There is an old saying, “the devil is in the details.” Automotive restoration is certainly no exception to the rule. Too many otherwise clean cars get overlooked because of dingy and dented trim. While it may seem overwhelming, restoring aluminum and stainless trim is relatively simple compared to most tasks in the hobby. The most difficult aspect of trim restoration is a tie between the size of most trim pieces and dent removal. Typical body hammers and dollies are too big for working most trim pieces as the parts have narrow spaces and are in general more fragile that body sheet metal. Fortunately, there are a few specialty suppliers such as The Eastwood Company, who offer tools specifically designed for trim restoration. To begin any trim resto, there are a few tools needed. A small selection of mini-hammers including a trim hammer with a small flat head surface for wide flat areas, and a sharp wide pick surface for corners. A repousse hammer with a wide flat head and ball-shaped head works very well as a finishing hammer for blending dents and dings. Along with the hammers, a couple of trim anvils offer a miniature surface for knocking out the dents and dings. After treating the dings, the entire surface requires buffing and polishing. To that end, a variety of buffing wheels and compounds complete the process. To demonstrate how these tools are used, the rocker trim from a 1971 Buick GS convertible gets the full-day spa treatment and comes back shiny and new. Follow along and put the bright back into your bright work.
1. The 35-year old stainless steel rocker trim from our 1971 Buick GS has certainly seen better days. While it looks ok from 20 feet, up close it shows the dings, scuffs and haze built up from years of daily use. The only solution is a nice buff job.
2. The surface of the part has several dings that require fixing. Each ding and scrape gets marked with a sharpie for easy locating.
3. With the panel flipped over, the approximate location of each ding is noted and a piece of 220 rubbed over the ding marking its reverse location.
4. As seen here, the reverse ding gets marked so we know where to tap the part.
5. The tools from Eastwood are the trim hammer, mini-anvil, trim anvil, and repousse hammer.
6. The far side of the rocker trim is supported with a cardboard box.
7. While the ding is supported by the mini-anvil.
8. Using the repousse hammer, the dings fade away fast. Only light taps are needed, big hit will distort the metal and create more work.
9. This is a tricky spot since it is a very narrow spot near the edge of a corner.
10. The trim hammers pick side works best on these tight spots.
11. With all the dings taken care of, the finishing steps are next. Using an expander wheel and a 1600 grit band, the entire surface gets cleaned up. This process removes the heavy scratches, if the part were really bad, heavier grit would be used.
12. The first buff used is a sisal buff with emery compound.
13. Here the difference is evident, the black specs show where the compound is settling in the pits. A few more runs of the sisal buff clear this up.
14. Next comes the ventilated flap disc and stainless compound. This buff removes the sisal scratches.
15. The left side of the trim is untouched, the right has been through the process to the ventilated buff stage. The progress is obvious.
16. The final buffing stage utilizes a loose section buff. This stage is also known as the coloring stage where the bright shine is brought out.
17. Running the buff at speed and moving the compound tube across the buff just below the midline until the buff is loaded with the white rouge compound.
18. The part is worked from left to right, while making circular and seesaw motions to get full coverage. Notice how reflective the part is now.
19. While this stage is optional, to protect the new finish, a light coating of Flitz metal polish is applied to the newly buffed part.
20. Using the Flitz power buff attached to a regular cordless drill, the metal polish is buffed off.
21. To reapply the original painted lines, the line is taped off with blue painter’s tape. The Paasche flow pencil and One Shot red paint is laid on and left to cure.
22. Here is the completed trim. Just like a mirror!
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).