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Old 04-17-2008
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Answer to questions.. (LONG)

Some have PM'd me and asked specific questions but a PM is limited to 5000 characters so I'm putting it here..

Here is more info..

Buff & Wax


Try these products (for Gel-Coat)

The Cliff Note Version:
Steps:
#1-Clean the hull with an acid base cleaner like FSR or On & Off to remove tannin staining.
#2-Wet Sand by hand 600 then move up the grits to P1000 (only if severely oxidized other wise start below)
#3-3M Marine Super Duty Rubbing Compound (use a wool 3M super buff COMPOUND grade pad)
#4-3M Finesse It (Use a foam 3M #05725 pad)
#5-(OPTIONAL STEP) Meguiars #9 Swirl Remover (professional grade automotive product tan bottle - Use 3M #05725 pad)
#6-Collinite #885 Fleet Wax Paste Version- or any top quality carnuba paste wax

The Full Detailed Version:

Tools & Supplies:
To be successful in completing this project you'll need a few items first. Don’t be bashful in pulling out the wallet for these supplies, and while you do, think about how much money you’re saving over a new AwlGrip Paint Job. The tools for this project can be used, and will last, for years and years and with each use they cost you less.

#1) Buffer- A good Buffer is an absolute necessity! Unfortunately, one of the cheapies from Wal*Mart or Auto Zone doesn’t count as quality. If you’re buffing a Yugo these “budget buffers” might work but not on a 30+ foot sail boat. These “cheapies” ultimately can’t handle the loads & run either too fast or too slow for the material & pad combination you are using. A thumb controlled speed dial will be the best money you spend on an orbital buffer. I use a Makita model 9227C and it’s proven itself to be a reliable and top quality machine. The 9227C comes equipped with a thumb dial for easy access and instantaneous speed control and turns speeds from 600 rpm to 3000 rpm. The difference between my Makita and my old Sears Craftsman is like night and day!

There are many manufacturers of speed-controlled circular buffers but Makita, Milwaukee, Flex (German company) & DeWalt build the best and most reliable units. When buying a buffer it’s very important to buy a unit with a “no load” motor set up. “No load” means that no matter how much pressure you put on the buffer it will still spin at the speed you set it at! While some of the thrifty boaters out there will no doubt find a cheapy knock off buffer that will work it most likely will not last as long or give consistently good results.

Buffer features that matter are: 1) No load speed. 2) Weight (lighter is better when working overhead). 3)Thumb control speed dial. 4) Low speeds 600 rpm is a very useful speed but many circular buffers have a slow speed of 1000 rpm. 5) Soft start this helps prevent sling upon start up.

#2)Buffing Pads- You will need two or three grades of buffing pads or discs. I only recommend 3M pads because they are easy to find and most Napa Auto Parts stores stock them. The 3M heavy wool Superbuff pads are great for compounding and the 3M foam polishing grade pads #05725 are wonderful for adding the finishing touch. Use a heavy wool compounding grade pad for the compounding, and a polishing grade wool or the #05725 for the polishing stage and the same #05725 foam pad for the finishing or glazing stage.

I’ll use 3M professional grade foam pads #05725 for the polish & glaze stage but I generally use Lake Country CCS pads. When buffing a gelcoat hull it’s very important to match the aggressiveness of the pad to the phase of the buffing. Very important!! You will NEVER get a good final shine using a heavy compounding grade pad even if you’re using Finesse It or Meguiar’s #9 with it!

If you want better pads than 3M I have been using pads by a company called Lake Country and they are incredible pads. The pads I use with the Makita are the Lake Country CCS 7.5” pads. The color of the pad denotes its level of aggressiveness. Lake Country pads can be purchased from AutoGeek.com.

#3) Microfiber Rags- Honestly these are the best invention for buffing & waxing since the buffing machine. I’ve been using microfibers for years and years on antique cars and trust me they have come way, way down in price since their introduction.

