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Old 05-26-2012, 02:59 PM   #1
'06 75th Winick Prototype
 
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Angry What did I do wrong? Aluminum turns dull suddenly...

Hi everyone.

I'm attempting to polish my taillight housings on my 2006 75th Winick Prototype.

When I purchased the trailer the original taillights had horrible spots of filiform. I took the housings off and stripped them with paint stripper. The Airstream clearcoat came off in thin plastic-like sheets.

At first I did a test area of about 2" x 3". All of my sanding has been done wet, with 3m wet/dry sandpaper. It took forever, but it seemed to work. In order to get through the filiform, I actually had to use 120 grit sandpaper (I was thinking maybe 320 or at the most 220 would at least get rid of it but no) as the filiform really eats deep into the metal. So, on the test area I sanded in stages by hand, going in only one direction per grade of sandpaper. When I would switch from 120 to 220 I would then sand entirely in the opposite pattern, and so on until the last grit. I worked my way down on this little 2" x 3" section for hours going through 120, 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, and 2000 grit. I then polished (rather easily) by hand with a rag and Mother's Power Metal aluminum polish. The results on this test area were mirror smooth and shiny.

I then decided to do more further testing. With a cheap 7" rotary buffer I tested the Power Metal polish and a wool bonnet. I noticed that the buffer and polish would actually remove 400 grit sanding scratches, and NEARLY remove 320 grit scratches. The result was a mirror shiny finish on this new test spot. So, I figured I could sand down the filiform areas with 120, 220, 320, and finish with 400 then polish it with the bufer. So, I started to do that on the entire light bezel.

I taped off all the areas that didn't need the 120, 220, and 320 as I only wanted to sand down the corroded filiform areas. I hand sanded for hours, HOURS, and then removed the tape. I then hand sanded with new 400 grit sandpaper, all over the entire housing to achieve a uniform surface in preparation for polishing with the buffer. At this point the aluminum was pretty shiny, just a bit scratchy from the hand sanded 400 grit. After I had hand sanded with 400, I used a random orbital 4" square finishing sander with old/worn 400 grit sandpaper to further achieve uniformity before polishing with the buffer and Power Metal polish.

Here's where something went wrong. While sanding with the random orbital 4" square finishing sander with worn 400 grit paper on it, the aluminum stopped being shiny. It suddenly turned dull, splotchy, and satin-like...almost an uneven anodized look to it. I used nothing but 3m paper and a water during all of my hand sanding, and just a little water with the finishing sander. I sanded it some more, both wet and dry, and the surface seems to be brazen, although it never got hot. This was all before I ever attemped to polish/buff it with the machine polisher/buffer.

So, that was my next step...since in my first test the buffer even removed 320 grit scratches and easily provided a mirror finish to the aluminum with minimal buffing, I figured it would be SIMPLE to buff out the brazen-like surface that was left after using the 400 on the random orbital sander. But, no dice. The aluminum just doesn't get shiny or mirror-like whatsoever anymore. It is dull and has a hazy brazen look that won't go away. I even held the polisher on one spot, with as fast as a speed possible, with the most pressure I could, just to SEE if i could shine a 1" spot in the aluminum...it was impossible. What once shined to a mirror easily by hand rubbing with a RAG will now not shine even with brute force from the machine polisher. The aluminum simply will not shine, and no amount of polish, pressure, or speed seems to remove this sudden haze that appeared while sanding with the 400 grit.

I've been sanding for hours and hours and hours...my fingers are blistered and raw.

I don't understand it...in my first test minimal polishing by HAND resulted in a mirror finish after sanding to 2000 grit, and the first test with a machine buffer/polisher resulted in a mirror finish even when polishing directly over 320 grit sanding lines/scratches. Now, for some strange reason, in the middle of using 400 grit paper on a random orbital hand sander my aluminum suddenly turned dull/hazy and no amount of machine buffing/polishing (that previously removed-with minimal effort-320 grit sanding scratches) will make even a bit of impact on the on the hazy/brazen/dull aluminum surface.

