Refinish Stainless Steel Moldings

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Refinish Stainless Steel Moldings

Tools you’ll need: besides using a specialty tool to remove the moldings, a power buffing wheel is the only tool needed.

Tinware you’ll need: Grits of fine wet sandpaper (600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500), stainless polish, microfiber towels

Any car will greatly benefit from the time invested in precise detail work. However, this is an area that many car crafters seem to glaze over or just forget about altogether. You see it all the time. Somebody will strip a car down, spend $8,000 on bodywork and a new paint job, and proceed to reinstall the same faded-out and pitted-up chrome and trim that originally came off the car. That makes no sense. Not to mention it heavily detracts from the overall appearance you just spent a grip of cash to improve. Sure, many reproductions are available nowadays, and sometimes this is simply the best route to go. Repro moldings may not be available for all models though, so re-finishing just might be your only option. For stainless steel, you would be surprised what you can do with a buffer, a little polish, and your own two hands. In fact, we will show you just how easy it is to do, and put a little sparkle back into your car’s cosmetics. Here, we’ll concentrate on stainless only. Aluminum parts are a little trickier – they can be very fragile, and can require anodizing or re-chroming after being refinished. If you need to re-chrome a part, there are many companies around the country that offer this service.

The windshield reveal moldings are constantly under fire from the rays of the sun (or rain and snow depending on the car’s origin). Regardless, over time they fade and dull and can even rust due to the harsh elements of the outdoors. We decided to pull the original set of moldings off the car and treat them to some long-awaited TLC.

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After removing the moldings (go easy, they can be brittle!), we gave them a quick once-over cleaning with a little soap and warm water. Then, start sanding with wet fine grits sandpaper – we’d recommend starting with a 600 grit, then 800, then 1000. See how it’s looking at this point. You may need to use a 1200 or even 1500 if you want it to really gleam. By this time, the surface should appear almost mirror-like. Don’t apply all the sanding force in one direction either, use a cross-hatch formation to evenly cover the surface. Go easy and cover the molding completely. Wet sanding is a delicate process and does not require much force. When completed, wipe the molding dry with a clean rag and proceed to the buffing wheel. Again, the trick here is to go easy. If you press the molding too hard into the wheel or stay in the same spot for too long, you run the risk of burning and ruining the finish of the molding.

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Working in a smooth side-to-side motion, run the molding back and forth under the wheel at a slight angle. It helps to roll the piece in your hand along the wheel to prevent constant direct friction in one specific area. Occasionally pause and inspect the finish to decide what is adequate. If you plan on restoring a car and currently do not own a bench grinder/buffing wheel, we strongly recommend buying one. They are fairly inexpensive and will help tremendously on a variety of projects such as this.

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The last and final step is hand polishing. This is where the magic happens. In a small circular pattern, apply the soft polishing compound with a microfiber towel. Light pressure is all that is needed. When the compound begins to dry or disappear, wipe the molding off with a separate clean towel. You may need to repeat the process a couple times to achieve your desired results. You will be amazed at the brilliant finish, and how quickly you got the job done!

Tip: Be careful not to burn the finish of the metal on the buffing wheel. The wheel turns at a very high speed and produces quite a bit of heat generated from the friction.

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