Metal Finishing Work (Jump to Most
This is one of my favorite parts of the work. With very little money
and not so much effort, I (so can you!) can make a huge difference in the way a
motorcycle looks. I've separated the work into a few sections so you can
jump right to what you're interested in.
Aluminum Finishing | Plastic
Parts | Miscellaneous Cleaning
Well, to start out, here are some pictures from the project bike
itself. Remember, you can click on the pictures to get a larger view.
Right Side - before polishing
Clutch and Timing Covers, after polishing
Fender - half cleaned & polished
Header pipes - 50% done
Finished polishing LEFT side of bike
Finished polishing RIGHT side of bike
So...how do you clean a bike up?
- Fine Steel Wool - This is your workhorse, you can buy it at any
home improvement or hardware store. You can use steel wool on chrome,
aluminum, steel, or virtually any metal. The downsides to it are: 1.
It can sometimes leave behind unacceptable fine scratches on softer metals
(see below for a remedy), and 2. It disintegrates quite easily, so you'll
end up going through a lot of it. Be sure to buy at least 2 different
grades of it - medium and fine. The fine steel wool will produce the
nice finish, but the medium is nice to help take out more significant blemishes.
Be careful when using it on chrome - it works well with some, but can
scratch some other types.
- Fine Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper - You'll want to use Aluminum Oxide
sandpaper (the black stuff) - not wood sandpaper. Sandpaper, of course, will help you to
remove the real significant surface imperfections from the aluminum.
You should be very careful when using it because you can actually wear down
the aluminum so much that by the time you've removed the imperfection,
you've created an impression in the aluminum. When you get around to
making it shine, you'll really notice your "dip" in the
metal. Virtually every time you use sandpaper, you should use
the finer and finer grades, including the steel wool (below) to improve the
finish after sanding. Try steel wool first, if the wool isn't course
enough to make a difference, then use the sandpaper.
- Buffing Wheels - I mainly use 2 buffing wheels and 2 compounds I
bought from The Eastwood Company
a few years ago. The two I use are called "Spiral Sewn" and
"Loose" wheels. I use my existing bench grinder, which
doesn't allow me to buff underneath, but it works for my purposes. The
two different buffing compounds I use are called "Jeweler's Rouge,"
used for removing scratches and old clearcoat, and "White Rouge,"
which I use for final polishing. The Jeweler's does most of the work,
removing the majority of scratches and poor finish. You will not
believe the shine you can get from aluminum using the right buffing wheels
and compounds. As with any power tool, wear safety glasses and gloves
when using the buffer. Be sure to HOLD ON to the piece you're buffing
so the wheel doesn't grab it out of your hands.
- Metal Polish - I use Blue Magic metal polish, which you can buy at
most any automotive dealer. After all of your hard work (see above),
apply this stuff like you would car wax. Let it sit for a while, and
rub it off. It will leave a nice shine, as well as a coating that will
deter oxidation. It will be necessary to reapply the polish every once
and a while, especially after riding in wet weather.
- Clearcoat? - I tend to shy away from using this because it only
lasts so long, and even the best, most expensive brands are not quite 100.0%
clear. In the past, I have successfully used Nyalic, which you can buy
direct from the manufacturer, HBI, by calling 1-800-40-NYALIC or over the net
at www.OrderNyalic.com. It is a clearcoat designed for aluminum and
designed to withstand elevated temperatures and not turn yellow. It
was fairly easy to use, but like I mentioned, it left the metal looking a
lot LESS shiny than I prefer. Bottom Line: if you are
looking for a low-maintenance, very good finish, use Nyalic - if you are
looking for that mirror-like shine and willing to re-polish every once and a
while, don't use a clearcoat.
- Rubbing Alcohol - ALWAYS test in an inconspicuous area
before using in an obvious area. This helps to get rid of some of the
gummy deposits left from old stickers, etc.
- Windex (or similar) - Works well with a good clean, terry cloth
(like the inside of an old sock) rag.
- ArmorAll - Depending on the
type of plastic, I usually give the dark, opaque plastics a shot and let it
soak in for about 30 minutes. I will rub the ArmorAll into the cracks
that don't get sprayed from the bottle.
- Carburetor Cleaner - Works great for getting the globs of grease
and caked on old oil off. Get the aerosol bottle that will blast out
of a tube for best control. This stuff is usually pretty cheap as
- Various small wire brushes - I use some small steel, brass, and
nylon brushes for doing some finishing work. They're great for getting
in those harder to reach spots. I'll use the brass brush the most,
since it doesn't scratch as much as the steel one. I'll use the nylon
brushes (old toothbrushes work great for this - remember...you're supposed
to get a new toothbrush every 3 months anyhow!) for removing caked on oil
and grime from parts. You can buy the brushes at a local hardware
store for a few bucks (I bought mine at Sears Hardware for about $6 for a
set of 3).
- An old athletic sock - Really, don't laugh. These work great
for working in-between parts. I love to use them for removing grease
around the swing arm, removing grime from in-between the windings of the
springs on the rear shocks, the spokes on an old, classic wheel, and
more. I go through about a half dozen socks each bike I restore.
A great way to get virtually everything you need for a reasonable price is to
check out 3M's Aluminum
Polishing Kit, which retails for about $40. It includes much of what
I'm recommending above, and is "package-priced" as well. You can
find a wide variety of polishing and cleaning supplies at The Eastwood Company
- a great place for automotive/motorcycle finishing products.