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Thread: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

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    How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    Yep, time to get this thread going. Ima about halfway done now and I wanted to get a jump on uploading pics and getting the thread setup. Hope this helps someone in the future.

    First off, there are many different ways you can approach this. There are also many differnet wheel types.
    I am doing a set of late-model ZQ8 wheels. They are Aluminum, with Painted inserts and have a Clearcote on top. This is typical of most newer OEM aluminum wheels. Always determine what you have first B4 embarking on this adventure.

    Why am I doing this. For a few reasons.
    First I always wanted the inset painted areas to be a few shades darker than stock.
    Secondly I wanted the spokes to be more lusturious. But not too chrome-looking.
    Lastly, I had replaced one wheel after an accident claimed the lip of one. The replaced wheel had always been a bit darker on the painted areas and had more clearcote.

    Some things I would note off hand. Ive seen some people strip the entire wheel, and just sand the ridges on the spokes befor polishing to a chrome-like luster. Pretty much more time involved.
    I have seen some take it a step farther and smooth out the rough-cast of the insets where they are painted. This is a ton of work and makes the whole wheel look chrome-dipped if you do it right.
    Ive seen some just polish up the spokes and leave the insets like they are.
    I am doing it to my personal taste.

    I will be stripping the entire wheel surface of both the clearcote and also the inset painted areas.
    Then I will going with a Graphite colored inset which is much darker than the ArgentSilver that was on there originally. The paint is a wheel-specific type paint.
    I will then be polishing the spokes with a few compounds to give it a luster. I will n ot be sanding down the machined grooves found on the spokes at this time. I may end up doing that, but dont plan it.
    Re-Clearing. Im not sure at this time if I am going to re-clear the entire wheel or just the panted inset areas.

    Products :

    Paint stripper for metal and aluminum suefaces
    Dupli-Color Graphite wheel paint
    Dupli-Color Clear wheel paint
    3M fineline masking tape
    3M wide std masking tape
    Razor knife (I am using an Olfa stainless blade used in window tint instalations
    Have Mineral Spirits and/or Laquer Thinner on hand
    Gloves and Mask
    Paper Towels
    Soap (mild) and Water with a bucket and some crappy rags
    Making Paper
    Nylon Scrapers
    Tripoli, White Rogue and Billet Polish
    (Sandpaper if you intend to wetsand the panted area smooth for perfection and also if you intend to smooth down the machined spokes' grooves)
    Time!!
    Last edited by Mikz86TA; 12-18-08 at 07:28 PM.
    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    OK, to start out I wanted to show a few shots of the differences in the wheels I have.
    This pic shows what the wheels looked like when I got the truck. The inset is a silver color and there is a thin amount of clearcote applied.



    This pic shows the one wheel I had to buy a few years later. I had spun around in the rain one night and went into a curb. It damaged the edge of the old rim.
    This replacement rim I got from the dealer had a noticable slightly darker hue of the inset color. Plus the clearcote was obviously thicker.
    May be hard to tell, but in person most anyone would notice upon inspection.



    This is the crashed up wheel.
    *pic coming later
    Last edited by Mikz86TA; 12-20-08 at 02:35 PM.
    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    The first step is stripping the clear (and paint if applicable) off the aluminum. I used some basic spray-on paint stripper that you can get from any auto parts store. I didnt want to use AircraftStrip for fear that it would be too harsh on the aluminum. But when I did the 2nd 2 wheels the other day, I picked up some AircraftStrip and used it. It worked a bit faster and didnt have any adverse effects. So you can use that as well.

    Pretty simple, spray on liberally and wait for it to start peeling up.
    It takes about 5 minutes for it to fully work. Its more like peeling skin after a sunburn. In fact if a breeze comes up, some will actually blow right off.

    Pictures of it in action:




    Couple precautions-----wear safety goggles, gloves and long sleeves/long pants.

    If a few drops from the spray get on your skin, it burns like hell! Also when you are removing the peeling clear, dont let that get on you either. Those little flakes burn too!
    Yes, I learned the hard way

    It doesnt all just flake off tho. You will need to help it off. A paper towel works, but you end up using alot of them.
    I have these little nylon prytools used to remove dash panels in car-audio installations. Amazingly these were perfect for the job. I have 4 of them with 2 different type of ends each. The flat one (as shown) is a great overall scraper. There is one with a rounded end that was useful around the edge lip and those dimples on the painted inset area.
    You can get them from HarborFreight for under $5. Hightly recomended



    Now, it all doesnt come off in one shot. A few sprays will usually do it. There will be specs of clear that is stubborn and the nylon scraper will come in real useful for those places.
    The painted areas usually require 3-4 times to get that all off.

