For those who want to create a sleek, unique look on their ride, learning how to ball burnish an aluminum bike frame is a great start. Unfortunately, the equipment needed to ball burnish on a large scale is often completely inaccessible to most riders, making it necessary to adopt an alternate means of creating a similar effect. Here are the things you'll need.
- Respirator mask
- Brush–on (avoid aerosol) aircraft stripper
- Wire brush
- Wet/dry sandpaper
- Wire wheel and drill
- Steel wool
- Disposable rags
- Well-ventilated space
- We shouldn't have to say this, but it's probably a good idea. Make sure you remove all fixtures from the bike frame first. Clips, wires, fork, tires and cables, crankshaft and gear cassettes have no place getting their external coating stripped, unless you really just want to have to buy a whole new bike.
- Aircraft paint stripper is a very powerful chemical compound and if you prefer to use something less caustic, you can always go with a regular paint solvent, but this may require a longer soaking time. Wear gloves and ensure you do not over-inhale the fumes, and work outdoors if possible. Follow the instructions on the can you have, but as a general rule, apply a thin coat using your cloth and let it sit for the recommended time period. Once it has soaked, you can use the wire brush to remove the chemical and most of the paint ought to follow. When using the wire brush, you needn't press too hard, but it's definitely not a good idea to upgrade to something stronger like a grinder, because this can cause dents or even weak points in your frame that may lead to mid-ride failures (i.e. broken teeth, jaws and other important body parts). This is especially true around weld beads, so stick to the elbow grease.
- After you've completely treated the frame with the solvent or stripper, you can use the wet dry sand paper to tear up any last specks of paint that remain. A fine grit is recommended, and more work with the brush can help here. If these will absolutely not do the trick, return to the previous step.
- The final effect. Ensuring that the bike is completely free of chemicals and solvents, you can use the wire wheel/drill combo to polish the bike, creating a nice rounded effect. For a higher sheen, an alternative method is to use the steel wool first and then follow it up with the wire wheel. With both methods, a rounded, smooth stroke is necessary to create the ball-burnished effect you're looking for.
Your frame ought to look awesome by now. Finishing with a clear coat is entirely unnecessary, you'll notice that the unprotected aluminum does oxidize later on and become slightly duller, but it shouldn't make that much of a visual difference. In addition, leaving the bike uncoated like this means that the next time you run into a tree, wall or other fixed object, you won't have to do much more than take the wire wheel or steel wool to the ding to get rid of it.