THE PADDING WITHIN A WORLD OF PADS
It's the cross-section to a category that in many ways seems to be oversaturated, gratuitous, all whilst fomenting thoughts of uncertainty and bewilderment. The biggest players along with up-and-coming talent continually influence our decisions as to what's deemed "appropriate" for our tool(s) of choice. For many of those who are hoping to gain an added skill set, this kind of influence which one can only hope is served with the best of intentions sometimes rest in the hands of the apprehensive and impressionable.
Let's face it, it's a difficult pill to swallow in a postmodern society where excessive capitalism is at the forefront. Do you know what my response is to this dilemma? The more the merrier, because I'd rather be faced with too much choice than too little. If you hadn't guessed by now, we're talking about the continuously expanding market of polishing pads.
The world of polishing is highly paradoxical in the sense that you can't simply cover the category without talking about the elements that correlate to the action. In other words, pads serve a multitude of purposes with each subsect being designed to fit a particular scenario, and those scenarios can lead to a variety of outcomes depending on what you're hoping to accomplish with any given surface.
Part 1 | Theory & Application
There's a common misapprehension that polishing is a limited, straight-laced process by which one can enhance levels of gloss, but you'd be dead wrong. In fact, each and every time we put a polishing pad to the test (assuming it's being paired with a chemical) you're damaging your paintwork. Hold the phone, mister. What do you mean I'm damaging my paintwork?
Hypothetically speaking, even if one were to use any form of pad without a chemical, it can still be classified as an abrasive. Yes, you read that correctly. Depending on the task, some projects may not necessitate the use of a chemical at all. In some instances, adding a chemical could produce injurious affects depending on the nature of the surface and how it reacts to the paint system that's being restored. Some chemicals are coarser than others, but not unlike that of an acidic compound, you're eating into a surface that already carries a limited shelf life; that is if we're discussing the modern-day basecoat, clearcoat system.
Moreover, in this day and age, that limited shelf life has now become even more limited with most mass-produced manufacturers applying as little material as possible in exchange for what many would consider to be categorically unreasonable profit margins.
Consequently, our options need to be carefully weighed before an optimal solution can be reached. Okay, I'll step off my soapbox. Everything aside, let's turn our attention to the variety of pads which are currently used in today's detailing market. What you see below represents only a fragment of how one can approach paint correction, and can sometimes be interpreted as a perplexing roadmap to achieving polishing literacy.
PAD AGGRESSION CHART AS IT CORRELATES TO A SPECIFIED POLISHING SYSTEM
Type A | Wool
Often considered a linchpin of the body shop/body work industry, the wool pad is your broadsword, so to speak. If your primary objective is to take on work that requires heavy paint correction or high-volume production projects, this is the one you should consider keeping in stock at all times. Reason being is that this composition of wool pad is comprised of 4-ply, which translates to four strands of pre-spun wool. When fused together, they create one, highly-resilient strand. Lay them side-by-side, and you'll see why this type maintains its structural integrity over time.
Pairing & Operation
In order to get the most out of a traditional wool pad, it needs to be paired with a rotary polisher. Now, that's not to say you can't achieve adequate results when paired with a DA (dual-action polisher), but there are two forces that complement each other during this process. One, the rotary operates off of a fixed pattern and direct drive. When you add thousands upon thousands of wool fibers simultaneously, it will facilitate the process of heavy defect removal. From an historical perspective, it's been proven to be the most sensible pairing not only in the way of automobiles, but also in cases of correcting gel coats on boats and aviation where aluminum is present. When it comes to visualizing the process, let's view this as the "foundational" work to achieving optimal correction on paintwork. Would you begin constructing a wood table using a butter knife? No, you wouldn't. In this particular case, you need to cut and dig before refinement follows. That's not to say that deep cutting is required in every scenario, but for those who are faced with projects that require heavy defect removal, this should be deemed necessary.
4-PLY, WOOL POLISHING PAD
(FOR USE WITH ROTARY POLISHERS ONLY)
HYBRID WOOL POLISHING PAD
(FOR USE WITH ROTARY, DA, AND FORCED-ROTATION POLISHERS)
URO-WOOL & WOOL HYBRID POLISHING PADS
(FOR USE WITH FORCED-ROTATION AND ROTARY POLISHERS)
These tightly-woven designs allow for quick correction in even the most dire of circumstances, and when compared to any other counterpart, the variety will run at cooler temperatures if handled by a competent technician. As a result, any user will not only gain the benefit of increasing their polishing cycle, but the composition of each pad will last longer than other form of pad that currently exists in the marketplace.