    The next pic is of a stripped wheel. The inset areas still look silver, but they are indeed down to the aluminum. Those areas are 'rough cast' and not machined like the spokes.

    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    Our next step is washing the wheels. Mild soap and water will do just fine. In fact dish soap will be best at getting wax and residue off.
    Towel dry with a clean towel. Let airdry also. If yours has a tire mounted like mine, stand up the wheel/tire so that the water runs down the bead/seat and drys out.

    Then its off to taping.
    I started as you see in the next picture using a fineline tape. It takes a bit of time but go slow and lay it on perfectly.
    Use one hand to unroll the tape, followed by your thumb and forefinger to guide and press the tape along the edge where machined and cast areas meet.
    I did the outter ring first on the lip.
    Then I came back and did each spoke edge.
    At the point of the V, I was able to curve the fineline tape enough to join the 2 strips and not have really any machined surface showing. (this may take you a few tries)


    Now at the outter edge where the rim lip tape and the spoke edge tape meets, the factory has a curvature. Its nearly impossible to get even this fineline tape to bend that sharply.
    Dont worry about that right now. Just leave it as is and we will address that later after painting. For now there will be a squared-edge instead of the OEM rounded-edge.

    Finally we can fill in the center with fat masking tape.


    Take your time. Be sure there are no peices of tape lipped up where paint could spray beneath. Make sure its all covered where you do not want paint to be.
    There was alot of tape overhanging in the center area where the wheelcap goes. As you see in the pic above, I cut off the excess using an razor. I prefer the Olfa Stainless razor which is used by tintshops. It has break-off sections of blades, they are very presice and sharp, and you can use the blade against the wheel to guide you as you cut.
    Doublecheck a few times to be sure everything is covered.

    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    Now onto the painting part.

    I used Dupli-Color wheel specific paint. I chose the Graphite color.
    I started off shooting some light sprays in the hard to reach areas first. Like the center of the V on the inset, where the spokes end on that curve and the dimples.
    Then I did 3 light cotes until it was covered. Followed by one last medium cote.




    I wait about 10-12 minutes (temperature dependent) before removing the tape. Basically you want it dry to the light touch but not too dry. Lifting the tape too dry could flake up some paint and too soon the paint is gooey and will stick to the tape as you lift it.


    After you remove the tape, let it dry for about 10-15 more minutes and then start some 'edge' maintenence.
    Ill show you what I mean in the next installment.

    If you intened on clearing it, just follow the directions on your painting system. You probably want to leave the tape on if you are clearing only the insets. If ur clearing the entire wheel after polishing, then remove tape.
    Last edited by Mikz86TA; 12-22-08 at 02:12 AM. Reason: added info
    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    Now, doesnt this look nice?



    But as I said in the last post, there is some things we need to address.

    Back in the taping-off posting, I mentioned that the corners near the rim lip where the spokes meet is very hard to curve-corner off like it was stock.
    So there is a squared-corner from the painting. As seen in the pic below. (squared on right / oem rounded on the left)



    Since we want it rounded, heres a quick trick. While the paint hasnt cured yet, we can do this easily. Take your razor and hold it on the edge at about a 45* angle. Then 'cut' the oversprayed paint free. You can go back with it flat across the wheel face and pull the paint right up.
    See the difference in the pic below.


    Next is taking care of the 'build-up' on the very edge where the paint area meets the not painted area.
    Run the razor at a 45* angle and shave off the buildup smoothly. Real easy, just use a sharp razor and dont dig it in. Notice a fine line of shaving coming up. Hard to take a good still pic of this process but hope you get the idea.


    This last pic hopefully you can see how the OEM wheel was cast. There is a distinct 45* bevel from the flat machined top meeting the inset cast area where its painted. That is basically where the above razor method was removing excess paint.
    Last edited by Mikz86TA; 12-31-08 at 02:03 AM. Reason: added pic and info
    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    Comparison Pictures

    wheel on the truck is stripped and wheel beside it is the stock one (fyi the truck is jacked up in the rear which is why such a large fender gap)


    wheel on the truck is the newly painted one and the wheel beside it is the stock one


    side by side of stripped vs. painted



    stripped vs. painted on the truck


    done with all 4!!


