WHAT THE PROS KNOW
comes in handy, as will some specialty
items to remove bugs, oil, and other stuff.
As for you, dedicated hangar clothes or
disposable painting coveralls will keep your
street clothes tidy; liquid laundry detergent
or solvent soap will clean up your skin
nicely. Eye protection is recommended, and
a mask will also keep you from breathing in
the grit and pad fibers, too. And you’ll
quickly learn to cover the hangar floor with
rags or newspapers to keep it clean.
Aluminum polish comes in various
grades, each with different degrees of
aggressiveness, Tom said. “Aggressiveness”
refers to the amount of cutting particles
added into the paste to scour the surface
shiny; coarse polishes have the most, while
fine-grade finishing polishes have virtually
none (think sandpaper). Always use polish
specifically designed for aluminum; anything else will discolor the metal.
How to polish your airplane
BY GREG LASLO
ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL. THERE’S NO other way to describe an airplane with a polish job that’s done right. Indeed, nothing says
pride-of-ownership like a mirror finish. That’s because there are
no shortcuts. We’re talking commitment. Dedication. Maybe even a
But that shine.
We asked veteran polishers Kerry Fores, Tom Numelin, and
Mike Vadeboncoeur to share with us how to make it happen with
SO HOW DO YOU DO THAT, ANYWAY?
Time and patience. Kerry has clocked nearly as many hours polish-
ing his airplane over the last seven years as he did building it. “It’s a
process,” he said. “And it’s continual.”
You should know he calls his airplane Metal Illness.
In addition to that determination, appropriate gear helps. That
includes the right polishes, circular and orbital polishers, cotton or
wool polishing pads for each separate grade of polish, mineral spirits, and a ton of cotton rags and microfiber towels. Glass cleaner
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Wash your airplane and dry it, either by
dragging a chamois down its surface or using
a squeegee to “peel” the water off. Make sure
your polishing pads are clean; debris will
leave S-shaped swirls that need to be sanded
out, Kerry said.
Mike and Kerry polish very different airplanes. Classic airplanes (and many
homebuilts, including RVs) are skinned with
aluminum-clad (al-clad) 2024 skins, while
Kerry’s Sonex has harder 6061-T6 skins,
requiring an added third step.
Kerry starts with a more-aggressive polish, a Nuvite F-grade, and he prefers a cheap
Harbor Freight polisher with a wool pad.
To begin, wet your fingertip with polish
and dab some every 3 to 6 inches across a
2-foot-square area. Before it dries, buff that
section with the polisher angled up so that
only half the pad touches metal, Kerry said.
You’ll also want to keep the polisher moving
so it doesn’t warp or “burn” the skins (which
creates a bugger of a haze). Once you’ve
started, you shouldn’t set the pad down anywhere, or you may pick up stray dirt or grit.
As you approach an edge, position the polisher so it spins away; otherwise, you’ll tear
up the pad and leave fuzz everywhere.
When you’re satisfied with this first
application, stop and clean spent polish from
around rivet heads, out of grooves, and elsewhere with mineral spirits on a microfiber