Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Requiem for the wool cutting pad

December 30, 2013

Anytime you attack or challenge tradition, time proven methods or products, you stand to become the object of criticism.

Well, I am here to be criticized for my position that the wool cutting pad is becoming technologically obsolete in the detail business.

Why? The answer is: Clear coat finishes

The advent of clear coat finishes has eliminated, even necessitated, the use of less aggressive methods of buffing and polishing. And the foam pad has easily filled the need.

Ask any paint manufacturer about high-speed buffers, wool cutting pads, and clear coat finishes. They will tell you that a clear coat is only 1.5 mils thick and any aggressive buffing will remove at least .5 mils, making this thin coating ever thinner. They will also tell you that a wool cutting pad on its own will scratch and swirl all types of paint finishes. Combined with a heavy-duty compound in the hands of a novice and you have an accident looking for a place to happen.

In short, wool cutting pads are yesterday's technology for yesterday's paint finishes.

Clear coat finishes are today's technology and require a different technology.

That is the technology of foam and less abrasive compounds, compounds formulated for the more sensitive polyurethane clear coat.

Work smarter, not harder

Yes, there are still some detailers who can do wonders with a single wool cutting pad, compounding, polishing, and waxing. But they are a dying breed for one, for another, why work that hard? And it is really not a question of preference; it is a question of what is needed.

In recent months, I have been in a number of detail centers around the world, including doing our own testing in Portland that has conducted tests on clear coat and single stage paint finishes.

The one common result found on the vehicles was that problems could be corrected just as effectively with a foam pad as with a wool cutting pad.

Moreover, with the foam pad, there were less or no swirls and we were able to move right to the general waxing or sealing step.

The general rule of thumb with clear coat finishes is that if you cannot correct the problem with a foam pad and compound you should only use the wool pad after testing an area.

Single stage paints, too

According to many paint manufacturers, it is not recommended to use wool cutting pads and heavy abrasive compounds on today's single stage paints. Their point is that these paint finishes are actually more susceptible to damage than clear coats because the pigments and resins in the paint are exposed and can be damaged by too aggressive buffing. And, certainly we know that darker colored single stage paints can show swirls as badly as clear coats.

Don't create more work

In my experience, it seems that sticking to the old methods, and refusing to learn and use new technology really ends up creating more work, or poor quality work.

For example, using a wool pad and heavy compound on some paint finishes may correct the problem, but at the same time create another problem that has to be corrected with a foam pad and a lighter compound. And, as is the case with many detailers, this is too much work and they simply move to the waxing stage hoping to fill the swirls, which results in poor quality work.

A final farewell

So, in my opinion, and that's what it is, let's bid a fond farewell to the wool cutting pad, commending it for a job well done, but now introduce the new player, foam pads.

(Author's note: Certainly, there can be times and paint finish problems that will require a cutting pad so keep it on the shelf for those few times you may need to call them out of retirement for that special situation.)

P.S. What about dual-action tools?

There is also another technology popular in the detail industry, and that is the dual-action polisher. While these have been around for more than 20 years, new technology from Europe has been introduced.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is the founding member of the International Detailing Association and its first executive director. He is also a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors.