View Full Version : The Traditional Orbital Buffer aka The Wax Spreader

Mike Phillips
Mar 15th, 2010, 05:51 AM
The Traditional Orbital Buffer aka The Wax Spreader


Traditional Orbital Buffers like the one in the picture above have been around for a long time, at least the 1950's and probably the 1940's, possibly earlier. In all the years I've been teaching classes on machine polishing I ALWAYS include these types of buffers only I don't teach anyone how to use one, but instead teach people why they can't use one to remove swirls out of clear coat finishes.

The reason for this is because chances are very good anytime you get together a group of approximately 30 car guys, (and car gals), chances are good at least one person in that group has a buffer like the one in the picture and chances are actually great that a number of people in the group have a buffer like this and/or have access to one or has been contemplating purchasing one.

These types of buffers are relatively inexpensive and easy to find at most department stores like Sears, Target, Walmart or K-Mart, and also most auto parts stores from around a low of $15.00 to a high of $70.00 and with most of them falling in somewhere in-between in the $30.00 dollar range.

Thus one reason so many people have one is because compared to the tools we all on detailing discussion forums talk about and use, these types of buffers are relatively cheap and easy to find. Tools like the Porter Cable 7424XP or a Flex 3401 more specialized tools capable of more dramatic results and are not easily found at the stores listed above.

Also, because the Traditional Orbital Buffer is easily found and relatively inexpensive to purchase, they are often given as gifts by well meaning people to their friends and family members that are into cars.

And here's what this article is all about... for as long as I've been teaching classes the below question about these types of buffers always comes up,

"Mike, I already have an orbital buffer, can I use it to remove swirls?"

And specifically what they mean is that they've seen all the pictures and read all the threads showing people removing swirls and creating show car finishes using tools like the Porter Cable dual action polisher, (and the Meguiar's and Griot's versions), or the Flex 3401 Forced Rotation Dual Action Polisher or any of the popular rotary buffers like the DeWalt, Makita, Flex 603 or now days the Flex Lightweight 3403 and what they mean is can they get the same kinds of spectacular results they see people getting with these machines with the traditional orbital buffer they already own.

And then I get the fun of saying,

"No. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the buffer you have won't work to effectively remove swirls"

That's a typical scenario and conversation that takes place in one of my classes and I'm sure I can get a witness from one of our forum members that has attended one of these classes after this thread is read enough times after I hit the Submit Button.

TOB = Wax Spreader
Reality is, these tools are now called Wax Spreaders because for the most part that's all they're really capable of, that is spreading out a layer of wax to a finish already in good condition. They don't have enough power, speed or versatility to be used to remove swirls out of modern clear coat finishes. Now if your car's finish is already in great condition and all you want to do is spread out a coating of wax then by all means use them as they will work for this purpose.

But if your car has a clear coat finish and has any of the below Below Surface Paint Defects then what you really need is a tool with dramatically better paint correction ability, that is the ability to remove these kinds of defects.

Cobweb Swirls also called Spiderweb Swirls

Rotary Buffer Swirls also called Holograms or Buffer Trails

Water Spots

A little history on the Traditional Orbital Buffer
Back in the days when cars had single stage paints like lacquers and enamels, this would be pretty much most of the cars and truck built before the 1980's, you could use a traditional orbital buffer to remove oxidation because these paints were generally speaking fairly soft. The problem with single stage paints is that if you don't regularly polish and wax them, then the paint will begin to oxidize on the surface, this shows up as the paint turning a chalky, white color. For example, in the below picture the yellow paint on the 1960 Ford Ranchero has oxidized and begun to turn chalky white.

Oxidation on single stage yellow paint

With old style single stage paints you could remove the oxidation by putting some rubbing compound on the face of a traditional orbital buffer and then place the buffer onto the oxidized paint and use this style of buffer to basically chew off the dead, oxidized paint and it worked pretty good! What you would do is use the buffer and the compound to chew off the dead, oxidized paint and uncover a fresh layer of paint and then afterwards you would polish and wax this fresh layer of paint and the results would be a restored finish that could look like this,

Oxidation removed off one half of the hood

After all the oxidation has been removed off the entire vehicle and the paint has
been polished to a high glossed and then protected using a paint sealant.


The paints have changed...
So old school buffers like a traditional orbital buffer worked find on old school paints. Here's the deal though... the paints have changed! Since the early 1980's car manufactures begin switching over to a new type of paint system called Clear Coat Finishes. There were some problems with early clear coat paint systems all th way into the 1990's but today paint manufactures have this new paint technology dialed-in and modern clear coat paints now last a long time and bring the finish quality of cars to a higher level than ever achieved in the past.

Clearcoat paint systems use different types of resins or than traditional single stage paints and these new resins are more resistant to breaking down via oxidation and that's a good thing because modern paints will easily last longer than traditional single stage paints with only a minimum of care such as washing and occasionally waxing or sealing the paint.

