In my Intro to Jewelry and Metals course more than two decades ago, the first tools I ever made were a complete set of handmade sanding sticks. I’ve used that set ever since and changed the papers so many times over the years that I’ve lost count. Strangely enough, the most recent tools I made were also a complete set of sanding sticks during a demo for students in my summer camp silversmithing classroom. I almost laughed out loud when I realized just how full circle my career as a metalsmith has come, and it just goes to show you that useful tools remain useful across time and space.
Abrasive papers are a studio staple, and once you create a set of custom sanding sticks, you’ll reach for them every time you work. I make sure I’ve always got a complete set in a full range of grits, and once I’ve torn off and used up all the layers of paper, I renew the stick by rebuilding it with a fresh abrasive sheet.
My longest-used favorite abrasive paper is Norton Brand Blue-BAK Waterproof Papers (1097025). It’s the first brand I tried, and I still love it today. Blue-BAK a great wet-dry abrasive with a consistent surface that holds up to the toughest jobs: like brutally sharp thin steel edges that would normally tear paper to shreds. My latest set came with 120, 220, 320, 400, 600, and “P1200” which is a European designation that roughly translates to a smidgen finer than 600. Norton paper stays relatively flat when you wet it, too, and instead of my usual paint stick from the hardware store, I opted to make a more petite set of sticks using Gesswein’s Grit Stick Holders (8404400) which I really like now that my work has gotten smaller with finer details. I really like using them with a half-sheet of paper instead of a full sheet to avoid rounded edges on my sticks – and to prevent that, you must use a sharp scribe to create a scored fold line as you roll the paper around the stick. This extra step is so worth it and makes the neatest sanding sicks around. Trust me, once you make your own, you’ll never go back to manufactured sanding sticks again.
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Metalsmith, Teaching Artist, Author
Read more about Helen's inspiration and experience here.