Do-It-Yourself Stainless Steel Corvette Trim Restoration

Putting the shine back in your Chevy Corvette's lack luster stainless steel trim

Rich Lagasse Mar 28, 2006 0 Comment(s)

The Process

0506_08z Chevrolet_Corvette Molding 2/15

This is our unrestored stainless molding. You can see the dents andscratches.

The following steps are important for stainless restoration:

1. Clean the parts: Remove all existing sealant, oils, wax, and such.Use a small putty knife, wooden scrapers, and 3M General PurposeAdhesive Cleaner for as the first step. This will give you a clearpicture of what work needs to be done.

2. Evaluate the parts to be restored: If there are no dents orscratches, proceed with the polishing process outlined in steps 5 and 6below. If there are damaged areas, proceed with the third step.

0506_09z Chevrolet_Corvette Cleaning 3/15

Cleaning the part is the first step. Using small wooden scrapers and 3MGeneral Purpose Cleaner will help.

3. Remove dents and scratches: Small dents can be removed by carefullytapping the area from the underside to raise the area even with orslightly above the surrounding area on the surface of the piece. Workfrom the outside of the dent and gradually progress toward the inside toshrink the dent back into shape. A block of oak under the piece workswell, along with an assortment of handmade hardwood tools to work outthe dent. These can be made from dowels of different diameters or smallpieces of hardwood shaped to work the damaged area. Raise the damagedarea level with the top surface or slightly above it, which will then besanded flush. To determine your progress in removing the dent, use ahand-block sander or a fine, flat file over the damaged area. The highspots will appear shinier, and the low spots will be darker. Continueworking the dent until the area appears even in color and feel.

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Here's the part after smoothing and sanding the surface area of the dentprior to buffing.

4. Smooth the surface: The objective is to get the part as smooth aspossible prior to polishing. Remove small scratches and level any dentswith assorted sandpaper grits to smooth the surface in preparation forpolishing. As with any polishing job, try to use the least-abrasivematerials. Fine sandpaper often removes minor scratches. For deeperscratches, you may have to be more aggressive. The Multi-Tool or anexpander wheel with a fine-grit (1,200) 3M Trizact belt can be helpfulfor deeper scratches, but don't remove too much material as it cancreate waves or a depressed area (the material is often thin). Be sureto "feather" the area so the part won't be wavy. This process is similarto repairing a fender where the damaged area is blended with thesurrounding area. After removing the dent, use a hand-block sander toget the surface smooth and even. In some instances, especially forlarger parts, an orbital sander or a Trizact belt helps with initialsmoothing. For work by hand, use finer and finer grits of sandpaper, andfinish with foam-rubber-backed sanding pads until you have removed allbut the minor scratches and achieved a smooth and even surface. We usean assortment of sandpaper grits--220, 320, 400, 600, 1,200, and1,500--depending on the depth of the scratch. The 3M or Ultraflexfoam-rubber-backed sanding pads of assorted grits can help, especiallyfor irregular and curved surfaces. Your goal is to reduce anyimperfections to a finer and finer degree until the polishing step canremove what remains. If you do a good job at this stage, you'll haveless polishing to do.

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Buffing the part. Note the position (see arrow) of the part against thebuffing wheel and the use of safety equipment.

5. Polishing and buffing, general guidelines: Now that the piece is freeof all dents and all but minor scratches, you can begin to prepare forpolishing, which further smoothes the surface in preparation forbuffing. Great care is required to avoid injury to you or damage to thepart being restored. Pay careful attention, have a firm grip on thepart, and hold it against the buffing wheel at the right location andangle. As a general guide, it's best to hold the part toward the frontlower area of the buffing wheel (below the centerline of the wheel).Imagine the buffing pad is a clock face. When viewed from the right sideof the buffing wheel, hold the part at the 8-o'clock position. Be sureto avoid catching an edge and having the piece ripped from your hands,especially with the higher-speed buffers. Holding the part in a verticalposition and moving it in an upward and downward motion is somewhatsafer than going side to side, as there is less chance of catching theupper edge of the part. Start buffing the part at the lower end and workupward until you reach a little over the halfway point. Then turn thepart 180 degrees and work from the bottom up toward the middle of thepart where you left off. With a little experience, you can also go sideto side if you're careful to avoid catching the upper edge. Try topolish the lower half of the part first and turn it around to do theother half. For your safety, it's important to hold the part in theproper location against the wheel and use light-to-moderate pressure.Make sure you have plenty of light, check the piece often to see howwell it's progressing, and pay attention at all times. If you're new topolishing, it's a good idea to practice with an old part.

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The finished part prior to flash-chroming.

6. Polishing/Buffing steps: There are at least two steps to polishingstainless, and some companies suggest three. The polishing step removessome material to eliminate all remaining scratches, while the finalbuffing step provides the finish shine. The three-step polishing processbegins with a sisal buffing wheel using emery compound, moves to aspiral-sewn wheel using red or brown compound (sometimes calledstainless compound), then to a loose-section wheel with white rougecompound. Eastwood sells a kit with these buffing wheels in variousdiameters with the right compounds for stainless. Avoid mixing compoundson the same buffing wheel, as they have different grits. The first stepisn't always required, and the last two should work fine for mostpieces, especially if there are no dents or deep scratches to remove.

After you have the proper safety equipment (respirator, gloves, and eyeshield), adequate lighting, and are wearing tight-fitting clothes, applythe appropriate abrasive/buffing compound to the buffing wheel. Ifyou're following the two-step process, apply the red/brown (stainless)compound to your spiral-sewn wheel. Apply light-to-moderate pressure,and hold the part in your hands firmly and in the right location againstthe buffing wheel. Check your work often and avoid overheating the part,as it could become discolored. Work in smooth movements with evenpressure and avoid catching an edge. Reapply the abrasive compoundperiodically. This step should remove any remaining small scratches.

When you're satisfied with the progress, clean the part with 3M GeneralPurpose Adhesive Cleaner (PN 08984) or a similar product, and proceedwith the final buffing step. Cleaning avoids contaminating the buffingwheel with different compounds. Now you can apply the white rouge to theloose-section buffing wheel and proceed with final buffing. This laststep will bring out the shine in preparation for flash chroming. The topphoto at left shows a part after the polishing step.

0506_14z Chevrolet_Corvette Unrestored 7/15

The unrestored molding with dent, scratches, and bends.

The middle photo shows a molding with a major dent, deep scratches, anda bend. Frankly, we weren't sure it could be saved, but there wasnothing to lose in trying. The bottom photo shows the same part afterrestoration. The left side shows the piece after the dent, scratches,and bend were removed and after sanding. The right side of the moldingshows the part after the two steps of polishing and buffing.

0506_15z Chevrolet_Corvette Restored 8/15

The restored molding; the left side is after sanding, and the right sideis after two steps of polishing but prior to flash chroming.

It's important to note that a flash-chrome process was applied tofactory moldings, which gave them a bluish tint and helped retain shine.This process involves applying only the chromium finish layer, not thecopper and nickel layers used in typical chroming. If your parts needonly polishing, you can usually avoid going through this finish. You'llnotice a color difference in the part. If you want to retain theoriginal factory appearance, this service is usually provided by a goodchrome shop.

Final Note

There are probably as many approaches to polishing stainless as thereare methods for getting your paint to shine. With practice andexperience, you'll know what works best for you; these steps and methodshave worked well for us. If you're uncomfortable with any aspect of theprocess, especially if you have a part that can't be replaced or don'tfeel you'll be doing enough of this work to justify the equipment,consider having a professional do the job.


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