04/17/12 11:06PM detailing, Detailing Tools, Dr. Detail. Cleaning

Dr. Detail's Auto Wisdom

Dr. Detail, Cleaning, Detailing Tools, Auto Detailers

The Doctor is in....

Details … Details … Details!


Rx:  “If this is Tuesday we must be in Belgium.”


You don’t have a Buffer/Polisher yet?  Why not?  Are you afraid of it?  That’s usually why, even some detailers don’t own a machine.  Well let’s explain away the fear and move you on to bigger and better results.


Yes, it’s all about the results.  Those cars sitting on the grass at Pebble Beach didn’t get there without having been introduced to a buffer.  Ask yourself this, “how fast can I make my hand move (and for how long)?”  Move your hand back and forth, about 1 foot, fast, and count the cycles (back and forth) for 15 seconds.  I’ll wait. …………………………


OK, how’d you do?  I did about 75/15 seconds, the blood is down to my finger tips and my wrist is complaining.  You too?  A rate of 75 cycles/15 seconds is similar to 300 orbits/minute (that’s how an orbital is measured).  If you roughly compare 2 orbits/minute to 1 rpm (don’t nail me on that – there is no way to really compare the two) then we can look at the work the machine will do compared to what your hand will.  A Rotary typically ranks at 1000 to 3000 rpms.  Orbitals are typically 3000 to 6500 orbits/minute.  The more frequently a point on the pad passes over a point on your paint, the more likely the job is going to get done before the material dries up.  Make sense?


“Oh, but, what if I burn the paint?”  “What if I cut through?”  Well then you’re in deep doo doo.  So let’s not burn the paint.  One surface passing over another develops heat, the rate depending upon how much friction there is between the two.  And what does it take to burn … anything?  HEAT!  Yep.  You guessed it.  We’re going to build SOME heat as we work with a machine so how can we be sure to manage it so that the paint doesn’t fry?  Have you ever leaned against a car in the middle of summer and jumped back because you got “burned:?  Generally 145 degrees Fahrenheit is uncomfortable to the touch.  When you connected with the hot paint was it just “uncomfortable”?  Chances are it was a lot hotter than 145 degrees, then. 


OK, now we have a benchmark for comparison.  If, while you’re buffing, you lift off the machine and feel the paint, you can gauge if you’re above or below 145 degrees, agreed?  And you know it will tolerate more heat than that.  So just keep the machine moving over the surface fast enough to avoid building too much heat anywhere.  It doesn’t take much speed.  You can count to about 3 on each stroke over the 2’ x 2’ area you’ve selected and be just fine.


OK.  Now we’re not worried about burning through the paint – right?  What about cutting through the paint.  Have you looked over an Orange lately.  Noticed that the skin (peel) has a texture?  That’s where the texture of OEM or refinished paint gets its name – “Orange-peel”.  Two Stage paints have about 1 mil (thousandth’s of an inch) of color coat covered by 3 to 4 mils of clearcoat.  You can figure that the Orange-peel texture is above 2 or 3 mils of solid clear.  While buffing (watch someone else first if you like) you’ll notice that the orange-peel is still there after the job is done.  So it’s not real easy to cut through 3 or 4 mils of clear if the texture on top of it doesn’t come off with buffing.  So, can you cut through paint?  Yes, but it’s easiest under certain conditions.  First, the paint must be especially thin, hot or both.  You’ll find the paint thinner over ridges and character marks like the raised portion down the center of most hoods.  More so with refinishes and less so with OEM paints.  Never-the-less, tend to stay away from these areas with your machine.  The paint, while wet probably flowed away from the sharpest edges more than it did from the flats.  So the paint may be a little thin there.  Let me ask if, when you painted the walls in your house, if you didn’t finish the edges with a small brush vs the roller.  Sure you did.  Same thing here, just to be safe, finish edges and corners by hand.  Leave the buffer for the flats.


That’s another point to consider. If you have you paint buffed by a “Professional”, watch to see what he does with edges and corners.  Chances are he’ll roll right over them with a wool pad on his rotary cranked up to 2300 rpms.  He doesn’t expect to see you again after he’s done and isn’t concerned about your paint’s lifespan.  Find another detailer.  The good ones are worth the price.


