TOOLS Tumbling & sanding media

I've decided to update this discussion, since I've collected a bit more information about tumble sanding polymer clay. For those who know me, more info than you'll ever need. ;-) Due to the volume, I've broken up this discussion into several pages.


 

There's a whole lot of information on tumbling and sanding media. I certainly won't go into it here, but there are some important basics. For example, there are two basic ways abrading media is offered:

  • coated abrading media like sandpaper and polishing papers
  • loose abrading media

The great thing about sandpaper is its versatility. It can be used manually, attached to sanders or cut up and used in rotary and vibrating tumblers. Other types of media are designed specifically for tumblers. These include ground corn cobs, crushed walnuts, ceramic and plastic media. Those are called tumbling media (surprise surprise). ;-)

Loose media includes:

Coated abrasives include:

  • aluminum oxide
  • white aluminum oxide
  • silicon carbide
  • cerium oxide
  • plastic pellets
  • ground corn cob tumbling media
  • crushed walnut shells tumbling media
  • pumicestone
  • rottenstone
  • ceramic, plastic tumbling media
  • corundum
  • garnet
  • tripoli
  • Novus polishing creams
  • tumbling stones, small river rocks
  • sandpapers
  • polishing papers
  • finishing films
  • sanding sponges
  • sanding pads
  • disks, rollers, brushes, belts
  • Knowing what works best in any given situation isn't necessarily easy and it doesn't help when you're trying to identify what works with polymer clay because most suppliers won't have that experience or they pass on the wrong information. If you're trying something new, be prepared to run a test or two.

    It is important to keep in mind is not all media will work well with polymer clay. Some media is too coarse or aggressive and will tear up a soft material like polymer clay. I found that with the finer loose media (like rottenstone and pumicestone), the particles tend to lodge themselves into the polymer clay surface. However, I have heard some use crafting sand with success.

    With sandpapers , it's important to properly step through progressively finer media as you sand. That's why it is important to know the coarseness of the materials. Plus you need to know which standard the media is classified under. Here are a few used for sandpapers:

    • CAMI (of ANSI)
    • FEPA (P [coated])
    • JIS
    • Micron

    Think of the standards like currency. When saying 100, it's important to know if you're talking dollars, yen, sterling pounds, euros. A 300 grit in FEPA is different than 300 in CAMI. It is very important to not mix standards unless you know that grit's equivalent in another standard. When it comes to sandpapers, until you're experience, use same brand for all your papers.

    Here are a few excellent high level descriptions about sandpapers and other abrasive media:

    Want some basic information about sanding, including sanding tools and the best way to hand sand? Click here.

     

    If you are like me and have all kinds of sanding materials, it might help to know how they compare with each other, as far as how coarse they are.

    wet/dry sandpapers

    CAMI - (USA)

    wet/dry sandpapers

    FEPA
    (European)

    polishing papers

    3M sanding sponges

    microns

    80       192
     

    P100

       

    162

    100

         

    140

     

    P120

       

    125

    120

        medium

    115

     

    P150

       

    100

    150

         

    92

    180

    P180

       

    82

    220

    P220

       

    68

     

    P240

       

    58

    240

         

    53

     

    P280

       

    52

     

    P320

       

    46

     

    P360

       

    40

    320

        fine

    36

     

    P400

       

    35

     

    P500

    green  

    30

    360

        super fine

    28

     

    P600

       

    25

    400

         

    23

     

    P800

       

    21

    500

         

    20

     

    P1000

       

    18

    600

         

    16

     

    P1200

    gray  

    15

    800

    P1500

      ultra fine

    12.2

     

    P2000

       

    10.3

    1000   blue   9.2
     

    P2500

       

    8.4

    1200     micro fine 6.5
    1500        
    2000        
    2500        
    4000   pink   3
    6000   mint   2
    8000   pale green   1

    Tumbling Media - experiments; Result - not effective
     

    I decided to revisit how to use my vibrating tumbler.

    Summer 2007

    OK. I know sandpaper sheets glued back to back and cut into tiny pieces works. But, hey, I'm lazy, so making those in various grits, gluing, cutting, etc. taxed my patience to no end.

    I decided to explore, again, tumbling media - specifically which ceramic and/or plastic tumbling media will work in my vibrating tumbler when processing polymer clay pieces. Rio Grande was my source for this kind of media.

    Apparently no one has done this with polymer clay, at least commercially, so I was on my own.

     

    20 Aug 07

    Using Rio Grande's Plastic Abrasive, Clean Cut Media: Fine Cut , 5/16"

    • After vibrating for more than 12 hours, it kinda worked, in that the beads were not horribly gouged and the media did seem to sand the beads' surface to the approx equivalent to or a little less than 400 grit.

    I did the following steps:

    1. Put about 3 lbs of the media info the tumbler
    2. add about 40-50 beads
    3. turn on the vibe tumbler
    4. very slowly pour in a small amount of water.
    5. Check every hour or so, adding a little bit more water if the media looks dry.

    It's important to pour the water in slowly because the tiniest amount of water drastically effects the vibrate tumbling motion. Too much water dampens the proper complex action.

    Results? Not the most promising. I was concerned about the sharp edges of the pyramid shapes and I was right. While the surface of some beads seemed ok, quite a few were pitted. What I don't get is why some beads were pitted, but most were not.



    Vibrating Tumbler Movie

     

    1 Sep 07

    Using Rio Grande's Ceramic Abrasive media, heavy cut , 5/32" cylinder

    • At first, this version didn't seem to be significantly coarser when used in a vibrating tumbler. So I tried this media with beads in my Lortone rotary tumbler. It's way too rough.
    • Retried in vibe tumbler again - 12 hours. Not good.
     

    Rio Grande also sells porcelain beads, classified as being very fine, meant to polish metal, a adequate substitute for stainless steel tumbling shot.

    According to Judy Summer, a Sandy Camp Retreat friend with 30 years of jewelry making experience, porcelain beads aren't quite as fine as Rio Grande pitches.

    My hope is they could be the final sanding stage for tumbling polymer clay. However, those porcelain beads are quite pricey. So, that experiment is on hold for now.

     

     


    There's nothing better than having a great tool when you need it.

    Enjoy,
    Desiree

    Last update to this page: 21 Oct 07. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.