When we look closer into this category, it's important to note that there are varying degrees of abrasiveness amongst pads of the wool persuasion. Lest we forget that within the family of wool pads, you shouldn't omit the use of both a blended and finishing pad so you can optimize both clarity and brilliance. Now, the fundamental difference between these three varieties, with 4-ply being the most aggressive, is that blended will become more necessary as long as 4-ply precedes it.
Everything is systematic, and while there's more than one way to achieve a desired effect, maintaining a sense of order will eliminate confusion. In theory, it seems like a walk in the park, but as you jump from one project to the next, you'll come to a realization that this systematic approach will sometimes require invention and good judgement. Naturally, the wool pad has come a long way since it's grand entrance in the late 1940's, but notwithstanding its long evolution into the 21st century, a staple remains a staple.
As an offshoot of the traditional wool pad, any hybrid wool pad will function very much in the same fashion, however with a blend of other synthetic low-pile fibers, your cycle of polishing time will increase along with a 10-15% reduction in heat distribution whilst in operation. In addition, a synthetic blend will outwork that of a traditional wool pad being that the blend of synthetic materials are built for longevity versus its natural counterpart.
Care & Maintenance
With care and maintenance of this variety being minimal, with the exception of using a pad brush and/or cleaning spur along with an occasional wash, there's no reason why you shouldn't employ one in your regimen. If you find yourself using one, it's inevitable that you'll cloud the nap with product. This is when a wool cleaning spur comes in handy. Over time, strands will invariably fall out, but this comes with the territory of using wool.
When this happens, toss it into a bucket of lukewarm water to break apart any excess and have another fresh pad on deck. As an added preventative measure, transfer your used wool pads from your bucket into a washing machine with a fragrance-free, liquid-based detergent along with a 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar. Once the washing cycle is finished, you can simply take them out to air dry or attach them to your rotary and wring out any excess water by operating it at a low setting in an empty bucket. Alternatively, throw them into your dryer set to only an air cycle until they're ready for another fight.
WOOL PAD CLEANING SPUR
As a disclaimer, performing a machine wash with wool will compromise the cutting capability to a certain point, which is why washing should be done periodically. If washing should become completely necessary, understand that your strands of wool will weaken over time and individual fibers will come off.
Type B | Foam
If I had a dime for every time a new variation of foam polishing pad slithers its way into the marketplace, I'd retire in Aspen. Yes, the foam pad serves multiple purposes, and targets both the price-conscious consumer and the spare-no-expense operator. Remember when I alluded to everything being systematic? Well, this and every other pad formulation will carry the same precedent. Unlike that of wool, foam is a broad category that can be subdivided into roughly four families depending on one's individual preference. So, for the sake of simplicity, we'll focus on the same equation like that of wool.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
TRADITIONAL MIXTURE OF OPEN-CELL & CLOSED-CELL FOAM POLISHING PADS
(CCS) OR COLLAPSED CELL-FOAM STRUCTURE PADS CONTAINING POLISHING POCKETS (DIMPLES)
WAFFLE POLISHING PADS
HEXAGONAL OR (HEX) POLISHING PADS
What you see above represents a fraction of the "four foam families", as I like to call it, of foam polishing pads that we typically see blinding the enthusiastic polisher into oblivion. How can one make sense of such a large catalogue? How do I even begin assimilating my choices? Which variety will help me in scenarios x, y, or z? Which one will perform the best? Which will best facilitate my needs for vehicle, a, b, or c? Of course, the same can be said for any other category covered in this article, but there's none more poignant than foam.
There's an indoctrination period that needs to happen, more aptly, a rite of passage that needs to take place so that one can understand the nuances and application of each category of foam. When you compartmentalize each one according to its unique function, then we can begin to take a path of least resistance and a road to polishing liberation becomes clear. This rite of passage only requires two steps, and those are time and experience. Not unlike that of any other industry, experience gives us the confidence to turn a procedure into a subconscious reflex.
