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Polishing pads get the rough out

Properly use polishing pads for that perfect shine
We’ve all had it happen: You’ve finished your color coats and the paint didn’t come out as smooth as you’d like, or you see that a bit of dust or a pet’s hair has fouled the paint job. That’s when it’s time to call in the reinforcements: polishing pads and/or sticks. (Polishing cloths work, too, but I don’t use them anymore.)

You can use polishing pads on models that you intend to add a clear coat to and those you’ve used real automotive paints, like those from MCW, that you don’t intend to topcoat. Polishing pads smooth rough surfaces and eventually deliver a glossy, deep appearance even if you omit clear coat on top of color coats. However, you have to be extremely careful using polishing pads. 

Let’s say that despite you best efforts, your model has heavy orange peel (a texture that can develop when paint dries) and/or a dull, grainy finish right out the paint booth. You’ll need polishing pads in abrasive grits ranging from 1800 to 12000. Slightly soapy water in an old soap dispenser makes an excellent lubricant during polishing.

If the paint finish is very rough, start with the 1800-grit pad first. If the paint is just moderately textured, begin with a 3200-grit pad. Apply gentle pressure because the pads can cut quickly. Sand in only one direction; in the photo, I’m going widthwise across the roof of the car body. During the initial polishing stage, try to achieve a uniformly dull finish without sanding through the paint to the primer (or plastic) beneath.

Then move to the next higher grit (3600 from 3200) while sanding in the opposite direction, lengthwise in this photo. The idea is that each successive grit will remove the scratches left by the previous grit. Continue to alternate each polishing direction each time you change to a finer grit until you finish with a 12000-grit pad. With each higher grit, the finish will become shinier—it really does almost feel like magic.

While polishing pads or cloths are good for most surfaces on a model car body, they have trouble reaching smaller recessed surfaces that you can find, like the door scoops on this 1968 Dodge Charger body. The same challenge applies to other sorts of models, such as airplane fuselages. This is where polishing sticks work best. I cut off the used edges of polishing sticks to expose new sections of fresh grit.

If you have chosen automotive paints rather than hobby paints for your project, you should also consider using automotive paint finishing compounds. They are more expensive than hobby equivalents but will last you a lifetime. Consult your local automotive paint expert for the best choice and try to stick with one brand for your rubbing and finishing compounds, glazing or swirl remover, and finish wax.

On this chopped Riviera, I tried to eliminate the orange peel on the horizontal body surfaces with rubbing compounds [link to rubbing compounds story], but it didn’t quite do the job. So I backtracked and used the 3400- to 12000-grit sanding pads, followed by a repeat of the rubbing compounds, swirl remover, and wax. Now all the surfaces show a glass-smooth finish.

Combine what you know now about polishing pads with proper priming and preparation and rubbing compounds for the best paint jobs you’ve ever done. But don’t expect perfect results the first time out. As with anything, practice and finding what works best for you will get you the perfect paint job.

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