Hand Sanding Blocks

Isaac Fischer, Jr., of Springfield, Vt., patented sandpaper on June 14, 1834. Shortly after that, presumably, sanding blocks were invented. Sanding blocks apply even pressure over the entire surface of the paper. This makes sanding by hand faster and more efficient. Today, power sanders take a lot of the time and drudgery out of sanding. Even so, nearly every project benefits from a little hand sanding. I power-sand as much as possible, of course, but I always finish with hand sanding to remove the tiny cross-grain scratches that power sanders leave behind. This little bit of hand sanding is one secret to a good finish. Hand sanding is also a must on molding profiles or any detail that a power sander either can't reach or would ruin. I've tried every commercial sanding block I could get my hands on. In the end, I've found several blocks that I'd recommend for any shop. I use two very basic criteria for making my picks. First, the block should be comfortable. This keeps fatigue to a minimum during big sanding jobs. Second, changing grits should be quick, occur easily and waste little or no precious paper. Sanding blocks fall into four categories based on the paper each holds: plain-paper, pressure-sensitive-adhesive or hook-and-loop, sanding belt and specialized blocks for specific sanding chores.

Plain-Paper Sanding Blocks
The best thing about these blocks is that they use ordinary sheet paper that costs a lot less than belts or self-stick pressure-sensitive-adhesive or hook-and-loop paper. They also allow you to use specialized paper, like wet-dry paper, that's available only in plain-backed paper. They require cutting the full sheets of sand-paper into one-half, one-quarter, one-third or one-sixth sheets, which can be a bit of a pain. I prefer the quarter-sheet blocks. That size fits nicely in the hand and it's easy to divide the paper into quarters.

The Preppin' Weapon ($20) is well-designed and made in the United States of durable, high-impact ABS plastic. The contoured shape is comfortable whether you're sanding one-handed or bearing down with two. Easy-to-use lever-action clips make paper changes a snap. The clips use very little sandpaper to grip and they pull the paper tight. Plus, the block can hold as many as four sheets of abrasive at once. Just tear off each sheet as it wears out. Other features I like include tapered edges that allow the block to get right into corners and a tough rubber pad that's firm, not mushy. The Preppin' Weapon is designed for either wet or dry use. Its styrofoam core keeps the block floating in a bucket of water and the stainless steel clip mechanism will never corrode.

Time-Shaver Tools Inc., (877) 763-3729, www.timeshavertools.com, Preppin' Weapon, available in red, yellow, green and blue, 2-3/4 x 7-3/4 in., $20 plus $3.50 shipping.

Pressure-Sensitive-Adhesive or Hook-and-Loop Blocks and Pads
These blocks use either hook-and-loop (H&L) or pressure-sensitive-adhesive (PSA) sandpaper. The big advantage to this style of block is the speed and ease of grit change. Just peel off the old and stick on the new. I like hook-and-loop paper best because it can be taken on and off multiple times; in contrast, the self-stick never sticks as well the second time.

I like Rockler's Sanding Block and Pad package ($15). This pair is a must-have for anyone who already owns an H&L random-orbit sander. The Rockler set includes a comfortable, wedge-shaped foam block plus a flexible sanding pad. Both offer the quick-change convenience of the hook-and-loop system. The sanding pad is excellent for shaping anything you can get your hand around or into, including round-overs, spindles and coves. If you're stuck on PSA paper, check out the similar block and pad from Scotton Co. (see wooden block in photo above).

Rockler, (800) 279-4441, www.rockler.com, 5-in. sanding block and pad, #26381, $15.

Scotton Co. (909) 674-6454, www.scottontool.com, 5-in. round sanding block for PSA paper, #6035, $9, 5-in. round sanding pad, #6071, $7.


Specialized Sanding Blocks
For people with specialized sanding needs, like carvers or boat builders, there's a host of specialized blocks. Here are some examples:
1. Contour Sanding Grips.
2. The Flex Base from Scotton Co. ($20) is just the ticket for boat builders or anyone who regularly sands curves. The company has models designed to hold plain, pressure-sensitive-adhesive or hook-and-loop paper.

Scotton Co. (909) 674-6454, www.scottontool.com, Flex Base with knobs for plain paper, 2-3/4 x 15-3/4 in., #6250, $21.

3. The Vario Hand Profile Sander ($30) is a shape changer. The base can conform itself to molding profiles to create an instant, custom sanding block. The Vario works fine on simple moldings, such as a cove or round-over, but I found it softened the crisp 90-degree details on more complex router moldings.
4. Paper changes are awkward on these plain-paper contour sanding blocks.
5. Sanding Sticks are good for tight spaces, like those on a carving. The belts must be special-ordered from the manufacturer.
6. The Hook & Loop Hand File is used like a file. H&L strips make grit changes a breeze. The file is flexible enough to conform to a gentle curve.


Klingspor, (800) 228-0000 www.woodworkingshop.com, Vario Hand Profile Sander,  #VA20000, $42, Curv-A-Flex Hand Sander, #KL05205, $7, Teardrop Hand Sander, # KL05235, $7.
Sanding Sticks: 1/4 x 6 in., #LS25000, set of three, $8, 1/2 x 6 in., #LS45000, set of three, $10
3/4 x 6 in., #LS65000, set of three, $12, Hook & Loop Hand File, #HF15500. $20.

7. Belt Sanding Blocks
The main advantage to this style is its use of long-lasting 3- x 21-in. belts designed for power belt sanders.

Hartville Tools, (800) 345-2396, www.hartvilletool.com, The Sand Devil, #37895, $15.