Detailing - November 2010

Why not Wool? Part II
By Kevin Farrell

A selection of the various wool pads that are available. This picture shows the more conventional larger, more aggressive wool pads, along with softer, smaller-diameter, and specialty wool pads.
The larger white pad is a silk-blend wool. The black pad is sheepskin wool. The small white pad and grey pad are both lambs wool. These pads will still be aggressive but not as aggressive as a traditional wool pad.

In last month’s issue of Auto Laundry News, we briefly traced the history of automobile paint systems, and looked at how the changes influenced adjustments in buffing practices. We contrasted the current dominance of foam buffing pads with the out-of-favor wool pads. I expressed and explained my personal preference for wool pads under certain circumstances. Let’s examine what makes up some wool pads and why they may be very aggressive and have such a bad reputation.


In the olden days (‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s) a wool pad was very aggressive and very nasty looking. It just had a look of intimidation — you knew it was going to “grind” off some paint. They were big, fuzzy, twisted and they meant business. But it was a different time. Paint was hard, oxidized, and there was a lot of it. Excess paint removal was not catastrophic. This pad was combined with high speed on a rotary buffer and a “beach-sand” compound to get the job done.

Of course today we have much less material to work with and clear coat is a different chemistry. It’s a form of plastic, which means if you heat it too much it will soften, cause swirl marks, possibly blister, and/or burn. So, much more care must be taken in buffing today’s clear coats. This is a big reason why detailers are still horribly afraid of using a wool pad.

With clear coats getting harder, and some being a re-flow scratch resistant clear, you can’t overheat them or you will be in trouble. This is also a reason why I have looked more closely at wool in the last few years. The new wool pads that are currently available are not your typical “old school” wool.

How Wool is Defined
Wool pads are graded a couple of different ways. First the kind of wool used is important. A conventional wool pad is 100 percent wool and is generally a twisted yarn. It also has a dense pile, making it more aggressive. These pads look more like a “mop” and feel like carpeting. Running a pad like this with a rotary at 2000 RPM will cut into a paint job very quickly and leave it severely marred, hazed, and swirled. These are the pads of yesteryear that many detailers are deathly afraid of. They still exist, but often are not needed — even on the more scratch-resistant clears.

The twists of the yarn that you may see in a wool pad are what are known as “ply.” If a pad is referred to as a four-ply pad, it means that the yarn is twisted four times, making it more aggressive. There are pads that have four-ply, two-ply, single-ply (no twists), and combinations where sometimes every other strand of yarn is twisted. The more twists, or higher the “ply,” the more aggressive the pad will be.

The other way a wool pad is graded is by what’s called “pile height.” This refers to how tall or thick the yarn is. Generally the thicker the pile, the more aggressive the pad will be. Some pads have a 2-inch pile (more aggressive) while some pads have pile heights at about 7/8 inch (less aggressive).

Wool pads can have other strands sewn in to make it more or less aggressive as well. Acrylic yarns can be added to make it more or less aggressive, nylon can be added to make it more aggressive, or the pad can be made of a sheepskin — or even lambs wool — to make it less aggressive. These are some of my favorite pads for factory clear coats. These pads still cut much better than a compounding foam pad, but they will leave a very nice gloss with minimal swirls. I have used these pads for years. Sometimes dying a wool pad will make a difference. I have tested pads that were dyed to make them “prettier,” but the dying affects the cutting ability of the yarn. There are many variables in wool pads that will make them more or less aggressive.

Now, new to the market, there are exciting pads with silk sewn in. These pads keep the designed aggressiveness of the pad, but the silk adds polishing strands that limit swirls and really bring up the gloss. I love these pads even more than lambs wool or sheepskin. These newer wools also throw less lint, and sometimes are even non-linting — so they won’t make a mess.

So a wool pad is not just a single product to be scared of anymore. There are still aggressive versions out there, which the body shop industry loves. They want aggressive, quick-cutting pads that will help eliminate sand scratches, orange peel, and other blemishes from a paint job. I like an in-between wool pad such as these new silk blends, which I recently tested.


Both sides of this double-sided wool pad can be used to buff. This setup needs a special adapter on the buffer and is favored by users who perform a lot of buffing with wool, such as body shops.

You may think I am crazy, but I actually find wool to be an advantage over a cutting foam pad in many cases. I want the cut and correction. Wool gives that to me quicker than foam. I want to keep the temperature of the clear coat lower to prevent blistering and creating so much heat that the clear coat softens and the swirls actually go deeper into the clear. Deeper swirls will take more polishing steps to remove. A correctly chosen wool pad buffs cooler, cuts quicker, and leaves you with minimal swirls. I love the feel of a good wool pad. The buffer glides across the paint surface and I can use as much pressure as I need and will not overheat the clear. The wool also contours to the body panels, where a harder foam pad will not.


If you are truly worried about heavy swirls but want a little quicker correction, here’s a trick: For total correction in the areas that are most noticeable — such as the hood; trunk; sides of the roof; and the top portions of the doors, fenders, and quarter panels — use the wool only in those areas. Other, lower areas like the lower portions of side panels can be buffed with foam. When a customer can stand over and look directly down on areas like the hood and trunk, you may want to use wool on these sections and leave foam to do the rest. It’s not cheating if they really don’t or won’t notice, or are not paying for a true show car appearance. This is a way to incorporate wool and get better and faster correction in key areas without doing the entire car with wool.

Because foam has been around for so long now and many detailers only use an orbital buffer, they may still shy away from wool. Some younger detailers were never exposed to a wool pad and have only heard horror stories. Well, let this old timer (well, not really) tell you that wool can be your friend and ally if you give it a chance.

Kevin Farrell owns and operates Kleen Car (, a full-service auto-detailing business located in New Milford, NJ. Kevin is also an instructor for a detailing program he developed for, and in conjunction with, BMW of North America. His background includes auto dealership experience and training through DuPont, General Motors, and I-Car.

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