Swirls and Scratches instead of Oxidation
While modern clear coat paints don't oxidize very easily they are easily swirled and scratched and the swirls and scratches show up easily to our eyes. The reason for this is because when you scratch a clear layer of paint the scratch isn't clear it's opaque or whitish and because the clear layer is sprayed over a layer of colored or pigmented paint, the darker colored paints act to make the swirls and scratches in the clear layer show up easily to our eyes.

Harder paints
One of the reasons modern clear coat paints are less prone to oxidize and can last longer then their predecessor is because they tend to be harder and more dense in their chemical make-up than single stage lacquer and enamel paints. This benefit comes at a cost and the cost is when you and I go out into our garage to try to remove swirls and scratches by hand it's dramatically more difficult to remove swirls and scratches because of the hardness factor.

Single stage paints get oxidation but because they're softer it's easy to remove the oxidation which is basically dead or deteriorated paint.

Clear coat paints get swirls and scratches but because they tend to be harder than single stage paints it's more difficult to remove defects in the paint.
It's important to note here that the way you remove swirls and scratches out of a clear coat finish is you must abrade the paint in way that will level the upper most surface of the finish with the lowest depths of the swirls and scratches you're trying to remove. In simple words, in order to remove swirls and scratches you must remove a little paint. That never sounds good to say while teaching a class or type when explaining this in a discussion forum but that is the truth.

See this article for more information,
What it means to remove a scratch out of anything... (http://meguiarsonline.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=7228)

Just to point out, removing oxidation means removing a little paint off the surface too so we're all still doing the same thing when it comes to working on modern clear coat paints it's just the difficulty has increased because the chemical make-up of the paint has changed.

The reasons why Traditional Orbital Buffers are not effective at removing swirls, scratches and water spots out of clear coat finishes.

Too little power
Most of the traditional Orbital buffers available today don't have the same usable power that polishers like Porter Cable DA Polishers, Flex 3401 Polishers and Rotary Buffers offer.

Fixed speed buffers
Most of these tools have a simple On/Off button so you only get one speed out of the tool and usually it's not fast enough to be effective at removing swirls.

Too slow
The fixed speed offered by traditional orbital buffers is too slow for effective removal of below surface. To be effective you want a polisher that offers a variable speed range with faster speeds at the high speed setting.

Tool large of a bonnet or face of buffing pad
The diameter of most of the buffing pads on traditional orbital buffers is too large and this makes the overall size or footprint of the polisher too large. What this means is when you apply some downward pressure to try to work a compound or polish against the paint to try to remove swirls, scratches and water spots, your downward pressure is spread-out over the entire surface of the buffing pad. This is limits and reduces the effectiveness and ability of the these types of buffers to remove paint and thus remove swirls, scratches and water spots.

All the reasons listed above are why traditional orbital buffers are simply not effective at removing swirls, scratches and/or water spots and have now days been relegated to the role of wax spreaders.

The good news is, there are plenty of powerful but safe options available to you with a huge assortment of buffing pads and backing plates as well as accessories to enable you to do the job yourself and remove below surface defects out of your car's clear coat finish like swirls, scratches and water spots.

If you really want to get into machine polishing take a look at the new Meguiar's G110v2 Dual Action Polisher.

Meguiar's G110v2 Dual Action Polisher (http://meguiarsonline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=38257)



Mar 16th, 2010, 10:39 AM
I always wonder why the orbital buffers I bought from WalMart do not work well. Now, I know! I need to start saving up for a G110v2. I been wanting one.

Mar 18th, 2010, 12:36 AM
Might want to scoop this one up: http://www.autodetailingsolutions.net/meguiars-g110-v2-6-pack-kit.html

I just bought it and it's an excellent value!

Mar 18th, 2010, 06:22 PM
I was looking at a Turtle Wax brand buffer at Wally World the other day and the package actually said it removes swirls marks!

Mar 19th, 2010, 09:28 AM
I was looking at a Turtle Wax brand buffer at Wally World the other day and the package actually said it removes swirls marks!

Yes, that is true - but then, so does your hand (hand-worked SwirlX etc).

Mar 19th, 2010, 09:42 AM
You can remove swirl marks more effectively by hand than you can with an orbital buffer.

Jul 10th, 2010, 06:41 PM
i actually own the turtle wax orbital buffer offered at wally world, it works more then good enough for what i want it to do, spread a layer of wax quickly. i dont really trust myself with a high power/high speed tool just yet so i do most of the work by hand, and just throw the last coat of wax on with the orbital after a full detail, or to throw a coat of wax on really quickly between full details...

Aug 19th, 2010, 09:42 PM
I was looking at a Turtle Wax brand buffer at Wally World the other day and the package actually said it removes swirls marks!
It does not; that's how I ended up here. Good stuff on this forum though. I'm sure I can find any info I need here, just wish I had found it last week!