Polishing Aluminum Snowmobile Tunnel

Vintage Paint is soon going to be offering metal polishing products.  Stay Tuned!

Tools needed

buffer da 3 inch coumpound
Buffer with a buffing wheel adapter Sander with Direct Drive locking mechanism 3 inch sander/polisher is nice Compound/Wheels/Sandpaper


Buffer with adapter.  The buffer shown is a fixed speed of 1750 RPM's.  I variable rate buffer would be better, and a lighter buffer would be even better.  But, we use what we have!  Could a drill be used, use, but it would take a lot longer.

Sander with Direct Drive Locking mechanism.  "Old School" DA's have two sanding modes.  Orbital, direct like a grinder.  For sanding the metal we will use the direct drive.  I like stick it paper and quite frequently use 5 inch.  I use 400/600/800.  800 is tough to find as a stick it so I frequently use velcro there.

3 inch sander/polisher.  This is also a direct drive, gives us 3 inch sanding for tighter areas, and a small polisher for finish polishing.

Wheel Rake:  Wheel Rake



Compound:  For this project I used 2 different compounds.  Your usage may vary. 

First Cut, Tripoli (Brown) – Natural Abrasive. Removes surface imperfections from all base metals and plastics. Used for general cutting and preliminary coloring operations. Excellent on brass plating and aluminum, pewter, etc. Mild cutting action and good coloring.  I used a "Spiral Sewn" buffing wheel.

Second Cut, White Rouge– Will not discolor. Clean & Greaseless. Restores a natural luster to non-ferrous metals such as aluminum.  Removes scratches and produces a brilliant high-gloss finish. I also used this with a "Spiral Sewn" buffing wheel.

Third Cut, White Rouge with a "loose Sewn" buffing wheel.

Polish, A hand/machine light duty polish for final luster.  Used with a foam pad on the 3 inch sander, followed by hand with a microfiber towel.

Buffing Wheels: There are many types of buffing wheels.  Here are a few.


sisel sewn loose sisel sewn
Sisal Wheel (course cut) Sewn Wheel (Medium Cut) Loose Sewn (Light Cut) Comparison of a sisal and a sewn


Miscellaneous items:

Shop Towels

Microfiber Towels

Solvent for cleaning

Sand Paper: 400/600/800 grit

Safety:  Please use personal protection equipment such as, but not limited to.  Safety glasses/face shield, hearing protection, gloves, dust mask.


Only use one compound per wheel.  I used 2 DIFFERENT Sewn Wheels on this job.

You will get dirty, wear clothes that you won't be going to church in.  A apron is a good idea.

When sanding.  Keep your pad flat, do not put it up on edge to "remove the defect".  Sanding on the edge of the pad will leave a divot which will show.  Sanding flat will remove product around the defect to remove the defect.

Watch where your wheel is.  Watch the direction of the wheel.  Run the wheel "off" the edges, not "on to the edges" to keep the wheel from grabbing.

Try to change the angle of the wheel if possible from step to step. 

Previous step scratches MUST be refined to the current step.  Leaving too deep of a scratch and moving to the next step will leave that scratch.  You also cannot jump too far in the grit range at one time.

LITTLE & OFTEN is the rule for applying compound to your wheels. Too much compound will reduce the effectiveness of the cutting action, because the surface will become too greasy and over lubricated. This can often be seen by the presence of a black slick of compound that seems to reveal around the work piece. Apply compound to the wheel for approx 1 second. Any more is wasted.  When using the hand buffer, I have found it best to apply after releasing the trigger switch as the wheel is slowing down.



Cutting: gives you:- smooth surface which is a semi bright and uniform finish.  The work piece should be moved against the direction of the wheel, using a medium to hard pressure.

Cutting you will have to pull your wheel against the metal.

Coloring:   The color motion gives you a bright, shiny and clean surface.  The work piece should be moved toward the direction of the wheel, using a light pressure.

Coloring, you will feel the wheel pulling the wheel along your piece.

Understanding cutting and coloring is very important!


Lets Get At It!

The project, 1980 Scorpion Whip tunnel.

This is not a show piece.  So, there are some scratches, pits, dings that were not removed.  But what was done illustrates how to do it.

 If you want that show finish, you just need to spend more time on each step.


As you can see, this is a very weathered tunnel.  Let the fun begin!

Removal of the stripe/graphics.

tunnel tunnel
Using a decal remover wheel such as the Astro 400E. Astro 400E, other brands are good also. Plastic razor blade used with a heat gun to remove graphics. Tunnel with graphics removed.


Removal of Dents covered here!


Next step is to degrease the tunnel, wash any dirt, remove any pieces that will be in our way.

If you don't want to sand, go further down the page!

First I sanded with 400 grit in direct drive, moving in one direction.  Second I sanded with 600 grit in direct drive, moving at a 90 degree direction to the first step.  Then I sanded with 800 grit going in a 90 degree direction change from the second step.  This is done so you can more easily see when you have refined the previous steps scratch.

tunnel sanded

Finished in 800 grit, ready to start polishing.

Note:  A Sisal wheel could be used to remove major oxidation rather than sanding.  Sanding will remove more imperfections, which is why I went that route.

First step, Tripoli brown compound with a Sewn Buffing Wheel.  You will need to do this until you cannot see any sanding scratches that remain.  You will see scratches from the sewn wheel and tripoli along with some swirl marks.  This is where you need to spend most of your polishing time.


Second Step, White Rouge with a sewn buffing wheel.  This will remove all of the swirls and scratches from the Tripoli.  If you have sanding scratches left at this stage, it probably will not remove them. 


Third Step, White Rouge with a Loose Buffing wheel.  This will only bring up some color and remove some swirls.


And now for a light polish with a foam pad/by hand.

Not bad for a rider.

tunnel tunnel


Without Sanding

A Sisal Wheel (coarse) with brown Tripoli can be used to clean up aluminum.  Using Black rouge can be a bit aggressive.  Without sanding, you will not be removing defects though.

The following parts, either couldn't easily be sanded, or I didn't feel were necessary for this project.

Note, if you look close you can see some pits, scratches, etc because we didn't sand them out.  But they look respectable.

sisal1 sisal2 sisal3 sisal4
The Start Sisal Wheel with Brown Tripoli Sisal with Sewn Wheel and White Compound Loose Sewn Wheel with white compound

The following parts were only cleaned up with the Sisal Wheel and Brown Tripoli

sisal11 sisal12
The Start Finished.  Works decent if you want a bit of a brushed look. 



And the final picture of the Whip Chassis put together waiting for reassembly!