Monday, July 12, 2010

Easy Way to Sand Polymer Clay After Baking

Most of us like the glow of a sanded, buffed polymer clay bead.  In addition to the sheen, it has a really nice satiny feel.  For those of us who have Fibromyalgia, MS, back and neck pain, pinched nerves, and other such conditions, the sanding process quickly turns into torture.  For those who are blessed with good health, sanding can be tedious and time-consuming.

A few months ago I happened upon a post at Polymer Clay Central by Eva (Mejsel) from Denmark, who made a battery-operated toothbrush into a sanding tool.  She's a genius!  Her website seems to be closed, but she's still a member at PCC.  Anyway, it was she who introduced me to this fabulous idea.  I've done a few things differently, but it's basically the same tool. 

Above are photos of my sanding toothbrush with a piece of 320 grit sandpaper attached to the spinner head with a piece of Velcro. 

Eva used a toothbrush with multiple heads, gluing a different grit to each head.  I used multiple Velcro dots to change the sandpaper on a single head.  For me, it's easier to keep track of the grits that way.

Here is how I made my sander.  I've written this information in minute detail, so there's no confusion.  It's actually very easy and only takes a few minutes to make.

  • 1 battery-operated toothbrush, the kind that uses replaceable AA batteries (a rechargeable toothbrush is good, too)
  • 1 package of Velcro "dots"
  • 1 Velcro strip, about 6 inches long
  • Glue gun and glue stick
  • A checkbook cover or an old Weekly Planner cover with side pockets (remove the pages)
  • Piece of cardstock to fit into one pocket, about 3X6 inches
  • Wet/dry sandpaper in multiple grits.  I used:  320, 400, 600, 800, 1200, 2000
  • Sharpie pen
  • Dish, bowl, or other container for water
  • Water
  • Dawn dish detergent
  • Paper towels
  • The Velcro strip and dots will probably have glue on them already.  You might want to use hot glue to reinforce the glue that's already there, but it's probably not necessary.
  • Velcro is made up of hooks and loops.  The hook piece has tiny, hard, sharp, plastic hooks, which are scratchy against your skin.  The loop piece has soft, loopy fabric.  The hooks catch on the loops and that's what holds the Velcro pieces together.
  • The toothbrush head should have a circle of bristles that spin.  It may or may not have other bristles that don't move.  Ignore those stationary bristles.
  • You will go through far less sandpaper now, so when the sandpaper is worn or the glue stops working, just make a replacement.
  1. Turn on the toothbrush so that you can see which bristles spin.  Turn it off.  Using the glue gun, squeeze hot glue down into the circle of spinner bristles--this will hold the bristles upright and keep them from spreading while you sand.  Also put some hot glue on the top of the circle of bristles, as smoothly as possible--this will make a platform for gluing Velcro to the bristle head.  Be careful that you don't glue the circle of spinner bristles to any of the stationary bristles. 
  2. Stick a hook piece of a Velcro dot to the circle of bristles while the glue is still hot. 
  3. Cut a strip of Velcro, about 6 inches long, and glue the hook piece of the strip to the inside pocket of the checkbook or Weekly Planner cover (see photo below).  The glue on the back of the Velcro strip works fine on the plastic.
  4. Cut a piece of cardstock to fit into the pocket where you glued the Velcro strip and place the cardstock in the pocket.  Mine is 3X6 inches.
  5.  Using a Sharpie pen, write the grits on the cardstock above the Velcro strip.  Notice that the grits are in order, starting with 320 and ending with 2000 in the photo below.  Leave enough room for a Velcro dot to sit under each number.   I put extra unused Velcro dots in the other pocket.  In the photo below, you can see that the soft loop pieces are on the top row and the hook pieces are in the bottom row. 
  6. Cut a piece of sandpaper in 320 grit, using a Velcro dot as a guide. 
  7. Stick the 320 grit sandpaper to the glue side of the loop piece of a Velcro dot. If you use hot glue, be sure to apply a thin, smooth coat.  So far, I haven't bothered with the hot glue--the glue on the dot has been sufficient. 
  8. Press the 320 grit sandpaper/Velcro dot onto the Velcro strip, right under where you wrote 320. 
  9. Cut a piece of sandpaper in 400 grit, glue to a loop dot, and press under where you wrote 400 above the Velcro strip. 
  10. Repeat this for each grit of sandpaper until you have a sandpaper/Velcro loop dot for each grit.

NOTE:  Cut several extra circles of sandpaper for each grit.  Label a zipper snack bag with the grit number and store the extras in the zipper bags.  You should have a labeled bag for each grit.  Also, be sure to have an extra package of Velcro dots on hand--see the photo above.  Now you can quickly make replacements.

OK, you're ready to sand:
  1. Prepare a container of water with a couple of drops of Dawn dish detergent.  The Dawn helps the sanding process.
  2. Remove the 320 grit sandpaper/Velcro dot from the labeled strip and stick it to the Velcro hook dot on the spinner head of the brush.
  3. Dip the bead and the toothbrush head with the sandpaper into the water.
  4. Wear an old shirt or apron because the wet spinning brush will fling filmy water at you, although it washes right out.  I keep plastic behind my bowl, too, to protect the wall.  (You could hold the bead and brush under water the whole time you're sanding, but the glue will probably fail sooner if you do it that way.)  I'm right-handed, so I hold the toothbrush in my right hand.  I usually wear a long rubber glove on my left hand, which is holding the bead, to keep the water from running down my arm.
  5. Turn on the toothbrush and sand your bead thoroughly with the 320 grit.  Rinse the bead and the head of the toothbrush in the water frequently to remove the sanded clay from them.  Otherwise the sandpaper will clog up.
  6. Shut off the toothbrush.  Rinse the sandpaper, then dry it off with a paper towel.
  7. Gently peel the 320 grit sandpaper/Velcro dot off of the Velcro on the spinner head and stick it to its spot on the labeled strip.
  8. Remove the 400 grit sandpaper/Velcro dot from the labeled strip and stick it to the spinner head, dip in the water, and sand the bead.
  9. Continue to sand the bead with the rest of the grits of sandpaper, in ascending order by number.
At this point, your bead should be well sanded and ready for buffing.  For Cindy Lietz's excellent tutorial on how to use a Dremel tool to buff your beads to a shiny finish, go to Buffing with a Dremel Tool.

Cindy also has a free video that explains the sanding process if you've never done it before.  Sign up for Cindy's Weekly Newsletter and you have free access to the sanding video and two other videos.

WARNING:  Don't be tempted to sand dry beads with dry sandpaper.  First, it will make fine dust that you don't want to breathe in.  Second, the friction of the sandpaper on the bead will heat up the bead and could scorch or melt the spot that is being sanded.

ADDED ON 5/16/16
I recently learned that it's best to use a separate container of water for each grit if you want the best results.  That way, you have a clean container of water for each grit, which gives smoother results.

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