About Polishing Aluminum

 

The parts I polished on the De Rosa came out nice, especially the crank, so maybe I'm finally getting the hang of it.  Several people have asked me how I polished the parts, so I figured I'd make a show-and-tell page.  I've done quite a few parts by now, but I'm self-taught and still learning, so this "guide" will be very basic and may containg mistakes.  If you recognize any mistakes, or have any helpful tips, please let me know.

Some parts are anodized and some are not.  The Campagnolo parts that I know are not anodized are:

- Nuovo, Super and C-Record hubs

- Nuovo, Super and C-Record shifters

- Nuovo, Super and C-Record seatposts

The Campagnolo parts that are anodized are:

- Nuovo, Super and C-Record cranks and rings

- Nuovo, Super and C-Record headsets

- Nuovo, Super and C-Record calipers and levers

Most 3TTT and Cinelli stems are anodized as well.  If you're not sure whether a part is anodized, try polishing it with Simichrome or some other polishing product like Flitz, Never-Dull, Mother's, etc.  If you don't get a shine, then your part is probably anodized.  I am sure there is a better way of testing, but I don't know it.

If your part is anodized, you must remove the anodizing before you can polish the part.  I remove it with Easy-Off oven cleaner spray (the heavy-duty one, not the new no-odor one), which has lye as its main ingredient.  Use regular dishwasing gloves (not just latex or thin vinyl because the lye will eat right through them), and work outdoors because the fumes are very powerful (they will knock you back!).  I place the part in a plastic container and then I spray the Easy-Off liberally over the part.  I let it sit for no more than 3-5 minutes (otherwise the lye may start to eat away at the aluminum and cause pitting).  Then I scrub it real well with super fine steel wool (#0000 grade) to make sure I get all the anodizing off.  Then I wash the part with Simple-Green, rinse it thoroughly with warm water and dry it off.  This whole process will leave the aluminum very dull, but that's OK (don't freak out), because it'll shine right up once you start polishing.

If your part is not anodized, you can proceed directly to the polishing. 

I use a Craftsman 6-inch bench buffer from Sears, which costs about $90 (curiously, they don't carry these at Home Depot).  The photo below is from the Sears website.

You'll also need some polishing compounds, which usually come in a set like this, which containg four different compounds, for different metals and applications:

You will need at least two cotton wheels, one soft and one firm.  The one below is a firm one, which I use with the brown (Tripoli) compound, for initial polishing.  

After I have the part polished, I use the red (Rouge) compound, with a soft wheel, to bring out color (shine).  Wheels and compounds are sold at most hardware stores.

If your part has deep scratches, you'll need to remove a lot of metal, and for that it's best to to use the black compound with a firm wheel.

If you are not getting a perfect finish with the brown compound and the firm wheel (i.e., if you have a shine but you still have fine marks), try the same brown compound but with a soft wheel.  You can also try the white compound, which is not as abrasive as the brown, with a soft wheel.

Each compound should have its own wheel.

Very important: apply the compound sparingly but often, and don't press the part against the wheels too hard.  Apply light pressure and let the compound do the work.  This is one of the best tips I can give you - do not skimp on the compound.

This is a link to a great Guide to Polishing from Caswell Plating, in PDF format.  It goes over more stuff in detail, and provides links to the Caswell site where you can order supplies.  I suggest you download it and save it your computer so you can refer to it as you need.

My last piece of advise to you is also very important - perhaps the most important one, and you won't find it in the Guide to Polishing from Caswell.  Here it is:  Do not do your polishing anywhere that you care about keeping clean.  The polishing process is dirtier than you can possibly imagine.  it puts out tons of heavy black dirt that will get into everything and is a pain to clean.  I once made the mistake of doing it inside my garage, where I keep my bikes, where I take my photos and where I am sitting right now as a matter of fact.  Never again.  And then I compounded the problem (no pun intended), by walking into the house, leaving black footprints (size 13 no less), all over the house. The horror, oh the horror.    So now I do my polishing outdoors, where I can easily sweep or hose away the crud.

Oh yeah, there's actually a couple more tips.  Use heavy duty work gloves - I use washable canvass gloves (from Home Depot) that are washable.  Also, use goggles or work glasses, otherwise your eyes wont last long.  And for reasons that should be obvious by now, wear your crappiest work shoes and clothes.

My last piece of sage advise is to position your work table facing a wall or something else that is not delicate and/or valuable - I work facing my closed garage door.  Why?  because sooner or later some part will catch on a wheel, and will fly out of your hands like a bullet.  I have a couple of nice dents in my garage door from a flying stem (the stem was OK fortunately).  By the way, parts tend to catch easier with the softer wheels.

That's it for right now.  I hope this helps.  The next time I do some polishing I will take some photos of my setup, as well as some before and after photos of the parts I work on.

P.S.  A couple of people wondered how well the polished parts hold up over time.  I haven't had a problem with them.   If you have an original Campy seatpost or hubset (preferably one that you've had since new), take a look at it - since they are not anodized, either one will give you a pretty good idea of how you can expect your polished parts to hold up.   I have found that polished parts that stay indoors hold their shine almost indefinitely.  And polished parts that get used just need to get cleaned and dried occasionally.  In either case, a quick rubbing with your favorite polishing product will bring back a glorious shine right away.

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