Polishing

I hadn’t originally planned to polish the camper, but decided to for a few reasons. The main one was that polishing would give a more uniform look without having to search out anodized panels to match the old panels. Also there were spots on the original panels where the anodizing had weathered a lot and looked somewhat patchy, and there were the parts that were downright ugly, like the front of the wings in the photo below. There were many times that wished I hadn’t started, however now that it’s done I do like the polished look. It was definitely not the most fun part of the project! I didn’t try to get to a mirror finish, just a somewhat reflective, consistent, clean look.

One of the biggest problems with polishing is having a good place to work on it. I can’t fit the camper in my shop, so I was limited by the weather. Often it was too cold, or wet, or too hot. Not just too hot for me, you can’t actually polish in direct sunlight. I’ve heard that the limitation of polishing inside is that it’s hard to know what it’s going to look like in the sunshine … unless you’re actually out in the sun. That’s probably not a problem for an experienced polisher, but I read the experiences of one person who thought they had a nice polish until they took their camper outside and saw it in the sun.

Parts like this on the front of the wings required sanding, starting with 220 grit paper on a random orbit sander. I opted to cover part of this damage with a new panel by using a wider piece across the front to replace the original, which was also deeply oxidized. The vertical black line shows approximately where the edge of the new panel will fall.

Along the street side there were holes from the furnace, water inlet and water heater, and ripples along the bottom of the panel that were caused by poor support for the jacks due to rotting wood in the wings. I was going to have to add the 3″ strip where the wings were lowered anyway, so I opted to replace the whole panel. This also avoided de-anodizing this area.

I started by de-anodizing the aluminum using oven cleaner. The results seemed to vary on different panels, and sometimes I was left with streaks that were hard to polish out. I sprayed oven cleaner on an area about 4 square feet, waited about 15 minutes and then washed it off, rubbing with a scrub pad. I found that it’s best to de-anodize everything before starting to polish, as overspray will leave marks on the parts already de-anodized. This thread: The saga of de-anodizing a 1964 Silver Streak (hint its not that hard..) gives a description of how to do it with straight Sodium Hydroxide, the chemical in oven cleaner.

An example of some of the streaking left by de-anodizing that was hard to polish. In some cases I had to use more oven cleaner, in others I was able to remove it by wet sanding with a random orbit sander.

I used Nuvite NuShine polish from Vintage Trailer Supply and followed the instructions they provided. In most cases I started with F9, proceeded through G6, C and S. With the F9 I first used a Makita 9237C 7-Inch Polisher with a pair of 8″ x 1″ sewn cloth wheels, then moved to 7.5″ wool polishing pads for F9 again, G6 and C. I finished up with C using cotton bed sheet material on a Cyclo polisher. There seemed to be a lot of variation in the original aluminum which made it hard to stick with one method all the way through. Some panels seemed to have a texture that only responded to wet sanding with a random orbit sander and 600 through 1500 grit sanding discs. I also used a 6″ polisher from Harbor Freight and a sisal wheel on some of the tougher spots.

This is representative of what I ended up with. This photo was taken shortly after polishing. I put on two coats of Mothers California Gold Synthetic Liquid Wax after polishing. I don’t know how much difference the wax makes. Waxing is supposed to help prevent water marks and slow oxidation, but I think once you’ve finished polishing it’s a choice between regularly touching up the polish and waxing, or letting it slowly oxidize and hope it develops a nice even patina, and spending your time camping.

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