How To Cut and Buff Like a Professional

DIY Guide To Cutting and Buffing Paint To Perfection

By John Gilbert   –   Photography By the Author

There are two types of hot rodders: the DIY guy who likes to do as much work on his car as he is able and the guy who can’t afford to take the time building a car demands but has the means to pay a professional.

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02 Jason Killmer devised this homemade 10 600 lumens neutral balance light source with light fixtures from Home Depot
Jason Killmer devised this homemade, 10,600-lumens, neutral balance light source with light fixtures from Home Depot mounted on a used camera tripod.

For the DIY guy, this article will help him learn how to achieve professional results cutting and buffing paint to perfection. For the guy who can afford to pay a professional, it will help him understand why cutting and buffing to concours quality is such an expensive proposition.

03 Intense direct light is essential to detect scratches equivalent to 250 watt LED lights draws much less current
Intense direct light is essential to detect scratches; equivalent to 250-watt LED lights draws much less current, drawing only 25 watts and mimics natural light.

A couple months ago I got a call from my friend Harold Clay saying he was in Biloxi, Mississippi, attending a PPG Restoration Class taught by Charley Hutton. I was kind of surprised because I know Clay has owned Clay’s Collision Center since 1979 and Harold’s Hot Rod Shop for over 10 years, and he’s already placing First at major car shows nationwide.

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04 Begin wet sanding with 600 grit wet and dry
Begin wet-sanding with 600-grit wet and dry, unless the clear coat has excessive orange peel then use faster-cutting 400-grit wet and dry.

But as long as I have known Clay, he’s been on a constant quest to find perfection for his paintwork. So, when Clay called me a few weeks ago inviting me to join him in attending a class at Sylvester’s Customs on how to cut and buff paint I wasn’t quite as surprised. Clay and Tim Gregg flew in from Enid, Oklahoma, and we met up with our friend Travis Sylvester at his shop in Nuevo, California. In addition to taking on customer restoration work at Sylvester’s Customs, Sylvester and his buddy, Mike Coutts, produce instructional YouTube videos on how to address various phases of bodywork. To teach the class on how to cut and buff paint to concours perfection, Sylvester brought in Jason Killmer, a super detailer with Pebble Beach Concours and Ridler wins under his belt and who markets a line of specialized sanding blocks he has developed.

05 In a bucket of water add dish soap to lubricate pre soaked 600 grit wet and dry
In a bucket of water, add dish soap to lubricate pre-soaked 600-grit wet and dry. Choose the sanding block that fits the contour best and cross hatch.

Cutting and buffing paint to concours quality level is a tedious repetitive process. On average it takes 20 hours to cut and buff a front fender to appear optically correct and scratch-free. Optically correct means the reflection in the paint isn’t distorted like a funhouse mirror and the finish lit under the most intense lighting reveals it is scratch-free. That extreme level of quality is only achievable if the bodywork preceding paint is perfect and the application of the base color is perfect. No flaws anywhere, and finally there are enough coats of clear paint block sanding will not break through.

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06 Check that the area is sanded thoroughly before moving onto 1 000 grit
Blocking with 600-grit cuts the clear. Check that the area is sanded thoroughly before moving onto 1,000-grit. Using 1,000-grit removes 600-grit scratches.

Imagine how many hours it takes to cut and buff a complete car at today’s shop rates and that should give one a good idea if cutting and buffing is something they’d like to explore further.

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07 Wash and squeegee dry to inspect with bright light if 1 000 grit has removed 600 grit scratches
Wash and squeegee dry to inspect with bright light if 1,000-grit has removed 600-grit scratches. Follow with 1,500 grit to remove 1,000-grit scratches.

To help a person decide if a high-end cut and buff is for them they must identify their expectations. Are they after a 100 percent perfect show car finish or will they be content with a not-quite-as-fanatical finish that will probably endure better if exposed to the elements. I’m mentioning the option of accepting a paint job straight from the gun with only a few flaws (dirt, bugs, boogers) to nib and polish out because the UV screen added to modern urethane clears migrates to the top as the clear cures.

08 Repeat wash and squeegee dry inspect with bright light checking to ensure 2 000 grit removed 1 500 grit scratches
Repeat wash and squeegee dry, inspect with bright light, checking to ensure 2,000-grit removed 1,500-grit scratches. Renew sandpaper if it’s loading up.

Figure if the painter sprayed six coats of clear urethane—block sanding flat will cut through two coats and likely strip the UV screen. Deeply cut and buffed paint on a weekend warrior with occasional outdoor overnight exposure can survive longer if the vehicle is washed free of acidic environmental contaminants after each time the car has been driven. Kept indoors out of the weather and away from the sun as much as possible works best to make any paint job last longer.

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09 The finer the grit used the least amount of time will be spent polishing with a rubbing compound
The finer the grit used the least amount of time will be spent polishing with a rubbing compound. We ended with 3,000-grit as the finest paper used in this class.

There’s a wide selection to choose from of well-known brands offering the tools and materials needed to undertake a cut and buff project. For the cut and buff classes held two days at Sylvester’s Customs the tools came from Harbor Freight plus Meguiar’s, now in close association with Harbor Freight, provided compound and Jason Killmer supplied a wide selection of his sanding blocks. PPG paint and related essentials, like wet and dry sandpaper, were sourced from Temecula Valley Paint and the Camaro fenders from Auto Metal Direct (AMD).

