What is car detailing? Our process part 5 – ‘The Refine’

Following on from our post about the cutting stage, we’ve now moved onto refining. Now that cutting is complete, we have the defect removal results we were looking for.

If this was a full major paint correction, we would concentrate on one panel at a time, cutting in full to remove the swirls and other lighter defects. This would then let us identify the deeper marks and chase these out. This is what will take the paint correction from an 80-85% correction to a 95-99% correction.

So, the car is probably pretty dusty by now with spent polish, clear coat, and the studio is usually looking a little bit like a bomb site with used tape, lights, compounds, pads, machines everywhere!

Before refining, we need to sort this out. Our method is to take the car back outside and jetwash it down with purified water. While the car is outside the studio is tidied up, cutting pads are washed, and the floor is swept and mopped to get rid of much of the cutting dust as possible.

Bringing the car back inside, we won’t dry it with towels. We use the vehicle blower again to dry the car and remove any trapped water. It is essential the car is dry again before commencing refining, and also before applying any type of coating.

An example here of a refining combination we might use in the refining stage is a ‘Rupes’ ultra fine white pad with Menzerna 3500. This really depends on the paint you are working with though. Some will need a refining polish and pad with a bit more bite to clear the ‘good damage’. Some will require the lightest polish and pad. Experience of what is and isn’t working is key.

We can now extend our polishing area during refining. If we spend two days cutting, it is likely the refining will take around 3/4 of a day, since it is a much faster process. You can work over larger areas, and the polish refines down much faster.

For example, if a bonnet on a Mercedes A-Class was totally flat and square, we could refine this out with a 5-inch pad, splitting the bonnet in half. Of course, in reality, nothing is flat and square on any car but you get the idea.

Although we can do larger sections at a time, we will still ‘cut in’ each panel with the 3-inch (or 1 & 2-inch) pads before hitting the bulk with the 5-inch pad. You have spent all that time cutting the defects out tight to the panel edges, door handles, why would you not refine them just as well?

Working the machine in the same way (priming the pad before use and spurring after using) we can now speed arm movement up a little. But remember, you won’t be throwing it around the panel! A little faster than during the cutting stage is fine. Maybe 2 inches per second.

You will find the polish will refine down much faster. However, this doesn’t mean you can rush the polish. If you don’t refine the polish down enough at this stage you can end up with micro-marring. Once you have completed your polishing passes the polish will go very clear when refined.

Below is a refined section before wipe off. This was achieved with a 3-inch pad. The 5-inch would not have been able to cope with the curve in the panel without ‘stalling’.

Wiping off the polish residue at this stage is also different. During the cutting, you can wipe off without too much worry of micro-marring from a cloth as you are going to be refining afterward.

Wiping off the refining polish residue is a little different. No matter how good your technique you will end up with dusting, bits of pad covering the area you have just refined. You need to remove this BEFORE wiping off the residue.

We use compressed air, or the vehicle blower to remove the dust, then we wipe the residue. A good idea at this stage is to refine a whole panel, blow the whole panel down, then remove the residue. It speeds things up.

Once your panel is wiped down, use an IPA (isopropyl alcohol) or panel wipe to remove any remaining oils or residues and CHECK YOUR WORK after every panel! This is how the paint is going to look and you want a consistent finish across all panels. Make sure you are happy by inspecting from different angles before moving onto the next panel.

Cover the rest of the car!

We are now refined. It is now crucial that any dust which settles on the paint isn’t just wiped off.

We are usually moving onto a ceramic or quartz coating after refining. We do an IPA wipe down twice before applying, purely as a control method in case we miss any bits the first time. In essence, the paint will have had 3 full wipe downs before paint protection. Once during paint refinement, twice before protection.

We also tend to make the final wipe down with ‘Gyeon Prep’. This is an excellent degreaser and we would recommend using it before applying any of their coatings. The results are so good, we often use it before applying coatings from different brands too.

In the next article, we go onto ceramic coatings and the different ways that you can apply them.