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Old 03-18-2014, 08:24 PM   #1
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Mirror Finish v. Satin Finish?????

Ya'll,

We are looking at a 74 31 footer. First, I can't tell if it is clearcoat coming off, or corrosion. How do you tell the difference?

Also, the owner says it's a "satin" finish v. a mirror finish. This make sense or is Aluminium just.....aluminum and once the clearcoat is gone and the corrosion buffed out, it will shine?
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Old 03-19-2014, 03:24 PM   #2
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It is probably an anodized finish, an electrolytic process used to protect the aluminum. Anodic films are most commonly applied to protect aluminium alloys.
Anodization changes the microscopic texture of the surface and changes the crystal structure of the metal near the surface. Anodized aluminium surfaces, for example, are harder than aluminium but have low to moderate wear resistance that can be improved with increasing thickness or by applying suitable sealing substances. Anodic films are generally much stronger and more adherent than most types of paint and metal plating, but also more brittle. This makes them less likely to crack and peel from aging and wear, but more susceptible to cracking from thermal stress.

I am not sure when the switch was made with Airstreams but I think it was 1969-70. One of our venerable historians will probably chime in with the exact year.
Apparently you can shine an anodized trailer but it is much more work and never gets to that truly mirror finish because basically what an anodized finish is is really thick corrosion done on purpose.
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Old 03-19-2014, 03:59 PM   #3
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None of the Airstreams have ever been anodized. Avion had them, along with several other defunct aluminum trailer manufacturers, but not Airstreams. A satin finish is what a 1974 trailer has. If the clear coat is shot (peeling, or wearing through), you will still have a satin finish if/when you remove the clear coat. A mirror finish was never manufactured at the factory, but accomplished by people who have done it themselves, or had a professional service do it. It's a long, tedious process that can be accomplished, with the right tools, by anyone determined enough to do it! Hope that answers your question.
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Old 03-19-2014, 06:12 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eaglemate View Post
Ya'll,

We are looking at a 74 31 footer. First, I can't tell if it is clearcoat coming off, or corrosion. How do you tell the difference?

Also, the owner says it's a "satin" finish v. a mirror finish. This make sense or is Aluminium just.....aluminum and once the clearcoat is gone and the corrosion buffed out, it will shine?
It can be both. When the clearcoat starts failing, the exposed aluminum starts to oxidize - unevenly at that. The areas that have been exposed longer will be more oxidized and the areas still protected by the clearcoat will not have oxidized yet.

To determine if you do still have clear coat:
  • wash a small test area with warm soapy water
  • let it dry
  • take a tiny dab of toothpaste and gently rub it on the clean skin with your finger
  • if it turns black > no clearcoat
  • if it doesn't turn black > there is still intact clearcoat

The clearcoat when it fails can look "milky" - if you strip it, the aluminum underneath can still be shiny - but areas adjacent will be unaffected by stripping. As mentioned before, Airstreams were never "mirror-like" or annodized when new. The "satin" finish is a mill finish on the aluminum from manufacturing which can be polished out to a mirror finish if desired.

Shari
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Old 03-19-2014, 06:19 PM   #5
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After a weekend rally, I'm thinking again about stripping the failing clearcoat, but wondering about just leaving it stripped, not polishing it to a high shine. What would happen? We have a portion that a previous owner randomly tried to strip, and it has a kind of matte/anodized look, rather than the clearcoat or being buffed out, and it's been okay for the years we've had it... curious to get someone else's take. Thanks
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Old 03-19-2014, 06:24 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Globie64 View Post
After a weekend rally, I'm thinking again about stripping the failing clearcoat, but wondering about just leaving it stripped, not polishing it to a high shine. What would happen? We have a portion that a previous owner randomly tried to strip, and it has a kind of matte/anodized look, rather than the clearcoat or being buffed out, and it's been okay for the years we've had it... curious to get someone else's take. Thanks
It will oxidize over time. If it is splotchy from uneven odidation that has already started it will still be splothchy. But over the years, it will blend in.

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Old 03-19-2014, 06:40 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by beckybillrae View Post
None of the Airstreams have ever been anodized. Avion had them, along with several other defunct aluminum trailer manufacturers, but not Airstreams. A satin finish is what a 1974 trailer has. If the clear coat is shot (peeling, or wearing through), you will still have a satin finish if/when you remove the clear coat. A mirror finish was never manufactured at the factory, but accomplished by people who have done it themselves, or had a professional service do it. It's a long, tedious process that can be accomplished, with the right tools, by anyone determined enough to do it! Hope that answers your question.
I beg to differ, there is shinny aluminum under that old clear coat. On my 1976 31' Sovereign when I rescued it in 2000 there was still clear on the side but it had been out in a muddy field for about 10 years so the clear coat was milky looking and running down the side. So I stripped it.