A pack of three microfiber rags used to cost me in the vicinity of $29.00 but now you can buy a pack of three at an auto parts store or, gulp, even Wal*Mart, for about $3.00-$4.00. Occasionally Sam’s Club will have them in 18 or 24 packs for about $12.00. When buying microfiber rags be very wary & conscious of the quality. A good rag will look more like a good quality terry cloth towel, with thick full loops. In short, it will be nice and robust and the quality will be visible to the naked eye. Even the worst quality microfiber rags will still outperform the best quality terry cloth so don’t worry too much. Again, these rags are amazing and they will save you time! Trying to compare terry cloth or cotton rags to microfiber rags, for this job, is like pairing Michael Moore & Bode Miller in a ski race. There is NO comparison so don’t cut this corner!!

#4) Wet Sand Paper- Usually any good quality wet-sand paper like 3M is fine and grits of 600-1000 are what will be necessary. If your hull does not need a wet sanding don’t bother buying it.

#5) Compounds- All compounds are not created equally. NEVER buy any compound that uses terms like “essential oils” or has the word “silicone” in the label. Compounds with these additives are for novices who don’t understand the concept behind compounding. Unfortunately, these products, like 95% of the “one step” products will give a false & premature shine. This premature shine is caused by the “essential oils” or “silicone” & will cause you to stop polishing before you’ve actually polished anything due to this false shine.

While I really like Meguiar’s line of products, their blue bottle “marine “ products are a not the best Meguiar’s has to offer. These Meguiar’s “marine” products are geared towards novice users and will not give the results of their “pro-line” tan bottle cousins designed for the auto body industry. The “blue bottle” marine line is laden with “essential oils”. If you are buying and using Meguiar’s buy the pro grade stuff in the tan bottles not the blue bottle stuff sold a marine stores.

Perhaps the best, of the easily available compounds, is 3M Marine Super Rubbing Compound. I’ve used it with very good success over the years and it works. Is it the best compound? No. Do I regularly use it when compounding? No, but I still do on occasion. 3M Marine Super Duty Rubbing Compound is a very good product and it would be considered “paint shop safe” meaning it contains no “cheater oils” like silicone.

If you want very, very good products look up Presta Products on-line. These are sold only through body shop distributors and are water based (zero oils), expensive, but also worth every penny. For the average Joe who wants his boat shiny go with 3M. If you’re part of the anal-retentive crowd, who will settle for nothing but the best, do yourself a favor and look into Presta or Menzerna Products.

#6) Polish- After the compounding phase you’ll need to polish. 3M Finesse It II is a great choice for a polish. I’ve used many bottles of Finesse It II and it’s readily available and “paint shop safe”. Unfortunately, Finesse It II does have some chemical binders or carriers in it that give a minimal pre-mature shine. A quick wipe down with a spray bottle of denatured alcohol and a rag gets rid of this so you can see the real shine you’ve created.

Again, for the anal retentive Presta Chroma 1500 is my #1 choice for both polishing and glazing. This unique product uses diminishing grit media that starts out similar to Finesse It II but finishes like a glaze thus avoiding another full step!! Chroma 1500 is expensive, and hard to find, but simply amazing and a huge time saver. For 95% of boaters though 3M Finesse It II will be more than adequate.



The Process:

Buffing and waxing a boat the right way takes time and is a commitment. On a gelcoat hull of 36 feet I plan on about 12 hours each spring for doing a three-step polish, glaze & wax or about 6-8 hours for a two-step glaze & wax. Once you get caught up, after your first re-condition including a wet sanding or compounding, it's usually only a step process each spring. Unfortunately, the first season of re-conditioning may take you up to 40 hours if your hull is heavily oxidized. I know most sailors will never spend the time but this pays off big time when and if you do sell.

After selling my last five sail boats the longest time on the market was seven weeks. One boat I sold was a Catalina 36 & it sold in one week, at the highest price for its vintage on Yachtworld, due simply to it’s maintenance and upkeep. Condition is everything and hull shine & condition plays a huge role in the overall aesthetics as a selling point.

