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.

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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.

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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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Here’s the stash of a guy who’s been doing this for a very long time. Over the years Lindstrom has collected a menagerie of various pads, blocks, and widgets for getting paint just right. We found sections of radiator hose, metal tubes, and even blocks of wood. There was even a small block of aluminum that Lindstrom says is perfect for sanding out runs.

Graphic Interface

Stripes or other graphics painted on a car require a slightly different approach. Sure, they are typically covered by numerous layers of clear, but the lines can still be felt so it’s necessary to do some sanding to get that true “buried” look.

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Lindstrom has been doing this a long time, and over the years he’s picked up quite a few tricks. When cutting down over graphics, like these stripes, he uses a different technique compared to regular panels. As Lindstrom told us, “Charlie Hutton, of Foose and Coddington fame, stopped by the shop and said that we should start with a coarser paper and a harder block to knock down the areas over graphics.” This is because, with today’s high-solid clears, a soft pad will just float over the bumps rather than knock them down. Depending on the condition of the paint, Lindstrom starts with either 400- or 600-grit paper. In this case he chose 600 grit.

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The 600-grit paper is wrapped around this 3M rubber squeegee. Lindstrom has found that it’s hard enough to knock down edges yet flexible enough to conform to the contours of the car. Also key to this process is water, lots of water. Lindstrom ads a bit of Ivory dish soap to the water and lets the paper soak for a bit to get soft. The soap helps the paper slide against the paint and Lindstrom has found that Ivory, over other brands, is easier on his hands.

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Here’s the result after a little bit of work. If you look close you will notice shiny areas adjacent to the white stripe. These are “valleys” in the paint and the goal is to sand until those areas become level with the rest of the clear. Once level, the area is finished in steps like the other sections of the car.


Best of Show Coachworks
San Marcos, CA 92069
Irvine, CA 92614
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