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  1. #1
    Director of Training Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?


    Been meaning to write this article for some time, but things get in the way. So I'm going to pump it our right now and then I'll add some pictures as I process some taken last week on the 1950 Ford Kustom project.


    So the question or dilemma is, when buffing out a car, be it your own or a customer's car, when do you say STOP. It's natural for both the car owner, do-it-yourselfer to aim for perfection and it's in the blood of any true detailer. It's the nature of the beast to try to get all the swirls and scratches, even water spots 100% completely out of the paint.

    But it's not practical. And it's not practical for 2 reasons, each for one of the two categories of people I reference above. Let me wax-on...



    If you're a do-it-yourselfer working on your own car.

    Maybe you're reading this and you've stepped up your game, done your research, selected the polisher, pads and products after doing your research, and now you've done a Test Spot, or buffed out the hood or perhaps the entire car. Upon inspection... you can still see swirls, scratches and perhaps the imprint rings from water spots still visible in the paint.

    You feel as though you did everything right. Primed your pad, ran the polisher at a medium to high speed, made a series of 6-8 section passes working an area about the size of a microfiber towel. And the polisher you bought, well everyone on Facebook, YouTube and/or some forum somewhere says it's the best thing since sliced bread.

    So what do you do?

    1. Do you buff out the car again?
    2. Do you get a more aggressive pad?
    3. Maybe get a more aggressive compound?
    4. See out the advice of the guy down the street that details cars?




    All of the above are viable options. And if you don't have any or at least much experience, this is the point where you experience frustration. And this is the point that without me physically being there to diagnose the situation, look at the paint, look at your tools, pads and product and watch you as you buff a section to observe your technique - well this is where I too hit a road bump. But read the next section and then I'll tell you what I do.




    If you're a professional detailer working on your own car or a customer's car.

    Like the guy above, you feel as though you did everything right. Yet there are still visible paint defects that bug you. You want perfection. You want 100% defect removal.


    The above is the norm
    The above two types of people and scenarios are common. I have over 600 how-to articles on this forum and over 200 product reviews. I'm sure amongst the 800 plus (as I type), info pieces do have more specific information on how to proceed and I'll share at least one in a follow-up post for the first category of people I'm referencing in this article. But for now, I'll share what I do.

    I have confidence in myself and in my system


    I've been doing this "detail thing" a long time. I am confident in my technique. I was in this industry when we had crap for compounds, polishes and cleaner/waxes or AIOs as some call them. I started when all we had were the rotary buffer, the Cyclo and the large traditional slow orbital buffers that cost about $35.00 at Sears or Wards.

    Times have changed. Technology has improved. Tools are powerful and effective. There's a buffing pad for every specific job you need to tackle. And the abrasive technology "available" is top notch. There's still junk on the market, so do your research or attend on of my classes, I only use and show the good stuff.


    Here's what I do....

    I start with a Test Spot and dial in my "system". Your system is your tool, pad, product and process. For me, most of the time it's the BEAST, LC pads, one of many great compounds and a simple overlapping, crosshatch pattern of 8 section passes.

    I do this Test Spot on EVERY car I detail. After doing this simple process I wipe off the residue and inspect the results. In most cases, I'm happy. And if I'm happy - I simply duplicate this process over the rest of the car. I start at the top and work my way down. I divide larger panels into smaller sections. I CHANGE OUT MY PADS OFTEN. And I always inpsect my towels before use.



    Here's the deal....

    Once I'm happy with the results from my Test Spot, including often times some of the deeper defects don't come out 100% - doesn't matter. That's my process. I repeat over the entire car and whateiver I get is what I get. Next? I move forward with the next step.

    I don't fuss about removing each and every defect. If I did I would never get the car buffed out and I would never be happy.

    If it's my own car - it's my daily driver and I'm wise enough to know the factory paint is thin and the car is going to see more wear-n-tear in the future and that means more defects. Because I know the paitn is going to get more dfects, I don't sweat the small stuff. If my car looks great from 10' away I'm happy - I'm certainly not insane nor going insane simply because each panel isn't perfect.


    If it's a customer's car. The it comes down to what package did they purchase. If you don't understand the sentence before this one you're either new to professional detailing or you've been doing it all wrong. Every detailer and every detail shop should have at least 3 exterior packages. I do. And I match my package to the customer and their car. My three look like this,

    Package 1
    Package 2
    Package 3

    I don't get fancy. I don't call my packages Bronze Star, Silver Star and Gold Star. Nor go I call them 3-Star, 4-star or 5-star, or any other marketing glib. I just keep it simple.

    Package 1 is your basic wash and one-step cleaner/wax. This is my favorite package because it's fast and simply. With this package I NEVER promise all the swirls and scratches will be removed. That's Package 3 and it cost more.

    Package 2 is a one-step polish and ceramic coating. I like this package because I'm not compounding the car. With this package I NEVER promise all the swirls and scratches will be removed. That's Package 3 and it cost more.

    Package 3 is a full blown correction that includes compounding the entire car followed by polishing, chemically stripping and then installing a ceramic coating. For most cars, this will remove about 95% percent of all swirls and scratches. Anything that remains is probably too deep to remove safely and I explain this to the customer.


    The above is how I do it. I keep it real-world. I'm the guy that wrote this article,

    Clearcoats are thin by Mike Phillips


    I teach these concepts to others in my classes. And I don't drive myself nuts trying to remove each and every scratch - I trust myself, my skills and my "system".