One Step Products: Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as a one step solution for wet sanding, compounding, polishing and waxing a fiberglass hull. The saying "you get what you pay for" is true and an $10.00 - $18.00 bottle of "one step" cleaner wax does not cut it if you truly want your boat looking Bristol condition like it just rolled out of the Hinckley barn. Body shops don’t use one step products why should you? Unless you're pinched by time, and are satisfied with a half baked job, and many boat owners will be, you may want to stop reading here. Using a one step cleaner wax is like going to the “touch-less” car wash and ordering the “wax” option for a Porsche. It’s just not the same as doing it the hard & old-fashioned way.

Cleaning the hull: Before wet sanding or compounding can begin you should thoroughly clean the hull. For this process you’ll need a cheap rain suit, duck tape, rubber gloves and some ON & OFF, On & OFF Gel or FSR gel (basically acid). Duck tape where the gloves meet the raincoat so you don't get acid on your skin while reaching over-head to wash the boat. I find using On & Off, and a car wash brush, as effective, but far quicker, than applying FSR gel and they are both made of the same basic components (acids).

Buy a roll or sheet of plastic and rip it with a razor knife into 12-inch wide lengths. Tape this to your dry hull surface at the water line using 3M green tape (seems to work) at the top but let it hang on the bottom as a “drip edge” skirt. You do this so the acid in the ON & OFF does not eat the copper bottom paint and can drip on the ground vs. the bottom paint. Wash and rinse quickly a small area at a time and do this preferably before you before you bottom paint just in case. On & Off is basically FSR without the gel. However, you can wash much faster with ON & OFF than you can with FSR. The ON & OFF will bring back the white of the hull by removing the metals or tannins. Tannins are that rusty orange discoloration you get from the ocean over time that attach to the gelcoat pores. Maine has lots of metals and tannins in the water and ON & OFF is an acid that will eat it. You'll be amazed at the difference in the color of your hull! Even hulls that don’t look bad look amazing after a thorough washing with On & Off. This is a very good place to start before waxing if your boat is older than a few years. Be very careful not to get On & Off or FSR on aluminum rub rails, metals, stanchions, cleats etc. because it will pit them. Only apply FSR or On & Off to the hull! Allow about 1/2 hour for the skirt set up and 1/2 hour for washing the hull.

Removing the oxidation: To do it right you must first remove all the oxidation. This will be achieved either by wet sanding, starting with 600 grit and working up to 1000 grit plus. Wet sanding should always be done by hand! Unless you're a seasoned body shop professional do not use a machine to speed up the wet sanding process. While gel coat is very thick & most hulls can be wet sanded & compounded numerous times, compared to Linear Polyurethanes such as AwlGrip or Imron, a novice with an electric or air sander can chew through and ruin the gelcoat quickly if not fully experienced. Doing this by hand, and keeping the paper rinsed and wet, is the key to getting a good result. I like to use a soft damp sponge as my backing block and it matches the hull contours nicely.

Compounding: If the hull oxidation is minimal a good heavy duty rubbing compound, such as 3M Heavy Duty, and a compounding grade wool pad can and should be the starting point. You’ll know quickly after testing a spot with the compound if you’ll need to wet sand. If you need to spend more than 2-3 minutes on a 2X2 area your using the wrong machine, compound, pad or a combination of the three or you need to start at wet sanding. I can not stress enough the IMPORTANCE of using a compounding grade pad with a compound!

When compounding do keep in mind that a compound is like liquid wet sand paper. Therefore, you MUST keep your pad wet to damp at ALL TIMES. I use a misting bottle filled with water for this. If you are a novice DO NOT attempt to use the buffer to buff off compounds or polishes. Running the pad dry, as in buffing until the compound is off the hull, is something best left for PROFESSIONALS. You can very easily damage your hull if you are not experienced at "dry" buffing. I've seen burned and permanently discolored gel coat from novices attempting this. This is the reason they put "silicones" in compounds and it's because most people don;t understand the concept of how to use a buffer. Your buffer should be considered just that a buffer not a "remover". Work a 2 foot by 2 foot area and stop. Next wipe the residue off while it's still in the "damp to wet" mode. Don't let it dry or it will be a bear to remove unless you wet it again.. This will show you how much more you need to do or if you can move onto the next 2X2 area.

