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Achieving the perfect Shine
A Lot of Knowledge Followed by a Lot More Effort
By Timothy Sutton | Photography by the Author
Image of Items
01 Hollenbeck was nice enough to lay out a fine assortment of the tools he regularly uses for the cutting portion of the job. Note the different grits of sandpaper to the blocks he relies on for each step, as well as the various DA air tools he uses.
Image of Hollenbeck
Image of Items
01 Hollenbeck was nice enough to lay out a fine assortment of the tools he regularly uses for the cutting portion of the job. Note the different grits of sandpaper to the blocks he relies on for each step, as well as the various DA air tools he uses.

he perfect shine. Easy to say but not-so easy to achieve. All of us, regardless of the level of paint our hot rod sports, thoroughly enjoy keeping it all bright and shiny. We wander out to the garage and put in the time as often as we can to dust and polish our hot rod, looking to achieve the perfect shine. Of course, some of us try our darndest, but the end result is still anywhere from a 15- to 50-foot shine … meaning don’t get too close.

Given each of us has washed, waxed, polished, and tried everything else under the sun to make our pride and joy gleam, the fact remains oftentimes we miss the luster we want to achieve. I like to think of myself as a dedicated hot rodder and have spent many an hour cutting and polishing but the fact remains there was always something “missing” in the process. I would sand and sand then chase around scratches like a cat chasing its tail. Then off to the buffer and make it shine, but still it wasn’t quite right. I was correct, I needed to be taught a thing or two, so I felt like I should talk to a pro.

Knowing this I thought it best to visit one of the premier painters, and fellow hot rodder, in the country who understands what it takes to achieve the perfect shine; and he might just know a thing or two about making a hot rod shine. We visited Darryl Hollenbeck of Vintage Color Studio in Concord, California, a longtime hot rodder and painter who has spayed numerous award-winning hot rods. In fact, back in 2016, he built an America’s Most Beautiful Roadster winner himself with his 1932 Ford highboy roadster.

The Cutting Process
According to Hollenbeck every car that rolls through his shop is involved in this process. Time and experience have taught him what procedures and products work, thereby giving him the desired results.

Hollenbeck then sat me down with sandpaper ranging from 600- to 5,000-grit all placed neatly on a table so that I could see up close and personal the subtle and not-so subtle differences with each jump in coarseness. His process starts the initial cut at 600-grit “wet” coupled with a hard, semi-flexible plastic sanding block. This ensures the surface will be cut “flat.” Using a water bottle, he then sprayed the sanding surface as he methodically worked across the panel, removing the slight “orange peel” that was on the surface. He utilized crisscross strokes, making the surface flat.

Using 600, Hollenbeck proceeded to tell us, “It enables you to ’grit jump’ more quickly and makes it easier on the person sanding from the beginning.” This method cuts quickly and smooths the surface. After wiping the panel and sanding a few more times we were ready to jump grits to 800.

This process proved to be much faster than if I were doing it in my backyard. At 800-grit Hollenbeck applied a guidecoat by Mirka to the panel. (Mirka Dry Guide Coat powder has excellent covering properties and in so doing makes all imperfections and scratches visible. The package comes with its own applicator that leaves an even coating. The applicator has flexible edges, which make it easy to use on contoured areas. Aside from the light-colored Mirka there’s also a black powder that’s used for light-colored surfaces.)

The dry guidecoat fills the scratches and gives you a point of reference on what you have and haven’t done. Once the 600-grit scratches are removed it’s time to grit jump again and guidecoat for 1,000-grit. Also, when you grit jump from 1,000- to 1,500-grit you also switch blocks from the rigid plastic block to a much softer block. Hollenbeck uses one from 3M as they are dense foam blocks and very flexible. He uses them with 1,000-grit and then moves onto 1,500-grit. This block enables just getting out the scratches left from the previous grit without trying to straighten anything on the car because it’s already been cut flat by 600- and 800-grit.

This process goes from 1,000- to 1,500-grit and then the big switch at 2,000-grit. When you get to 2,000-grit you will jump to the DA with a soft pad of 2,000-grit on an intermediate pad called an interface pad. This is also a wet process. This interface pad is a big help as you can go over some of the tight detail work on broad strokes and then go back with a smaller detail DA for the tight stuff. Starting at 2,000-grit we then backed away from using the guidecoat any further. From 2,000-grit we move to a finer 3,000-grit and then to 5,000-grit. Here we are following the grit jumps recommend by Hollenbeck. I asked if it was needed to hit every one and he told me that “… it makes sanding this stuff easier on you and goes a lot quicker.” All you are doing after 800-grit is pulling out (removing) the scratches in the paint. Once you get to 5,000-grit on the DA you should have a healthy shine going on with no deep scratches. The 5,000-grit leaves a surface that’s easier to start buffing and pulling out those scratches.

