On the Job

Basics of Metal Polishing for Deckhands

4 August 2023 By Patrick Levitzke
Credit: Patrick Levitzke

Patrick Levitzke is from Port Macquarie, Australia. He left in 2019 to begin yachting, and found his first job on a private 82-foot Horizon, cruising the U.S. East Coast, with just the captain. Currently, he’s a deckhand on a 210-foot private yacht and has plans to complete his 200-ton license this year.

If you’ve browsed the new builds due this year, there are definitely some takeaways. Axe bows? Check. Explorer style and hard lines? Yep. Capping rails? Stainless. The same goes for flagpoles, side boarding ladders, bar fixtures – all steel.

Good quality, relatively new stainless steel will need little attention and will hold its shine for a season with occasional polishing and thorough Collinite Insulator Wax. Old, poor-quality stainless is a different story — only constant protection will keep the rust abated. High-grade stainless isn’t always immediately apparent, so ask your chief/captain if you aren’t familiar with the build. Typically, German or Dutch custom builds have some of the best stainless, although I’ve been surprised by some less prestigious builds.

As your mid-season on the go, one-step treatments such as Collinite Metal Wax or Star Clean wet polish are great and reliable, so try to stock up rather than guessing foreign product labeling. As both “cut” the metal, it’s best practice to apply Insulator Wax or similar protectant whenever you perform any kind of cutting. Personally, I prefer the wet polish over anything else, applied with a fine dish sponge (without a Scotch-Brite pad). It’s fast and can be done with a washdown; just don’t put it on your brush or soap bucket as you’ll dull the paint.

If you want to get creative, buffing compounds are a great next step. Typical projects are stainless-steel fittings, lettering, or anchor pockets. If you can, the most ergonomic option is to remove all fittings and take them to a bench buffer. You’ll save your shoulders and back and the product will look better. If not, hand tools or drill head attachments are the next bet. Remember you’re equating hours of hand work into seconds with the tools, so take care to apply evenly.

As for applicators, your buffing wheels should be a spiral-sewn or a loose-sewn-type pad, where you’ll only apply the outer edge to the metal. Bring a spare rag as these pads can get gunked up. I would avoid buffing in direct sunlight as the compound can become painfully sticky.

The actual compound comes in color-coded sticks, depending on the level of cut. Usually you’ll begin with black/brown, then white, and to green or blue. However, colors may depend on brand and kit. A three- or four-step compound is sufficient for most outdoor stainless, more if working with intricate steel. Some advise starting off with a 300 to 400 grit equivalent before working with compounds, but to be honest, if you’re cracking out the 300 grit on your stainless, you likely have bigger fish to fry. Be sure to read the packaging very carefully. Compounds may be metal-specific and they may not be interchangeable.

Compound buffing will improve, if not remove, most surface scratches; the final product is phenomenal. Happy buffing!


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