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Picture of Applying a Mirror Finish (by hand)
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How to apply a high-gloss finish by hand, using abrasive polishing.

This technique works for just about anything--furniture, automobiles, guitars, etc.

For large projects (cars), power sanders and buffers are helpful. But for small things, it's great. And for beginners, hand-sanding and rubbing is less likely to burn or sand though paint and clear--it's a safer route...

Hey--it's a bit intimidating at first, but really not that difficult (with the right supplies.)

This example is a vintage thin-line hollow-body guitar that needed several structural repairs....
 
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Step 1: Supplies

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Supplies for this project are basic and inexpensive:

1) Rags. Lots of rags.
2) Wet/dry sandpaper-- 400 or 600 grit to start, 800, 1000, 2000 to finish.
3) A sponge for a sanding block.
4) A bucket of soapy water.
5) Rubbing compound.

Rubbing compounds and fine sandpaper can be found at automotive supply, home improvement, or craft stores.

Important Note: Avoid any rubbing or polishing compounds that contain silicon. It may look pretty, but any subsequent painting will be a nightmare!

Other supplies:

6) Jewelers Rouge (or "polishing compound")
7) Polish

(ible user Spokehedz indicates that block polishing compounds like Jewelers Rouge are available at Home Depot. Any real hardware store is also a good source.)

Step 2: Getting started

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Of course, you need something to polish.

And for smaller objects, a workspace is required. Even for cars, this should be done indoors.

I used a old workmate portable bench, and covered it with old towels. They help stabilize the work, and prevent scratching.

After this piece was repaired, it was sprayed with lacquer (five coats.) The resulting finish is a semi-gloss with a fair amount of pebbling and orange-peeling.

Lacquer should be allowed to dry for several weeks, but you can work with it sooner. Don't, under any circumstance, use any masking tape on fresh lacquer, even the blue "easy release" tape. You'll have to start all over...

These techniques aren't limited to lacquer, of course. Acrylic paints, urethanes, etc. will work just as well (and not have the long drying time of nitrocellulose lacquer.)
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ehamilt2 months ago
Great instructable. Thanks. I'm assuming most of this will apply to my paint job. I've primed, painted, and clearcoated my bicycle frame using tremclad oil-based spray paint. But I'm unsure of whether to use rubbing compound or polishing compound on my clear coat to achieve a smooth and glass-like finish. Several other sites on how to paint a bike frame warn against using rubbing compound altogether as it is too abrasive. I've got about 4 coats of clear coat but can't get it perfectly smooth. My clear coat applications leave overspray and 'pebble' texture in parts, smooth in others. Also, not sure whether I should be wetsanding to make it smooth before applying the compound. I've been using 2000 grit between some coats. Will rubbing or polishing compound achieve the finish I want without wetsanding first? Thanks.
gmoon (author)  ehamilt2 months ago

I'm not familiar with the ins-and-outs of painting a bike frame, but a rubbing compound isn't as abrasive as the 2000 grit. So skipping that step will depend on how close the wet-sanding gets to the final finish.

Re: wet-sanding itself--it's up to you. It's often a good idea to sand between coats (which you're doing sometimes), to minimize the pebbling, etc. The amount of sanding depends somewhat on the thickness of the coats. I'm sure you gotta watch for sanding through the finish at the frame lugs, etc.

Maybe the contraindication about rubbing compound holds for existing factory finishes. Yes, it will certainly remove some clear / paint, so if it were done without re-clear coating the finish, it would be a "destructive" approach...

sergeiepp2 months ago
Hi there very intresting . What would you recomend getting rid of scratches on accoustic guitar .what do you mean by charge it when you Apply a small amount of compound to the cloth
gmoon (author)  park.jaesang.56884 months ago

Sorry for the confusion. In this case "charge" just means apply an amount of compound to the cloth. So when the compound on the cloth is used up, it would be "charged" again by adding more. Thanks!

Cool. What would you recomend for an acoustic guitar
gmoon (author)  park.jaesang.56884 months ago

Dang--so many options. If money isn't a consideration (it usually is), then maybe Taylor. Or Martin, if that's your thing

Otherwise, possibly Seagull or Recording King. I have an Art & Lutherie that's decent.

Thanks
laluna350z7 months ago
I am thinking to do this on a plastic navigation door piece for my car, would it work on a smooth plastic surface? Or this only works on wood?

Thanks
gmoon (author)  laluna350z7 months ago

Some of the polishing steps would likely work fine; I'm not certain about the sanding part. You might find a similar piece of plastic to test it on first, before moving to the actual car part.

wraith1098 months ago

Would this work on a spray painted surface? I am trying to get a reflective gold effect and having difficulty.

gmoon (author)  wraith1098 months ago

It should. Results may vary with type of paint. Try it on a test surface first...

It turned out GREAT

gmoon (author)  robert.french.180011 months ago

Awesome, man!

