So you’ve finally finished your car. The engine runs smooth, the seats are stitched up, the paint is buffed and shiny, the trim is all dinged up…..What do you mean all dinged up? How many times have you seen a super sharp resto but the trim is dull and dented from years spent in parking lots and cruising? Trim pieces tend to be the most difficult parts to find in good shape and are usually missing from the unrestored barn finds. NOS pieces are few and far between and command platinum-esque prices on Ebay. Maybe its time to restore those pieces yourself. With the right tools, it’s quite a simple process, taking only a few hours in your garage.
There are typically 3 types of trim: chrome, stainless, and aluminum. Chrome is usually the worst as it rusts and must be re-plated. Stainless and aluminum can easily be restored at home using a few simple techniques to smooth out the dings and bring out the shine. While stainless buffs easily, aluminum requires a little more care. Until the introduction of chromed plastics, aluminum trim outfitted most cars in the 60’s. In order to keep the aluminum from oxidizing and looking dull, manufacturers used a process called Bright Dip, where the aluminum was anodized with a shiny coating that lasted ages. Eventually the coating would lose its luster and need some attention.
If the part is straight, a light buffing with the right compound brings out the shine, but if it’s dented and dinged, however, the work has just begun. The Eastwood Company offers a line of trim repair tools to help straighten the shiny parts of your project. Tiny trim hammers, and what look like toy anvils, are valuable tools in this process. There are a few things you’ll need to complete this project. A 3600-rpm buffing motor and an assortment of buffing wheels and rouges will bring the shine back to any piece of trim. A respousse hammer and anvil help smooth the dents. An expander wheel with assorted grit sanding belts will erase all the scratches, while a can of lye-based oven cleaner eats off the bright dip. This process is demonstrated here as a badly-dented headlight bezel off a 1963 Corvair is repaired, buffed and polished liked new. Follow along and keep it trimmed!
1. While the 1962 Corvair has never been involved in any wrecks, the driver’s side headlight bezel owns a serious dent. While these items can be bought on Ebay, why spend the $$$ when it can be fixed at home?
2. The Eastwood Company offers these tiny little hammers and anvils specifically for trim work. Each hammer has its own purpose, and work well in combination to ease out the dents and dings.
3. The headlight bezel was so badly dented, the hammers needed a better start. A pair of pliers and some scrap carpet is used to tweak the metal back to its original shape.
4. With the part resting on a carpeted panel, so it gives slightly (a sand-filled panel bag works well too), the tiny hammers are put to work. The pick hammer puts the corners back in nicely.
5. Do most of the work on the inside as the hammers can stress the metal and the small dings are hard to get out. The ball tip of the respousse hammer eases the metal back to shape. Light taps are all that is needed, heavy hits make it worse
6. Sometimes there is no choice; the panel must be worked on the outside too. Using a dolly, back up the panel and lightly tap the metal to shape it.
7. Once the panel has been smoothed out, an expander wheel, with a 1200 grit belt, is used to find the high and low spots. Easy pressure is the key to a good job here.
8. Here’s a really bad stress mark in the part. Even though this is on the top, and barely visible when installed, it can be repaired with some special tools.
9. Using Eastwood’s Anti-Heat compound, the backside of the bezel is filled up. This will help prevent the part from melting during the filling process.
10. Using a jeweler’s torch, heat up the part and use an aluminum rod to add material to the fissure. Be very careful, as it is still possible to melt the thin bezel. The part must be SUPER clean for the new metal to adhere to the bezel.
11. Once the metal has been added, heat the part so it can be smoothed.
12. Using a wood paddle, smooth the new metal.
13. Once the repair has been made, the part has a clean surface that will polish up like new. A few spins on the grinder, with increasing grit, will smooth the part.
14. Now that the part is fixed, the old anodizing must be removed. Place the part in the shower or tub (or outside, depending on your significant other!) and spray it with some lye-based oven cleaner. Let it sit for about an hour, and then rinse it off.
15. The result is a chalky residue that gets buffed off.
16. Using a die-grinder and a fine-grit scotch-brite pad, buff the part to remove the residue. Pay attention to the corners and edges, as the buffing wheels aren’t coarse enough to remove the residue.
17. The result is swirled finish that is ready for buffing.
18. The Eastwood Company carries a large line of buffing wheels and compounds for this task. The part is ready to be finished, so the white rouge brings out the shine.
19. Load the wheel by holding the rouge on edge with the wheel. It doesn’t take much to get the job done.
20. Holding the part tightly, run the edges across the buffer until it shines. It will take some work to get into all the nook and crannies, but it is well worth it.
21. Once the buffing is done, the center must be painted. Using some painter’s tape, the part is masked off. A razor blade trims the area to be painted. Only enough pressure to cut the tape is needed.
22. With the ribs masked, some low-gloss black spray paint is sprayed to finish the part.
23. Here is the finished bezel, ready to reinstalled.
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).