Tutorial: Polishing Bicycle Parts Oct 27, 2009


campagnolo nuovo record cm Insertion panto

When I make a post about polishing some component, I get at least a dozen emails from readers asking me to post a tutorial. Since it’s easier to polish NOS or new components, I figured I’d take the harder route first; used components with wear and tear from use. Now while some people may have different methods, this is the method that’s worked best for me. Keep in mind I don’t have access to a bench wheel with a polishing bit. This is all done by hand.

For those interested, other tutorials are available online for use with polishing wheels.

Before you get started, there are some thing’s you’ll need:

-Greased Lightning (recomended) but Drano or heavy-duty oven cleaner will work too.
-Bucket.
-Gloves, face mask and eye protection.
-Sand paper or Scotch Brite in the following grits (600, 900wet, 1200wet).
-Simichrome polishing compound.
-Cotton Balls.
-Masking tape (durable tape, not paper).
-Some aluminum bike components with scratches, pitting, etc (see below).

I picked up these two posts the other day. Both are rare in their own ways and show signs of heavy use. The Nuovo Record seatpost above has been heavily modified. The clamp head has been reshaped and the shaft of the post has been engraved with large flutes which were then painted with the arc-en-ciel colors. I’ve never seen anything like this before. As you can see, it’s in pretty poor shape.

Next up is a Dura-Ace fluted post. It’s in pretty good condition, especially when compared to the Nuovo Record post.

The first thing to do is disassemble the parts. Take everything that can come off, off and set it aside. Next is the only dangerous part of polishing. Most parts have anodizing. In fact, just about any modern component has anodizing. Anodizing doesn’t solely apply to those brightly-colored Sugino 75′s, it’s also kind of a matte to semigloss coating on aluminum. You need to take that off. There are two ways to do so; chemically or with sand paper. Let’s start with chemically, since it’s the easiest and I don’t recommend sandpaper for removing anodizing unless you’re doing serious work to the surface.

Take the Greased Lighting, or Drano / oven cleaner outside in a well-ventilated area along with a bucket filled with water. Put on the face mask, eye protection and gloves. Greased Lightning is less-hazardous but will still kick up nasty fumes. Drano and oven cleaner contain lye. That shit’s toxic as hell. If you get it in your eye or your skin, you’re in trouble.

If you choose to endanger yourself with a lye-based product. BE VERY CAREFUL.

Spray the components down. Immediately, you’ll see it foam up. That’s the lye eating the anodizing. Lye will also eat through aluminum, so don’t let it stay on for any longer than 2 minutes at most. Greased Lightning won’t eat aluminum, so you’ll need to soak the parts in it for 2 hours.Once it’s done, wash it off and dry off the components. It’s time to prep your parts.

Seatposts have minimum insertion lines. Wrap from that line down with the tape. You’ll want to leave that area as-is so the seat clamp has something to grip on. I’ve polished that before and had it slip. Pain in the ass. Same goes for stems too. Also be sure to tape off any pantography or etching. This is crucial. You’ll ruin the post if you don’t.

Now’s the time to sand any pitting or insertion marks off the post or stem. Start with 600 grit or 600 grit Scotch Brite pads and carefully rub any areas where the scratches are deep. Once you’re done skimming the surface, move on to a full-on wet sand with the 900 and 1200 grit. Wet the sand paper and sand it smooth. You’ll want to be vigorous and even or it’ll show.

Once it’s done, it should look matte like the photo above. Don’t mind the thin scratches in that pic. I stopped at 500wet sand for this post.

Take the cotton ball and very very small amount of Simichrome. Like a pea size. Begin to rub it on the post, in little circles. Continue to do this for 20-30 minutes. You’ll immediately see a shiny surface poking through. Re-apply as needed and feel free to swap cotton balls too. Once you’re “done” take a clean cotton ball and wipe it down.

These two pics above were taken after about 20 minutes of polishing. The pictures below are the final product.

The Dura Ace engraving was protected from being taped off.

Stark contrast between the polished top and the unpolished are below the insertion line.

I think the Dura-Ace post is done. Maybe I’ll put another 30 minutes into it.

Nuovo Record post in focus. You can still see some hairline scratches here. There’s probably another 30 minutes worth of polishing to do to it.

For comparison, the picture are the very top of this tutorial is this seatpost post. It took me a good hour or so to get it shined up to a mirror-like finish. No matter how poor-off your stem or post is, a little bit of work can make it look a lot better.

Now, if you have a NOS or new stem, you can simply remove the anodizing and go right into polishing it with Simichrome. I’ve gotten NOS stems to a mirror-like finish in 30 minutes. From here on out, all it’ll take is 5 minutes buffing the polished parts with a soft cloth to restore their finish. Not bad.

Hope this helped. Feel free to comment on your experiences, post your before and after pics and offer constructive criticism on my procedure. For shits and giggles, maybe I’ll post a video of me polishing a NOS Cinelli 1a stem.

  • http://bomb-hills-speed-kills.blogspot.com/ j.mik

    you should also note that easy off isnt as effective on painted parts. for that, use airline paint remover.

    jmik

  • http://www.munichfixed.de Cutty

    nice Tutorial! Polishing Parts is a pain in the ass, but the results compensates most of the time :)

  • j.s

    you should do more of these diy features, you’re blog is getting better and better, keep up the good work.