You did a GREAT Job on this one and thanks so much for the instructions as I have just done a Dean Edge 09 Bass that was given to me. It was in pieces and Black and I wanted to do something different so I stripped it down and carved a handle in the upper horn and sanded out more space in the lower horn then painted it Testers Purple-licious Purple lacquer and I will use your tips on Buffing THANKS

fastbob721 year ago
looks good !!!! - top tip,when using wet & dry sandpaper fill up a soup bowl or equivalent with reasonably warm water,add a dash of washing up liquid and let the sandpaper soak for 10-15 mins. Try it !!!!
FoamboardRC2 years ago
I'll have to do this to my squire strat! Awesome i'ble!
fire18883 years ago
Terrific Instructable and beautiful instrument! It is possible I missed it but remember there are different strengths in rubbing compound!
sunshiine4 years ago
Thanks for sharing this ible! Very interesting.
mamamardee7 years ago
Could you help me with what you have to do to get to this point? please
gmoon (author)  mamamardee7 years ago
Can you clarify a bit? All the prep work (painting, etc.) before the abrasive steps, maybe?
sure sorry i love the way this looks but there must have been several steps before this finish. ok you have this lovely thing that you want to put a nice finish on. it has scratches and is not in the best shape. you want to go from ugly to what you have accomplished. first? then? and at last what you have shown us all here. sorry if this is asking 2 much
gmoon (author)  mamamardee7 years ago
No problem, just a little hard to answer. I think if I tried to make an instructable
about the whole process, only a few people would have been interested. By limiting this to one thing, it seems to be useful to more people...

Some points (I hope this is what you're looking for):

--It's almost never a good idea to refinish something 'vintage.' From a collectors POV, ugly is often beautiful. However, in this case, the guitar had so many structural problems, it was unplayable. If it were a 50 yr old Martin or Gibson, I would have a real luthier fix it.

(and finish-wise, this guitar was really quite good--look at the last step. The front wasn't refinished.)

--Running down the defects:

1) The top was sunken, warped inward.
2) Consequently the action was 1/4 in+ at the end of the fret board
3) The prev owners had tried to 'correct' this, by tightening the truss rod as much as possible (any more, and it would have broken.) But all this does is bend the neck backward--so the guitar was playable in the first 6 frets, and horrible above that.
4) The binding was separated in one of the cutaways.
5) The back was delaminating in two areas.
6) The binding was cracked in one spot.
7) The wiring was defective (disconnections, so neither pickup worked.)
8) Small crack on the front, between the neck and the neck pickup.

--So each problem needed to be addressed and repaired. And likely each one would be enough for an instructable on it's own! You can see why I didn't want to tackle so much, I hope.

--After that, small areas needed paint touchup. Then the back and sides had to be 're-cleared' several times with lacquer. Every effort was made to keep the existing paint. I never did sand down through that...

Anyway, back to the baseball game....
katerlyn gmoon4 years ago
Very interesting, I'm pondering this for other projects. I already have rubbing compound for all the times I run my car door into my mailbox. smile.
thanks this will help - hope your team did well
gmoon (author)  mamamardee7 years ago
*Sigh*. No, they didn't...
Beautiful piece of work, and a very well written Instructable.
Well done Sir.

Steve
gmoon (author)  steveastrouk4 years ago
Thank you, Steve, it's much appreciated.
Thanks for taking the trouble to put this instructable together. Excellent. Next time I undertake a project myself I'll be putting it into practice.
lselig4 years ago
I have followed your steps and I still have little surface scratches. How do I avoid this? What am I doing wrong? How long should I be spending on each step (Sanding)? I so want this to work out. Please help?
gmoon (author)  lselig4 years ago
Maybe you could explain (or show me) what you're finishing, and that might help.

It is important that each sanding step removes the scratches from the previous step. I usually stop periodically and wipe the surface until it's clean and dry, and check the progress.

Some really tiny scratches might be evident near completion, but the polishing compound takes care of those...
lselig gmoon4 years ago
I finally got the process right. No more scratches. Thank you for posting this process. I'll show you the end product when it is done.
walterh94 years ago
That is one sick guitar awsome!!!
Koil_16 years ago
Beautiful guitar man. I love the color.
gmoon (author)  Koil_16 years ago
Thanks, Erick.

I love this guitar. It took lot of work to get it in it's current condition. It could use a re-fretting, 'cause I had straighten the neck, then level the frets. But it's quite playable now (I just prefer more fret height for bending, etc.)

I did some structural things, too. The top was bent in a bit. So I corrected and re-enforced the body. Now it's solid, and it stays in tune better than just about any guitar I own--even with the "teisco style" whammy...

I've delved into the guts of my old Ampeg Gemini II amp the last couple days, which never did work right (had it forever.) But I've gotten the reverb to work now, and this guitar sounds incredible with the old-school sound.
pbpenguin57 years ago
i don't have a wooden guitar, it wouldn't still work would it?
gmoon (author)  pbpenguin57 years ago
Yeah, so long as what every you're polishing is painted... Actually, you can use some of the same compounds for metal polishing, too. But I doubt you'd want to do that by hand.
Notbob gmoon6 years ago
We had to polish everything that we made in shop class (metal shop) by hand. It took forever, but looked good.
not wooden guitar? is it a cheapo fiberglass one, or do you mean there is no wood grain "sunburst" (for lack of a better word) type finish
thanks for the great instructable. i'm gonna repaint my bike frame and this seems like it'll work great for that.
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