Sanding a Polymer Clay Pen

If you’re making polymer clay pens you’re probably very experienced at sanding polymer clay, but sanding pens requires some new methods.

Not experienced at finishing polymer clay, or feel like you could use some help with something that will be handled as much as a pen? I can’t recommend Ginger’s Sanding and Buffing e-book strongly enough. I thought I was an experienced polymer clay finisher before reading her book, but it absolutely took my work to an entirely new level, and I credit it for much of why moving to pens wasn’t too big a jump.

If you don’t have a drill or lathe

Your only option is to cup the sandpaper in your hand and sand as evenly as you can.

If you do have a drill or lathe

First, make sure you have the right bushings for your pen kit. Even if you don’t end up applying CA glue, your final pen will look more professional if it’s sanded to the height of the bushings.

I have Abranet, which works quite well, but I also like the systems like this one that store roles of sandpaper: PSI Woodworking SPSETMOD Modular Sandpaper System

Since the drill or lathe does the work for you, all you need is sandpaper you can hold up against the barrel as it spins.

Prepare to sand

If I’m using Abranet or other reusable sandpaper, I have two separate bowls of water: one clean, that I use to wet the new sandpaper, and the other dirty where I rinse it off.

It’s very important on something like a pen, that will be handled and be viewed close to the face that you don’t have grits from previous rounds of sanding being rubbed in when you are using a higher grit.

If I’m just using sandpaper strips, then a bowl of water I put unused sandpaper in to wet it is fine.

Remember safety, and if you normally use a dust mask when sanding, you’ll definitely want to use one here as well.

A spinning drill will happily spin off water at you and everything around you too, so you may want to drape some shop towels to protect anything in ‘blast radius’.

Start sanding

While your goal when building a barrel is to get it as close to the bushings before sanding as possible, this can be very hard to do — especially with kits like the Slimline (a popular, cheap kit) because there’s so little distance between the top of the bushings and the barrel itself.

If I need to, I will start as low as 60 grit to get the barrel down to size fast. You may also have to start with a low grit if you didn’t make your barrel very smooth at the start.

Regardless of what grit you start with, the steps are all the same:

Your first 1-2 grits will be the bulk of your work as you’re getting the barrel smooth and close to your bushings. Don’t hesitate to spend as much time here as necessary.

Whenever you switch grits it’s always critical to do two steps:

  1. Always turn off your drill or lathe and sand the long way along each pen blank with gentle pressure from your fingertips. This reduces how much time you’ll have to spend on future grits because you won’t be trying to get a circular groove out
  2. Always wipe off your pen barrel entirely, ideally with a damp rag, to make sure you get all bits of grit and plastic off — otherwise you’ll be digging grooves from the prior grit in with the new grit, and you’ll be very frustrated trying to get it smooth

Use a flashlight if you need to to check in on how well you’re doing at avoiding grooves sticking around from prior levels.

Even if you’re finishing with CA, this sanding step is critical: not only do you need to get it down to at or very slightly below bushing height, but any grooves or scratches you leave now will be amplified by the CA later.

If you’re just going to stop after sanding, feel free to go all the way through micromesh and then your polishing papers, and end with a good buff.

If you’re using CA, go down to 600-800 (or higher, if you feel you need to) and then switch to applying CA.

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