In this installment of the woodworking tip of the week, I will explain why you should be using a sanding block, and how to make them. Sanding blocks are useful for a number of reasons, but the primary reason is they create flat surfaces.
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Sanding with fingers behind the paper can cause depressions. These deeper areas will show after the finish has been applied. In order to have a smooth looking finish, you first need to have a flat surface. Sandpaper is going to conform to whatever shape is behind the paper. When you put a flat shape behind it, the resulting surface will be flat after sanding.
Sanding blocks can be made from any type of wood. They can be plain or fancy, big or small, square or rectangle. Most woodworkers have a small array of sanding blocks in different sizes that work for all their needs. Furniture repair experts will have several of these, including very small sizes, because they want to remove the least amount of color when making a repair.
For general use, a block that is around 2″ x 4″ works very well. This is perfect for holding in one hand, and fits a 1/8 sheet of sandpaper. If you need a larger or smaller block, cut the piece to the size you need.
The first thing that needs to happen is the face of the block needs to be flat. Place a piece of sandpaper with the grit facing up on a flat surface. Then, rub the face of the block against the paper until there are sanding scratches all over it. I typically use 150 grit for this. Hold the block flat while sanding, and don’t let it tip.
Once the face is flat, glue a piece of 1/8″ cork to the face of the block. Cut a piece of cork that is a little larger than the face, and apply glue to the block. Press the block on top of the cork, and use a weight to hold it down. It is important not to soak the cork with glue. A thin layer of glue on the block is perfect, as it does not take much to adhere the cork. Once dry, the cork is trimmed even with the edges of the wood.
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Sand the wood surfaces of the block to make it smooth and comfortable to hold. Then, level the cork prior to use. This is done the same way that the face of the block was leveled. Place a piece of 220 grit paper face up on a flat surface, and work the cork back and forth.
Sand lightly until the entire cork face has dust from sanding. This means that all surfaces were touched, and the cork face is as flat as possible. A nice flat surface on the cork will mean a nice flat surface when you are sanding with the block. Cork can be found in craft stores or online, and it comes in rolls. Look for 1/16″ to 1/8″ thick material, which is perfect for sanding blocks.
Finish the wood on the block if desired, though it is not necessary. Some woodworkers like to finish handmade tools, others don’t. I have some that are finished and others that are not, but if you make this from a higher end species of wood, a finish can really look good. Use either Tru-Oil or Danish Oil for a quick and beautiful finish.
This woodworking tip of the week covers making a basic sanding block, but you can make these from any species of hard wood. Some woodworkers make very high end sanding blocks from burls and exotic woods. They are a beauty to look at, and a pleasure to use.
To use the block, wrap a piece of sandpaper around the cork face. Pinch it with the fingers as you hold the block, and it will stay in place during use. If you have a high or low spot to sand out, the flatness of the block will help. A flat surface will only sand what it contacts, so by default it removes the wood that needs to go away first.
These are great for sanding down dowels that are used to secure pieces together. Simply cut off the dowel close to the surface, then sand. The block will target the higher spot (the end of the dowel) and level the area. Using a block, it will be difficult to detect the difference between the two surfaces once everything is flat.
My article on Finishing With Tru-Oil can show you how to finish these sanding blocks quickly and easily. I also have a Tru-Oil Video and Danish Oil Video as well. Take a look. Both of these finishes make anyone look like an expert.
If you just need a little help with a hand applied finish, I have a free guide for that. My free PDF called the 10 Step Guide To Wood Finishing details how to apply finishes by hand, and takes the worry out of the process.
This has been the woodworking tip of the week. For more tips like this, take a look at the Woodworking Tips category on this site, which is packed with more useful woodworking information.
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