The polishing phase: is perhaps the most important because it gives that deep wet look to the hull even before you wax it. Skipping the very important polishing phase, and using a compound only, will leave very small, barely visible, scratches or “swirl marks” in the gel coat that will absorb more UV light. These micro ridges and valleys or micro scratches, if you will, actually create more exposed surface area, and thus oxidize the hull more rapidly. This is why you must polish the hull as the second phase or third phase depending on your level of oxidation.

So phase 1 is wet sand (if needed), phase 2 compound, phase three polish.

Contrary to popular myths & beliefs you should not be dependent on the wax for the shine of your hull. The wax is a protection layer only and a final sealer to keep the elements at bay. Unfortunately, most people actually skip the polishing step thinking compounding is polishing. It's NOT! Once my hull is polished I do a fourth phase called glazing step (overkill for most unless you’re totally anal retentive) and then two coats about three days apart of Collinite Fleet Wax. Real Carnuba wax takes a while too fully harden and this is why I do it two days apart. Carnuba does not take two days to cure but it’s wise to give it at a minimum of six to eight hours with no direct sun. Most often one coat will suffice but for a really long lasting finish two coats is best. I normally do three at the waterline because this is where the wax sees the most abuse.

The fourth step, or glazing phase, would be considered over kill by many but this is the step where you literally make the hull surface as smooth as glass removing any traces of “swirl marks”. By using products like Meguiars #9 Swirl Remover or #7 Show Car Glaze you eliminate micro scratches and slow the oxidizing by creating less surface are for the sun’s UV rays to degrade. I find Meguiars "professional line" in the tan bottles far better than their marine line in the blue bottles. Just because something says marine it may essentially be an over priced cheap automotive product in a marine bottle. Don’t worry though if you stop at 3M Finesse It II you’re 90% of the way there and this level of polish is plenty good for most boaters.

What is grit level? If you were to rate various products on a 1-10 scale of grit (1 being least aggressive & 10 being most) wet sanding would be a 10 or most aggressive, compounding with a heavy duty compound would be a 7, Finesse It a 3-4.5, #9 or Show Car Glaze a 1-3 and wax a Zero.

Using the above scale as a guide you can see why you should not just jump the compounding phase to a wax. Stopping at the compounding phase will leave deep swirl marks or micro scratches, which creates more surface area, to absorb UV rays. Stopping at the Finesse It phase will leave less aggressive swirl marks but they will still be there all be it very, very minimally. Going all the way to a glazing phase will leave virtually zero swirls and prolong the time between oxidations re-appearance.

Don't be fooled by the "easy application liquid waxes" I've yet to find one that lasts and I've tried many of them! Trust me I did this for a living when I was younger and no one wants to wax a mega yacht every three months! I used to detail "shiny boats" (mega yachts) and found Collinite Fleet Wax #885 paste version to be the longest lasting and hardest of the Carnuba's. One way to test if your wax will pass the test of time is to watch your waterline. If it becomes yellow the wax is dead and gone! With Collinite I can get 8 full months without any yellowing at the waterline. No other wax has even come close except for a product called Tre-Wax and a polymer based automotive product called Nu-Finish. There are literally hundreds of waxes out there and any one of them is better than none. I only recommend the above waxes because I have used them and found them to be very durable. I have also used many of the “marine” waxes including some of the “teflon” based products, but again, none worked as well as the old-school paste Carnuba’s. If you are in the deep South, or have a dark colored hull, don’t bother with a Carnuba and instead use a polymer-based product. The intense heat will re-melt just about any of the Carnuba-based waxes currently made and it will fail sooner than a good quality polymer product. My favorite polymer based product for high temp areas is also a Collinite product called Insulator Wax..