Here are the before and after pictures back in 2000.

Airstream strip clear coat.pdf

It looked so good I did not do anything else to the finish except wash and travel. The end caps always were a little less shinny but it still looked good. In 2010 I decided that I wanted to go to the next level and had it buffed and new clear coat applied by Oasis RV in Tuscon. Here is what it looks like today.

Dons 1976 Airstrem 2010.pdf
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Old 03-19-2014, 06:56 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Globie64 View Post
After a weekend rally, I'm thinking again about stripping the failing clearcoat, but wondering about just leaving it stripped, not polishing it to a high shine. What would happen? We have a portion that a previous owner randomly tried to strip, and it has a kind of matte/anodized look, rather than the clearcoat or being buffed out, and it's been okay for the years we've had it... curious to get someone else's take. Thanks
It depends on how you take care it. My 1976 was always stored after I got in 2000 in a enclosed storage spot. I washed and use the liquid car wash/wax when ever I took it out on trips. The finish lasted very without clear coat after it was stripped in 2000. Here is a picture taken in 2008, 8 years after the clear coat was stripped.

Dons Airtsrem before new Clear Coat.pdf

Still looked good. So go ahead and strip it and enjoy the new look and take care of it and it will look good for a long time. As covered in my earlier post I decided in 2010 to have mine buffed and new clear coat applied. It is not the shinny as a new dime look at some that are polished out, but I like it. Post some pictures so we can see how yours looks. Good luck
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Old 03-19-2014, 07:31 PM   #9
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Striping and polishing is a major job but to me the results were worth it.

There are shops and individuals that strip & polish it is expensive around $100 a foot.

Post a picture and that may help to identify what is going on but I would guess the clear coat is coming off and the aluminum is oxidized.
Fairly common problem on older Airstreams.
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Old 03-19-2014, 09:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adonh View Post
I beg to differ, there is shinny aluminum under that old clear coat. On my 1976 31' Sovereign when I rescued it in 2000 there was still clear on the side but it had been out in a muddy field for about 10 years so the clear coat was milky looking and running down the side. So I stripped it.

Here are the before and after pictures back in 2000.

Attachment 207842

It looked so good I did not do anything else to the finish except wash and travel. The end caps always were a little less shinny but it still looked good. In 2010 I decided that I wanted to go to the next level and had it buffed and new clear coat applied by Oasis RV in Tuscon. Here is what it looks like today.

Attachment 207845


Here are a few pix of a '76

First is before clear coat removal: (satin finish)
Click image for larger version

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Second is a picture of a partial mirror finish--note the top of the endcap....this has just had the clear coat removed, but isn't polished
Click image for larger version

Name:	partial polish Airstream 004.jpg
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ID:	207862

Last is the final mirror finish. You can clearly see the reflection of my house....like a mirror.
Click image for larger version

Name:	1976 Airstream 053.jpg
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ID:	207863
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Old 03-20-2014, 08:40 AM   #11
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I beg to differ, there is shinny aluminum under that old clear coat.
Shiny . yes. It will be shinier than milky failing clear coat, but it will not have the mirror finish unless polished. Polishing removes the satin mill finish that is standard on the aluminum panels from the factory. Airstreams were never polished when new - they just had new aluminum with the slightly milled finish in the 70's.

Many are satisfied with the mill finish under the clear coat. I might be if the splotchy oxidation from the clear coat failing hasn't begun. Regardless, the first step to polishing is stripping off the clear coat (on most post-50's trailers) - do that and live with it awhile then decide if you want to take it to the next level.

Shari
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Old 03-20-2014, 08:56 AM   #12
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All depends on what you like...the time and energy you have to polish, etc. We really needed to look after the top half of our '98 Excella...it was in rough shape. The bottom was fine. So I only polished the top half last year and left the bottom as is. Here is the before and after photo. Many have said they like the two tone look of the top and bottom.
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Old 03-20-2014, 03:21 PM   #13
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A warning about "mirror" finishes: My neighbor boondocking at Quartzsite, AZ, had a 28' AS that he had polished to a mirror finish. The sun's reflection off the trailer created burn holes in the ground cloth next to the trailer; a real fire hazard.
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Old 03-20-2014, 07:10 PM   #14
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I was in a park in West Texas last year. The owner told me that he had to ask a "polished" Airstream to relocate as he'd had complaints about the glare from other campers! I thought I'd heard everything....
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