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Project CB 750

Metal and Plastic finishing, polishing, cleaning

Before PolishingAfter Polishing


Metal Finishing Work (Jump to Most Recent Progress)

This is one of my favorite parts of the work.  With very little money and not so much effort, I (so can you!) can make a huge difference in the way a motorcycle looks.  I've separated the work into a few sections so you can jump right to what you're interested in.

Aluminum Finishing | Plastic Parts | Miscellaneous Cleaning

Well, to start out, here are some pictures from the project bike itself.  Remember, you can click on the pictures to get a larger view.


September 10th
Right Side - before polishing
September 10th
Clutch and Timing Covers, after polishing
September 30th
Fender - half cleaned & polished
September 30th
Header pipes - 50% done
Early December
Finished polishing LEFT side of bike
Mid December
Finished polishing RIGHT side of bike

So...how do you clean a bike up?

Aluminum Finishing (applies to some Chrome)

  • Fine Steel Wool - This is your workhorse, you can buy it at any home improvement or hardware store.  You can use steel wool on chrome, aluminum, steel, or virtually any metal.  The downsides to it are: 1. It can sometimes leave behind unacceptable fine scratches on softer metals (see below for a remedy), and 2. It disintegrates quite easily, so you'll end up going through a lot of it.  Be sure to buy at least 2 different grades of it - medium and fine.  The fine steel wool will produce the nice finish, but the medium is nice to help take out more significant blemishes.  Be careful when using it on chrome - it works well with some, but can scratch some other types.
  • Fine Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper - You'll want to use Aluminum Oxide sandpaper (the black stuff) - not wood sandpaper.  Sandpaper, of course, will help you to remove the real significant surface imperfections from the aluminum.  You should be very careful when using it because you can actually wear down the aluminum so much that by the time you've removed the imperfection, you've created an impression in the aluminum.  When you get around to making it shine, you'll really notice your "dip" in the metal.  Virtually every time you use sandpaper, you should use the finer and finer grades, including the steel wool (below) to improve the finish after sanding.  Try steel wool first, if the wool isn't course enough to make a difference, then use the sandpaper.
  • Buffing Wheels - I mainly use 2 buffing wheels and 2 compounds I bought from The Eastwood Company a few years ago.  The two I use are called "Spiral Sewn" and "Loose" wheels.  I use my existing bench grinder, which doesn't allow me to buff underneath, but it works for my purposes.  The two different buffing compounds I use are called "Jeweler's Rouge," used for removing scratches and old clearcoat, and "White Rouge," which I use for final polishing.  The Jeweler's does most of the work, removing the majority of scratches and poor finish.  You will not believe the shine you can get from aluminum using the right buffing wheels and compounds.  As with any power tool, wear safety glasses and gloves when using the buffer.  Be sure to HOLD ON to the piece you're buffing so the wheel doesn't grab it out of your hands.
  • Metal Polish - I use Blue Magic metal polish, which you can buy at most any automotive dealer.  After all of your hard work (see above), apply this stuff like you would car wax.  Let it sit for a while, and rub it off.  It will leave a nice shine, as well as a coating that will deter oxidation.  It will be necessary to reapply the polish every once and a while, especially after riding in wet weather.  
  • Clearcoat? - I tend to shy away from using this because it only lasts so long, and even the best, most expensive brands are not quite 100.0% clear.  In the past, I have successfully used Nyalic, which you can buy direct from the manufacturer, HBI, by calling 1-800-40-NYALIC or over the net at www.OrderNyalic.com.  It is a clearcoat designed for aluminum and designed to withstand elevated temperatures and not turn yellow.  It was fairly easy to use, but like I mentioned, it left the metal looking a lot LESS shiny than I prefer.  Bottom Line: if you are looking for a low-maintenance, very good finish, use Nyalic - if you are looking for that mirror-like shine and willing to re-polish every once and a while, don't use a clearcoat.

Plastic Parts

  • Rubbing Alcohol - ALWAYS test in an inconspicuous area before using in an obvious area.  This helps to get rid of some of the gummy deposits left from old stickers, etc.
  • Windex (or similar) - Works well with a good clean, terry cloth (like the inside of an old sock) rag.
  • ArmorAll - Depending on the type of plastic, I usually give the dark, opaque plastics a shot and let it soak in for about 30 minutes.  I will rub the ArmorAll into the cracks that don't get sprayed from the bottle.

Miscellaneous Cleaning

  • Carburetor Cleaner - Works great for getting the globs of grease and caked on old oil off.  Get the aerosol bottle that will blast out of a tube for best control.  This stuff is usually pretty cheap as well.
  • Various small wire brushes - I use some small steel, brass, and nylon brushes for doing some finishing work.  They're great for getting in those harder to reach spots.  I'll use the brass brush the most, since it doesn't scratch as much as the steel one.  I'll use the nylon brushes (old toothbrushes work great for this - remember...you're supposed to get a new toothbrush every 3 months anyhow!) for removing caked on oil and grime from parts.  You can buy the brushes at a local hardware store for a few bucks (I bought mine at Sears Hardware for about $6 for a set of 3).
  • An old athletic sock - Really, don't laugh.  These work great for working in-between parts.  I love to use them for removing grease around the swing arm, removing grime from in-between the windings of the springs on the rear shocks, the spokes on an old, classic wheel, and more.  I go through about a half dozen socks each bike I restore.


A great way to get virtually everything you need for a reasonable price is to check out 3M's Aluminum Polishing Kit, which retails for about $40.  It includes much of what I'm recommending above, and is "package-priced" as well.  You can find a wide variety of polishing and cleaning supplies at The Eastwood Company - a great place for automotive/motorcycle finishing products. 

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Last Update: Wednesday, December 14, 2005 11:53 PM