It should be interesting to note that the primal beginnings of synthetic foam date all the way back to the 1920's, with Dunlop being the first to pioneer the category. Among all the other groundbreaking technologies Dunlop created, one of the most influential included the use of rubberized foam which was made by whipping air into natural latex. Now, fast forward to the 1950's and polyurethane foam becomes the status quo.
Without delving too deep into scientific nomenclature, these pieces are fabricated using a mixture of hydrogen-carbon compounds, which in turn are injected into the cell structure. Once completely cured, a microscopic explosion takes place causing thousands upon thousands of bubbles or pockets to form, thus giving each category its distinctive quality. A clear representation of this is viewing the cross-section of an open-cell foam structure as shown in (fig. 11).
ENLARGED VIEW OF NON-RETICULATED CLOSED-CELL FOAM
ENLARGED VIEW OF RETICULATED OPEN-CELL FOAM
If you should find yourself as part of the foam alliance, there are groupings that one should be consciously aware of. The first among a handful, which is rooted in both controversy and an ongoing battle for dominance is that of "closed-cell" versus "open-cell" technology. The illustrations above show an enlarged cross-section of what modern-day foam pads look like. While each category has its advantages and disadvantages, there's one universal truth that can be spoken of. In comparison to fiber-based pads, foam will always produce a smoother and refined finish, simply because the uniformed surface texture will release an even distribution of product.
Now, here's another major differentiation between categories. Closed-cell foam offers less tensile strength, which in turn causes the material to break down at a much faster rate than that of open-cell foam. Open-cell foam, on the other hand, offers the polar opposite. In addition to offering more tensile strength, the composition of open-cell allows for it be stretched before it either rips or breaks down. The latter option is particularly ideal for those who are working on vehicles that have multiple contours and inconvenient body lines.
Apart from the surface texture of any given pad, it's also worth mentioning that some manufacturers have either increased or reduced the amount of backing to allow for ease of use and optimal cutting power, thus improving the user experience.
Care & Maintenance
Much to the same degree as wool, any form of foam will inevitably become saturated with product. If left untreated for an extended period of time, the pad will be rendered useless until the pores have had a chance to breathe again. After all, the catalyst upon which any foam pad is able to run successfully is predicated on its cleanliness and abrasive capabilities. Notice how I used the term "cleanliness". In order for someone to reap the benefits and rewards from using any polishing pad, especially when it comes to foam, you have to work clean. As you move from panel to panel, and in some cases, section by section, it's considered a prerequisite to clean your brand of foam.
Foam can be cleaned using a small handful of methods. If you should have access to compressed air, simply direct your nozzle and cover the surface until any excess has been removed. Secondly, you can also employ the use of a foam brush First, once the pad has reached the end of its efficacy, simply toss it into a bucket of lukewarm water so that any excess residue has a chance to break free from the surface. Once your project has been completed, you can gather each pad and spread a small handful of sulphate-free shampoo.
Sulphates are found in everyday cleaning products, but the most revealing truth about sulphate-based cleansers is that they're terribly harsh. If used consistently over time, you can be assured that your polishing media will break down faster. If you want your pads to last, any sulphate-free shampoo will not only carry twice the amount of cleaning power than any other agent, but you'll be able to extend the life of your pad by almost 20-30% as apposed to reaching for a generic dish soap. So, do yourself a favor and reach for something that's gentler whilst carrying twice the amount of cleaning power.
When it comes to the physical action of cleaning, don't be afraid to wring it out like that of a cotton towel. Modern-day foam pads are meant to take abuse, but be sure to knead your cleaning agent from the center, outwards. Repeat this motion until the original color of the foam starts to come back, or at least until any remaining product has been removed.
If you should have stacks upon stacks of pads, then you can expedite the process by using a liquid-based, scent-free detergent that's set to a warm water cycle. Once washed, you can either follow the same drying procedure like that of wool by setting your dryer to its lowest temperature or you can simply let them sit to air dry.
Type C | Fiber (microfiber)
The early 2000's were an age where user-friendly solutions started to overtake the professional catalogue, because why wouldn't you want to cater to a percentage of a market that's heavily controlled by enthusiasts and DIYers? Some may consider fiber-based pads to be a category all unto itself, while others confidently label it as an extension of wool.
Either way you slice it, there's no denying that fiber-based technology offers quick-cutting action, and the implementation of new variations are becoming more and more popular.
