Boat Buffer
There is a difference and you better know!

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Finding the best boat buffer will be an oversimplified quest for most of you. Experience has shown that most people think that polishing car paint is essentially the same as polishing a boat.

 While the fact does remain that many of the same tools and products do indeed work across the spectrum of car and boat polishing, understanding the differences between gel coat and the different buffers will go far to avoid disappointment and achieving optimum results. Follow along with this comprehensive question and answer session, and see if you don't walk away more informed than you ever thought possible!

Boat Polishers: Question and Answers

Q.-I heard that car paint and gel coat is really the same when it comes to polishing and waxing.

boat buffer

A.-The fact is that while you could virtually use the same of everything to polish a boat as you do to polish your car, the real difference will be more about results.

(Many people will co-mingle fiberglass and gel coat when referring to their boat. While fiberglass is used to make boat hulls and decks, fiberglass actually refers to the fiberglass cloth used in the gel coat process. Gel coat is the top layer that is exposed and the material we are officially referring to and working with)

Gel coat is very porous and very durable. Gel coat has no protective layer to it like the clear coat on car paint and therefore oxidizes easily. The very qualities that make gel coat the go-to material for boat and RV construction, are also the very qualities that make polishing a boat very difficult....unless of course your boat is either brand new, or in excellent condition.

Because if your boat was in that kind of condition, would most likely mean you would not be searching for a top rated boat polisher.

Q.- What is the critical point I need in understanding the difference between car paint and gel coat?

boat buffer reviews

A.- If you have a boat that is in pristine condition, it will mater not what kind of boat polisher or product you use to polish your boat since your boat is in excellent condition and no level of oxidation exists. But most people go looking for the best boat buffer and polish due to some level of oxidation, and this is the point where selecting the right boat polisher and polish will make or break your world. Unless you have aggressive enough tools and products, your boat oxidation removal will be minimal at best. To truly perform oxidation removal and gel coat restoration, traditional random orbital or DA car polishers will be the equivalent of bringing a BB gun to a gun fight!

Q.- So what kind of boat buffer do I need to do the job?

A. - A high-speed buffer; also referred to as a rotary buffer. These buffers are buried in bad press mostly due to inexperienced and/or misinformed guys repeating bad information. The fact remains that gel coat requires the friction and heat that can only be produced through these high-speed polishers. Forced drive, or random orbital polishers simply cannot produce the necessary heat and friction required; at least in any realistic timely manner.

Q.- I heard that high-speed buffers should never be used as they leave swirl marks and can damage paint?

best boat buffer review

A.- We must remember a few things here; first, we are talking gel coat. And second, gel coat is not car paint. The good news is that gel coat is very tough and can withstand far more pressure, heat, and friction than car paint. This means good news to any beginner looking to polish their own boat, but at the same time this is exactly why a high-speed polisher is needed to achieve any discernible or lasting results. I have seen many do-it-yourselfers try and save a buck by spending the entire weekend with their fathers old-school orbital polisher, or a grinder with a wool pad, only to have the oxidation re-appear a few weeks later due to their inexperience and ignorance of what they are doing, and what they are working on.

Q.- Now that I know a rotary or high-speed polisher is the best boat buffer, what are the best high-speed buffers I should consider for polishing my boat?

A.- Glad you asked as there are (3) choices that any experienced professional would recommend.

Boat Polisher Reviews

Darren's Tips: You could spend days researching the endless reviews about the best boat polishers, compounds, and polishing pads only to find yourself more confused, frustrated, and still no closer to getting what you really want....

a shiny, glossy, and protected boat!

So I am limiting my professional recommendations to a minimum for some very specific reasons:

  • You can save yourself the frustration and time by following my recommendations that come from the real world of professional boat detailing.
  • The industry is now full of many quality boat polishers and products; choosing a top rated boat buffer is easier than ever!
  • Because the industry has so many quality choices, it also makes picking a top rated boat buffer and compounds that much more difficult as you will be buried in endless opinions.

DeWalt Boat Polishing Kit

DeWalt DWP-849X Marine 31 Boat Oxidation Removal Kit

  • One of my personal favorites.
  • New slower start speed means safer learning curve for any newbie.
  • Slower start speed not only makes this polisher safer for beginners, but allows for what is called finish polishing, or "jeweling".
  • Will handle any job you throw at it; boat, car, RV.
  • A true work-horse!

