Polishing vs. Buffing: What's the Difference?

buffing wheel polishing wheel

Q. We’re confused about the term “polishing.” Is this the same as buffing?

A. Finishing processes that utilize abrasive belts are referred to as polishing, and processes that use cloth wheels with compound applied is buffing. Polishing generates a brushed or lined finish, where buffing removes the lines and creates a bright luster finish. The process of buffing generally requires surface refinement polishing prior to buffing.

Polishing by abrasive belts or discs is required to level surfaces, remove scratches, pits, scale and polish the surface enough so the cut buff can remove the polishing lines. The first polishing step should be done with the finest abrasive possible that efficiently removes the welds, levels, or refines the surface imperfections. From that point on, the subsequent process works to remove the first polishing scratch lines.

Each finer polishing step should be cross-polished 90 degrees from the previous polishing process. A 320 - 400 grit polishing line is generally the coarsest surface preparation that a cut buff process can efficiently remove.

Buffing is a rotating cloth wheel that is impregnated with fine abrasive compounds, and it produces a bright-luster finish on metal and composites. Buff wheels are impregnated with liquid rouge or a greaseless compound-based matrix of specialized fine abrasive called compound. The compound is sprayed or pressured into the rotating buffing wheel. The buff wheel acts as the carrier of the compound, which ultimately does the surface finishing.

Cut buff is the course buff process. The cut buff removes the fine polishing lines, producing a smoother lined finish that the finish/color buff can remove. The cut buff is the more difficult buff process and requires more time, effort and pressure, causing increased operator fatigue.

Finish/color buff is the finest buff process for surface finishing. The finish buff removes the fine lines created by the cut buff process, while creating a bright luster finish. The finish buff is an easier, quicker, less pressure process than the cut buff.

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