  • http://subtle.org/se sashae

    Good tutorial, John. I also recomend checking out #0000 steel wool (ultra low abrasion steel wool used for polishing furniture) and Nev-R-Dull wadding polish, which is a cloth wadding product that has a polish impregnated into the surface. Both are quite useful, along with Simichrome.

  • Jeff

    great write up! you say you dont have a polishing wheel, how good would a dremel substitute?

  • http://theradavist.com prolly

    Thanks Sasha! Good information.

    Jeff, I’m sure a dremel would work fine.

  • http://mikeley.com mike ley

    nice! how do you keep them polished? i believe when i saw someone doing this with cranks awhile back they said they would lose the polish super fast because they weren’t coated after. just have to repeat ever so often?

  • http://theradavist.com prolly

    Yeah, “From here on out, all it’ll take is 5 minutes buffing the polished parts with a soft cloth to restore their finish. Not bad.”

  • jonny needle dick

    funny how people couldn’t figure out how to polish things with out a tutorial. anyways….
    i did this for a living for a while, and just to add to johns list of steps.
    small dings, pitting and the like should be wet sanded out with 500 grit wet sand paper followed by 600 , 800, and finally 1000. now make sure you add a single drop of dish soap to the water you wet your material in. it helps disperse contaminates, lubes up your jammer for better sanding and less gouging. light touch is the key, little circles, and patience. there are a ton of polishing compounds out there in various degrees of grit/cut. they all work pretty well but you get what you pay for. spend the cash if its a part that means a lot to you.

    heyo now go get your hands all blackend up!

  • jonny needle dick

    oops i forgot to add. on small parts dremels are ok with a cotton wheel and a little compound. keep your motor speed low , to fast youll burn the aluminum out and cause a burnish. on larger pieces stay away from dremels. they leave lots of ghosting marks in their wake and its a pain to get rid of.
    its not hard to do it manually.

    nuvite is by far the best out of the bunch. but like i said earlier. most polishing compounds do the trick. just be careful theres ammonia in em and that shit can irritate.

  • http://pearlvelo.com Tyler

    Great post! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I agree, more posts like this. Your restorations and projects make this site so great. Thanks again!

  • http://theradavist.com prolly

    Thanks needle dick! heh

    Tyler, always appreciate the love man. More stuff like this is coming.

  • atanz

    hey john, great tutorial. do you have any pics of the sand papers you use? any good place around the city (or brooklyn) to get the super fine papers?

  • http://theradavist.com prolly

    The hardware shop on Metropolitan between Union and Lorimer is a good spot. South side of Metro. Craft hardware I think it’s called.

    Read the comments too. Johnny Need Dick has some good input, as does Sasha.

  • http://create2destroy.com Vas

    i been meaning to do this to a part or two…
    now i just gotta figure out which parts :)

  • Erk

    can you briefly explain “taping off” the etching or pantographing? how did you get it polished around the DURA-ACE etching if it had tape over it?

    How does it ruin the seatpost if you don’t tape it off?

  • http://theradavist.com prolly

    If you’re sanding down the post, you’ll rub out the pantography (etching) if it’s not taped / masked. You still polish over the engravings once it’s ready, you just don’t want to sand it unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    Also, the area below the min/max insertion line needs to maintain its diameter. If you sand it down, then it can shave fractions off. i.e. a 27.2 can become a 27.0 before you know it, especially if you’re trying to remove pitting and insertion zig-zags. Polishing that area also causes the post to slip more in the seat tube. I just leave it be since it’s in the bike anyway.

  • http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/ Andreas

    Great effort! Have always been told by people to polish parts of my bike and have never known how. Thanks!

  • kelsey

    good info
    I’ve got good results with Mothers Mag-wheel polish. easy to get at any auto parts store or Wal Mart.
    Also I do like the synthetic sandpaper, very close to a kitchen green scrub pad, without the cloging that paper does.
    Can’t wait to try the Simichrome though.

  • http://www.bikecommuters.com Ghost Rider

    I’ve tried Flitz and Simichrome, but my favorite right now is Mother’s Mag/Aluminum polish…it’s slightly finer and seems to give me a better overall finish.

    Great stuff, Prolly — the new gold standard in polishing tutorials!!!

  • http://theradavist.com prolly

    I just polished that new Cinelli 2a and 67-19 Cinelli Pista bars…

  • steven

    which greased lightning? the one you can find at home depot? the super strength version?

    http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xhc/R-100670279/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053

  • sarin

    Hey John,

    I have a pantographed stem and I want to polish it up. If I use Greased Lightning will it also take away the black paint in the pantographed area? Because it would be a nightmare to paint it back.

    Cheers!

  • http://theradavist.com prolly

    It may. Get some Testors enamel model paint. You may be able to do something a little more interesting with the panto (like match the paint to the frame color).

  • Isaac

    two questions: if i dont tape an etching up, what kind of damage will the polish do to it? and, what’s NOS?

  • http://theradavist.com/old/ prolly

    The polish doesn’t affect the etching, it’s the scotchbrite that will affect it.

    NOS = new old stock. Bike parts that are “vintage” and never-used.

  • Kris Macalinao

    How does the effect colored hub’s like king’s and etc?

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      To polish a hub, you’d have to strip the anodizing.