I have seen many questions posted on the subject of polishing aluminum, and that is one thing that is common to almost all of the vintage trailers... plenty of aluminum. Almost all of it is suffering from 40+ years of neglect. This tutorial is a combination of stuff I have picked up from various sources...I am simply a messeger.
So, if any of you are still reading along I shall begin...
Begin by removing the aluminum trim from what ever it is attached to. Be very careful not to damage the trim by prying against it or bending it.
Many times the trim is attached with twisty nails which are half screw half nail.
These are usually shot in with a gun and the aluminum is not predrilled, so the nails have to be unscrewed from the aluminum. Careful application of a small vice grip works good for this.
Once you have the trim removed, do an acid wash on the aluminum.
Eagle one chrome and wire cleaner is acid in a handy dandy spray bottle. A wallpaper tray works great along with a small cheap brush. Put it in the tray, spray it and brush it, and you'll notice an immediate improvement.
Don't forget to wear gloves and a face shield is good to avoid splash back.
When you are done, rinse and then dry.
Don't worry so much about the stubborn parts. There'll always be some grease or some build up that the acid does not remove. I use Goof Off to remove that stuff.
Here is a good example of a typical acid resistant blob of crud.
Next I use 0000 steel wool, with Murphy's Oil Soap for lubrication and cleaning. This will break off the rest of the hazy oxidation and mineral deposits. Try to go in only one direction, and make sure you never let the steel wool go dry.
After it is clean, I will use a hammer and Dolly and straighten out any bends, dents, burrs. It is important not to do this before you clean it, as hammering on grit will marr the metal. In this pic, you can see what the goof off removed.
Be very patient with the hammer and Dolly work. Patience will definitely pay off. You will be surprised at what you can straighten out.
At this point, you are ready to buff it. I use a cloth buffing wheel on a bench grinder mounted to a stand. If the grinder is mounted to a
bench, you won't have enough access to the wheel. The stand doesn't have to be fancy, mine is made out of an old flex plate and some scrap metal I
had laying around.
For buffing aluminum, use white rouge. They sell this at Home Depot. Apply the rouge frequently to the wheel, as this is what does the work. Do not worry about the black deposits left behind from the buffing wheel. That will be removed at a later step.
When buffing, you must always be mindful of the direction the wheel is rotating, and always have it going off of an edge. If the wheel spins
onto an edge, it will grab the piece and flip it out of your hand so fast and throw it across the room, you won't even know what hit you. This will usually
scratch and bend the piece, make a loud racket, and scare you. (This is from experience mind you, so don't beat yourself up if it happens, just be careful
and mindful of what you are doing).
The buffer will bring out the mirror finish.
Now you are entering the home stretch.
Follow buffing up with Mother's Mag and aluminum polish. This will remove most of the black oxide left over from buffing. In this pic, the trim is post buffer pre-polish... you can see the rouge build-up in the holes. Don't sweat it...
Follow the aluminum polish with a good Carnuba wax. The trim will oxidize fairly quickly if you leave this step out, and the wax actually removes more of the black oxide left over from the mother's polish.
Here is the finished top to the dresser awaiting installation.
You can see the pattern on the Formica are reflected in the trim.
And here is the top installed on the dresser.
The pictures don't really do it justice. The same process was used on the drawer faces which are also aluminum.
I hope that is helpful, and feel free to add any details I have left out, or share any other tricks that I may not know.
Good luck! And happy polishing :-)