When buffing & waxing a boat, out of the water, a good trick is to cover the bottom paint with at least 2" blue tape so you don't accidentally "buff and wax the paint". It's important to tape neatly so you get wax as close to the bottom paint as you can without actually getting it on the bottom paint. I usually do a 3/4-inch width tape followed by a 2-inch width giving me plenty of tape to save my buffing pads. Fouling of your buffing pad, with bottom paint, is the end of that pad until you can wash it in a commercial washing machine! Don't do it! To keep "sling", what happens when you use a rotary buffer, and it throws white dots of compound up onto your deck, off the decks, I bring old card board boxes to the boat yard. Lay them on the deck directly above the area you're working protruding about 12" over the edge of the deck. The cardboard overhang will catch any "sling" on the way up and it will save you huge amounts of time cleaning white dots off the surface of your deck!
OK some more tips.

Tips for keeping it clean:

1) With two coats of a paste Carnuba on the hull I only wash the boat with IMAR boat wash. This stuff is great and it's also safe, and approved, for washing Strataglass dodger windows. West Marine’s Crystal Boat Wash Soap is also a decent and wax safe product if used as directed. The reason I use IMAR Boat Wash is because it's the only product I've found that cleans well but does not prematurely break down the wax. With IMAR I'm still beading after 7 months. Never use any soap with a built in wax, or one that's a heavy detergent based product and by all means do not use Joy, Palmolive or dishwashing detergents as they eat waxes for lunch! You can order IMAR products from Defender or directly from the IMAR web site although Defender is cheaper. Using this and a very soft car wash brush on a stick works well and does not ruin your wax job.

Tips for "yellow" looking hulls:

2) Before waxing/buffing: If your hull is old and dirty buy a cheap rain suit, duck tape, rubber gloves and some ON/OFF (basically acid). Duck tape around your wrists so you don't get acid on you while reaching over head to wash the boat. Wait until a nice rainy day and wash the entire hull with ON/OFF. Buy a roll of plastic and rip it with a razor knife into 12-inch wide lengths. Tape this to the water line with 3M green tape (seems to work) at the top but let it hang on the bottom as a drip edge skirt. You do this so the ON/OFF does not eat the copper bottom paint and can drip on the ground vs. the bottom. Wash and rinse quickly a small area at a time and do this preferably before you before you bottom paint just in case. On/Off is basically FSR without the gel. However you can wash much faster with ON/OFF than you can with FSR. The ON/OFF will bring back the white of the hull by removing the metals or tannins (that rusty orange discoloration you get) that attach to the gel coat from the ocean. Maine has lots of metals in the water and ON/OFF is an acid that will eat it. You'll be amazed at the difference in the color of your hull. This is a good place to start before waxing if your boat is older than a few years. Be careful not to get On/Off or FSR on aluminum rub rails, cleats etc. because it will pit them. You could also use FSR but it will take a full day to do it right vs. 1/2 hour for the skirt set up and 1/2 hour washing.

Tips for applying the wax:

3) Do I apply the wax by hand? Yes! DO NOT apply or remove the wax phase with the buffer! I use the 4-inch round Meguiars foam applicators you can buy at an auto parts store and a spray/mist bottle of water, like you use for ironing. The spray bottle is the secret trick for applying a true Carnuba wax. Simply mist the hull and liberally apply the wax. Wait for it to dry to about 80-90% and buff by hand with a Micro Fiber rag. Do not use terry cloth! Once you use a Micro Fiber detailing cloth for waxing you'll wonder how you ever survived without one! The spray of water some how helps it attach and buff out to a harder, shinier easier to wipe off finish. It's sort of like when you get your shoes polished and the guy hits them with a mist bottle and then buffs the shine up. This trick does not work with most of the polymer/Carnuba blends like the 3M paste but it's like gold with the Collinite Carnuba as well as Tre-Wax. Another trick is not to wax a large area! Do a three foot wide swath from toe rail to waterline marking where your are waxing at the toe rail with a piece of blue tape. Also leave a little residue on the leading edge so you'll know exactly where to start. You'll wipe this leading edge when finished with the next swath leaving another leading edge to go off of.

