Cleaning up Engine Turning

My Craftsman table saw has a lovely engine turned aluminium front panel on it, but after 50+ years, it was looking a bit dingy:


I went through the internet, scouring it to find out how to clean the finish, after I discovered that standard cleaning methods just totally wiped out the engine turning.  It’s so shallowly done, that it doesn’t stand up to much of anything.  I finally figured out a way to get it much brighter and cleaner than it was:

Although it’s still a bit “foggy” compared to new, and there’s some oxidization still present, I think I got the bulk of the dirt and the schmutz off, and got a good “three foot” polish on it.  You’ll see some foulups on the top from some ill advised cleaning methods.  Here’s how I did it…

First, I’m going to list off the ways you should not clean the front panel.

  • Scotch brite pads lubricated with WD40.  These just wreck the finish.  This was one method I tried along the top of the panel, and you can see the section with the absence of engine turning.
  • Brasso.  This just takes off a layer of aluminium, also obliterating the engine turning.  It’s a bit less harsh than scotchbrite when rubbed in with a very soft towel, but is still pretty harsh.  It won’t damage the surface as much as scotchbrite, but it will leave scratches, and possibly destroy the engine turning.
  • Soaking in a bucket with fairy liquid.  This got rid of some of the surface dirt, and I think was responsible for softening the paint splatters, but other than that it did very little.

What I found worked for me (and I advise extreme caution in attempting this — I am not responsible for damages if they occur) was to brush on a coat of naval jelly, and watch it like a hawk, brushing it again about every minute, and leaving it on for no more than five, rinsing it off, and repeating as necessary.  This brightens the aluminium considerably, and removes the stains.  I followed it up with a coat of Johnson’s paste wax.  The result is a little more cloudy than I’d like, and certainly not as bright and pretty as when it was in the showroom, but it’s certainly better than it was!

At the top of the panel, you can see just how much damage you can do to the finish without realizing it.  the erased engine turning is the result of gentle application of brasso with a soft cloth, and  scotch-brite lubricated with WD-40.

Good luck on your own restorations!

One thought on “Cleaning up Engine Turning

  1. Painless Black Wolf says:

    A little more cloudy is a good thing as long as it is Cloudy Skies. Very nice brain work on getting it to come clean without ruining it.

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