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Blog entry by GnarlyErik posted 01-05-2019 11:05 PM 1350 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 23: Drywall Screw Helper Kit Part 24 of Shop Tips & Tricks series Part 25: SHOP AIDS and PICK-ME-UPS »

Maybe the least fun part of any woodworking project requiring a nice finish is the smoothing and sanding. Over the years I’ve been taught or learned by trial and error a few little tricks to make things easier and better.

Many years ago a boat-school-taught guy in the boat shop saw me whaling away with a big disc sander on something and made a snotty remark saying, ‘Anybody can WEAR wood!’. The implication was that ‘purists’ like him depended on very sharp tools only.

Some may disagree, but to me, that represented pure, crass stupidity (and I told that guy so too). My old man taught me to GET THE DAMNED JOB DONE IN THE QUICKEST AND BEST WAY! (Else, hit the bricks!)

CARDINAL SHOP RULE: Never hesitate to use the tool that works best and fastest – provided you are competent with it of course. If it’s a power planer or sander, so be it. But even with the best of power aids, there’s a time when you must get down to the nitty-gritty handwork, pardon the pun.

You can buy rubber sanding blocks for sanding flat and convex surfaces. Today these run from $3 – $6 or so. Flexible foam ones come impregnated with grit for about the same price. The problem with the rubber ones is the sandpaper is hard to load and tends to move back and forth and tear off in hard use. The only real use for the foam ones for me is for cleaning something when used like a Brillo pad. Then you throw it in the trash bin of course.

You can pick up a handy piece of wood and wrap sandpaper around it for use in corners, or on flat surfaces. This works pretty well but seems like kind of a jury-rig. Why not go a step or two further and create something which is EXACTLY what you need? Best of all it’s practically free since it can be made from scrap wood lying around and a couple of screws. Made right, it can work far better than any store-bought rig (my old man would call them ‘pearl-handled’) you can buy. If you are half-way organized and keep track of it it can last for years.

The following picture shows an assortment of various sanding blocks and aids I make use of. You can quickly make custom sizes and shapes to fit your project:

The three at the upper left in this picture have pieces of aggressive grit sanding belts glued to them. These last a surprising amount of time before you need to discard them. The others are flat blocks sized in length and girth for 1/4 sheet of sandpaper. The three on the lower left have an acute angle on one side so they can get into tight corners. They are also loaded – and labeled – with three different grits of paper. The far right one is sized for 1/2 sheet of sandpaper. Note that the sandpaper is allowed to protrude about 1/8” at the ends which helps in the corners.

This picture shows a typical block. I’ve learned through trial and error that it’s best to index the ends of the blocks and its capture block so it’s oriented to the proper end. That’s so the screws can find their holes when reloading with sandpaper. The holes in the sanding block itself are counter-bored for the same reason.

Make the capture block about 1/2” shorter than the sanding block itself at each end (about 1” shorter overall). That will allow you to tightly fit your sandpaper and hold it in place with a spring clamp at each end while you reinstall the capture block.

You can make custom blocks for convex surfaces too by hollowing out a length of wood for your needs. This takes more care and fastening the sandpaper in place is a little more challenging. Contact cement or hot glue will work OK.

If you do much hand sanding you are going to create pain in your fingertips, guaranteed. Many people have tricks to protect themselves, but I’m throwing this in here for those who don’t. It’s a simple matter to apply a little painter’s tape to your fingertips to protect them. I’ve found it works best to first put a short piece of tape over the end of your finger or thumb, then wrap another piece or two around the fingertip. Your tape will stay in place much better this way – and come off easier too:

Remember: “Whatever floats your boat!”

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

4 comments so far

View DeLayne Peck's profile

DeLayne Peck

669 posts in 3218 days

#1 posted 01-06-2019 02:09 PM

Thank you for this post. Entertaining and very useable instruction. Looked at your projects – masterful.

-- DJ Peck, Lincoln Nebraska. Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.

View shipwright's profile


8682 posts in 3814 days

#2 posted 01-06-2019 08:11 PM

Right on the Mark Erik.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Bob817's profile


679 posts in 3399 days

#3 posted 01-07-2019 10:34 PM

“CARDINAL SHOP RULE: Never hesitate to use the tool that works best and fastest”
Great stuff Erik Sadly the common sense in this world is leaving us from one generation and the next. :(

-- ~ Bob ~ Newton, N.H.

View ralbuck's profile


6690 posts in 3283 days

#4 posted 01-07-2019 10:43 PM

I have used and then discarded hand made jigs for decades too.

Good advice!

Use what works for YOU! Please the person in the mirror.

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

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