The Rubbing Process
Hollenbeck has many buffers for all sorts of situations, from large 9-inch buffers to 1-inch buffing pads on dye grinders. The same technique shows through the entire process no matter what tool you pick up, big or small. He personally uses the 3M Perfect-It compounds and polishes when he rubs one out. It’s a very user-friendly system color-coded with the pads you use and numbered for those of us who don’t see color so well.  He starts using the 3M compound White #1 with the wool or microfiber wheel. This is the initial buff and pulls out almost all of the scratches left from the DA. After completing it he runs the same compound on the corresponding foam pad on the same buffer. This again pulls the scratches from the wool wheel right out by using the softer foam. From this point on the job is close to being done and just needs the final polish. The Black pad is pulled out with the 3M Black #2 polish. This polishing will bring the paint to a fine luster.
At this point, Hollenbeck’s work is usually done until the car is assembled and ready for a final polish where an orbital buffer is pulled out and other waxes are applied for the show shine everyone wants.

I, for one, learned a few things on this one and will be putting them in the mental toolbox. Hell, it may get me out there to cut and buff one of the cars. (OK, I may have gotten a bit excited there!)

Image of Wet sanding discs
02 These are the wet sanding discs that he uses once he gets done with 1,500-grit and the guidecoat portion of the job. From 2,000-grit on you’re removing the tiny scratches left behind by the previous grit. The DA part of it helps take away the cross stroking from the block sanding and makes the pattern erratic.
Image of Block-sanding
03 When he starts block-sanding, be begins with 600- to 1,000-grit on harder blocks of plastic and beyond that at 1,500-grit moves to the soft black blocks. Each block has its own use. From big to small they all serve a purpose. The smallest is Hollenbeck’s favorite. It gets used for the tiniest panels and for removing imperfections such as dirt and runs in the clearcoat.
Image of “go-to” DAs
04 These are his “go-to” DAs: one 6-inch, one 3-inch, and the medium one has a unique face for hard-to-reach spaces.
Image of Guidecoat
05 Using guidecoat is key in seeing where you have been and if you got out all the scratches from previous grits.
Starting on the small edges
06 Hollenbeck uses his tiniest of blocks to start on the small edges of the panel with 600-grit. Wetting the surface with a squeeze bottle of water as he goes enables him to see where the orange peel of the fresh paint is and the flat surface he is creating with the hard/rigid plastic block.
Photo of 600-grit
07 Here we can see the difference of the 600-grit to the out-of-the-gun painted surface with black guidecoat applied. The 600-grit knocks it down and makes it flat on the hard block; as you can see the corners were not affected.
Image of Combining the 800-grit
08 Here he’s combining the 800-grit and using the guidecoat and working in a crossing motion to sand the panel.
Image of 1,000-grit
09 Using 1,000-grit he uses the same technique pulling out the scratches.
Image of DA and 2,000-grit
10 As you can see the surface is flat as it should be and it’s ready for the DA and 2,000-grit.
Image of Scratches are removed
11 When he is done with 1,000-grit and all the scratches are removed and all remnants of the previous guidecoat are gone he moves to the softer rubber 3M block for his final block sand.
Image of Guidecoat
12 Guidecoat and the same technique are used with the 1,500 to remove scratches from previous grits.
Image of 1,500-grit is done the shine
13 When 1,500-grit is done the shine is beginning and is free of all of the other scratches from 600-grit up. It is ready for the DA and the 2,000-grit.
Photo of 6-inch DA in a crisscross pattern
14 Here he’s using his 6-inch DA in a crisscross pattern along the panel to take away the crisscross remnants from the previous grit. The DA gives a randomness to the cut of the paint and the long-straight scratches go away.
Photo of Hollenbeck demonstrates the forgiveness of the interface pad
15 Hollenbeck demonstrates the forgiveness of the interface pad he uses between the DA’s hard pad and the soft 2,000-grit paper. He’s able to take the 2,000-grit over the edges without worry and it produces an even shine.
Image of One of the “go-to” tools
16 One of the “go-to” tools he uses is a very small DA with a shaped head for getting into the fine details of the paintwork, so no nook or cranny is left unpolished.
Image of After 2,000-grit that the detail work
17 As you can see after 2,000-grit that the detail work is done and the paint shine is seamless.