OK.  Now we’ve handled your two biggest fears.  Let’s go get a buffer and see what we really can do for that old beater.



I recently listen to a gentleman who insisted that “Buffing” could only mean cutting and correcting paint defects, and that “Polishing” could only mean putting a final finish on the paint.  Frankly, the two terms are somewhat synonymous yet the majority tend to agree with him.  Using the words interchangeably should not evoke raucous laughter from a professional.  I will probably interchange them with the convention that paint correction is “buffing” but that refinement and finish is “polishing” but consider them equals.


There are three primary types of buffers (the term used generally here).  They are …

1.      Rotary, often called “High Speed Rotary”

2.      Orbital or Random Orbital, AND

3.      Dual-Action or DA

Each has it’s own strengths and faults.



1.      Rotarys operate by just spinning the pad.  Single speed Rotarys do it all at one RPM.  These are fine for limited results but don’t ever point one at your paint if that one speed is too high.  Grinders ARE NOT buffers.  They may look alike but a Grinder can be found that will spin at 6000 rpms and another up to 30,000 rpms.  Paint should never be massaged with a machine cranking over 2300 rpms and the slower the better.  Many can be found around 1750 or 2000 rpms which is just right most of the time.


If you buy a Rotary these days, even an inexpensive, “Made in China” buffer will probably allow you to pick the speed you want to use because they’re adjustable.  Many backyard detailers have picked up one at their local hardware store (I’m thinking of a store who’s name suggests that their parts came over in freight aboard one of the boat’s in the harbor) for as little as $50.  I’ve actually sold many of these and never heard a complaint.


Better yet though are name brand machines by DeWalt, Makita, Chicago Pneumatic, Milwaukee, etc.  You’ll find them at $200 to $600.  They can be heavy if made well due to metal frames, large 12 amps motors and the requisite bells and whistles, but if you plan to do a lot of detailing or start your own business, they are well worth it.


Rotarys have a strength in that they are versatile.  They are aggressive enough to get some serious work done including paint removal and bondo smoothing at high speeds yet they can clean up paint defects and put a fine finish on paint.  Their primary drawbacks include their weight, size and the rotary motion itself which requires a little finesse and experience to avoid swirl marks.



2.      Orbitals operate by moving the pad in a motion designed to simulate the way your hand would move over the paint surface.  They are rated in “Orbits per Minute” not rpms and are not very aggressive or versatile.  Still if all you intend to do is apply glaze and/or wax they’ll do the job for you and leave no marks with little comcern unlike the Rotary.


The best Orbital ever made, in my humble opinion, was made by Waxcoa (later Waxcoa/Chambelin).  But, alas it’s no longer made.  You can still find really cheap (read inexpensive) machines everywhere.  Be careful buying these machine if you expect it to become a family member instead of just a passing exchange student.  Harbor Freight sells one for $19.99 but you will also find some at $150.  I don’t have a favorite to recommend here because I don’t have a favorite here.


They are seldom adjustable and only capable of application steps like glazing and waxing.  Don’t expect them to correct paint defects.  They have a large range in size.  Wen makes a 6” machine and Gem makes a 12” machine but you’ll find 9” machines everywhere. 


So an Orbital’s strength is it’s gentle nature.  It should leave a flawless finish (if you started with one).  It’s fault is it’s lack of versatility.  Don’t expect these machines to work your paint.  If you’re removing swirl marks you’ll be OK but heavy oxidation and scratches are beyond it purpose. 


One caution with these machines; the box for every orbital machine I’ve seen recommends removing wax, once dried, with their orbital.  Know that this is a dry, unlubricated step and should not be machined by any equipment of any kind.  Dry wax is dead wax.  It can no longer be worked into the paint so machining it offers NO advantages.  Once your wax is dry remove it only by hand with your cleanest, softest microfiber cloth.



3.      Dual Action Polishers combine both of the preceding machines into one.  They operate by spinning the pad and “orbiting” it at the same time.  The spin is usually rather slow but still offers some aggression to expand the machine’s versatility.  The orbital motion avoids the buffing marks that a rotary can leave behind so you get the fine finish of an orbital.