Flex Boat Polishing Kit

FLEX PE14-2-150 Marine 31 Boat Oxidation Removal Kit

  • German engineering; considered the Mercedes of car and boat polishers.
  • Can be used for the most aggressive oxidation removal jobs, to fine finish polishing.
  • Will handle years and years of commercial use.
  • Slow start speed allows for safer polishing for beginners as well as fine polishing for end results.
  • A true work horse for any beginner to seasoned veteran.

Darren's Professional Tips

gelcaot boat polishing

I assume that anyone looking for the best boat buffer is dealing with some level of fiberglass oxidation or gel coat oxidation. I also know that most people grossly underestimate the nature of gel coat when it comes to polishing. It is one thing to polish your boat and have it look nice, entirely different to actually perform a job that will last. Most people who attempt to polish their boat will do so with materials and tools far too mild for lasting results. Boats really can handle and do require far more pressure, heat, and friction than that of cars.

  • Any boat buffer from above will perform with excellent results.
  • Any of these buffers can also be used for car polishing.
  • Any buffer above is ideally suited for first time users to seasoned veterans; slow start speeds allow for a wider range of use and skill set.
  • For boat polishing, start with wool pad and approx. 1000 RPM and work up from there if you are a first-timer. Professionally I set my polisher speed between 1500-1800 RPM for the first initial cut using the wool pad and the most aggressive compound.
  • Start with approx. quarter size drop of polish in center of pad.
  • As a beginner there will always be that inconvenient learning curve. Every new venture in life will have it. Accept it and just press forward as these tools and products are your best chance at success. You will also take solace in knowing that because of the exceptional products that exists today, you really can have success as a beginner.
  • Most first-timers tend to use too much polish, rather than not enough. Go easy and start small.

Universal Pad Washer

Darren's Tip: While it is not a true requirement, since I started using this universal pad washer I have grown to love the benefits it offers and question how I managed before these came along.

While they are what I consider an expensive add-on, I also consider it a worthy expense for the basic reason:

"Whether you are polishing a boat or car; it is hard work! Having the best tools, products, and accessories will make the job dramatically easier and better. The right tools and products will literally make the difference between success and failure as well as overall user experience. Do not take this lightly!"

Grit Guard Universal Pad Washer

  • Wool pads are notorious for spewing large amounts of wool fibers when using a new pad; this solves that problem by pre-conditioning your wool pad from the beginning.
  • Much quicker, easier, and more effective than using the traditional cleaning spur or cleaning brush.
  • Can be used with water if you prefer to have your pads refreshed with water, or use it dry; this really is a preference you will develop over time as you use and become more skilled.

Boat Polishing Wool Pads

Pack of 3 - 8" 100% Wool Hook & Loop Grip Buffing Pad for Compound Cutting & Polishing

  • I prefer 100% wool pads. I have tried the wool/synthetic blends but find they do not "cut" as well as the 100% wool pads.
  • If you plan on doing an entire boat of any length, you will need more than a single pad. Don't underestimate how nicely a fresh pad performs despite how vigilant you are in cleaning your pads.
  • I will go through at least 3-6 pads if I am restoring a decently oxidized boat anywhere from 19-24 feet in length. (that is a big spread in pad quantity; but many variables exist: how much oxidation there is, how much of the actual boat are you polishing, is it a an open bow or closed bow, etc., etc.)

Wool Pad Cleaning Spur

AES Industries Buffing Pad Cleaning Tool

  • For use on wool pads only.
  • Will keep your pad fibers separated and clean from excess spent fibers and compounds.
  • Can be used independently or after you have cleaned your pad using the pad washer from above.
  • I hold the rotary polisher against one of my legs while turning polisher to a fairly high RPM speed. Then I press the cleaning spur into the face of the pad to remove excess polishes/compounds after a few applications of polishes/compounds. (you will learn quickly the frequency you prefer in using this tool and/or the pad washer in keeping your polishing pads clean and fresh.
  • Also helps extend the polishing life you can get from each polishing pad.

Foam Pad Cleaning Tool

Nanoskin (NAA-PCB1) Pad Conditioning Brush

  • Ideally suited for foam or micro fiber pads.
  • Can be used independently or after use of the pad washer.
  • Keeps your pads clean and fresh.
  • Helps extend the life of your pads.

Pay "Boat Buffer" Forward

If you have learned something of value from this page, pay it forward by sharing to your favorite forum or social group.

Speaking from experience; boat polishing, fiberglass restoration is not an easy task even for a trained professional. But with my recommendations above you will at least have a fighting chance to getting professional results, and not be lead down the wrong path only to add further frustration to an already frustrating proposition!


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