Image of Hook and loop system
18 This is the hook and loop system he uses made by 3M along with their interface pad; it’s super soft.
Image of 3,000-grit and then 5,000-grit
19 Onto 3,000-grit and then 5,000-grit.
Image of Hollenbeck has a huge array of buffing tools
20 Hollenbeck has a huge array of buffing tools on board to get into the most unusual spots. A lot of their heads and the pads are “custom” made there at the shop as he needs them. The smaller ones are used for those super-detailed areas. The foam pads are no different; he will cut them as needed on the tool to achieve the effect he’s going for.
Image of The array of hard plastics used for the initial cut of the pain
21 This is the array of hard plastics used for the initial cut of the paint. Notice the clear ones are rigid plastic and the white and yellow have some flexibility to them to go around rounded surfaces but still making them flat.
Image of Array of angle grinders
22 Here we have an array of angle grinders set up with different hook and loop pads. Some are custom made to get into the tight spots; they range from 3-inch down to 1-inch.
Photo of First cut with the 3M Perfect-It Rubbing Compound
23 The first cut with the 3M Perfect-It Rubbing Compound gets the wool pad to bring out the luster of the paint and remove the orbital scratches from the 5,000-grit DA, which was the last step.
Image of Foam pad
24 After the wool pad is used on the panel, the foam pad with the same compound is used to refine the scratches from the wool pad and to remove swirls and any scratches it left behind. The foam is a tighter, softer surface to aid in the polishing.
Photo of Smaller angle grinders
25 The smaller angle grinders are used for getting in all the tight details that the larger pads won’t get into. They are used with the same pads and process as the larger one ranging from the initial compound with the wool pad to the foam pad and so on.
Image of Two main weapons of choice in Hollenbeck’s arsenal
26 The two main weapons of choice in Hollenbeck’s arsenal are these two larger polishers, one that is electric and one that is air powered. He will usually go for the air-powered buffer as it’s lighter. Both will work for the job, so if you have an electric one already you are still in the game.
Image of Laid out tools
27 Laid out you can get an overall look at the basic go-to tools that Vintage Color Studios uses along with the pads. You can notice that some of the pads are not your average size or shape in the smaller variety. That is because he will spin a 3-inch pad up on the 2- or 1-inch grinder and use a razor from the backside to trim to his needs while it’s spinning. This is how he makes the custom pads.
Image of Buffer
Image of Air buffer
28 This is the initial cut with the wool pad on the large air buffer using the 3M Perfect-It Rubbing Compound #1.
Image of wool pad
Image of Wool pad is used over the panel,
29 After the wool pad is used over the panel, he pulls it off and attaches the foam pad to the same buffer. Using the same compound, he buffs out the tiny imperfections left from the wool pad and the paint comes to life, getting shinier by the second.
Image of 3M Perfect-It Rubbing Compound #2
30 Once the panel has been gone over with the compound and wiped clean, it’s onto the 3M Perfect-It Rubbing Compound #2 with the black pad. This brings the paint all the way to its high-gloss finish.
Image of Panels are ready
31 From there the panels are ready to be sent back to his customer for assembly. Hollenbeck explains at this point the cars usually get man handled back together and when they are done yet another round of polishing goes on for the show car shine. 3M offers a #3 stage polish that is used on a blue pad that furthers the shine. He will also use Griot’s brand of polishes and detailing supplies on finished cars along with their orbital buffers to maintain the brightness and clarity of the paint.
Picture of Few custom shape pads
32 Here are a few custom shape pads he recently made for the work on hand. Most all of them started life as a 3-inch pad and were cut down by spinning it up on the corresponding grinder, either 2-inch or 1-inch. While spinning he will use a razor knife from the backside and cut to his liking, making cones or trimming to fit the application.
Image of The 3M Perfect-It series of compounds and polish
33 The 3M Perfect-It series of compounds and polish is what works for Hollenbeck.
Image of Fine sanding discs
34 These are the fine sanding discs that they use for color sanding in the final stages. The grits range from 1,000-grit all the way to 5,000-grit.

Vintage Color Studio
(925) 671-7773
instagram: vintagecolorstudios

Modern Rodding | September/October 2020