Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fun with a Belt Sander

At the recommendation of my friend Peggy Ward (owner of the Bead Chick in St. Augustine, FL), I bought a small belt sander. It's a 1" x 30" model, which cost about $40 at Harbor Freight. I had never even seen one before, but the project Peggy demonstrated for the First Coast Polymer Clay Guild was so cool, I just had to try it. 

This sander won't give your beads a beautiful smooth finish. Quite the contrary! It will beat 'em up, knock 'em around, and make 'em look like they've been through a war. But sometimes that's just what you want! 

Project 1: Man’s Necklace

I came up with this design a few years ago and made necklaces for my husband, son, and grandsons. They all wore them, and I don't think they did it just to humor me! This updated version makes use of the belt sander and some paint. I think this treatment adds visual texture and enhances the masculine quality of the design. Here are the basic steps: 

  • Make the long, curved, two-tone beads and cure them.
  • Scuff them up on every surface with the belt sander (60-grit belt).
  • Brush on acrylic paint, rub off most of it, and allow it to dry. 
  • Hand-sand the surface lightly with 220-grit sandpaper; wash the beads, and let them dry. 
  • Seal with one coat of Sculpey gloss glaze (optional, but I like it). 
 Speaking of Paint: I’m grateful to Meredith Arnold for introducing me to Plaid’s Folk Art acrylic paint in Wrought Iron color (number 925). The greenish off-black shade really works well for antique effects. It’s available in most craft stores.

Project 2: Disk Beads

I wanted some large-holed, round, flat beads for a particular project. After curing them, I had one of those “What the heck was I thinking?!!” reactions. They looked like Life Savers (above, left). I didn’t like them and decided not to use them in the project.

Later, having nothing to lose, I decided to cut grooves and facets in them with my belt sander. Then I gave them the same paint-and-glaze treatment as the necklace (above, right). Now I have beads that are definitely usable!

Do You Need a Belt Sander?

You probably could achieve many of the same effects by hand-sanding with very coarse-grit sandpaper, but it would take a lot longer. And I think it would be hard to achieve the same irregular, random look, which is what I love about these belt-sanded pieces.