For curved and sculptural work, nothing beats a good rasp. But there are many times that I need to do precise and fine work that most rasps aren’t capable of (at least the rasps I’ve seen or can afford).
So I make my own custom sanding sticks using sticky-back sandpaper from the home center plus some dowels and scraps.
Today I’m finishing up an English Layout Square for a customer and had to make up a new set of sanding sticks. Somehow my previous set failed to make the move to my new workshop.
You can of course make any special shapes you need, but here are the ones I find most useful.
I wrap a 1/4” and 3/8” dowel in sandpaper to work inside curves and round shapes. These work like a rattail rasp, but you can make them with a fine abrasive – here I’m using #220-grit – to produce a ready-to-finish surface.
Using a dowel is much preferable to rolling the sandpaper into a tube to sand round shapes. A sandpaper tube will deflect in the center creating an edge that bellies in the middle. Plus the paper wears out faster.
The second shape is a 1/2” x 1/2” x 6” stick with sandpaper stuck to one of its faces. This stick works like a file with a “safe edge” – it allows you to true one surface at 90° to an adjacent one. This is handy at corners such as this bead on the layout square. I want to sand the end grain but I don’t want to touch the face grain below.
The last handy shape is a thin rectangle – about 1/16 x 3/4” x 1-1/2”. This little guy gets into crevices that rasps can’t get to. Plus it has just a little flexibility, which makes it nice for shaping small outside curves.
While I usually use #220-grit paper for these sanding sticks, I also make some up with #100- or #120-grit paper for when I need to work curves right after sawing them without rasping them.
Keep them clean – I dust them with a stiff brush – and they will last a surprisingly long time. I had my last set for almost two years.
— Christopher Schwarz
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