Most Dual Action polishers (DAs) are designed with a clutching mechanism that will disengage the rotary motion if you put some pressure on the machine while working.  It’s sort of a defense mechanism to protect the surface from hackers.  It essentially sacrifices the rotary aggression for the mark free orbital motion.  Most DAs, including the Porter-Cable 7424XP and the DeWalt 443, are made this way but not all. 


Flex, a name you’ll come to appreciate, makes a DA (their XC 3401 VRG) with a direct gear drive so that the rotary motion will never stall.  Although this machine is a little pricey it will combine all the attributes of a rotary and orbital and do it better than either.  A Porter-Cable 7424XP operates up to 6800 orbits/minute.  That’s a good, strong machine, but the Flex will hit 9800 opm.  The rotary action is 400 to 600 rpms.  Not fast (a good thing) but constant and sufficient.  I was at SEMA in 2011 and virtually every materials manufacturer there, all trying to show their products at their best, were using the Flex.


A DAs strength is it’s expanded versatility over an orbital and greater finesse while finishing better than a rotary.  It generally has less weight as well.  Drawbacks include it’s limited versatility and vibration.  Your arms will tingle after an afternoon with a DA.  You might want to check that loose tooth too.



So now that you know all this about your machine choices, which do you pick?  Let me help:

A.     If you’re working on your cars body work and prepping for paint you want a rotary.  You can sand off the old paint, smooth out the old bondo and flatten a fresh layer.  Within a day after the new paint was shot you can compound out the color sanding scratches and finish with a cleaner glaze. 


If you just bought a car with no gloss left to the paint you can compound it out and remove paint defects with the same rotary.


B.     After compounding you can remove compounding and wool pads marks with you Dual Action Polisher.  You can also choose to lay down some pure glaze of wax if you don’t do it by hand.


C.     If your wife’s car needs a fresh coat of wax you can whip out the orbital or DA again and apply pure glaze and wax after the clay bar step.  Or, you can throw away the clay bar and grab the new Auto Scrub pad (a clay bar replacement item) by Nanoskin and clean the paint with your DA.


You can clean up the boat as well.  What about the SkiDoo, MotorCycle Headlights, Windshield?  Sure you can polish out that windshield wiper scratch with you buffer and some glass polish (the abrasive not the spray liquid).  How about the old desk in the corner in the house.  That varnish could use a little buffing.  You might even find a new use for the orbital.  It’s great for a back massage/



Before we close, let’s not forget a nice variation on the orbital.  There was a machine designed 50 years ago for the aircraft industry.  Why the engineer even thought that orbiting two smaller pads, side-by-side, vs one single larger pad would be a good idea, I’ll never know.  But he was dead on target.  The Cycle dual-head orbital polisher may, arguably, be the finest finishing machine on the market.  Two 4” pads orbit next to each other, and with the proper counter weights, eliminate each other’s vibration.  Cyclo shows a video demo where an operator holds a glass of water onto the top of the machine, WHILE RUNNING, and barely a ripple appears.


I’ve been present during demos while an operator turns on a Cyclo, lays it on a black panel, leans on the top of the machine and discusses it’s virtues for minutes on end.  I found no marks after the demo.


The Cyclo can be fitted with a selection of 4” wool pads (2 each), 5 different foam pads and even microfiber bonnets.  There are 3 different 4” brushes for carpets and upholstery.  Fitted with two different pads you can do some tricky things with headlights!


A Cyclo’s strength lies in its application versatility between exterior and interior.  It also shines in the comfort arena.  If it has a drawback it might be it’s “T” shape, lack of paint correction versatility and price.  However I’ve never met a Cyclo owner that would let it out of his sight and there is a culthood of Streamline trailer enthusiasts that would kill for one.


You don’t have a Buffer/Polisher yet?  Why not?  Haven’t I just explained away your fears?  What … you’ve been reading my blog?  OK, I’ll shut up and let you go get yours.  It’s time you moved on to bigger and better results.



The Doctor’s store is alive and well.  Next time you’re in Southern California drop in to Fullerton and say “Hi.”  Or just take that road trip from Michigan and I’ll show you all those Buffers … Polishers … Uh … machines.


So let the shine begin!

Please submit your questions for this column at DrDetail@DrDetailForLess.com and we’ll cover them in a future column.  You can also submit your own testimonials and comments about the subjects covered here and we’ll try to publish them as well.


Thanx, until next time,

Dr. Detail