Shop & Field: Sandpaper

Some information that might be useful to those who live and work with sandpaper.

Woodworking eventually leads to applying a finish of some kind, which requires certain preparation of the wood’s surface.  Planes, scrapers and even scraper planes can take care of a lot of this surface preparation,  but sandpaper will always be unavoidable fact of working with wood.

Sandpaper isn’t especially cheap, and you go through quite a bit of it over time.  Waste accumulates as it scatters about the shop, gets cut and torn into less than useful shapes and sizes, or rolls itself into stubborn tubes.  It takes an effort to cut down on this waste, but not much effort.

Storing Sandpaper

I’ve wasted a fair amount of sandpaper simply through careless storage.  After trying several different storage schemes over the years, I think I’ve found a simple system that works.

Because sandpaper is paper, you might think that file or hanging folders should be a natural solution.  Unfortunately, sandpaper has a strong tendency to curl, and just a few sheets stacked together can overpower a file folder’s ability to keep them flat.  (Regardless of how you store it, of course, it has to be protected from excessive humidity.)  I tried using a plywood ‘press’ as a container, but shuffling through multiple folders of individual grits is unwieldy, and the whole affair soon became a mess.

Keeping the different grits in their original bulk packs sort of works, but as the paper gets used up, empty space allows curling takes over.  Pulling out a few sheets at a time eventually messes up the remainder of the pack, and cutting sheets to fit your sander compound the problem with new shapes and sizes of paper.

My current, and so far pretty workable, storage solution is to trim a pair of 1/8″ Masonite panels (hardboard) to about an inch larger than a sheet of sandpaper.

I cut a pair of panels for each of the grits I commonly use, plus a few extra for future use.  I fashioned a hinge using duct tape, in effect creating a sort of rigid yet relatively lightweight file folder.  Make the hinge wide enough to comfortably accomodate a full sleeve of sandpaper, and the duct tape hinge will be flexible enough to keep a single sheet of sandpaper flat.  Label the folders and store them flat.  Keep full and cut sheets of the same grit paper together.


Cutting Sandpaper

I used to cut sandpaper with a dedicated pair of scissors.  They lasted a very long time, but were slow to use, and produced crooked, irregular sheets.

I’ve tried creasing and tearing paper, tearing it over the edge of the table saw, and made a dopey gizmo at one point using an old hacksaw blade.  None of those methods are very satisfying in practice.

So I built the item in the photo.  It’s a modified version of something I saw online, 

The idea is to butt the paper into the corner of the guide, and follow the grooves in the particle board base with a razor knife.  It works best grit-side down, and can cut several sheets at time, depending on the weight of the paper.

I have color-coded grooves to cut paper for 1/4 sheet and 1/3 sheet sanders, and strips for hand block sanders.  It’s quick and accurate, and will probably last for years before the base wears out. 

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