    I need some better completed shots.
    Then off to wetsand, clear and polishing
    Last edited by Mikz86TA; 12-31-08 at 02:05 AM.
    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    I had some freetime on my hands after noon today. It was a nice 68* day out, sun a shinin' and a few hours to kill. I decided to smooth out the ridges in the machined spoke area befor polishing.
    I had tried to just compound polish with Emery and Tripoli, but those grooves in the aluminum were deep and the compunds didnt apply very well.

    To be a little more specific, the face/spokes of the OEM wheels are machined which leaves these concentric grooves on the surface. Kinda reminds you of the grooves on a vinyl record.

    So we need to take care of that.

    Sanding and Smoothing :

    1. Get a bucket with some water and a little bit of mild soap. (always let sandpaper soak for about 5-10 minutes prior to use)
    2. Need wet-dry sandpaper. Grit dependent on surface prep needs. I started with 400 Grit. Had 320 Grit and 200 Grit onhand but didnt need to go that coarse.
    3. Old rag to wipe.
    4. Aluminum Polishing Kit. Mine I got from Harbor Freight and its by Enkay. Has Emery, Tripoli and White Rogue Compounds. Also various buffing wheels, buffing felts, etc.
    http://www.enkaypolishing.com/alumin...ishingkit.aspx
    5. Air Grinder and Compressor. Could use an elecric drill but the airtools work best. Only issue with the airtools is you got to regulate your speed closely since they will exceed the limits of the buffing wheels/felts.
    6. Terry Towel to wipe.
    7. Aluminum Polish and wipe/buff rags. I used Mothers Alum Wheel Polish which is availible from most any autoparts store.
    8. Time!! The one wheel alone took me the entire afternoon.

    Part 1.

    I started off with 400 Grit. This step took the most time and attention to details. I sanded from the edge to the center on each spoke. You will start to 'feel' when those grooves dissapear. Wipe the surface and re-dip the paper often. This shows you progress, removes the loose material sanded and gives you a fresh slick surface to start with.
    You will find that the area just shy of each edge will have 'misses'. Going back over those areas and using more detailed fingertip pressure is nessecary.
    I then focused on the V areas toward the center. Mostly fingertip pressure sanding here.
    Lastly I sanded the outter rim lip area. The thumb was the best finger for the job here. The sandpaper was at a 90* fold so that I got the entire rim lip at once. There will be some going back over on this area tho for details.

    *I am using a rectangle peice of sand paper. Folding it when needed, turning it after a few passes and getting a new peice on each spoke. It wears down faster than you realize.

    * I am going to use a 400 Grit Sponge Sandpaper on the next wheel for this step. I think it will work better and waer out less quickly.

    After 400 Grit Sanding:
    The surface should show distinct scratches. But those grooves should be gone. Very hazy and dull looking.



    Just to show a differece, I fine-sanded, Emery-buffed and polished up the edge. So you can see how the 400 Grit looks compared to almost a finished look.
    Last edited by Mikz86TA; 12-31-08 at 02:38 AM.
    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    Part 2.

    Next I went to 600 Grit paper.
    Following the exact steps as a didn on the 400 Grit sanding. Start with a fresh bucket of water and soap. Soak those papers, dont forget.
    Sanded spokes, outter to inner direction, wipe and inspect regularly, look for missed spots, re-soak paper regularly, V-area and rim area.
    The 600 Grit sanding wont take nearly as long. You are looking for less fine scratches on the surface and you should feel the surface be smoother to the touch (dry surface, bare finger).

    After 600 Grit Sanding:
    Still noticable scratches, but finer.

    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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    Re: How To : Strip, Paint and Polish Aluminum Wheels

    Step 3.

    Of course now we go to the next finer sand paper, 800 Grit.
    Same applies as B4. New soap and water, soak papers, yada-yada-yada.
    At this point it should all be clear and like clockwork. Just take your time and make yourself comfortable. Take a break if you need. The end-result will be pleasing.

    After 800 Grit Sanding :
    We are starting to see that shine again. Best I can describe it is like the new Tahoe 20" 5-spoke LTZ wheels that are out. Not chromey and polished, but kinda a dull-ish shine.
    Visual scratches are harder to see, especially the farther back you are from it.

    2003 S-10 ZQ8 - 262/M5 1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 355/A4

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