Monday, March 8, 2010

To sand or not to sand - that is the question!!

It’s been a while since I covered pens with polymer clay sheet designs but I thought they would be a nice addition to the shop for spring. Over the several months since I had last covered pens, I’ve taken several classes where we actually had to sand the project. Now anybody who knows me very well knows that I’ve always hated to sand. But I’ll have to admit that I’ve seen the light!

Yes, I am the one who always says get it as smooth as possible before you bake. And I still stand by that statement. I still work very hard to get the clay as smooth as possible before I apply it to the pen. Once the clay is on the pen, I roll it rather aggressively with an acrylic block to smooth anything out that is not already smooth. Now all of this leaves it pretty darned smooth if I do say so myself.

In the past I’ve been pretty happy with these results. But after taking several classes where sanding was a “requirement” in order to finish the project or technique, I’m looking at things with a sharper eye. So this weekend I put it to the test. I had covered and cured 24 pens and were ready to put the finishing touches on them. In running my fingers over them, I did notice – even after all that work to get these smooth – that there were a few irregularities. So I decided to sand. I was so pleased with the results that I sat down last night in my recliner and sanded all 24 pens. The difference was remarkable!

I took all of the pens through 4 grits. The first is a fiberglass screen that is designed to sand sheetrock. It is pretty aggressive so I use it just to even out any dips and valleys on the pens. Then I go through 350, 400 and 600 grits, rinsing well and changing the sanding water frequently. It was a lot of work but relaxing in a strange sort of way. I can honestly say these are some of the nicest pens that I’ve ever done. The pictures in the slideshow are the pens that I have posted on my Artfire site and will soon have posted on my Etsy site.  I still have to cover the stands for most of the pens.


Julz said...

It will be great too see your pens!!
I have always sanded my pens...I love that smooth, sensuous feel!!! I am guessing you know what I mean :)
Interesting that you start with such a rough grade...might give that a try myself. I usually start at 400 then go to 600, 800 and 1200. Thanks for the info

Arlene Harrison said...

Thanks Julz! One of my local guild members introduced me to the sheetrock sandpaper. One of the reasons I got frustrated before was because I would sand and sand and sand with the 320 grit and still have low spots - usually where I added canes to disguise the line where the two ends came together. I hate to see a line! With the sheetrock sandpaper, I can quickly level things out, then the rest of the sanding is relaxing instead of frustrating.

You may be able to get everything perfectly even and smooth -- and that is a goal that I'm working toward -- before you bake, but I almost always find slight valleys.

I figure everything is a learning experience and the more I work with clay, the more I learn. Mine are a LOT smoother than they were last year and hopefully they will be even smoother next year!

Julz said...

Arlene...your pens are really lovely...and dont they have a delightful shine!!!
I know what you mean about the slight low spots...I do get these with my pens despite much smoothing...and dislike sanding and getting no-where. I have not heard of sheetrock sandpaper...I wonder if we have an equivalent in Aussie land. shall have to investigate. Could you poin me in the right direction at all??

Arlene Harrison said...

I found mine at my local hardware store but here is a link that has a good description of the product:

As for the shine, I do use an acrylic sealer as the final touch. I was a decorative painter for a lot of years before I discovered polymer clay and used this product for years in taht context. It is a product that was originally developed for finishing furniture and was discovered by decorative painters because it works so well to create a hard finish over their acrylic paint. It works wonderfully on polymer clay -- I've tried to get it off after applying a coat and sanding is the ONLY way. I have pieces that have been sealed with Final Coat that are 5 years old and have not had a problem with them.

The product is called Final Coat and it is made by a company in Canada. It is available in Australia from
BFDA Baumernmalerei Folk and Decorative
po. box 616 Narrabeen .NSW 2101
phone 61 02 9979 4222
fax 61 02 9979 4722

This is from the Selkirk Painting Company's website:

Just for the record, I have no connection with the Selkirk Painting Company -- I just love the product. I have both the Satin and the Gloss but use the Gloss the most.

Julz said...

Arlene...thank you for your answer!! What a helpful person you are...I am glad I found your blog...indeed!!!
I shall pop in and have a look at those links.
Again...thanks from down under!
Hoping you make more pens...perhaps I should extract a digit and do some...its been awhile!!!