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Sanding finished carvings

Recently I have watched quite a few carving videos here on Mary's site and also on YouTube, and quite often the carver talks about sanding the piece once the carving is done, but nobody ever offers any details on how this is done. This doesn't seem straightforward to me. There is often a lot of nooks and tight curves and other awkward to reach areas. How does one deal with them? Do you affix sandpaper to custom shaped sanding blocks (sanding sticks?), use files, or is there some better method I can't think of? If it matters, I guess I'm particularly interested in ball-and-claw feet and concave and convex shells, but also, just in general, what do people do? I'd like to see a video just on that.

Hi Charles,

Ideally, in that perfect world where everything works out just as we want, no sanding is needed. And I have a reputation of being horrified if I hear the "S" word with carving.

However... life doesn't always happen that way. Tiny, pointed, very fine riffler or needle files can clean out deep, inside corners. Also, compressing those corners with a sharp, bamboo skewer gets rid of "fuzzies" that like to stick in the inside corners. Sand paper can be folded around a hard, contoured surface to sand particular curves sections. Nail files can be cut to different shapes to fit into awkward areas.

Typically, in woodworking it is recommended that sanding is never done across the grain. With carving and all the twists and curves, this is nearly impossible to stick to. So as a result, if you use a too rough sandpaper, clear scratch marks can be seen in the surface - especially in these cross-grain areas. So it is important to use very fine sandpaper.

The main issue with sanding is that it does change the surface or texture of the wood. The "burnished" look of some woods just off the chisel is reduced after sanding (especially walnut and cherry) so I try and resist using sandpaper on these.

Newport shells and ball and claw feet can be lightly sanded, and the inside, sharp corners can be cleaned up with a very sharp, pointed riffler file.

What you want to try and avoid is to "carve" with sandpaper. Do your shaping with gouges, and just use the sanding process to remove unwanted tool marks. But then again... those tool marks make it unique, and hand-carved. It really depends on how refined and smooth you want the final surface.

Have fun! Oh, and don't forget that if you do sand, don't carve on the wood after you have sanded or you will be sharpening your gouges.