10 Finest grit available Trizact 8 000 grit is used dry on a DA (dual action orbital)
Finest grit available, Trizact 8,000-grit, is used dry on a DA (dual-action orbital) and leaves the paint polished with minimum compounding required to finish.

Way back in the days of acrylic lacquer, a sheet of 600 wet and dry sandpaper was the finest grit available and folded in thirds to color sand and rub—the rubout came with a wool pad on a “wheel” (rotary polisher) slinging various grades of rubbing compound. Skipping past a succession of developments throughout the years, today urethanes have supplanted acrylic lacquer as the desired finish and “color sand and rub” is now called “cut and buff.” MR

11 The sharper the angle of the body contour the smaller the sanding block should be
The sharper the angle of the body contour the smaller the sanding block should be and approached cross-hatching as opposed to straight on.
12 Newly introduced rounded edge Harbor Freight premium microfiber towels
A sharp edge on a generic microfiber towel can scratch the paint. Newly introduced rounded edge Harbor Freight premium microfiber towels eliminate the possibility.
13 Here Killmer uses a Harbor Freight 5 000 lumen 4 foot LED light to illuminate orange peel in the painted fender
Here Killmer uses a Harbor Freight 5,000-lumen, 4-foot LED light to illuminate orange peel in the painted fender before block sanding with 600-grit.
14 A detailer inspection light is used to locate and help eliminate sanding scratches
A detailer inspection light is used to locate and help eliminate sanding scratches as block sanding progresses from 600- to 3,000-grit.
15 White Mirka for dark paint colors and black Mirka for light paint colors will reveal high and low spots
White Mirka for dark paint colors and black Mirka for light paint colors will reveal high and low spots and remain embedded to illuminate sanding scratches.
A guide coating tip, Larry Watson says, “Don’t stripe it like a watermelon, apply a guide coat evenly like you are shooting a candy color.”
A guide coating tip, Larry Watson says, “Don’t stripe it like a watermelon, apply a guide coat evenly like you are shooting a candy color.”
17 Squeegee to dry water from the surface in between sanding stages grits 600 3 000
Squeegee to dry water from the surface in between sanding stages grits 600-3,000. Squeegeed sanded clear will dry in the scratches and appear under bright light.
18 A large subtle curved area but notice the narrow width of the sanding block allows the block to contact the surface fully
A large subtle curved area, but notice the narrow width of the sanding block allows the block to contact the surface fully.
19 The high intensity of the Bauer inspection light confirms there are no accidental scratches that would require backtracking
The high intensity of the Bauer inspection light confirms there are no accidental scratches that would require backtracking with coarser-grit sandpaper to remove.
20 Sunday class moved to final polishing using Meguiar’s 110 and 210 rubbing compound
Saturday the class was all about wet block sanding and then Sunday class moved to final polishing using Meguiar’s 110 and 210 rubbing compound.
21 Slang for a rotary polisher is “a wheel” and using a wheel to rub paint out requires an experienced operator capable of not burning through
Slang for a rotary polisher is “a wheel” and using a wheel to rub paint out requires an experienced operator capable of not burning through.
22 Fast cutting an “old school” 7 1 2 inch wool buffing pad works great on a rotary
Fast cutting an “old-school” 7-1/2-inch wool buffing pad works great on a rotary but safer for the paint a novice uses a long-throw DA polisher.
23 Color defines the cutting ability (coarseness) of Bauer foam pads
Color defines the cutting ability (coarseness) of Bauer foam pads; coarse is blue, medium is green, yellow is fine, and white is ultra-fine. Foam collapses as it wears.
24 Teaching with a hands on approach Jason Killmer instructs the flat angle
Teaching with a hands-on approach, Jason Killmer instructs the flat angle and amount of compound that must be used to not burn the paint.
25 A DA sander is a lot less likely to burn paint than a rotary
A DA sander is a lot less likely to burn paint than a rotary. Freeze frame photography catches the blurred longer stroke of Harbor Freight’s Bauer Long-Throw random orbit DA polisher.
26 Shave runs in the clear using a single edge razor blade
Got runs? Shave runs in the clear using a single-edge razor blade. Bend the blade down slightly and hone possible burrs from the blade using sandpaper.
27 A run or a buildup of clear at an edge can be shaved using a downstroke only
If you don’t get runs, you’re not trying hard enough. A run or a buildup of clear at an edge can be shaved using a downstroke only.
28 The top cut and buffers all seem to have their own product line of sanding blocks
The top cut and buffers all seem to have their own product line of sanding blocks. Killmer brought KxK Dynamics Palm Blox Hard Series for the class.

Sources

Auto Metal Direct (AMD)
(888) 255-3907
autometaldirect.com

Harbor Freight
harborfreight.com

Harold’s Hot Rod Shop
(580) 548-3033
haroldshotrodshop.net

Jason Killmer
kxkdynamics.com

Sylvester’s Customs
@sylvestercustoms

Temecula Valley Paint
(951) 676-2943
temeculavalleypaint.com

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