Over the years I have experimented at length with using my buffer to remove the wax but I found the friction heat is bad for it and it does not shine as well or last as long. Buffing it off by hand gives it a harder shell because it's cooler and does not re-melt the curing wax. Have plenty of fresh Micro Fiber rags for the wipe off! On my 36 footer I use only four Micro's where it used to take about a dozen terry cloth rags. I buy my Micro Fiber rags at Sam's Club or Wal*Mart. I used to buy them from Griot’s Garage when they were the only ones who had them and they were HUGE money! Try and find the best quality Micro*Fiber you can it WILL make a difference. Sometimes the quality of the Sam's Club Micro's is poor so I go to Wally World or an auto-parts store.

Tips for decks:

4) I compound and buff the smooth and the non-skid. You could also tape off the non-skid and buff the white only letting the non-skid flatten out. I did this on one boat and it looked great! I don’t wax the decks with anything but Woody Wax but I don’t find that it actually protects all that much so it may be a wasted step.

One insider secret is that less distortion in the reflection shows a very good polish/glaze with virtually no swirl marks. If the items in a reflection, such as a ladder, seem distorted the polish is not up to par..


More info on pads, compounds and rags:

As maintaining the wool buffing pads I wash them alone on COLD with Woolite in a home washing machine. Sometimes it may take two cycles to get them clean. DO NOT dry them in a dryer and don't wash them on hot they are wool and a hot wash or dry will literally change the pad grade. A polish grade pad can become a compound pad fairly quickly so wash cold then air dry. I rarely have to clean a pad, during a buffing project, unless I'm doing a friends boat that is badly oxidized. Use slow speeds and light pressure to prevent compound burning. You can also use a mist bottle of water, very sparingly, to give a little moisture to the hull and lube the pad. This however will create more sling so you’re best to go slow and keep the compound wet. The secret is to keep the pad "wet" if it dries, it burns, and you'll need a "spur wheel" or spigot wash to field clean it. Spurs are available at an autobody supply shop or auto parts store.

Another trick I use for a field clean is to remove the pad from the buffer and rinse it under a boatyard spigot scrubbing it with my fingers till it's clean. I then re-install the pad on the buffer and spin it on the buffers highest speed inside a 5-gallon bucket to catch the sling. Spin it until no more water spins off on the inside of the bucket. Once done with that use a towel to get it as close to dry as possible. This is the method I use as I feel it's more thorough than a spur.

A word of caution about "cheap" compounds and polishes that may contain silicone or wax or oils, which will not come, clean of the pads and will eventually ruin them. Use 3M products or Meguiars but carefully read the labels to make sure it says, "does not contain silicone". Many of the cheap products from both 3M and Meguiars contain silicone. Finesse It does not contain any silicone but be sure to read all labels. The cheap compounds use silicones because it adds lubricity to the wheel/pad, for novice users, but a low speed and a light touch and an occasional mist of a spray bottle filled with water, to lube the pad, will get you a lot further than a polishing/compounding product containing waxes or silicones. Compounding and polishing is just that compounding and polishing not compound and wax or polish and wax at the same time.


Think of a compound or polish as a very, very, very fine grit liquid sandpaper. As you know wet sandpaper contains no silicones or "essential oils" so neither should a compound or polish. Products containing silicones or "essential oils" give you a false sense of shine. This forces you to stop polishing well before you have actually finished shining. The hull should be perfectly shiny before the wax goes on but not shiny from silicone or oils. These additives wash off quickly and also prevent the Carnuba wax from binding properly to the hull. If a product says "paintable" it does not contain silicone!

As for the microfiber rags do NOT use any sort of fabric softener it will ruin the rags and also do not dry them in a dryer. You can wash them on warm or hot though... Keep me in the loop!!

Compound / Polish products I use containing NO SILICONE:

3M Marine Super Rubbing Compound
3M Finesse It - Polish
Meguiars #9 Swirl Remover - Fine Polish (in the tan bottle pro-series not marine grade in the blue bottle)
Meguiars #7 Show Car Glaze - Ultra fine Polish also pro-grade in a tan bottle.
Presta Products

Wax I use:

Collinite #885 Fleet Wax - Paste Version (Contains less than 2% silicone most of it's competitors contain 30% or more silicone)
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Last edited by Maine Sail; 10-27-2008 at 07:36 PM.
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