How to Take Dents Out of Stainless Steel Trim
By Robert Bravender
In the course of replacing the headliner and window gaskets on my 1967 Mustang coupe, Robert Wooley of Classics & Customs noticed the stainless steel trim around the front and back glass was also in need of some TLC.
With a little extra time and effort, he demonstrated how dents could be removed and the metal restored to its original luster — just be sure that the material you're working with is in fact stainless. Generally heftier and shinier than anodized aluminum, thinner and more durable than pot metal, stainless is the only trim you can restore yourself with very little expense. However Wooley cautions that you may want to first practice on a junkyard piece to get the technique down. Also, no two dents are the same, so be prepared to vary your technique to meet the challenge. Now to tackle that Delorean...
The dents in this piece of trim aren't easy to see in the photo (see red circle) but they will stand out like a sore thumb on your finished project.
Step 1: Lightly spray ink on the area that you believe is dented; if you don't have this spray available you can use a felt tip marker and rub it over the section. Next, take a fine "mill bastard" file, which can be bought at any hardware store, and gently rasp it across the area. This will remove the ink from the high areas, revealing the dents. It is important that you use a relatively fine file so that you don't gouge the surface.
Step 2: Working on top of a piece of plywood, turn the metal over and locate the dents on the reverse side. Using a punch, gently push on the dent in several spots. Patience — do not rush, use a lot of pressure or beat on it! Every once in a while check your work by scrapping the surface on the other side with the file. Eventually this will reveal that the area is flush. Also re-check for more dents that may be revealed now.
Gently push on the dents to return them to their original shape.
Step 3: Once Step 2 is completed, even out the surface with the file, making sure to reverse direction every once in a while so that you get a cross-hatch pattern. Going in one direction the entire time will create deeper gouges that will be harder to take out later. At this point its also critical that you don't let the file load up with a lot of shavings as this could gall the stainless steel.
Lightly even out the surface with a file.
You want the trim piece to be as smooth as possible.
Step 4: Here's where the patience factor really comes in. Using water-soaked 220 grit sand paper, wet sand out the scratches caused by the file. Be prepared to take a lot of time and sand paper. Once you've cut through all the file marks, use wet 400 grit sand paper to take out these scratches.
Take your time and let the sand paper work for you.
Step 5: The final polishing requires the use of a polishing/buffer wheel, a piece of equipment some people may not possess, (see How To Make Your Own Buffing Wheel) so at this point you may want to take your trim to a professional restorer or experienced body man, who can polish it for a reasonable price. If you should decide to do it yourself, remember cautions that this can be a very dangerous piece of equipment: with the wheels spinning at several thousand rpm, a piece of metal can easily be ripped from your hands and instantly turned into abstract art (not to mention what it could do to your hands). For DIYers, here's what you do: starting with the cutting wheel, use a rough compound to take out the 400 grit scratches. Next, using the flannel buffing wheel, polish the metal with white rouge compound until shiny. Finally, rub down with a soft cloth and gaze with amazement at your reborn trim!
Polishing the straightened piece.
Straight and Clean.