So you want to start a new craft project and the medium you want to use is clay. Now, whether you’ve been working with clay for a long time or you are new to it, one thing you will notice is that there are many different clays in the market that you can use.
While these clays will differ from each other in texture, composition, and use, one thing they all have in common is the fact that you will have to sand them down. Sanding helps polish the final look of your masterpiece and makes it contact-safe as well.
Sanding is a vital step that will help you get rid of any fibers, particles, prints, or other imperfections that may be in your clay. There may be a few dust particles that your clay picks up from your workstation, no matter how much you clean it.
If you’re using clay that needs to be baked for it to harden, sanding it down after the bake will help you smooth it out. It will also help bring out the proper colors that may have dulled due to the heat in the oven.
So what is the best way to sand clay? The best way to sand clay depends on what type of clay you are using and what kind of finish you are looking for. Sometimes, the pigments and textures that you add after baking clay cannot be sanded, while other times, sanding after baking creates a beautiful finish to your clay piece.
In this guide, we will talk about everything you need to know about sanding your clay project. We’ll go over what tools you will need, what kind of clays are eligible for sanding, and what you should be keeping in mind when you start sanding your project.
Can You Use Sandpaper on Clay?
One of the first things that most crafters will go to when they want to smooth out a surface is sandpaper. Sandpaper is a great addition to your crafting arsenal, as it can help you make a multitude of surfaces even and smooth.
Sandpaper is easily available in all hardware stores in a range of grits, allowing you to choose one that suits your needs the best. When you want to sand your clay projects, sandpapers are a great product that you can use both in terms of utility and budget.
Whichever clay you are using for your clay project, both wet and dry sandpapers can be used on it. For clays that are baked and are tough once dry, lower-grit dry sandpaper will be a perfect way to even out the surface. Dry sandpaper is harsher and hence should only be used on tougher clay models.
For clays that are a little more sensitive, wet sandpaper will help you get a smooth finish on your clay crafts and will not leave any marks on them. Wet sandpaper is a lot milder than dry sandpaper and protects the surface while also helping you achieve an even look.
Sandpaper, used in conjunction with the right sealant, is also used to bring out the brightness of colors that you may have used in your clay project. Sanding away the topmost layer of either your air-dried clay or oven-baked clay can help you add a finishing touch to it which elevates it to a more finished and polished look.
Whether you spend hours smoothing out your clay before it dries or not, one thing you will always have to do is sand it for an even finish. Sanding clay is a mandatory step that will help you take your clay projects to the next level.
If you’re not sure where to start with sandpaper, we suggest getting a sandpaper variety pack with a range of different grits that can be used wet or dry.
How Do You Sand and Smooth Out Different Types of Clay?
Not all clay is made the same and not all clay will behave the same when dried or baked. Sanding clay is a must for polished projects, but different clays that you may use for your projects require different sanding techniques.
There are softer clays on the market as well as harder clays that are a lot tougher when they have dried. Sanding down clay requires precision, patience, and a lot of consideration on your part.
Knowing what kind of clay you are using and the best way to sand it down to your desired smoothness and look is a key component to having success in clay crafting. Down below, we’ll go through the ways that you can sand down the two most popular types of clay.
Polymer clay is a modeling clay that is soft at room temperature and gets hard when it is baked in the oven. This clay allows you to shape it into whichever form you want and then once baked, it cures and is ready to paint as you please.
Polymer clay comes in a variety of colors, ranging from pastels to bright colors, and has different finishes such as pearl, granite, and metallic. You can even color polymer clay yourself. It is a highly durable clay that is resistant to most environments and provides years of fun when you look at your clay masterpiece.
To achieve a professional finish on your polymer clay crafts, you need to sand and buff it once it is done baking. As it is soft clay, sanding before baking will not work as it will give way and ruin the shape you have formed.
While sanding, you also need to be careful of addressing only those parts of your piece that will not be scratched or come off when you go in with the sandpaper. These are things that you need to be vary of when you start sanding your clay crafts.
The best sandpaper to use for polymer clay is wet/dry sandpaper, as it is harsh enough to take away any fingerprints or rough edges and soft enough that it will not leave any marks on your clay piece.
Depending on what kind of edges and bumps you want to sand out, you can find the wet/dry sandpaper in many different grits. The ideal range for polymer clay sanding is 400 to 2000 grit, which will not only take away particles that are uneven but also leave your piece more vibrant and colorful.
Using water to sand your piece is a great way to make sure that you don’t have any dry dust particles sticking to your surface and makes sanding much easier. If you can submerge your craft underwater, do so and then sand it, as it will prevent scratches.
Always make sure that your sandpaper is wet when sanding polymer clay as it will prevent your sandpaper from getting clogged too quickly with the dust. Use the sandpaper on your project rather than rubbing it on the sandpaper to ensure maximum control.
Apart from sandpaper, you can also use micro-mesh pads to smooth out the surface of your clay project. For smaller projects, these pads provide cushioning that helps you control the amount that you sand off and is a lot less harsh.
Micro-mesh pads are also available in a lot more sizes than sandpaper and hence allow you to slowly move up to get your desired smoothness. They can’t be used underwater, and they will clog up pretty quickly, so that is something to keep in mind when choosing what to sand your polymer clay with.