    Hope this helps.... and click the link above and look at the pictures. Keep it real man. Paint is thin. Get the paint on your car good, or REALLY GOOD - but don't go insane chasing perfection. One of these days you'll be buffing around a clearcoated car and you'll stop buffing to wipe off residue and in the process you'll see the color of the basecoat on the face of the buffing pad on your polisher. That's a bad sign. Here's what I say about this when it happens,

    Words cannot describe the heart-sinking feeling that overcomes you when you discover you have buffed through the paint - Mike Phillips



    Keep it real man....


    Mike Phillips
    Director of Training Autogeek & Marine 31
    IDA Board Member - Certified Detailer - Skills Validated Detailer - IDA Recognized Trainer
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  3. #2
    Senior Member JustJesus's Avatar
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    words of wisdom.

    I hope many new guys to "detailing" find this article and take note. Even some seasoned guys can benefit from it.

  4. #3
    Senior Member PaulMys's Avatar
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    The part about "Looking good from 10' away" has always been my rule.

    As I have posted before: "Could a pro with a swirl finder light walk up and find a bunch of imperfections on my truck? Yup, I am sure of it". And, I don't care.

    Like you said, Mike: If my work makes me happy, then that's all that matters.
    It is no coincidence that man's best friend cannot talk.

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  6. #4
    Director of Training Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    Quote Originally Posted by JustJesus View Post

    words of wisdom.

    I hope many new guys to "detailing" find this article and take note. Even some seasoned guys can benefit from it.
    I agree.

    I meet a lot of detailers, both enthusiast and pros alike and a common theme among them is their obsession for removing every single scratch out of their car's paint.

    When we talk about this obsession I point out the points I shared above and for the most part, everyone I talk to agrees, they're going overboard trying to remove every swirl and scratch. Sometimes a person simply needs another person to bring things back into real-world context.



    Quote Originally Posted by PaulMys View Post

    The part about "Looking good from 10' away" has always been my rule.
    Anyone that's ever taken one of my classes has heard me use the term,

    Big Picture Detailing

    That is focus on the big picture, not the little things.


    Quote Originally Posted by PaulMys View Post

    As I have posted before: "Could a pro with a swirl finder light walk up and find a bunch of imperfections on my truck? Yup, I am sure of it". And, I don't care.

    Like you said, Mike: If my work makes me happy, then that's all that matters.
    Totally agree Paul. Especially if the car in question is in fact a daily driver.


    Mike Phillips
    Director of Training Autogeek & Marine 31
    IDA Board Member - Certified Detailer - Skills Validated Detailer - IDA Recognized Trainer
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  8. #5
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Phillips View Post

    Package 2 is a one-step polish and ceramic coating. I like this package because I'm not compounding the car. With this package I NEVER promise all the swirls and scratches will be removed. That's Package 3 and it cost more.


    What polish and ceramic coating product in package 2 do you use? Been eyeballing a couple.



  9. #6
    Director of Training Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    Quote Originally Posted by PEAD19 View Post

    What polish and ceramic coating product in package 2 do you use? Been eyeballing a couple.

    The polish is usually Pinnacle Advanced Swirl Remover, this is a medium cut polish. Removes all but the deep stuff. Sometimes I use SONAX EX 04-06 and even SONAX Perfect Finish.

    For coatings I always use something I also either use myself or show in my classes.

    BLACKFIRE
    GYEON
    GTechniq
    CarPro
    Pinnacle Black Label

    What I recommend to others and practice myself is to go with an established brand. There are so many NEW coatings coming onto the market so fast. Choose something new if you like that's your prerogative but to keep things fool-proof, go with an established brand. Branch out later.


    Mike Phillips
    Director of Training Autogeek & Marine 31
    IDA Board Member - Certified Detailer - Skills Validated Detailer - IDA Recognized Trainer
    Mike Phillips Facebook Page
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    Sign-up for Mike's Tips & Techniques Newsletter


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  11. #7
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Phillips View Post
    The polish is usually Pinnacle Advanced Swirl Remover, this is a medium cut polish. Removes all but the deep stuff. Sometimes I use SONAX EX 04-06 and even SONAX Perfect Finish.

    For coatings I always use something I also either use myself or show in my classes.

    BLACKFIRE
    GYEON
    GTechniq
    CarPro
    Pinnacle Black Label

    What I recommend to others and practice myself is to go with an established brand. There are so many NEW coatings coming onto the market so fast. Choose something new if you like that's your prerogative but to keep things fool-proof, go with an established brand. Branch out later.


    Thanks, I thought you were using a polish that contained the ceramic in it also because you dont use a ceramic coating in your #3 package.

  12. #8
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    This article is a great perspective for a relative newbie like myself.

    We (newbies) can get overwhelmed with all the options for product, all the opinions we hear and read, and need to sometimes reel it back to the KISS principle.

    Thanks for writing it Mike.

  13. #9
    Senior Member mc2hill's Avatar
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    Re: When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Phillips View Post
    When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?


    Words cannot describe the heart-sinking feeling that overcomes you when you discover you have buffed through the paint - Mike Phillips


    Another great article Mike! Luckily for me the only time I did this was on my own car - tried to remove a scratch quickly, with poor lighting. Moved from foam pads to wet sanding, then saw the silver paint on the pads during the clean up. doh!

  14. #10
    Senior Member Bill D's Avatar
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    When to stop buffing - Or - How far should you go to remove swirls and scratches?

    I have a very thin area on the hood of my Cadillac that I dare not try to correct any further!
    Treat it like it's the only one in the world.

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