What happened? And, how do I fix it?
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Old 05-26-2012, 03:29 PM   #2
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Sounds like ordering a new taillight housing would be a cheap, easy answer.
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Old 05-26-2012, 06:54 PM   #3
'06 75th Winick Prototype
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shacksman View Post
Sounds like ordering a new taillight housing would be a cheap, easy answer.
Not at nearly $300 each per assembly from Airstream.

That's like telling someone who's polishing their Airstream to buy a new trailer when they run into a problem.


So...does anyone have any ideas as to what caused the aluminum to turn hazy?

Thanks,
Jeff
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Old 05-26-2012, 07:35 PM   #4
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Not sure what the tail lights are made of, but most likely an alloy with a thin layer of aluminum on the surface to give it a finish look. Too much sanding may have removed the layer of aluminum and what you are now seeing is just the alloy. The alloy is a mix of different metals and will not polish out.
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Old 05-26-2012, 09:28 PM   #5
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Not sure what the tail lights are made of,

but most likely an alloy with a thin layer of aluminum on the surface to give it a finish look. Too much sanding may have removed the layer of aluminum and what you are now seeing is just the alloy. The alloy is a mix of different metals and will not polish out.

Sounds like they are made of gold at $300 each. If it is sanded through the aluminum you may have to use some chrome paint to get them looking good.
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Old 05-27-2012, 08:15 AM   #6
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You used way too heavy grit and it sounds like you went through the finish.

I would have tried 1000, then 1500 final 2000 then buff.
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Old 05-27-2012, 11:36 AM   #7
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I think you got it hot. Isn't the tail light cast?
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Old 05-28-2012, 04:13 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LI Pets View Post
You used way too heavy grit and it sounds like you went through the finish.

I would have tried 1000, then 1500 final 2000 then buff.
As an update, the dull hazy brazen look is gone. I simply had to resand them by hand with 320 grit paper (then of course follow the sequence down to 2000 grit). Apparently the random orbital finishing sander is a no-no with aluminum...it seemed to ingrain the black aluminum residue into the metal. But, it is gone now. It never got "too hot" as little finishing sanders don't cause much friction.

There is absolutely no way to remove the filiform on these taillights with ANYTHING less than 120 grit. And, it takes literally hours to get down to where the aluminum isn't pitted anymore. It would be impossible to remove it with 1000 grit. If all you wanted to do was remove the white chalky lines and the superficial corrosion, you can do that with 320 grit...but the pitted indented slightly darkened aluminum will remain. 120 grit is the least harsh grit to use to actually sand past the pits by hand. And, again...it takes hours, just with the 120 grit. Then, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1000, and 2000 followed by hand buffing (or machine buffing if you wish). Even at that point, it will be possible to see pits in the aluminum from the filiform if you didn't go deep enough with the 120 grit.

Also, the idea that I sanded through the outer layer was not fathomable as if you read my initial post on the topic the only areas I sanded with harsh grit paper were the filiform areas. I taped off everywhere that I didn't want to touch with 120 grit as I didn't want to make unnecessary work for myself; I didn't want to buff out anything that didn't need it. So, only the filiform areas were hit with 120, 220, and 320. If I would have "went too deep" then these areas would have been though the outer layer first, and that wasn't the case. I initially sanded the entire casings with 400 (and the finishing sander) only after I had taken care of the filiform areas to 320. And, 400 grit sandpaper isn't going to eat through any outer layer of aluminum, especially since the 120 didn't. Remember in my initial posting, I stated that I tested areas first, and after deeply sanding with 120 the areas buffed out to a mirror. So, it was impossible to go "too deep."

But, anyhoo...one is completely polished, done and perfect looking. The other is about 30 percent. Removing filiform thoroughly the right way SUCKS.

