you want to achieve a mirror-like finish? Are you more concerned about removing tarnish? Perhaps your biggest goal is to remove water spots and cloudiness in the finish. Considering where you’d like to take your polishing job will help significantly with the next step: deciding which aircraft polish materials to use.

Step 2: Choose Your Aircraft Polish Materials

Many aircraft polishing jobs involve a set pattern of materials used in sequence: a ‘cutting’ or sanding phase, a polish that removes scratches, and a polish that buffs the aircraft to the desired shine. A few polishes combine the last two steps into one single polish effective in a number of different aspects of the polishing process.
There may also be extra steps adding nuance to the aircraft polishing process. For instance, tarnish removers may be applied to remove oxidation. Also, there is a possibility that preventive measures will be taken through the use of sealants or protectants that aim to keep nicks and scratches from recurring.
Obviously, the best aircraft polishes don’t skimp on the quality and are versatile, containing metal friendly mixes of materials that will accomplish more than one goal at a time. The best way to choose what you’ll need is to assess the goals you have, and go from there.

Step 3: Sanding

Any polishing job includes a certain amount of sanding – including aircraft polishing. Because most metal aircrafts are made of aluminum, the sanding won’t hurt the surface and has a set sequence of grits depending on personal preference. For most jobs the goals is to work your way up to a 800 grit (or higher), beginning with a low grit wet sanding, usually with a tool, that will get the process moving forward with a free-style method which doesn’t necessarily involve directional movement.
A sanding tool at the outset of this step can allow the polisher to really get down to the essence of the aluminum surface removing any ground in paint or other materials that have been there for quite a while. This process may create swirls which can be removed with a higher grit in the next sequence of wet, hand sanding. In most instances a good metal aircraft polish can be used in this step as well.
And yes, much of the rest of the sanding work can be done by hand for best results. Doing so often requires quite a bit of effort and may result in muscle soreness and a few blisters, but hand sanding allows the polisher to get up close and personal with the polishing job and to achieve a better and smoother finish in most instances. Of course, it’s always up to the polisher to decide if hand sanding is best for his or her aircraft.

Step 4: Applying Your Aircraft Polish

The key to the polishing step is to find the grain of the aluminum and to apply the aircraft metal polish in the direction of that grain. Another good tip is to always use 100% cotton cloths. Some use flannel, and some use old t-shirts for best results.
Another item to consider at this point is the type of polishing tools you will use. Whether you employ grinders or another device, it will affect the shine and the overall results of the process, so choose cautiously. You’ll want a device that allows an even had of pressure that works well with the type of polish you have chosen.
As cloths become dirty, keep interchanging them so that you’re always working with a clean cloth. The excess dirt can ruin much of the work you’ve already poured into the job, so make sure to guard against it by switching cloths as often as possible.

Step 5: Applying Waxes, Sealants or Protectants

Towards the end of the aircraft polishing process, you’ll want to apply any waxes, sealants or protectants to the surface. These are the finishing touches that can help with future polishing jobs.
Waxing is good for painted surface. It can prevent dulling and oxidation and can usually be done by hand.
Sealants and protectants can create a personally prefered type of finish such as a glossy, watery look and can ensure that the life of the sine from the previous step lasts as long as possible.

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