The Easy Way to the Perfect Shine

The Easy Way to the Perfect Shine

With RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System

Published: 5/24/2015
By: Jerome Vernon
About the Author: Jerome Vernon is a software developer/project manager and an avid antiques enthusiast. When Jerome’s not busy creating business related software products for his clients he’s restoring antiques and writing articles for Restoration News.
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The Easy Way to the Perfect Shine

With RUPES BIGFOOT ®Random Orbital Polishing System

Over the past year, I have been on a quest to find the most effective equipment for finishing, re-finishing and finish repair work. For the professional finisher, after expending substantial efforts in surface preparation and the application of color and topcoat materials, the crucial phase of rubout and polishing begins. For finish repair and touchup specialists, often the final reparation procedure involves sheen adjustment and/or polishing which renders the repair virtually invisible. Effective rubout and polishing adds both depth and beauty to the final finish and is a key defining factor in the craftsman’s quality of workmanship. It is also an area of expertise that is often neglected, overlooked and sometimes misunderstood. This article will focus on rubout and polishing from a systematic approach while introducing some of the world’s finest equipment, materials and methods for achieving superior results.

In preparation of this article, I started by searching the market for equipment and materials, examining both rotary and random orbital polishers, buffs and compounds. I was impartial towards specific manufacturers and price while reviewing the low-end, low-cost products as well as the more expensive high-performance equipment and materials. While studying numerous video demonstrations, articles and after speaking with professional finishers and manufacturers the list of candidates quickly dwindled to a handful. When considering the numerous applications and coating types a systematic approach to polishing became inescapably important. RUPES, an Italian company provides a full-range solution to polishing for wood finishes as well as painted and solid surfaces. The remainder of this article is focused specifically on the RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System and the benefits a ‘system approach to polishing’ offers to the finisher, restoration professional and avid enthusiasts.

RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System
RUPES BIGFOOT RUPES, an Italian company began in 1947 and today its tools and equipment for finishing and woodwork are regarded worldwide as among the finest available. Although relatively new to the North American marketplace, RUPES polishing systems quickly gained market superiority while serving the automotive, aerospace, and marine industries. Unlike other manufacturers, RUPES refers to its polishing products as a ‘Polishing System’.

The RUPES random orbital polishers, open cell foam and microfiber buffs and polishing gels work together as a comprehensive system for efficiently achieving a perfect finish.

What Makes the RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System So Unique?
Rotary Polishing Professional finishers and restoration specialists will mention polishing as an important part of their work but often warn of the possibility of burning through or damaging an otherwise perfect finish. All finishes either degrade sharply when exposed beyond certain temperature and/or, have a specific melting point. For shellac, the melting point is around 90°C. (~190°F) and nitrocellulose lacquer is around 160° (~320°F). The danger of damaging the finish is greater with rotary polishers where temperatures can quickly escalate far beyond acceptable limits. With all the time, effort and expense involved during preparation and applying layers of finishing materials, burning through the finish at the final polishing stage is a substantial setback.

The RUPES SystemWith the RUPES BIGFOOT® the possibility of burning through the finish is highly unlikely. This is due to the random orbital motion of the polishing pad with specialized gel-type compounds working together to actually remove heat away from the surface. This unique and important feature works exceptionally well when the RUPES BIGFOOT® polishers, polishing gels and open-cell foam or microfiber buffs are used together, as a complete and fully integrated polishing system. The RUPES BIGFOOT® polishing system can be used with confidence even on delicate shellac finishes as well as lacquers, urethanes, varnishes, opaque painted, solid surfaces and more.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at the RUPES BIGFOOT® Polishers, Buffs and Gels
Big Foot PolisherRUPES packs plenty of power into the BIGFOOT® LHR21ES yet it’s surprisingly light, well balanced and easy to maneuver. This random orbital polisher has a 150mm (6-inch) hook-and-loop style vented backing plate with anti-spin cap to prevent the backing plate from free-spinning when the polisher stops. The 150mm backing plate carries foam or microfiber pads that are 180mm in diameter and have a tapered design to limit contact of the backing plate with the work piece surface. All RUPES foam pads are dynamically balanced and weight-mated to the appropriate machine’s counter balance system, assuring that the system delivers the lowest possible vibration levels.

The ergonomically designed rubberized housing with carbon-fiber front grip and comfortable rear handle means large polishing jobs can be accomplished without operator fatigue. All RUPES BIGFOOT® polishers have a remarkable electronic control system with a soft-start and fully adjustable motor feedback control mechanism. As the polisher senses a greater load at the polishing pad, additional power is delivered to the motor for a constant operating speed under heavy loads thus delivering highly consistent results. The soft and flexible power cord is 12 feet in length so in most cases an extension cord will not be needed.

Polishing Orbit An important feature of the RUPES BIGFOOT® 150mm (6-inch) polisher is its large 21mm (¾- inch) diameter orbital movement. Unlike traditional rotary polishers, the large diameter orbital movement of the RUPES BIGFOOT® polisher eliminates holograms and swirl marks and the necessity for secondary polishing steps.

