It’s no secret that polishing is essential to protecting your plane and keeping you safe while in flight. But, do you know how it’s done? Polishing can either be done by hand using a soft cotton cloth, or with the help of a buffing tool. The majority of aircraft owners prefer the latter because it speeds up the process and usually delivers better results.
But, these buffing tools require the use of a polishing pad, also known as buffing pads, which are usually made out of wool or foam. Which kind of buffing pad should you use on your plane? Here’s what you need to know about each type:
Wool pads are often thought of as “cutting” pads because they are more abrasive than foam pads and cut deeper into paint layers than foam pads can. Unlike foam pads, wool pads can remove deep scratches, thick layers of dirt, and other debris that may have accumulated on the plane’s exterior surface.
The three types of wool pads are four-ply, blended and finishing pads, and each of these pads have varying levels of abrasiveness. For example, four-ply is considered to be the most aggressive of the three, while finishing pads are made from soft, natural fibers, and are ideally used for finishing the polishing job. Finishing wool pads are often made of lambs’ wool, which contains a natural oil called lanolin. This type of wool pad is a bit more expensive than the others, but many aircraft owners think they’re worth every penny because of the natural lubrication lanolin provides.
It’s recommended that you use a wool pad in the beginning of the polishing job to remove any wax or sealants that have been applied to the surface. Using a wool pad to cut into the finish and get down to the metal is much more efficient than using a foam pad, which would take a lot longer to do the same job.
Foam pads are much more gentle than wool pads, so they should be used when you are in the final stages of polishing your plane. Although these pads won’t be able to remove deep scratches or dirt, they will be able to get rid of small scratches that are right on the surface. Foam pads can also remove any streaks or marks that are left on the surface of your plane from the earlier stages of polishing.
There are only two types of foam pads: open-cell and closed-cell. Open-cell pads have small holes throughout the surface, so they appear to be very similar to a sponge. If you are using a foam pad during the final part of your polish job, it’s best to choose a closed-cell pad since it is an even surface that allows you to get a streak-free shine.
There are a few other things you need to keep in mind when choosing and using pads. First, you will have to decide what size pad you want to use as you polish. Keep in mind larger sizes may leave swirl marks behind on the surface of your plane because it’s harder for the buffing tool to control the outer edges of a large pad. However, small pads do not have the same “cutting” power as large pads, so if you are trying to remove a lot of dirt or cloudiness, a small pad may not work well. Because of this, it may be wise to choose a larger wool pad for the beginning stages of polishing, and then finish the job with a smaller, foam pad to remove the streaks caused by the wool pad.
Another thing you will have to keep in mind as you polish your plane is the cleanliness of the pad. Remember, these pads are removing dirt and grime from your plane, so they will need to be cleaned multiple times as you polish. Keep a soft-bristled brush handy as you polish your plane and use this tool to clean off foam pads as they become dirty. Some aircraft detailers will advise you to use a wire brush, but doing so could lead to a costly mistake. If the wires accidentally snap off of the brush and get lodged into the foam pad without your knowledge, the wire will scrape against the surface of your plane at high speeds when you begin to use the buffing tool again. If you keep these pads in good condition while you are polishing your plane, you should be able to reuse them over and over again. It’s time to throw away your foam pad when you notice chunks of the foam material beginning to loosen or fall out.
To clean wool pads, use a tool known as a spur. Wool pads tend to get dirtier than foam pads because they are used for aggressively cutting through layers of finish and paint. After you are done for the day, leave the wool pad face up to dry overnight and the next morning, you should be able to remove any remaining buildup with the use of the spur.
Polishing pads come in all different colors, and many aircraft owners believe each of the colors represent a different level of abrasiveness, but that’s not the case. Manufacturers do not have to color code pads based on what material they are or how aggressively they will cut through the finish and paint on your plane. When you shop for a buffing pad, it’s up to you to read the description of the item before you make the purchase to ensure you are getting the one you need instead of judging a pad based solely on its color.
Before you begin to polish your plane, make sure you thoroughly understand the difference between each of these types of polishing pads to ensure you are using the correct one. Using the wrong type of pad could prevent you from properly protecting and polishing your plane.