Instructables
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

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

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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wraith10918 days ago

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

gmoon (author)  wraith10916 days 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.18002 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

fastbob7210 months 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 !!!!
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!
sunshiine3 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 gmoon3 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)  steveastrouk3 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.
lselig3 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)  lselig3 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 gmoon3 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_15 years ago
Beautiful guitar man. I love the color.
gmoon (author)  Koil_15 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.
A little off topic, I guess, but any ideas on how/where/what brand to get the green wood stain (or any other "wild" colors)? Thought you mentioned having to touch up the paint... Anyway, great instructable! Thanks!
gmoon (author)  padawanspider6 years ago
Ah, thanks!

I used acrylic-based inks, which worked since it's not a subtle color, and usually was black where the repairs were needed. For the green areas (like the cut-away), I dry-brushed the color.

Stewart-MacDonald has a good selection of paints, you might want to check them out...
Senseless6 years ago
Lacquer is old school as far as cars are concerned but is very forgiving and dries fast so there is not the dust problem with urethanes and enamels that take long to surface dry. You can get a three foot deep shine without a lot of previous experience if you put the time into it so nice Instructable it reminds me being 20 again. Sunlight is hard on laquer you'll see it begin to get little micro cracks and if you ever repaint it you need to remove all the old finish down at least to the primer or the cracks will swell and be there the next day so generally it's not used on cars much anymore unless it's something meant to be garage kept and out of the sunlight.
gmoon (author)  Senseless6 years ago
A lot of trad guitar lacquers take 5-6 weeks to dry....not that I used that type. ;-)
emilyguitar6 years ago
Great instructable... but I have a question. See, I have this scratched up les paul copy that I have to sell... The thing is that I think that the scratches REALLY bring down the value, would starting from step 3 get rid of them??? I don't want a perfect finish, it's just sort of a shame that lots and lots of very small finish scratches are sort of ruining the guitar... Thanks!
gmoon (author)  emilyguitar6 years ago
Thanks!

You could start with an automotive polishing compound/scratch remover. If that's not sufficient, maybe begin at step 4 (800 or 1000 grit paper) and continue through the other steps....

If it were a real Gibson, you should consult an antique expert or luthier. It's not a great idea to polish a functional vintage instrument (this one had some structural issues.) Some wear doesn't effect the value of an instrument as it might other objects....
johnnymayer6 years ago
I'm interested in polishing my bicycle crank arms, and I'm wondering if this would work, they're stell, a newer type. I've worked sanding/polishing woods before, but I wonder, is it the same process for metals?
gmoon (author)  johnnymayer6 years ago
In theory, at least. I know that metal is usually ground, sanded, polished etc. with power equipment. But I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't some hand work done also.

I don't know what types of abrasive sandpapers are used, but I've seen it done on belt sanders, so this technique is used for metal, as well.

But more of the process is done with buffing wheels instead of multi-grade sandpapers, progressing through the cycle of buffing/polishing compounds (Black Emery, Brown Tripoli, etc.) Someone posted a link below (PDF) that looks pretty good..

The biggest difficulty IMO would be if there was a textured finish applied to the metal at the factory. It would be very tough to achieve by hand. And other than a surface polish, plating (chrome, nickel) can't be repaired with abrasives...
xHatakeX7 years ago
will this work with boots?
This won't work with any flexible base like leather.

For boots & shoes, the only thing that will give you this depth of shine is an old military technique called "spit-shining." Any old Army or USMC veteran from the 60s, or earlier, should be able to show you how to do it, especially if they were Airborne or Rangers.

Like the old-fashioned "French Polish" that old cabinetmakers and piano makers used to use, spit-shining can be a time-consuming process, especially the first time on a pair of boots or shoes.

Here are two instructions for spit-shining:
http://www.stompersboots.com/stompers_bootcare.php
http://www.cadetstuff.org/how_to/200201_elliott_bulling.htm

The second one is somewhat better. However, you can cut the work a lot by putting a good base shine on with one of those power shoe-shiners, and once you have a decent spit-shine you can tune them up in between wearings in a matter of minutes if you have one of these buffers. Don't let the hours of work (at first) scare you off. I can bring my wife's riding boots back to a black mirror finish in about ten minutes with the power bufffer and a little bit of tune-up with a cotton ball or old cotton T-shirt.

It's more art than science, and there aren't very many people anymore who can do this. No camera, no time ... or I'd do an instructable. Those I mentioned are adequate, though.
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