There’s sand and water, but no beach
What makes a High Performance Finish pop is not only what we do to the car before we paint it, but also what we do to the car after we paint it. A High Performance Finish involves three separate sanding steps followed by three polishing steps.
The first three steps is the wet sanding of the car. Wet sanding sounds exactly like what it is, the car is sanded while wet. The water acts as a lubricant that helps prevent the sandpaper from removing too much material from the car. It also highlights any flaws in the paint that otherwise would be difficult to see by washing away the removed clear coat and providing a slight gloss to the paint.
We first hand sand the car with 1,000 grit sandpaper on a soft block. 1,000 grit sandpaper is so fine that you can’t feel the abrasives other than as friction when you drag your finger across the paper. The cutting action of the 1,000 grit sandpaper is fairly aggressive at this level and is used to remove the tiny imperfection in the paint. These imperfections are so difficult to see that most people can’t see them … until they are gone.
The second step is another round of hand sanding, this time with 2,000 grit sandpaper on the block. As you might guess, this sandpaper is much finer than the 1,000 grit and the abrasives are so fine that you feel nothing at all other than the typical feel of paper. This step further refines the surface of the paint and it also removes most of the sanding marks left by the first sanding step.
The third and final wet sanding step is performed with 3,000 girt sandpaper on a DA (Dual Action) power sander. This step further removes any sanding marks left by the blocking steps and randomizes the sanding marks so that the polisher quickly removes the marks leaving behind beautiful depth and gloss. As you can imagine, sanding paint is going to dull the finish, no matter how fine the sandpaper, and you would be right. But the 3,000 grit sandpaper is so fine that it actually begins to return some shine to the paint.
The first three photos show the paint after the first blocking with the 1,000 grit sandpaper. This is as bad as this paint will look and will only improve from here. What this dullness is hiding, however, is a gloss that has to be seen to be believed.
In picture four Chris has completed the wet sanding and is now beginning the polishing process. Polishing does the same thing that the sanding process does, it removes imperfections from the paint, imperfections introduced by the sanding process. The imperfections left by the sanding process are much, much finer than those removed during sanding, but they scatter the light more effectively leaving the paint looking dull and lifeless. The car will be machine polished three times, each time with a finer abrasive until dullness is removed and you are left with paint that has a glass like smoothness.
We only had time today to complete the first of the three polishes. This first step uses a polish that, while much finer than even the 3,000 grit sandpaper, is still quite aggressive. This first step removes the dullness left by the wet sanding. After the first polish the car will have it’s shine restored, but the paint will be full of the dreaded swirl marks.
The last three photos, five, six and seven, show the car after the first polish is complete. The car actually has more gloss than it appears to in these photos because the car still has the polishing compound on the paint. If we were to wipe the car clean it would appear to be done in the photos because at this distance the camera can’t resolve the swirl marks. Even the human eye would have trouble seeing the swirls, except when the light plays across the surface.
Step two of the polishing will be with a finer polish yet and it will remove the swirls from the paint and leave a mirror like gloss behind. The third and final polish will further smooth the paint surface so that the paint has the maximum gloss. But those two steps are for tomorrow.
Wet sanding is tiring, boring, messy work, but it has to be done if you want the best the paint can provide. I kept telling Chris today that it was like a day at the beach with all the sand and water. I’m not certain he was buying into the idea though.