How to Compound Your Boat

This is a project anyone can do—if you're careful. Compounding your boat yourself can save around $400.00 a year. In this section I show you the tools and materials you need to do the job correctly. When I compound a boat, it is a three-step process. This means I go over the boat three times with the buffer. First, I use a coarse compound to remove oxidation stains. Second, I use a microfine compound to remove the swirl marks from the coarse compound. For the third step I use a glaze finishing compound to bring up the true color and shine of the boat.

Other detailing companies do all this in one process. I've seen them mix the wax and compound in a container and go over the boat once. Some say my way is too much work, but here is a perfect example: A customer had his boat detailed by a company that does the one-step compounding process (of which he was unaware). A week later the boat suffered a gouge on the side. He got in touch with me for the repair work. I removed the gouge and compounded the repaired area. When he came down to check out the work I had done, he was totally blown away by how clean and shiny the area I repaired was compared to the detail company's work. He called the company and complained to them about the terrible buffing job they did. They told him to do it my way was "just too much work."

I don't compound whole boats anymore because I have so much fiberglass work to do, although customers have asked me to start a company specifically for compounding. Through the years I have found that if you don't keep an eye on your workers, they'll always come up with a quicker way to do the job and sacrifice quality.

A Couple of Tips:

numberIf your boat is badly oxidized (most noticeable when color gel-coated boats have dramatically faded), compounding will only restore its original shine for a few months.


numberIf your boat's gel coat is porous, like in the photo, do not compound it. If you try compounding a porous boat, the compound will just fill the holes and your boat will be the color of the compound. Just enjoy the boat for what it is.


numberWhen buying a buffing machine, make sure it has variable speeds. This helps when you buff around boat cleats and railings (the lower speed is used to buff around objects). If you touch a cleat using a single-speed buffer, the buffer might hook it and possibly break your arm. The force from an uncontrolled single-speed buffer can also throw a person off a ladder. I've seen it happen.


number I don't recommend using a ladder to compound big boats. I use adjustable saw horses with wooden planks placed on top (which can be purchased at Home Depot or Lowes). This gives you a more stable center of gravity to control the buffer. On a ladder you'll be reaching to buff certain areas and could possibly fall off.


numberWear a breathing mask. The silica dust from compounding is not healthy to breathe in . Wear sunglasses or safety goggles. If the silica dust gets in your eyes, they will tear all day long.


numberBefore you begin buffing, wipe your boat down with fresh clean water to remove dirt and salt residue.


numberKeep all buffing pads clean with the pad-cleaning tool. After you compound a small section, check the pad. If it is all gummed up, clean it out. If you don't, the buffer will not cut the finish fast, and a section that should take an hour will take two.


numberIf the compound you're using is a thick paste, thin it out with water. This will make the compound cut faster. The thicker the compound, the faster it clogs the pad and makes the job longer.


numberKeep the buffer moving back and forth (both horizontally and vertically) using medium pressure on the right edge of pad. If you go too slow in only one direction, your boat will look like it has zebra stripes on the hull when you're finished.


numberI use heavy-duty extension cords. The extra weight holds down the cord when buffing. Lighter cords can get caught in the buffing wheel, And two bad things can happen: One, the wheel catches the cord and twists your arm until you give up, or two, the cord breaks and you have a live wire sparking at you.


numberThere are many companies that sell buffing pads. I've used 3M to my dissatisfaction. After I've removed and replaced their pads a few times, they tend to fly off the machine while buffing. In my opinion, the SM Arnold hook and loop (Velcro) pads hold up the best.


numberDo not use the backing plate that comes with the buffer. It's not flexible enough. A better option is the SM Arnold 69-080 backing plate.


Gel Coat Problems

gel coat gel coat gel coat
Gel Coat Porosity
(do not compound)
Close-up of Gel Coat Porosity
(do not compound)
Faded Gel Coat
(sand and compound; will last a few weeks)

 


Tools & Links

Note: As of writing this, the following links work. If clicking on them gets you nowhere, type the tool part numbers directly into Google.

tools tools tools
Cheap Buffer, Harbor Freight #: 92623
(See Note Below
)
Click Here
Medium Buffer, Harbor Freight #: 90820
Click Here
Best DEWALT Buffer #: DW 849
Click Here
tools tools tools
Backing Plate, SM Arnold #: 69-080
Click Here
Buffing Pad White, Coarse, SM Arnold #: 57-375
Click Here
Buffing Pad Yellow, Fine, SM Arnold #: 59-583
Click Here
tools tools tools
Foam Pad, Glaze Finish, SM Arnold #: 44-659
Click Here
3M Super Duty Compound #: 05954
Click Here
3M Microfinishing Compound #: 06011
Click Here
tools tools tools
3M Foam Polishing Glaze #: 05995 (white hulls only)
Click Here
Plastic Pail and 4" Brush (great for mixing and applying compound)
Click Here
Heavy-Duty Extension Cord, 12/3
Click Here
tools tools tools
Two-way Adjustable Saw Horses (for big boats), SKU #: 258828
Click Here
Mask, 3M #: 8511
Click Here
Wool Pad Cleaning Tool
Click Here
tools tools
Foam Pad Cleaning Tool
Click Here
Liquid Glass Wax
Click Here

Harbor Freight Buffer #: 92623

There are many buffers on the market. They range in price from $20 to $200. I tested a cheap buffer from Harbor Freight, model # 92623. I paid $19.99 for this buffer a year ago. It's a variable speed, lightweight machine; this is why I like it. The more commercial brands make heavier machines, and when you're compounding for a few hours a day, they make your arms ache.

I used this buffer almost every day for a year. I dropped it from scaffolds a few times (it landed in dirt), and it still lasted a year before it died. You'll be compounding your boat maybe once a year, so this buffer should last you many years.

You could go out and buy a more expensive commercial brand, but for such infrequent use, it seems a waste of money.

Harbor Freight Store Locator
Harbor Freight Local Store

 

Warning: If you don't have the right tools, or the ability, then do not attempt this procedure. If you do try this, make sure you have an extra person watching.


Do It Yourself Step-by-step Photo Guide: How to Compound Your Boat

 

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