BIGFOOT MINIThe RUPES BIGFOOT® polishers lineup also include the LHR 15ES with 15mm orbit and 125mm (5 inch) backing plate for 150mm foam or microfiber polishing pads. The LHR 12E DUETTO with 12mm orbit also has a 125mm (5 inch) backing plate for 150mm foam or microfiber polishing pads. In addition, the LHR 75E MINI with a 12mm orbit and 75mm (3-inch) backing plate for 100mm foam or microfiber polishing pads. Both the 5-inch and 3-inch polishers are dual-purpose machines designed for performing both polishing and sanding. Finish sanding operations using RUPES X-Cut Foam Sanding Discs, available in grits from P1500 to P3000 deliver exceptional results. The foam sanding discs are superb for wet sanding during sheen adjustment, topcoat correction and prior to polishing procedures for gloss and high gloss finishes.

RUPES Buffs and Polishing Gels
Buffs an Polishing GelsAs mentioned, RUPES refers to its polishing products as a ‘Polishing System’. By design the polishers, buffs and compounds all work together to achieve perfect finish results. For wood finishes there are four grades of compounds and buffs, coarse to ultra-fine. To prevent operator error the polishing gels and buffs are color-coded from blue to white with blue being coarse and white being ultra-fine. An important feature of the RUPES polishing compounds rests in its unique chemistry. The silicone free formulas are specifically designed for random orbital polishing and have the perfect combination of viscosity and aggressiveness and, for uniform distribution on the polishing pad.

Resin Foam Polishing PadsRUPES expanded resin foam polishing pads innovative “open cell” structure prevents the build-up of heat generated while polishing. Available in four grades, coarse to ultra-fine; the structure of the pads provides maximum efficiency with minimum downward pressure. The pads have a center hole for ventilation and heat dispersion through channels in the backing plate. The truncated cone shape is optimized for the large diameter orbit while protecting from contact between the backing plate and the work surface. RUPES abrasive gels are not retained inside the pads but continuously applied to the work surface for constant lubrication between the pad and work surface.

Microfiber Polishing PadsRUPES patented microfiber polishing pads are the perfect choice for wood finishes and are constructed of a polyurethane resin injected between the Velcro interface and the microfiber fabric. The microfiber pads conform well to convex shapes during polishing and the innovative spiral slots provide superior heat dissipation, lighter weight and measured spreading of the polishing compounds on the surface. Available in two grades, coarse and fine; the blue cutting pad is designed for removing scratches heavy swirl marks while the yellow finishing pad removes light swirl marks, holograms and restores depth and clarity for a perfect optical grade finish.

Using the RUPES Polishing System
Before polishing, the surface should be sanded to P1500, P2000 or P3000 depending upon surface conditions and sheen objective. The rubout procedure corrects coating application defects, creates a level cut and reduces time and effort during polishing. Rubout is best accomplished by wet sanding using specialized abrasives such as RUPES X-Cut Foam Sanding Discs.

Important Note…
American Grit To Micron Some manufacturers rate their compounds according to its ability to effectively remove specific grit-scaled scratch patterns. Considering that coatings differ in hardness and that buff attribute as well as other factors affect polishing results such specifications are subjective. However, some estimates indicate that RUPES coarse compound is effective at removing P1500 (~13um or .0005in) scratch patterns, P2500 (~8um or .0003in) for medium compound.
If in doubt, begin polishing using a finer compound, testing for acceptable results. It is generally accepted that the use of abrasive, including polishing, should begin by using the least aggressive approach possible.

Both resin foam and microfiber polishing pads should be conditioned (seasoned) before use. This is done by applying 7-8 pea-sized drops of compound around the respective pad. Next, compress the pad against a surface and run the polisher at a relatively low speed (speed setting #3 for example) for about 45 seconds.

Hints: A low-cost section of clean and smooth ceramic floor tile works great for pre-conditioning both foam and microfiber polishing pads. After conditioning and/or usage, store your polishing pads separated by compound type (grit) in zip-lock plastic bags. Polishing pads can be periodically cleaned by blowing the pads out with compressed air, providing the air is properly filtered to remove any contaminants inherent to the system. A soft brush can also be effective, but must be used carefully as the bristles may compromise the open cell structure of the pads)

Remove any hardware such as drawer-pulls and/or apply masking tape over areas that are not intended to be polished. In addition, for uniform results and to avoid contamination ensure that the surface is thoroughly pre-cleaned and free of debris.

Recommended Polishing Pattern For superior results, while polishing let the weight of the machine do the work without applying additional downward pressure. Polish with the pad flat against the surface and add 2-3 pea-sized drops as need.

