Recently while helping a client select a polisher for their needs, it got me thinking that it's not an uncommon question of "what size polisher do I need or want?" I figured since I have some time today, I'd try to write a little bit about the different polishers and their pros and cons since we are fortunate enough to have some experience with various sizes. We've worked through what we thought versus what it really is...sometimes these were the same. Other times...we were way off the mark. So without more intro and babbling, let's get into it. Hopefully the folks at Adam's and the admins don't mind a post like this...If you do, feel free to take it down!
There's quite a few options out there for polishers. Rotary, dual action (DA), 12mm, 15mm, 21mm, micro...the list goes on and on. As you're considering making the leap into polishing it can be a bit overwhelming. Everyone who's picked up a polisher for the first time has had multiple thoughts of "can I do this?" or "am I going to ruin my paint?" The good news is that the DA polishers are safer for paint than the rotary polishers. Rotary polishers have unparalleled power, but getting them to finish without noticeable trails is difficult or next to impossible without vast experience. Add in the sizes, and you can't help but question if you're giving yourself a recipe for disaster.
We use Rupes polishers in our business with the exception of a single Cyclo we have set up as a powered carpet brush. Actually, Cyclo is now part of Rupes, so you could say we are Rupes exclusive seemingly. The Adam's Polishers are great and VERY similar to the Rupes. For most users, they're a great way to save a few dollars or to even get a second polisher to really round out your abilities. Let's take our polishers (sizes) in the order we use them from most to least...
So which polisher do we actually use the most? Our absolute "go-to" polisher when we start a project. It's actually not out biggest and most powerful polisher. Both of us will grab the Rupes 15mkII as our initial tool. The 15mm throw has the absolute best blend of correcting power and maneuverability. The 5.5" pads cover good surface area while not having such a large rigid spot due to the backing plate that we can still work curves and edges with them. The 15 is generally more then enough polisher in terms of power and is very versatile with the types of pads and polishes/compounds. Use a compound on a wool pad and you have some serious cutting horsepower at your fingertips. We constantly play with pad/polish/speed combos based on our goals and what's going to work in terms of time/effort/budget for our clients. If we could have only one single polisher, without a doubt we would pick the 15 every single time. It really is that good. We aren't going to get into speed recommendations as it's largely variable based on the polish/compound/pad/polisher. The variables are endless and an entirely different conversation.
Does the next polisher we grab go up or down in size? Surprisingly, it goes down. We grab our Rupes Mini with a 4" pad. This little guy has considerable power for a little machine. You can work the polisher with one hand if you need to, and the small size makes it the great bumper getter. Swirly A-post? No problem. The mini will tackle it with it's correcting power without having a pad that's significantly oversize for the work area. Mirrors are another great spot for the mini, and even inside door sills for those who need to get everything perfect! The smaller machine is more maneuverable and has far better than pushing a bigger polisher with a longer throw and a larger backing plate around where it can find body parts to bang off of potentially causing damage to the vehicle.
We have a Rupes Nano in our selection, which brings us to number three. We LOVE our nano since it can be configured a million ways. Soft boars hair brush as a rotary to clean embroidery? Got ya covered. Small DA to a quick spot correction? Say no more. It supports a 1-2" pad. When configured on the 3mm throw with a 1" pad, it's VERY easy to stall the action of the polisher. It's almost not powerful enough to correct in that situation. We do use it for light spot corrections on a scratch removal or similar though with the longer throw and it has adequate power. It won't correct like a full size machine, but we've managed to take out wet sanding marks with ours. Which is another useful component, We will configure it with the 3mm throw and have little 2000/3000 grit sanding disks that stick to a backing plate and we will use to spot wet sand. The DA pattern makes the marks easy to remove, but it's easy to take significant clear coat off. I wouldn't suggest this without a paint thickness gauge. Actually, I'd be hesitant to take sandpaper to any vehicle without it. The Rupes Nano also has a stiff bristle brush for the quick stubborn spot you're trying to scrub. Couple the brush with some cleaners and/or steam, and you'll be surprised at what you can pull out.
So how does our Rupes 21mkII end up at the bottom of the list? Well, it's powerful which is great. But it's large. So large it doesn't work curves that well. It's fantastic for larger doors without body lines, hoods, roofs. But bumpers? Might as well put it down and swap your equipment out. It has it's place for correcting large flatter surfaces quickly...but after using it, it's not an ideal polisher by itself. The 21mm throw with a 6.5" pad means you're generating some real power in the correcting area of the polisher. It also means you have a huge backing plate to bump off of body panels and lines and the way it rolls over edges isn't ideal. It's a great tool, but we'd consider this an additional tool rather than primary. We will commonly use it when we are correcting together. One of us on the 21 doing the big flat areas, the other on the 15/Mini hitting the details. It has a place though.
So the last polisher...the Cyclo. The Cyclo was actually where I got my start right here through Adam's. I still have that polisher and it's since been converted to a powered carpet brush for floor mats and such. It works great as a correcting tool. You can change the orientation to change the covered surface area and make it versatile. Unfortunately, the body of the tool is still large and you have two pads to maintain and keep up with. It's a great tool, but in favor of some other offerings available now...it's become used less and less as a correcting tool.
So what's the ideal setup? A pick two? It really is the 15/mini combo. Between those two polishers you can really do a lot and achieve fantastic results. I'm a firm believer that the weekend detailer can achieve the same results as the pro. The biggest difference between the two is that the pro is usually trying to meet a time deadline (for a client and/or profitability), so the pro generally has more tools at their disposal that would be less likely for a weekend detailer to invest in. Our garage is setup with multiple polishers, a car lift, MBR, sidekick, air compressor, shop-vac, hot water extractor, steamer, etc. The other difference is that a pro does enough work generally to have a pretty set process and order of events for how things go.
I'm consistently blown away by the work represented on this forum. Hopefully this thread will help someone make some decisions and take the leap into polishing themselves. If this thread is well received, I'll consider continuing to write about different topics as they strike me or people ask.
Enjoy and happy detailing!