If your clay piece does not have a lot of bumps and prints and requires only light sanding, you can use polishing cloths. Polishing cloths are a softer option and will not take off a lot of the surface of your piece.
Polishing cloths are not to be used if your piece needs a lot of work. They don’t work like sandpaper and micro-mesh pads and only provide soft sanding. Polishing cloths are great for pieces that only need a little finishing, as they also bring out the shine in your projects.
Finishing polymer clay projects requires sanding, and whether you choose sandpapers, micro-mesh pads, or polishing cloths, always remember to go easy on the surface and use water to avoid unnecessary scratching. You may also want to add a glaze to your final product to brighten up dull surfaces and protect against scratches.
Air-dry clay is a type of clay that is soft at room temperature, but the only difference to polymer clay is that it dries at room temperature within 24 hours, no baking required. You can shape it into any form you desire, leave it out to dr, and within a day, you have your model ready.
There are 3 types of air-dry clays available in stores. All 3 types are a little different from each other and depending on what you need, will give you different finishes and colors.
The first type of air-dry clay is available in limited colors of white, grey, and terracotta and dries hard when left out to dry at room temperature. This type of clay is most commonly called modeling clay and will shrink during the drying process. It may crack when it dries but you can patch it up or sand it quickly as an easy fix.
The second type of clay is air-dry paper clay. It is a lightweight clay that dries with less shrinkage and has a paper-like feeling once dry. The paper fibers in the clay bind together all the clay ingredients which help make this clay durable, similar to paper maché. It is used to cover objects and make lightweight models.
Finally, soft clay is the third type of air-dry clay that you will find on the market. It does get hard, but will retain a certain amount of softness once it dries. You can form any shape you desire and it allows you to still change your shape a bit once it has dried. It is the best kind of clay for projects with kids and for beginners.
Once you have shaped your clay and it has dried, you will need to sand it, as air-dry clays are usually fibrous and need to be sanded to have a smooth surface. Sandpaper is one of the best ways to smooth out your clay models.
For air-dry clays, you should be opting for finer grit sandpaper, ideally 60-800 grit, and use it dry on your models. As you start sanding, start with a lower grit and go to a higher grit with each layer or two and sand until you have reached the smoothness you want for your piece.
Sanding air-dry clay creates a lot of fluff, which is essentially paper particles that come off as the surface comes into contact with sandpaper. Once you’ve made your piece as smooth as possible, brush a little water on the surface with a soft brush and smooth out all the fibers that may have come up to the surface.
Since air-dry clays can sometimes crack, you can use sandpaper to smooth out the surface and then use a primer to fill in the gaps. Once the gaps are filled, you can then go over the model once again with sandpaper and follow with water and soft brushing.
You don’t need to be too worried when you start sanding air-dry clay, just be mindful of the pressure that you put on the piece. Fold the sandpaper to help you reach all the nooks and crannies and cover with water as much as needed. The clay will dry once again and your piece will be ready to use.
What Tools Do You Need?
Once you have dried or baked your clay models and want to start sanding, you will not have to look further than your art cupboard or the nearest hardware store for the tools that you need. Down below is a list of all the tools that you will need so you can start sanding your clay models.
Tools for sanding clay:
- Sandpaper (both wet and dry)
- A cloth that can help you clean the particles off your clay pieces
- Newspaper for the work surface
- Paper towels
- A cup of water and a brush
- Gloves to protect your hands if you are using harsh sandpaper
- A polishing cloth for the final polish (optional)
How Do You Get Dust Out of Clay?
99% Isopropyl Alcohol works great to remove dirt and lint from polymer clay. Use it on a paper towel or Q-tips as it will help you get into every cervix of your model. Baby oil is also a great option if alcohol is not readily available to you.
How Long Can Polymer Clay Sit Before Baking?
Polymer clay is not clay that will harden at room temperature, no matter how long you leave it. You can finish your shaping in one day and bake it whenever you are ready. Bake it for no more than 15 minutes or follow the instructions on the package.
How Do You Prevent Fingerprints From Getting On Clay?
To prevent fingerprints from getting on your clay model, use corn-starch and rub it between your fingertips. If you still end up with marks on your clay, you can use mineral oil or baby oil to smooth them out when your clay is still wet.
You can also try wearing a tight-fitting nitrile or vinyl glove to smooth out the surface of your clay after sculpting.
What Can I Use to Seal Polymer Clay?
Once you have baked your clay piece and have sanded it down to the smoothness that you want, you can apply wax to seal in all your hard work. The wax will add a sheen to your model and will make it look much more professional.
Working with modeling clay is a great way to spend an afternoon crafting. It is a versatile product that lets you create whatever your heart desires. Air-dry clays are easy to work with for beginners and children and will dry at room temperature. Polymer clays are baked in the oven and then harden.
Sanding your clay pieces is an important step that is needed to add a professional look to your projects. Sanding with sandpaper is by far the best way to smooth out your clay pieces and create an even surface. Keeping your sandpaper wet and using water when sanding a surface is an integral part as it keeps the clay from breaking and getting scratched.
Whether you are beginning to work with clay or are a novice, I hope this guide helps you in deciding which is the best way to sand your clay piece and teaches you what tools you need and the process you need to be going through to get the perfect finish.
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