Best results are obtained when the operator polishes in an overlapping and consistent pattern. For example; first traversing across the surface horizontally then across the surface in a vertical pattern while overlapping adjacent passes by about 30 percent. It’s important to uses the polishing compounds with the corresponding color-coded polishing pad (buff). When progressing from a coarser to a finer compound the surface must be thoroughly cleaned from any trace of the previous (coarser) compound. Using RUPES color-coded microfiber polishing cloths will help prevent cleaning scratches caused by a polishing cloth contaminated with a previous (coarser) polishing compound.

Applying too much polishing compound to the polishing pad is counterproductive and will sling from the pad causing a mess of debris onto previous polished areas and other nearby objects. When working on-site cover flooring and any nearby objects prior to polishing. Use a polishing apron to protect clothing and to prevent unintended scratch damage to the item being polished.

Practice Demonstration
RUPES demoI have prepared a few sample demonstrations to show just how effective the RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing Systems really is for both solid-surface and wood finishes.

The top image shows a black marble table top that was in rough shape. I began restoration by sanding from P80 to P2000. As shown the table top looks rather flat and lifeless. I will complete the restoration of the table top using the RUPES BIGFOOT® MINI with foam polishing pads and RUPES coarse and medium polishing gels.

The bottom image shows three mahogany panels fixed to a MDF panel using double sided tape. Each of the panels have received a slightly different finish (color) and each have a gloss lacquer top coat of approximately .003 inches in thickness.

For demonstration purposes, each panel has been pre-sanded to P2000 (wet) and is separated by a strip of masking tape. Like the black marble table top, the mahogany panels also look rather flat and lifeless. For comparison, the left-hand panel will not be polished. The center panel will be polished with RUPES coarse and medium polishing gels and the right-hand panel will be polished with RUPES coarse, medium, fine and ultra-fine polishing gels. The RUPES BIGFOOT® with microfiber polishing pads will be used to polish the panels.

Swirl Finder Polishing results with the three mahogany panels was outstanding. The three high-resolution close-up images shown below were taken using the RUPES Swirl Finder as the light source.

The somewhat hazy left-hand image is the unpolished panel clearly showing the P2000 scratch pattern. Although undetectable to the naked eye, after polishing using RUPES coarse and medium gels the image of the center panel reveals minimal remnants of the P2000 scratch pattern. After polishing using RUPES coarse, medium, fine and ultra-fine gels, the image of the right-hand panel reveals an extreme high-gloss finish (specular reflectance of >87GU @ 20° via ISO2813) and was virtually free of original scratch pattern, swirls and holograms.

Achieving a high-gloss finish quality as illustrated in the right-hand image would be difficult with a rotary polish however; it was accomplished with ease using the RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System.

Polishing Marble Top Results I was equally impressed with the results of the solid-surface polishing experiment. This black marble table top was in rough shape; left outdoors for many years it was severely weathered and had deep scratches and stains overall. After sanding from P80 to P2000, then polishing using the RUPES BIGFOOT® MINI, with foam pads and RUPES Coarse and Medium gels, this once dilapidated table top is now gorgeous and highly reflective. I was particularly impressed with the way the foam pads conformed to contours and crevasses of the rounded edgework.


Although this article focuses on the many advantages of the RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System; I should mention that I have a number of rotary polishers that I will continue to use for specific tasks. I should also mention that over the decades I have damaged a few finishes by being careless while polishing resulting in hours of rework. Now, thanks to the RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System I can approach polishing tasks with confidence knowing that a stunning high-gloss shine can be accomplished and without the risk of burning through or damaging the finish.

I have a friend that lives in the Chicago area and whose job involves repairing scratches, press marks, minor dings, and other such damage on items delivered to furniture stores. He also serves the moving and storage industry and has mentioned on occasion that polishing is, by far, the largest part of his business. The next time he describes the lengthy process, and he will, I’ll be sure to mention the advantages of using the RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System for fine wood finishes and solid surface restoration.

I do realize that there are many choices covering a wide-range of costs however; after studying a trove of information as well as testing numerous polishers, I’ve concluded that RUPES offers an unmatched solution that delivers the perfect shine in the easiest and quickest manner possible.

Polishing Results Layout

RUPES Distributors
The RUPES BIGFOOT® Random Orbital Polishing System is available world-wide through an extensive network of retail and on-line distributors. The RUPES North American headquarters, RUPES USA, Inc. is located in Longmont, Colorado.

Mostly orientated towards the automotive industry, you can find lots of on-line videos about the RUPES BIGFOOT®.
One of my favorites “Auto e Moto d´Epoca” is the International Exhibition with the biggest selection of vintage motoring in Europe!

Restoration News accepted no monitory award, support or payment from RUPES USA, Inc. for the development and publication of this article and its content. The content, usage guidance and, general opinions regarding all products mentioned here are the sole opinions of the Restoration News staff; as determined by their independent interpretation, analysis and testing. In addition, Restoration News assumes sole responsibility for all content contained in this article as defined by Restoration News limitation of liability and website disclaimers.

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