Review by Kevin Steele
Keeping a pinball machine in pristine condition is an ongoing battle. Between parts breaking and normal wear and tear (trust me, there's a lot of both!), maintenance is as much a part of the hobby as playing the games. One area that can take a lot of your time is cleaning and polishing the playfields. There is always an ongoing debate in rec.games.pinball about what is the best cleaner or technique for obtaining a nice, glossy shine on a playfield.
Well, now there's a new pinball playfield polishing kit out from the well-known pinball restoration team at Treasure Cove, a kit that makes the process of bringing an old playfield back to "like-new" a lot easier.
The Treasure Cove kit consists of three custom-mixed polishing compounds, a drive arbor with a hook and loop (Velcro) fastening surface, and three 4" polishing pads: a yellow coarse foam pad, a black fine foam pad, and a wool buffing pad for the final polish.
Also included with the kit is a 30-minute instructional DVD, in which Allen Shope of Treasure Cove demonstrates how to use the kit. I'm always a fan of instructional videos, and Allen does a great job. The video's very informal (you hear the phone ringing in the background, people walk in and out, there's a radio playing, and so on.) but still conveys all the necessary information in a clear and relatively concise manner.
In addition to the standard 4" size pads, there are additional 3" and 2" polishing pad kits available, for polishing around pop bumpers and other tight areas. Basically, these are just smaller versions of the standard pads, although they do look a bit different.
The kit is designed to be used with a high-speed drill. Unfortunately, I didn't have a true high-speed drill, but rather a cordless drill that didn't achieve the same high RPMs a corded drill is capable of. Luckily, my playfield was not in extremely bad shape, and my drill did an excellent job, but I would expect an even better end result with a higher-speed drill.
Faded (and Scuffed) Glory
The playfield in my Bally Dr. Who pinball machine was in exceptionally good condition, with one very noticeable exception: a scuffed haze was visible on the playfield surface wherever there was ball traffic. The Dr. Who playfield has a "Diamondplate" protective coating, and even though I had cleaned and buffed with everything at my disposal (including using an orbital buffer with Novus plastic polishes), the haze remained.
While I had waxed and buffed the surface, the haze was always visible. I needed something that could bring back the shine to the Diamondplate coating without damaging it or the artwork underneath.
Cleaning and Polishing
The Treasure Cove kit is basically a three-step process: you'll need to do three passes over the playfield, one for each polishing compound included in the kit (as well as a final buffing).
The PowerCut compounds included in the kit are custom polishing mixes developed by Treasure Cove. They're rated according to their cleaning/polishing "coarseness", much like sandpaper. PowerCut 3 is the first compound to use, and is the most coarse (and consequently toughest) cleaner. The compound actually feels gritty.
You only need a small amount of the polish — less than a teaspoon. You just dribble a little bit of the compound out on the playfield, smear it around with your fingertips, and then work the polish into the playfield with the coarse foam pad. Once you've worked the polish around a bit, this process is then repeated with the PowerCut 2 compound, a slightly finer polish.
The entire process is very simple, and does not take a lot of exertion: you let the drill do all the work. By now I was seeing hints that there was a nice shine developing underneath the compound on the playfield.
The process is also fairly clean: because you use such a tiny amount of cleaner, you're not flinging excess all over the playfield. While I had taped up the sides of of my playfield to prevent polish from getting into the targets and under ramps, there actually wasn't any "splatter" to clean up afterwards.
The final PowerCut 1 polishing run uses the fine black foam pad, and really started to show that "showroom" shine I had been hoping for. A final wipedown and buffing with the wool pad, and the process was complete.
The Final Results
I had achieved in 15 minutes what I had not been able to accomplish before, despite hours of trying: bringing a high-gloss shine and luster to my scuffed playfield. The results were exactly what I had hoped to achieve.
These pictures don't really do the final results justice: while the final surface is not "mirror-smooth," it looks great. It looks even better now that I've waxed the playfield (note that these photos are before I waxed the playfield).
Gameplay has been great since I polished the playfield. It's impressive how much of a difference cleaning and polishing has made: the ball moves faster and I've been able to easily make accurate shots. I don't know if this is just my impressions or actual fact (much like driving a freshly-waxed car somehow feels "faster"), but at least the playfield looks great!
In the end, I have to admit I'm impressed. The results I achieved with this kit speak for themselves, and I don't doubt that I could have gotten even better results with a higher speed drill (I may just go out and buy one, just for cleaning playfields!).
The Treasure Cove Polishing kit sells for $64.95 for the 4" kit (with compounds). The 2" pad kit is $21.95, and the 3" kit is $29.95. While some of the polishing pads can be found elsewhere, the custom-mixed polishing compounds cannot. I think that Treasure Cove has put together a great polishing system that takes "elbow grease" out of the equation and replaces it with quick results. It almost feels like cheating it's so easy. Recommended by RetroBlast.