Well before Meguiar's achieved another level of stardom with their patented DA correction system of microfiber polishing pads in 2011, Lake Country continued to innovate by outpacing their competition with an "ease of application" agenda without having to reach for a rotary polisher.
So, with microfiber being the new flavor of the month, Lake Country answered with their contribution to the microfiber polishing market by releasing their ultra-fiber technology which included twice the amount of synthetic fibers thrown onto one pad, but the backing carried a medium-density foam which would allow for safe operation but still allowing for great results. As the traditional microfiber pad started to gain traction, variations on that same model started to tentacle their way into the hands of both the novice and the professional.
As an example, Rupes updated their unique microfiber cutting pad design (fig. 13) which improved upon several different elements of the polishing process. First, they introduced greater fiber density, which in turn would yield a smoother cut. Of course, you can't leave out the ventilation slots which aid the user in operation. One of the major drawbacks to using an older generation microfiber pad (fig. 12), at least for someone who uses them as part of their daily regimen, is the susceptibility for the user to generate a great deal of heat whilst in operation.
When this happens, you're risking the probability of eating too much paint, your pad will become distorted, or worse, the velcro-backing will release from the backing plate of your tool causing it to catapult into the bleachers. Rupes' solution to this problem was to introduce a pad that carried the same principles, but tweaked the design to allow for smoother operation.
Care & Maintenance
Any variant of microfiber can easily be handled, and it doesn't take much to maintain them. In an ideal world, you'll want to have compressed air by your side to release any particulates that have accumulated within the fibers of your pad. Alternatively, you can reach for any form of pad brush to break apart any solidified product. Of course, these methods should be used whilst in operation. In fact, it's recommended to repeat this religiously with either every pass or every other pass that you make on any given panel.
As you continue to use anything within the category of fiber-based media, it should be known that these synthetic fibers will break down over time resulting in what I like to call "bald spots". That doesn't mean you should throw away your pad after one use, though. It's crucial to keep these synthetic fibers standing, because the moment it should have a matted appearance, you'll have sacrificed the effective life of the pad and its ability to shave-off any material.
Washing is a breeze. Simply toss your microfiber pads into the washer with a liquid-based detergent set to a warm water cycle. For projects that are heavy in labor, toss a 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar to aid in the washing process. If you don't have immediate access to a washer, you can run each pad under lukewarm water and knead any excess product with the use of either a sulphate-free shampoo, liquid-based detergent, or any pad cleaner that's specifically formulated for microfiber. Once washed, you can either let them air dry or toss them into your dryer set to an air cycle or low heat.
MEGUIAR'S MICROFIBER CUTTING DISCS
(FOR USE WITH DA AND FORCED-ROTATION POLISHERS)
RUPES MICROFIBER COARSE CUTTING PADS W/VENTILATION COOLING SLOTS
(FOR USE WITH DA AND FORCED-ROTATION POLISHERS)
BUFF & SHINE URO-FIBER CUTTING PAD
(FOR USE WITH DA AND FORCED-ROTATION POLISHERS)
If you're an avid follower of detailing forums and stay up-to-date on the latest trends related to pad technology, you'll most likely throw yourself into a debate that divides opinion from fact. With the largest car care giants making their contributions to the detailing world including but not limited to Lake Country, Meguiar's, Griot's Garage, Buff & Shine, and Rupes, each will tout their "system" and claim it as gospel.
From the perspective of an enthusiast or weekend warrior with disposable income, you may think of yourself as that "kid in a candy store". Trust me, there's plenty to choose from and I love adopting this mindset.
While it's healthy to experiment, it's just as important to eventually land on a systematic solution that works for you depending on what you want to achieve, whether it's that project car you just had freshly painted or a slightly used Bentley Bentayga.
Bear in mind, this article is meant to serve as a guide. While this may not cover every conceivable nuance to pads and their uses, it should arm you with the "abc's" of how you can make sense of all the noise that one can overexpose themselves to in a postmodern world. Once your solution has been reached and you find that "sweet spot", run with it and don't deviate from the standard you set for yourself. What are you waiting for, my friend? Below this article you'll find a series of links that will direct you to a wide variety of pads that are suited for virtually every tool on the market. Lastly, if you should have any questions related to any of the content outlined in this article, I'm always here to help in any capacity.
Start experimenting, and as always, drive in confidence.
The Rag Company