The Right Way To Cut & Buff Paint - Polished To Perfection

Follow Along as We Detail the Right Way to Cut and Buff Paint.

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You’ve spent months working over your sheetmetal until it was razor straight. Countless hours were spent getting every gap and detail just right in preparation for paint. But once the paint is laid down another step is required to get the big payoff from all your hard work: the cut and buff.

The cut and buff procedure, also known as color sanding and buffing, is the key to turning an average paintjob into a showstopping, winning work of art. A talented painter can lay down the paint nice enough to please many people, but to get that mile-deep mirror finish requires more work.

Color sanding, if done correctly, can turn a good paintjob into an amazing one. The idea is to smooth out the tiny waves and bumps in the clearcoat (commonly referred to as orange peel) and get rid of minute imperfections in the finish. Very specialized high-grit papers are used that range from 400 all the way to superfine 3,000-grit varieties.

This is definitely an area where “practice makes perfect”, and if you’re new to this then you might want to spray a few test panels to practice on first. For some professional guidance on how to do this we cruised over to Best of Show Coach Works in Escondido, California, to watch Jon Lindstrom work over Dick Kvamme’s freshly painted ’61 Corvette. Lindstrom’s been doing this since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and he’s learned what works and what doesn’t. More importantly, he has a keen eye and the patience it takes to spend 40, 50, 60, or more hours to create a show-winning finish.

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1. To get the job done right you need the right materials. What you see here is far more than enough to do a cut and buff job. Among buffing pads, compounds, and papers expect to use up about $280 in materials, give or take. For this cut and polish we decided to use Meguiar’s line of professional-grade materials.

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2. This is what we’re trying to get rid of—the infamous orange peel. How much you have determines which grit of paper you should start with. Lindstrom never starts with anything more aggressive than 400-grit paper. The idea is to replace the coarse scratches from leveling the paint’s surface with finer and finer scratches that can eventually be hidden with polish. It’s a tedious, time-consuming process, but the results can be well worth the extra effort.

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3. After some time with 800 grit and a 3M hard pad, it’s pretty easy to see how the finish is going from lumpy to smooth. Soon that orange peel will be a distant memory.

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4. You can also see that Lindstrom was careful not to sand the sharp edge on the top of the fender. Areas like this can easily be “burned through” and require extra diligence and care. Some guys use pinstriping tape to protect edges like this from being accidentally hit with the sanding block, but Lindstrom is skilled enough to know how to stay away from it.

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5. Lindstrom used to go from 800 to 1,200 grit, but after talking with Mike Pennington at Meguiar’s they decided to add a step and go over the car with 1,000-grit paper. The reason is that the 1,200 doesn’t always remove every 800-grit scratch and the extra step really pays off when he gets to the buffing stage.

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6. At this point the side of the fender is done with 1,000 grit, and Lindstrom can move to 1,200 grit. Did we mention that water is the key? If you’re wondering about the green tape on Lindstrom’s fingers that’s another tip from Charlie Hutton. It keeps Lindstrom’s digits from being worn, since he often spends 8 to 10 hours a day sanding and polishing.

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7. It’s finally time to address that edge. For this Lindstrom uses 1,200-grit Meguiar’s Unigrit paper; no pad, just his hand and lots of slightly soapy water. Patience and care are the key since horizontal ridges like this typically have a bit less clear on them compared to larger surfaces.

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8. Lindstrom then goes at the panel with 2,000-grit paper and a soft foam Meguiar’s pad. Lindstrom really likes the properties of the Meguiar’s paper. Its uniform grit doesn’t load up quickly, which means it lasts as well as performs. Lindstrom also feels that cheap paper doesn’t pay off in the long run. He had used this Nikken silicon-carbide paper years ago, but it became impossible to find. He was very happy when it turned up under the Meguiar’s label.

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9. Once the panel has been gone over with the 2,000 grit, Lindstrom gets busy with some Buflex 2,500 (green) and then 3,000-grit (black) paper and a soft foam pad. While some shops stop at 2,000 and start with the buffer, Lindstrom feels that going the extra steps with the finer grits pays off big in the final finish. The Buflex paper is hard to find, but is made by Kovax out of Tokyo, Japan (kovax.com or eagleabrasives.com). It runs nearly a buck a sheet, and it’s worth every penny.

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10. It’s hard to see, but this is how the panel should look when done. Notice the crosshatched pattern of the sanding marks. With this done it’s time to move on to some fun with power tools.

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