What is car detailing? Our process part 4 – ‘The Cut’

Now we start polishing. Generally, car dependant this will start either at the roof or the bumpers. The bumpers on most cars are fairly complex with a lot of curves & smaller sections, so we get these polished before going onto the larger, main panels.

So, we have decided on our microfibre cutting pad and heavy cut compound. One of our favorites is the ‘Meguairs’ MF cutting pad and ‘Resurrection’ from ‘Angelwax’. The compound has a great cutting ability. It cuts fast and refines relatively well.

***Please note for all of the polishing described we will be using a dual action polisher, NOT a rotary. This is a very different technique.***

However, even our favourites don’t always give the performance needed. We have a selection of cutting compounds and which one to use will have been decided on during the test section phase, as described in the previous blog.

The first step is to ‘prime’ the pad. This means using the product liberally and spreading it across all fibres of the pad. This gives an even cut & lubrication. We don’t want a ‘dry’ spot on the pad running across the paint and potentially marring the surface.

Once primed, roughly 3-4 pea-sized dots of compound are added to a 5-inch pad. With the machine level on the panel, we switch on and spread the product on low speed. We use the ‘Rupes’ range of polishers, which equates to 1-1/2 on the speed setting.

Now, when cutting, we need to reduce the size of the area we are working on. If we try and extend the compound out too far across the panel all we end up with a reduction in cutting power as the compound ‘cycles’ to refine too quickly.

Most modern compounds, e.g. Menzerna, Angelwax, Koch Chemie use diminishing abrasives. Simply, this means as the product is worked onto the surface, the abrasives get smaller and smaller and thus the level of ‘cut’ reduces and reduces. Hence we work a smaller section when cutting. This gives us the best out of the product and is much more efficient.

With any size pad, a good way to keep your working area small enough is, before turning the polisher on, count three pad widths up, and three across. Then create a square from this. You could even dab the polisher onto the paint while doing this to give a visual indication of the area with the compound. Of course, adjust this method if running the polisher in a straight line!

So, we have spread the compound, we now turn up the speed to start cutting. There is no one speed which works so we won’t give one here. Once the desired speed is reached, we start in a vertical motion going up and down the panel. When coming back on ourselves we overlap to the previous pass by around 50%. Arm speed here is essential.

If you have never used a polisher before the tendency will be to move far too quickly for fear of ‘striking through’ the clear coat. For a hard paint, most paints to be honest, we go with an arm speed of one inch per second. Try this now and you will see it feels very slow.

This method allows the compound to do its work but doesn’t allow the panel to get too hot.

So we go up and back vertically, then we switch and then go at 90 degrees as in the below picture, and repeat until the polish has been fully worked down. This is generally when you see the polish residue start to go clear.

One section is done! Now the rest! It is very important during cutting that we use protective tape in the right way. Panel edges are very prone to burn through so it is essential that we protect these edges.

You will see in the above picture we have taped off the car before polishing. The taped off sections seen above are those which will remain for the whole cutting stage. E.g. plastics, rubbers, door handles as we don’t want the pad to strike these on the way past.

In this picture, we have used additional tape to polish the front wing.

Additionally, you will need to protect panels, trims which extend above, below or to the side of the area being polished. You can see the bonnet of the Mini below. The chrome trim has been taped up to protect it from the pad striking it. [MENTION ABOUT LIGHTS BEING NOT TAPED]

Now we having taping sorted it brings us onto the size of the pad being used.

For the larger sections of panels, the 5-inch pad is perfectly fine. However, you will not get a good finish if you try and use a 5-inch pad on every section of the car. You will also risk striking the exposed panel edges (on the panel you are cutting).

The curve of panels will not allow the 5-inch pad to sit properly and thus the cutting will not happen.

We will use a driver’s door as the example here. We will switch down to a 3-inch pad to cut around the edges of the panel. This will avoid putting to much pressure on the panel edge. Further, the 3-inch pad will be used along the line of the window and above and below any ‘lines’ in the panel.

For around a door handle we will again switch down to a 1 or 2-inch pad. This allows us to get close enough to make sure the cutting is consistent all the way up to the handle. This is something a 5-inch pad just cannot do safely.

The bulk of the flat part of the panel is then cut with the 5-inch pad.

We repeat this process across the whole car, whilst always assessing the panel and using the appropriate size machine/pad for the job.

After each use of the polisher, we will remove the residue and panel wipe this area. This will let us see the level of correction achieved. The area is inspected to make sure the cut is to a satisfactory level.

Once inspected, it is essential to clean out or spur the pad. We use compressed air for this. It removes the spent polish and prevents the pad fibres from becoming blocked. If this isn’t done every time, cutting will be massively reduced, or won’t cut at all.

Once the cutting is finished, it is quite usual for the paint to have had a lot of defects removed, but not look its best. The heavy cutting can put in ‘good damage’ to the paint. This is cleared back to a high gloss in the refinement stage!

To do it properly, and to achieve the best results, this is the longest part of the treatment as a whole. It makes us sad seeing companies which claim to be able to cut and refine and then wax/coat a car in a few hours or less.

In some extreme cases it could be possible to do this whole process in a day, but what are the end results going to look like if you’re not going through the correct steps and procedures? Could you really call this a “detail” if someone is only focusing on the bigger picture? The old adage, you get what you pay, for definitely applies here.

In the next article, we go onto paint refinement and how to bring an amazing gloss to the paint.