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.

© Copyright 2011 Linda's Art Barn. All rights reserved.


  1. Great job on the tutorial Linda! I like your storage idea. That is very clever!

    Thank you for mentioning my blog. It was wonderful to read all the comments and interaction that happened there when you brought up the subject of the toothbrush sander. It sure is wonderful having such sharing people like you in our community! ~Cindy

  2. Linda this is a marvelous tutorial you have given for the toothbrush sander.
    You are to be commended as it would have taken a lot of time to put it in here, so thanks for that.
    I have used the toothbruh method but not as good as yours and I intend to do this right away. I have spent the avo sanding all the things I made of the Switch and blend video so next time!!!.I have the Mini Micro pads they are great too.
    My D has Fibromyalgia too so I know what it is and what you go thru. If you are like her and Im sure you are because I am sure you are full on when you can be, I know how you want to do all this whaen you are able and what happens on the days you cant do. Still be proud of yourself, as you are doing wonders. Love

  3. I need to make one of these, even though I now have the micro mesh pads.

  4. Thank you, Pam. As I explained, the original idea wasn't mine. I just designed my sander a little differently.

  5. It really is brilliant. Thank you for the excellent instructions!

  6. Thanks Linda - this is awesome! I prefer to do my sanding with MicroMesh as I find it gives the greatest shine when buffing. I was really excited to find that my local WoodCraft store carries MicroMesh pads already cut out in circles (about the size of a quarter) with the loop side of the Velcro already attached. It worked great! Thank you!

  7. As someone with arthritis this will help alot thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it, this will help when I'm hurting an want to get a project done on time. Thank you so much.

  8. Ooh, Christine! I'll have to check out those MicroMesh pads with the Velcro already there. I've been hearing great things about MicroMesh, but had no idea that they came in that format.

  9. Patricia, it makes me happy to know that I've helped someone!

  10. Thanks so very much Linda. I had forgotten all about this sanding tool since my joints/muscles seemed to do ok while using sandpaper/micromesh. 10 years later, sanding is a torture. I look forward to trying your method. Many thanks. Laura

  11. Thanks for this very clever idea! Will share on my blog!

  12. You're welcome, Pearl. Everyone else: Link to Pearl's blog--you'll be happy you did. Just click on her name.

  13. I don't have a dremel tool and wouldn't use one if I did (I live in an apartment, not fair to neighbors) but I think you could use the same trick with dremmel polishing wheel fabric. Make another velcro dot for that maybe?

    1. That's an interesting thought, M.K. If you try putting the polishing-wheel fabric on a velcro dot, let us know how it works out. It's the speed of the Dremel is what makes it so good at polishing. I'll be surprised if you can get the same results from a toothbrush.

      To tell the truth, I don't think that Dremels are that noisy. I'd be surprised if it's loud enough to bother neighbors, but you know your situation better than anyone else.

    2. I really wish that Blogger would let us edit our mistakes! What I meant to say is: "It's the speed of the Dremel that makes it so good at polishing."

    3. I use a Dremel or an electric shoe polisher to do my buffing. I live in an apartment and have never had a complaint from my neighbors. Although, I don't do it in the evening or late night.

    4. Thanks for your input, AZ Leather Girl. Electric shoe polisher is another great idea for buffing!

  14. I've just watched a couple of videos (Part I and Part II) by about sanding. Unfortunately, the website itself is no longer in existence and I don't know the name of the woman in the videos. Fortunately, the videos still exist on YouTube. She makes an interesting point about having a separate container of water for each grit of sandpaper. I'll be doing this from now on. Here's a link to Part I:

  15. Thank you for this great idea... I have a battery toothbrush that I do t needs... Now I can recycle it👍

    1. What a great idea. I never even thought about recycling!

  16. Hi Linda - I'm Eva (mejsel from PCC) I know it's been years since you made your excellent tutorial based on my "invention" and was graceful enough to give me credit, but I only just saw it today while visiting Pinterest. As you can see linked here:
    the toothbrush sander has been mentioned a few times.
    Thank you for the credit and your nice comment, but most importantly thank you for helping me spread the word. I'm currently in the process of writing a tutorial in Danish for my Scandinavian facebook group - maybe I should do it in English, too and put them both on my website. Yes it's working, but I did have problems back then. It's in need of some maintenance, but here it is:

    1. Hi Eva. Thank you for taking the time to post here and thank you for sharing your wonderful sanding invention years ago!

      I'm so glad that you've included the link to your website, which has so much useful information. I've bookmarked your site and I'll be spending time exploring all those links.

  17. Hi Linda. Just wanted to thank you for this idea. I am new to polymer clay and found that hand sanding was tedious. This idea has me excited to further my interest in jewelry making. I made one of these tonite and your instruction were easy to understand and very detailed. I can't wait to use it! 👏

  18. This is GENIUS! Thank you so much for keeping the idea going.

  19. Brilliant idea. I have a couple of old, disused electric toothbrushes lying around gathering dust. Now they can be turned into fabulous time-saving tools. And they'll make excellent gifts for my crafting friends. Many thanks for your efforts.