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Do-It-Yourself Projects
Aluminum Wheel Buffing
By Mike Bumbeck/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyModerate
Estimated Time240 minutes
240 minutes
Buffed Profession
A professional shop that handles a great number of wheels usually has a giant machine in a room thick with a mix of aluminum dust and buffing compound the color of pencil lead. Those with well-equipped garages may already have a smaller, dedicated buffer. For the do-it-yourselfer there are a few options. Before you get started remember to take safety precautions. High-rev, high-torque power tools can be dangerous! Wear a mask, gloves, and safety goggles at all times while buffing aluminum.

The first do-it-yourself option is to secure the buffing wheel and move the object around it. A standard bench grinder can be converted to a buffing setup with some ingenuity and a few arbors. Be absolutely certain the grinder is securely bolted down if this route is taken. The buffing wheel can easily grab the item being worked on. At this point, one of two things will give. Either the object will fly out of your hands, or the grinder will liberate itself from its mount. Either scenario is bad news.

Another option is to make the object stationary and move the buffing wheel around it. A variety of power tools are suited for this task. In this case, we used a variable speed buffer and a few 6-inch buffing wheels. Be cautious and take your time. And remember that only bare aluminum wheels can be buffed out. The buffing process will quickly destroy any paint or clearcoat on the wheels. Be certain bare aluminum wheels are what you have before you get started.
Step 1 - Here is the junkyard-fresh set of wheels. We're not out for a Barrett-Jackson job, just a shiny set of daily drivers.
Set of Wheels from Junkyard
Step 2 - Cut away and remove anything that will get in the way of the process. Valve stems. Wheel weights. Stickers. Everything.
Cut Away Things that Get in Way
Step 3 - Next, get things clean. Use a powerful degreaser, heavy duty scouring pads, and some elbow grease.
Clean Up the Wheels
Step 4 - Thoroughly rinse the wheels. You don't want to buff any grime into the aluminum.
Rinse the Wheels Well
Step 5 - Use a flat file to smooth any nasty curb rash. Do not remove too much material or wheel balance could be affected.
File Curb Rash Smooth
Step 6 - Apply a bit of the coarsest or most abrasive compound to the stiffest buffing wheel.
Apply Coarsest Compound to Stiffest Buffing Wheel
Step 7 - Use the right combination of rpm and pressure to get the compound working. Buff the entire wheel one section at a time.
Buff Sections of the Wheel at a Time
Step 8 - Clean the entire wheel surface in between each step.
Clean Entire Wheel Surface in Each Step
Step 9 - Use a separate wheel for each compound to prevent contamination between steps. Here a less abrasive compound is used with a "loose sewn" wheel for a finish buff.
Use Separate Wheel for Each Compound to Prevent Contamination
Step 10 - A hand-applied liquid hand polish and subsequent hand buff is the final step. Now, buff out the other three wheels.
Final Step is Hand-applying Liquid Hand Polish and Buffing by Hand
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