Sanding Alternatives for Polymer Clay – Part 1

 

tumbled beads 01

Like so many of you, I LOVE the look of sanded polymer clay pieces. But, also like pretty much everybody – I HATE sanding polymer. It’s messy, it hurts – especially when you sand your fingertips…yes, I have – and it’s boring. AND….if like me….you have issues with chronic pain it is very painful to do the amount of sanding needed for production work. Over the years I have tried several techniques to get the look I want without putting myself into a heightened state of pain.

Many years ago I stumbled across Desiree McCory’s site that described how to use a rotary tumbler and sandpaper to sand beads. I used her techniques for several years but found the process very labor intensive. There HAD to be a better way. I think I have finally found that better way.

I use a rotary tumbler with plastic media cones from Rio Grande followed by rotary buffing using jean scraps. The media that I been using is the “Standard Plastic Pyramid Media” in Blue, Medium and Green, Fine Cut along with the “Standard Plastic Cone Media, Extra Fine Cut”. I find that this process makes sanding beads a breeze. If I want a bit more gloss to the bead I ‘paint’ on Armor-All Car Finish. I really like the finish I get and it is easy-peasy and pain-free.

I have cheapo tumblers from Harbor Freight, but I’m sure that this process will also work with Lortone tumblers. The black rubber drums can stain/yellow polymer so they must be lined.
Tall yogurt/sFinishing 05our cream/ricotta containers work well. Liners may need to be cut down the sides to fit the tumbler container. Cut a circle out of the liner’s lid to fit on top. You don’t want any of the black rubber touching the clay. Load the tumbler starting with a handful of plastic media, then beads, then more media, more beads until it the contents are about an inch below the top of the container.

Fill with water leaving about half an inch free to allow for media and beads to move around the container.Finishing 04
You can start with either the blue or the green media depending on the smoothness of pieces.

I usually let the tumbler run for 12 – 24 hours on each media grit. I have not found that a longer time does any damage to the pieces. After the tumbler has been run pour the contents into a colander and rinse. Make sure to clean the liner and barrel between grits.

Finishing 07

To buff by tumbler you need to cut up a pair of old jeans or purchase denim – some suggest using white denim – into 1 – 2 inch square pieces. Layer the jeans and the beads as before but you will be tumbling these dry. I allow this stage to run for between 12 – 18 hours. Again, it doesn’t hurt to run it longer and you can probably run it for as little as 8 hours.

I have seen some post recently that people are using polished rocks. I haven’t tried this yet and would be interested if anyone can share some before and after shots.

I’ll post some other alternatives to hand sanding in my next post.

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