The Joy of Sanding

I started this sculpture in January 2009.

I used to despise sanding.  To avoid sanding, I learned to use hand planes and scrapers.  I thought that, having learned how to sharpen and use these tools, I would not have to use sandpaper.  For a while, I thought that I was too good to use sandpaper.  I was wrong.

Recently, I needed to fair the curves of a sculpture.  I had rough-carved the sculpture with an angle grinder and further refined the surface with rasps.  But from there, the best way to smooth and refine the surface involved sanding.  By hand.  And lots of it.  I spent nine hours over two days hand-sanding starting at 60-grit and working up to 220-grit before beginning the finishing process.  How could I spend nine hours hand sanding?  I was driven.

I had spent eight hours carving and shaping the sculpture before beginning sanding, letting it dry further for two years before completing the carving.  While I didn’t have an incredible amount of time invested in this project, I really liked the shape it had taken and I wanted to see it through to completion.  This was my first sculpture that was going to be finished and I wanted to do it well.

A friend of mine, Conrad Sarzynick, is an incredibly talented carver and he got me started in carving.  His work is amazing and I always admire the level of finish he achieves in all his work.  I remember him telling me that he spends as much time sanding as carving.  It pays.  I remember how everything about his sculptures seems intentional.  Every curve is absolutely smooth and fair, every edge crisp and not one scratch visible.  That is what I work towards.  I know that it is attainable with patience.  Patience and hard work.  Creating fine work is not all about skill; it’s also about doing what is necessary.  And sometimes that is sanding.  By hand.

I wanted this piece to be one that I would be proud of in the end.  I wanted it to be something that I would leave me completely satisfied.  I wanted to be able to look at it and not pick out a single thing I wish I had done differently.  I wanted it to be an example of my best work.  And to achieve that, I needed to spend those nine hours sanding.  By hand.

To spend an hour sanding with a power sander can seem like a long time.  To spend an hour sanding by hand can seem even longer.  And to spend nine hours sanding by hand can feel like an eternity.  But I didn’t focus on that.  I didn’t even think about how long I spent sanding – I just focused on what I was doing.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  I focused on fairing the curves and remove all visible scratches.

All along I had a strong vision of the end result in my head and I was determined to reach that goal.  I would not be lazy.  I would not take shortcuts.  I knew what was required to achieve that perfect surface and I did what was required.  I knew that all the work would be worth it in the end and that anything I turned a blind eye to would leave me less than satisfied, essentially negating all the work I’d put into it.  And that would be a shame.

Here is the finished result.  This image is in my portfolio along with other images of my work.

Something Like That (14″x12″x7″)

5 thoughts on “The Joy of Sanding

  1. Chris,

    Is that sand dust on your blue shirt? For continuous sanding, consider using a box fan strapped with a fine furnace filter as a dust collector on the bench. It works great during summer time and you can feel the breeze…but not so in the winter time if you shop is unheated. Another tool you can consider to remove a lot of material is the stationary 1″ belt-sander (like this I know of a British mechanical sculpture maker who doesn’t carve well and she told me she uses the belt-sander and final hand sanding to create all her sculptures (example: Not a carver myself, I was impressed and use her techniques for my automata work, too. It needs a bit of practice to use the 1″ sand belt to “carve” out small features. But it’s fast and after sanding, it’s hard to tell it’s not carved.

    1. Chuck,

      Yes, that is a dusty shirt, not the latest tye-dye-like trend!

      A 1″ belt sander is ideal for small work, but totally useless for large pieces such as the one pictured here.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Quote “I wanted this piece to be one that I would be proud of in the end.”

    Good thinking, Chris. And we should think and act the same way on every project.



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