Working with stainless trim

July 1, 2018 | By Staff


I have a 1957 Ford Fairlane that is a real nice survivor, but some of its stainless trim has little dents in it that really catch my eye. I am a perfectionist. Is there a way I can fix these blemishes without spending a fortune?


It really isn’t difficult to take small dents and creases out of stainless if you work carefully and patiently. In fact, getting the trim off of the car may be the trickiest part if it is rusted into place. Grabbing and wringing the fasteners can damage the molding as well as the surrounding bodywork if you are not careful.

If the fasteners are completely rusted into place, you can use a thin cutting wheel chucked into an electric drill, or a pair of cutting dikes to cut them off from behind. Replacement fasteners are available, or you can even make replacements in a pinch, using washers and screws if you happen to break one.

Once you have the trim off you will want to clean it so no dirt or rust gets in the way of your repair. And for the next step you will need an anvil such as you may find in the heel of your vise on which to work, and a picking hammer such as you would find in a car body shop. I also like to use pieces of halfinch diameter dowel that I can shape to take out certain types of dents.

There may also be times when you will want to make small male and female contoured wooden bucks out of soft pine. You can use the bucks to press the trim into shape. I also use the aforementioned dowels, filed to shape, to tap dents out using a piece of two-by-four as a buck.

The best way to take out small dimples is to tap them out from behind with a picking hammer using the heel of a vise as a buck. You just need to tap lightly. Otherwise you will only succeed in making a bunch of outies where you had an innie. The side of the part you normally see will have little freckles and irregularities when you are finished, but those are then filed smooth with fine files.

When you have the part shaped properly, you can then sand it with 400-grit sandpaper, followed by 1000- grit micro-fine paper, and then buff the part out using buffing rouges and going from coarse to fine polishing compound. A big Baldor buffer will make short work of the buffing process but they are expensive. For many years I have just used an old washing machine motor and an adaptor chuck for buffing wheels for this task.

Always wear gloves and eye protection while buffing, and always buff with the wheel spinning toward you, and hold the part under the wheel so it buffs away from you so the buffer won’t flip the part back into your face. Tape yardsticks or other stiffeners under long slim pieces to back them so you won’t kink and deform them. Also, be careful not to buff stainless until it gets so hot it becomes discolored.

Now the only problem is the fact that your repaired and restored trim piece will look dazzling, making all the other stainless trim on your car look dull by comparison. I restored a 1955 Chevrolet station wagon a few years ago and wound up removing, buffing, and polishing all of the bright work on it including its full-dish hubcaps.