Removing Anodizing - Polishing Aluminum

Well this whole thing is Vuggy's fault. In the September Road Test of my Matt Chester, there were a couple things Nils didn't like:
a) My colorful wheelset. :0(
b) The Surly Constrictor seatpost clamp.
c) Generally, all the black or colored parts.

So, after reading what he'd said, everytime I looked at the bike, all I could see were those things glaring back at me. Kinda like buyin' a Ferrari and then seeing one on every corner. There's a name for that phenomenon but I can't remember what it is.
So, when I could stand it no longer, I set out to remedy the problem. A new wheelset with Miche hubs to silver Velocity Aeroheads, and a silver Hope collar clamp solved the first two, but what about that stem? You can see all the different stems that have been on the bike: a grey Titec, a black ITM BigOne, a black ITM Millenium, and lastly a black TTT Less. All black, all botherin' the hell out of me. Thanks Nils!

A look through all the catalogs confirmed my suspicion - if it's a threadless stem, then it's gonna be black. Or at least till I get my hands on it.

So, here's your typical black anodized stem, an ITM Big One. Works ok on some bikes, yeah, of course it does. (and no comments about my work bench please)

Now, not long ago I spent a totally miserable day using old wives tale solution - oven cleaner - to try to remove blue anodizing from a pair of Open Pro rims and there was no way I was going to do that again. After a bit of a search with google, I came up with Jestco Products in Piedmont, South Carolina, and gave them a call to ask about their #780 Anodize Remover. After being assured that this stuff would do the trick, I ordered some right up. I think it was about $16.00 including shipping. Heck, I'd spent nearly that much on oven cleaner not long ago.

Cripes, there's enough in this plastic jar to de-anodize a freakin' battleship. A couple spoonfuls into a quart of warm water, a pair of big tweezers, and in went the trial stem - the Millenium I bought on eBay - the Millenium with serious cracks in the faceplate and body - the Millenium that the guy refunded my money for.

20 minutes later, pull the stem out and wipe it off quickly with an old towel or rag and this is what it looks like.

It could probably go back in again with some cleaner mix, it looks to me like the color stays in solution, it doesn't settle out. If you put in some clean aluminum part into this 'used' solution, it would come out grey. I found it interesting that the jar warns to protect your eyes and to wear rubber gloves, but doesn't list the active ingredient or antidote, so be careful. I was, I kept the solution covered and out of the way of the kitties.

Now that the stink in off the stem, it's time to make it shine. Twenty years ago I bought a 1/2 hp 110v motor to drive a 4" joiner, and I bought a double-ended model for just this purpose. From my local Ace Hardware I bought the proper buffing wheel, mandrel, and a stick of polishing rouge for aluminum.

I think it took about 45 minutes to polish the stem, this was the first buffing I'd ever done and I could probably have done a better job by starting with a coarser polishing rouge, but keep in mind that every different compound needs it's own buffing wheel. A wheel only costs about $7.00, but no sense in breaking the bank on this first project.

And I think Vuggy would like the result so far. Next up are those headset cups..

Maybe this stem is next....nah, looks like black powdercoat.

So, no buffing wheel? Jestco sells Wen Polishing Compound, a great German product. It comes in a huge toothpaste tube. "Mother's" polish is very similar. After stripping the ano off, clamp your stem onto your steerer, apply some of this liquid compound to a long thin rag and go after the stripped stem, using the rag like a 'cadet' puttin' a spit-shine on some parade boots. I'm sure you can get near as good a job, it'll just take a little longer - look at it as some upperbody cross-training.