As I’ve discussed in the previous two entries to this blog series, finishing is an important part of the “craftsmanship ” that goes into your work. We’ve talked about sanding flat stuff, round stuff, and now we’ll talk about sanding the small, detailed stuff. We will make a distinction between small items like a spoon and detailed items like a face carving, as they require different methods. I’ll also show you the actual products that I like to use in each situation. I think this blog entry might take some time and may need to be done in parts.
In general, small work does not require the same perfect, unblemished sanding/preparation that flat work does, as the eye can only focus on a few planes at a time, whereas a large surface can be examined for differences in the finish with only a glance. That does not mean you shouldn’t shoot for perfection, however.
First lets talk about sanding small stuff, rather than incredibly detailed work. If it is flat, you can probably get by with your tried and true sanding methods, except in small corners and overhangs, or for example in a box – sanding that bottom inside corner can be problematic. You can alleviate much of the problems here by thinking about how you’re going to sand a piece before you put it together. Where you think there may be a challenge, sand the work before you attach or assemble it. This saves a lot of time later on, as well as frustration. When assembling such pieces that have been pre-sanded, put some blue painter’s tape just outside the glue line to keep the glue from getting on the work, as glue causes problems with finish penetration and adhesion. Other difficult to sand things on flat work might include moldings, their odd profiles can be difficult to sand without removing the detail. There are contoured sanding pads available for these, but I don’t find them to be worth the trouble. The tool catalogs are full of them…in my opinion you won’t see them in tool catalogs who’s owners actually are woodworkers. Check with LeeValley – no sanding gimmicks. However, look at Woodcraft – they carry all of the money pits..
If you really want to sand your profile perfectly, take a scrap piece of your molding, wrap it in plastic or wax paper, and apply a heathly dollop of expanding insulation foam to it. As it expands mold it into a shape that you can hold on one side and allow the other to form itself to the shape of the molding profile. When it has hardened, attach some sandpaper to that profile, you’ll have an exact match contour sander. A drill press mounted sanding mop (also from Klingspor's ) can be used extremely effectively on moldings, before they’re attached. These mops are expensive but WELL worth the money in time savings and quality improvements. I have several and use them constantly.
“straight line disease”. That is what I call the sanding marks you see in corners, against molding profiles and anywhere you can’t get a power sander that has been hand sanded. Look into the insider corner of a drawer or a box or up against a molding – you will see sanding scratches that are perfectly parallel to the long plane of the nearby junction. These are caused by sanding in the same exact plane and direction against a corner or joint. They represent inferior work and are fortunately not difficult to avoid by sanding in small circles with a sanding aid. If the area is too narrow to get your fingers in, use a pencil with the eraser side on the sandpaper. Or if you have a rotary tool, use a rotary tool, or the Fein multimaster will also do a good job there. All said, these things are the best tool I have ever discovered for sanding difficult items… . they are mini sanding mops from Klingspor's woodworking shop. There is nothing these things can’t do, and they leave absolutely no sanding scratches.
If however, your work is an item like the spoon here, you will need different tools, and have to wait till my next blog entry as this one is getting too long.
-- Just another woodworker