Aircraft parts are almost always given some type of surface finish by the manufacturer. The main purpose is to provide corrosion resistance; however, surface finishes may also be applied to increase wear resistance or to provide a suitable base for paint.
In most instances, the original finishes described in the following paragraphs cannot be restored in the field due to unavailable equipment or other limitations. However, an understanding of the various types of metal finishes is necessary if they are to be properly maintained in the field and if the partial restoration techniques used in corrosion control are to be effective.
Original surface treatments for steel parts usually include a cleaning treatment to remove all traces of dirt, oil, grease, oxides, and moisture. This is necessary to provide an effective bond between the metal surface and the final finish. The cleaning process may be either mechanical or chemical. In mechanical cleaning, the following methods are employed: wire brush, steel wool, emery cloth, sandblasting, or vapor blasting.
Chemical cleaning is preferred over mechanical since none of the base metal is removed by cleaning. There are various chemical processes now in use, and the type used will depend on the material being cleaned and the type of foreign matter being removed.
Steel parts are pickled to remove scale, rust, or other foreign matter, particularly before plating. The pickling solution can be either muriatic (hydrochloric) or sulfuric acid. Cost wise, sulfuric acid is preferable, but muriatic acid is more effective in removing certain types of scale.
The pickling solution is kept in a stoneware tank and is usually heated by means of a steam coil. Parts not to be electroplated after pickling are immersed in a lime bath to neutralize the acid from the pickling solution.
Electrocleaning is another type of chemical cleaning used to remove grease, oil, or organic matter. In this cleaning process, the metal is suspended in a hot alkaline solution containing special wetting agents, inhibitors, and materials to provide the necessary electrical conductivity. An electric current is then passed through the solution in a manner similar to that used in electroplating.
Aluminum and magnesium parts are also cleaned by using some of the foregoing methods. Blast cleaning using abrasive media is not applicable to thin aluminum sheets, particularly Alclad. Steel grits are not used on aluminum or corrosion resistant metals.
Polishing, buffing, and coloring of metal surfaces play a very important part in the finishing of metal surfaces. Polishing and buffing operations are sometimes used when preparing a metal surface for electroplating, and all three operations are used when the metal surface requires a high luster finish.