Hiya, I've been detailing cars for almost 20 yrs now. Started off young, in dealerships and have worked every kind through to the various prestige dealers, private detailing workshops and paintshops over the years, the latter where I did denibbing and paint finishing (also some prep but that's heading somewhere else).
I've mucked around with all sorts of products and equipment and found what works best for me, what gets the best finishes and what gives me a top reputation in this area.
With the right gear you can make a faded/scratched 1985 era bootlid or bonnet look like it was just sprayed...assuming there's some meat on the panel to work with (we're talking mercs here, right?).
I like to spend a minimum of two hours with the buff and that's going it hard. Give me four or five if I've got to break the 1200-2000 wet & dry out.
I can spend a couple of days on one car with the buff in my hand easy...but months later your car will still look almost surreal in its glow...like gecko's couldn't grip it to stop sliding off.
First thing to know is buffing compounds come in all varieties and the primary consideration is grade quality. They work like sandpaper. 4000, 6000, 8000, that sort of thing. Look up a brand called Festool for this form of grading system, en par with paper grades. Best way to go coz it's nice and specific.
On the simpler level, there's your hard, abrasive compounds, your medium cutters, your finishing compounds of various grades.
Then there's your various grade buffing pads. Get with the new world here and go with the foam pads. A new foam pad is the best in my opinion, of any. 3M is a nice quality for these and come in a white compounding pad and a black polishing pad.
Sure there's a world of pads out there but I've never needed to use any but these two and get crappy jobs from all sorts of other ones.
Use a medium-abrasive cutters like 3-4000 grade with the white pad at 3-4000rpm. Then remove the swirls with a nice 8000 grade finishing materiel on the black pad at 2500rpm.
Always keep the pad rotating away from, rather than into edges and keep the buff pad square against the panel, but use light pressure as needed at the top half of the pad.
Practise makes perfect but your 3M foam pads are among the most forgiving and effective. I disdain everything else I've worked with in preference.
When done, any non-residual wax is best. Not too chalky but that's better than waxy. I hate residue and all it does is ruin a nice buff job, by either making you scratch it all over again trying to get all the waxy residue off or scrape wax that's more like chewing gum than polish to remove. Do the work with the buff and basic, run o' the mill, low residue and easy to remove polish by hand, to clean the finished product rather than "wax" or "seal" it.
Sorry, I know some are into "wax" but it's...just not my bag, baby. If you're going to go that far you may as well pay the extra for a proper, teflon based polish (spray painters might string you up though).
Use moist applicator pads and soft, flanel nappies for the polish stage (note I said polish, not wax, just in case you forgot my preference). All this is meant to do is final clean after the >>gentle<< soapy wash off, after the two stage buff-cut/soapy-wash/buff-finish.
When you get really good with the buff, use 10000 grade finishing materiel for that finish cats slide off of, but note that it is harder to finish with and get looking like it should than 8000, which is an excellent compromise worthy of top line, prestige panel shops, done properly.
Oops, I almost forgot. As the foam pads get clogged up with cutters (remember to be a minimalist with finishing materiels and black pad here, but be generous with medium cutters and the white one), wash them off. Shake 'em dry and give 'em a dry spin to get much of the water back out of them and keep going. I'll usually wash a pad a few times as I go.
So don't think you're doing it wrong if you find you get part way through and the finish is no longer coming up right...it's usually just a hint to wash the pad, those foam units really just about do the job themselves, you're just there to guide the process. Let the buff do the work and be conscious of pressure and heating the paint too much. More here, less there, lift up the buff if you're on one spot for a bit and run the back of your hand over the paint to see how hot you're getting it..
You'll get it.