The Fundamental Variables of Paint Polishing:
Pt 1 – Series Introduction & Pad Angle

By Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles –

The Fundamental Variables of Paint Polishing is a topic rarely addressed, especially in a single discussion. Very few auto detailing resources critically explore the procedural or theoretical fundamental variables of polishing. These concepts and physical procedures are essential components of paint correction which allow everyone from highly skilled detailers to weekend warrior DIY’ers to maximize quality, efficiency, time, and the tools to overcome any unforeseen obstacles.

This series of articles dissects and explains the knowledge and procedural philosophy behind The Fundamental Variables of Paint Polishing. These core variables, when understood and used together, enable detailers to achieve optimal finishes on ANY painted automobile surface.


The Importance of Understanding What’s Happening During the Paint Polishing Process

Understanding these variables enables accurate diagnosis and adjustments to the relationships between machine, pad, product, and working section at any given moment of any polishing cycle. The refinement of these fundamental variables will grant detailers the skill and confidence to overcome defects and troubleshoot issues as they arise.

Polishing paint is an ever fluid process; meaning conditions frequently change at any given moment during automotive paint correction. Detailers need to keep their focus sharp throughout entire processes. Otherwise, one lapse in concentration can cost HOURS of repair, immeasurable frustration, and lost hours of revenue!

These fundamental variables, when broken down and understood independently; function much like a cooking recipe. Many recipes have VERY similar ingredients; but it’s the amount, ratio, and method of cooking the ingredients which distinguishes dishes from one another. An accomplished chef understands how each ingredient, and its possible manipulation, can affect the composition of a dish throughout the various stages of the cooking processes. Polishing paint is very similar to a cooking recipe in this way.


How The Fundamental Variables of Paint Polishing Fit into a Detailer’s Standard Procedures

Understanding how these variables function, in regards to themselves and to the whole process, is the first step in utilizing them. When theory and practical skill are married to form competent procedures, they must be put into practice for effectiveness and proficiency to occur. These fundamental variables come into play every time paint correction occurs. Sometimes they are most important in the evaluation of a project, while other times they are best utilized to make adjustments mid process.


During the typical paint correction process, detaliers work through a series of processes to refine the surface. The typical timeline and procedures for defect removal of an automotive surface usually occurs in this order:

A] Evaluation: Determining the defects preset, which directly impacts the method of defect removal.

B] Testing: Finding the safest [least invasive] & most efficient solution for defect removal to the level needed.

C] Correction: Continual and accurate interpretation of how polishing variables are interacting with the defects and the paint’s surface at all times during paint correction.


Why Call These Variables “Fundamental?”

A finite number of variables exist upon a painted surface. Each variable has its place independently, as well as contributing to the entire process.

The following variables and procedures provide quality results for effective polishing on any paint system.

They define the minimum set of physical parameters which best enable: fast, efficient, and quality paint polishing. This is why they are called: ‘The Fundamental Variables of Paint Polishing.’

NOTE: All of these variables are symbiotic, working in conjunction with one another. If one of these variable is neglected or ignored, then the rest will most likely suffer in a noticeable way.

By understanding these variables, a detailer will be able to: quickly pinpoint, deduce, and solve a problem that is occurring with the paint itself, within these specific variables, or an entirely unrelated issue altogether.

The majority of the concepts here are intended for DA Random Orbital machine use. However, most if not all, of these concepts are applicable to forced rotation polishers also.



Fundamental Variable of Paint Polishing #1:
ad Angle During Paint Correction



Pad Angle is the discussion of how the pad face engages a painted surface. Angle is vital in determining the amount of pad surface area contacting the working section which directly affects overall pad and correction liquid effectiveness.

The Significance of Pad Angle for Paint Correction in Auto Detailing

Pad Angle affects all other variables of paint correction. Maintaining proper pad angle may be the simplest and quickest adjustment allowing for better results. Sustaining optimal pad angle throughout all panels and contours is not easy and requires considerable effort and focus.

Common sense might dictate that a ‘flat’ angle is best at all times. However, this is not the case with most real world polishing situations. Maintaining a flush pad, level with the majority portion of the working panel, requires a continual state of vigilant awareness. This is difficult enough on flat surfaces, but the difficulty is greatly increased on curved panels. The difficulty of maintaining pad angle can be even worse when contours change from flat to downward, to upward, and then curve again!

The keys to successful pad angle and effective pad engagement are: awareness, continual mental focus, optimal physical control via constant adjustments, and patience.


Definition and Benefits of ‘Optimal’ Pad Angle?

Optimal pad angle is the level which allows a pad maximum engagement with the working section.

1) A main reason for keeping the pad angle level with the paint surface is to ensure even transference of power to the entire pad face. Power is generated from the buffing motor, through the backing plate, and then transferred to the paint via the pad. If pad angle isn’t maximized, cutting ability is instantaneously diminished since the unused pad area cannot transfer correction power.

2) Optimal pad angle enables the machine to move freely throughout its intended motions, allowing the pad and liquid to perform the hard labor of correction. However, if the pad is angled on its tip [known as tipping] then the machine can only move over a smaller more limited contact point. With a DA too much tipping can bog the pad down and all but stop the backing plate rotation, which means little to no correction.

3) A pad’s surface area; when properly aligned with the majority of the working section, allows maximum engagement with the paint. A fully engaged pad corrects efficiently because more engaged surface area of a pad equals faster the correction of the surface. This is because the greater the time of pad and product working on defects, the faster and more refined the surface will become.


Additional Benefits of Maximum Recruitment of Pad Surface Area

1] Even dispersal of the buffing liquid over the surface, allowing for max cut and refinement.

2] Greater surface area contact allows the pad to squeegee away polishing residue effectively. This ensures less hard paint residue particles embed themselves within the pad and possibly scour the painted surface.

3] Longer correction time for each clean and primed pad. Maximizing pad area allows a greater amount of clean correction liquid to cut with and also available pad area to receive paint residue.


The Possible Negative Side Effects of Pad Tilt

Pad tilt causes uneven pressure on a portion of the pad, possibly concentrating unintended force into the tilted area. This does not mean pad tilt should never occur. On most any project pad tilting is necessary, at some point, in order to conform to: a particular contour, tight area, or for feathering in edges of a section. However, keeping the pad angle level with the surface maximizes optimal paint correction conditions for most polishing situations.

NEGATIVE issues of unintentional pad tilting:

1] An Uncontrolled pad angle tilt transfers an unregulated amount of energy into a concentrated area of the pad and then to the painted surface. This concentrated force generates much more friction, drastically raising heat levels and the potential of a burn through.

With a rotary polisher; this is a DANGEROUS situation because the forced rotation of the machine keeps the pad moving. Tilt focuses all of the pad’s force into a small highly focused area, creating a situation where a burn could happen in a split second.

The same outcome is possible on a DA Polisher, however the danger is nowhere near as high. Why is this? Because with a random orbital machine, too much pad angle tilt in one direction will either drastically slow down or completely eliminate the backing plate rotation. This results very minimal to no cut (and no friction) because the pad is not properly interacting with the surface.

2] Uncontrolled tipping of the pad renders the portions of the pad, not in contact with the working section, almost entirely useless. This leads to a horribly inefficient use of the pad and to quick build up of paint residue in the engaged portion of the pad Lastly, portions of the pad receiving the tilt force will wear out faster over time due to this concentrated friction.


© Christopher Brown – OCDCarCare Los Angeles – – 2013



For more interesting topics on: auto detailing, paint polishing, and car care please browse: OCDCarCare Los Angeles’s – Detailing Article Archive.

Christopher Brown