Creating A Sanding Block | Popular Woodworking Magazine

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Sanding blocks. This solid cork sanding block from Denmark (left) was the template for my cork and wood block (right).

Efficient, economical and simple to make.

T.his magazine places a lot of emphasis on hand tools, ie tools without power. Common subjects include airplanes, chisels, scrapers etc. But when it comes to sanding, it seems that most people use random orbit sanders. These have motors! Why not sand by hand too?

I love to sand by hand. Sure, I own pads, belt, and random orbit sanders, but I rarely use them. On large projects, I sometimes spend 10 to 15 minutes with a random orbit sander to rest and relieve boredom. But that’s all. I quickly go back to hand sanding because I find it faster. It is also more efficient because I never get “squeaks”, which are so common with random orbit sanders. I also like aerobic exercise.

The biggest drawback of hand sanding is working on a sweat and dripping on the wood. Drips can cause darker spots under a stain or finish if the sweat-induced raised grain is not completely smoothed.

Alternatives

When sanding a flat surface by hand, you should always lay the sandpaper with a flat block. Commercial sanding blocks, usually made of hard rubber or plastic, are widely available, but these blocks are very wasteful of sandpaper. You don’t use all the oomph.

Increasingly popular with carpenters are rectangular sanding blocks with four-sided sandpaper around a hard foam core. These aren’t a waste of sandpaper, but they are considerably more expensive than sandpaper sheets. So I’m a waste of money.

Additionally, you are more limited in the types of sandpaper and grits you can choose from than the wide variety of types and grits in sheet form.

So instead of using these wasteful and limiting products, I make my sanding blocks from softwood with 18“-Cap often glued to the bottom. I modeled this block on the solid cork blocks that everyone used when I was working in Denmark in the mid 70’s.

Sanding block

This is how I create the sanding block.

Form a piece of soft wood (pine or spruce) to 114“Thickness x 234“Width x 378“Long. You can adjust these dimensions slightly if needed to fit comfortably in your hand. But keep in mind the efficiency of these measurements when it comes to using sandpaper.

If you want a little more weight, you could use hardwood.

Then I glue 18“- thick cork on one face using PVA glue (white or yellow), cutting the piece of cork slightly larger than the final size to allow for sliding. I found cork sheets of this thickness at craft stores and auto parts stores (sold as seal cork).

Finally, I cut the excess cork and chamfer the top of the block so that it fits more comfortably in my hand.

There is no need for a finish, and one would still be counterproductive because most finishes become rubbery after prolonged contact with skin and sweat.

Design efficiency

Foldable and tearing. To create the correct size sandpaper to use with the sanding block, fold the sandpaper in three parts across the entire width, fold the edge with your thumb and forefinger, then tear it off. Finally, fold, fold and tear off the remaining two thirds to the center.

Someone in Denmark must have thought a lot about the design of this sanding block because it is so efficient.

Take a standard 9 “x 11” sheet of sandpaper and tear it in three quarters crosswise. (You could cut it with a knife or scissors, but you’ll quickly blunt the tool and it won’t be any faster.)

Gripping sandpaper. To get the most use of the sandpaper with the sanding block, fold a third of the sandpaper sheet in half lengthwise and wrap it around the sanding block so that there is enough of the two-flap side to grip with the fingers. When you’ve put on that face of the sandpaper, turn it over and use the opposite face.

Use everything. After wearing both opposite sides of the matte sandpaper, wrap the sandpaper around the sanding block and use the center face.

I don’t measure third parties. I simply folded one side of the sandpaper to about the midpoint of the rest, then fold the crease with my fingers. Then I fold the paper back on itself (breaking the stiffness) and tear it. Finally, I fold the remaining two-thirds in half and tear it off again.

Simple; Rapid

Without sanding block. An added beauty of this efficient sandpaper system is that you can easily go from smoothing flat surfaces with the sanding block to sanding three-dimensional surfaces without the block.

Then I take one of the thirds, fold it in half lengthwise and wrap it around the cork side of the sanding block, holding it in place with my thumb and fingers. I use my fingers to hold the edge with the two flaps and my thumb to hold the edge with the crease. I wrap the paper so that the edge with the two flaps rises along the side of the pad just enough for me to grab. This part of the sandpaper will be the only part that is wasted, so I want to minimize it.

Also, by keeping this part minimal, enough of the folded side remains to give me three surfaces completely separated by a third of a sheet, or nine surfaces in total by a sheet of sandpaper.

When I sanded with one of the surfaces until it becomes dull or clogged, I turn the sandpaper and use the opposite side of the fold, holding the sandpaper the same way. When I’ve smoothed out that dull side, I unfold the folded paper and wrap it around the block to use the middle third, the third with the fold in it.

I can’t think of how you could make more complete use of a sheet of sandpaper.

When sanding stuck surfaces between bench dogs on the workbench, I often use both hands, placing them on top of each other. Obviously, there is neither right handed nor left handed in the block, so I can also use both hands individually.

I have many of these sanding blocks (easier to find this way) and use them interchangeably for sanding wood and sanding finishes, including sanding down to 600 grit or finer with wet / dry sandpaper and a lubricant. It is easy to remove dust or sludge by tapping the block against the workbench or wiping with a cloth. You could, of course, have separate blocks dedicated to each type of operation.

An added benefit of this system is that I can use the same third of a sheet of sandpaper to efficiently sand without blocking. I simply folded the third of a sheet back into thirds and flip the outer faces to use full 100% of the sandpaper. By having grit against paper on one of the inside creases, rather than paper against paper, as happens when you fold sandpaper in half, the sandpaper “pad” holds together better and makes sanding much easier.


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