My next step is going to be painting them with anodized blue Dupli-Color Metal Cast paint to protect them. It might look funny, but if it does I will just strip them and paint them clear.

Did I mention removing filiform sucks? If I didn't, then I just want to say that removing filiform sucks. Sucks bad.
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Old 05-28-2012, 06:01 AM   #9
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Did I mention removing filiform sucks? If I didn't, then I just want to say that removing filiform sucks. Sucks bad.
Well, with that era, you are going to become an expert on how to deal with it...

I also want to add, you stated you spent HOURS(not just hours, HOURS) sanding them up. When time IS MONEY, hours or HOURS add up. Shacksman's response of just replacing them was not an usual or unrealistic response. Had the trailer come to me, I would had cut the losses and just gotten new assemblies.

Now you get the pleasure of figuring out how to not keep it from happening again.
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Old 05-28-2012, 07:07 AM   #10
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Ok I polished up my bumper

When scratching you are removing big imperfections. Number one you go one direction wet sanding by hand! Orbital is bad idea alum is soft. Not seeing your work I would sand in one direction with longest strokes with 600 wet sanding. Prime lightly I mean light! Etch primer would be best primer for alum like used on Outboards. Then spray metalic grey alum color, make sure it's compatible with primer used if you stick with same brand primer you will be ok. Honda outboards have silver color that should work. Now making sure you get no paint on AS or plastics will be solid hour taping prepping. Getting studabaker lights off is no easy task and really correct way to paint but think leaving them on is way to go. Do not forget decent mask spend bucks gets resperator type. I have fill form and left my tail lights alone. Can you get your plastic parts off lights? Pics of your work please
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Old 05-29-2012, 10:12 AM   #11
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Get new assemblies - and then they get filoform! I like the chrome paint idea. Sand the worst of the FF(filoform of course silly) off, then prime and paint. Primer could fill in any remaining small pits!

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Old 05-31-2012, 07:41 AM   #12
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I didn't want to paint the housings a silver color...if that was the goal I wouldn't have removed the filiform so deep to remove the pits as primer could be used to fill those.

I wanted the natural aluminum to show. I eventually want to paint them blue anodized with the Dupli-Color Metalcast paint which will protect them from corroding. But, for the time being I'm leaving them exposed natural polished aluminum (the same as polished aluminum rims...no clear coat). That way, any natural oxidation will be easily removed with aluminum polish. The filiform creates deep pits where it spiders under the clearcoat. With no clearcoat, the filiform shouldn't form. Just regular old fashioned aluminum oxidation...which is simple to remove and maintain. So, I'll see how they hold up with no clearcoat. And, when I get around to painting them with the blue anodized translucent paint, there will be no horrible filiform to contend with...I'll just have to polish off the regular oxidiation as you would when polishing natural aluminum rims which is simple and not nearly the job that removing filiform to the last pit is.

Anyhoo, here are how the light casings now look...




WAAAAAAAAY better than how they were...
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Old 05-31-2012, 08:03 AM   #13
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Thumbs up Congrats.....

....you have ended up where I did with our battery door surrounds.

Only difference, I left them as is after 2000 grit wet s/p, a better match to the clear-coated panels is what i was after. A quick touch-up once in awhile with aluminum/mag polish is all thats needed now.

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Old 05-31-2012, 08:29 AM   #14
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Great job! I'm planning on doing mine eventually. I've thought of leaving them in a bare unclearcoated state too. If you need the chrome plated plastic bezel pieces which attach to your aluminum taillight housing, here's the link to the manufacturer (Kaper II). The link shows as "Page Title" but click on it anyway and it will take you to Kaper II. Then click on "View Our Catalog". You'll have to find a dealer selling their products (like Airstream dealers).

Kaper II also makes the LED clearance marker lights that everyone gripes about. An improvement is that the new ones have metal clips so you don't have to break them removing them. I know - I bought one. I still haven't seen the new aluminum base Airstream is now installing under these lights. Anyone have a pic?

Russ

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