Sand It: The Nitty Gritty Work

When your stick is sufficiently dry, you can finally get started on the finished product. There several steps involved in properly sanding your stick.

If your stick was peeled when the sap was running, it will probably be pretty clean (see the top stick in the image).three-peeled-sticks The wood will be a creamy color with lots of bumps on it. In this case, you can go right to the sandpaper. However, sticks that have remnants of the inner bark will have a brownish color to them from the oxidized bark (see the middle stick in the image). You could speed up your sanding by taking your peeling knife and taking a very thin coat of this dark covering off the stick. Be careful not to cut too deep, though. You don’t want to take off too much sapwood. After peeling this brown bark, the stick will look like the bottom stick in the image. Sanding will go much more quickly if you start with a cream-colored stick.

First, you need to sand the sapwood (you’ll clean out the diamonds later) with a coarse-grit paper (80 grit works well). This takes off the majority of the rough spots and pieces of bark. It also sands the flatter diamonds. I like to use a flex drum sander, though I have done the sanding by hand as well. Sanding sponges are available at any hardware store and they work well for this.

sanding-willow
My son’s girlfriend was eager to make her own stick.

Before you continue sanding the sapwood, now is a good time to clean out the diamonds. The bark in the diamonds is thin and comes off easily, but it’s sometimes hard to reach. A variety of tools come in handy for this task. My favorite tool is a Dremel rotary tool with drum sander and high-speed cutter attachments. The drum sanders come in two sizes and two grits (80 and 120). I like to use the high-speed cutter bits  like the Dremel 117. These cutters come in many sizes and shapes, and I find that it helps to have several. These cutters can get into tighter spaces than the drum sander.

You want to clean all the bark off the diamonds, but you don’t want to sand too deeply or you risk taking away some of the gorgeous deep red color. You should reveal some beautiful grains when you sand the diamonds. If you see dark or weathered spots, gently sand them away if you can. This can be a tedious and time-consuming process, but it’s well worth it!

Carving tools might be useful as well. Sometimes there are hard to reach spots in diamonds that you want to clean up, and only a carving tool will reach them properly. I buy small kits of 8 or so tools of different shapes and keep them on hand. I don’t use them a lot, but when I need them, they are really handy.

After you’ve cleaned up your diamonds, take a medium grit (120 grit) paper after the stick to get the remaining rough edges off. Finally, a finer (220 grit) paper will remove the last slivers and fuzzies. When you are done, the stick should be really smooth and you shouldn’t see any slivers or rough spots. The diamonds should be full of beautiful multi-shaded grains. Wow!

I do most of my sanding outside – on the deck of my workshop, even when it’s cold outside. I especially like to sand on a breezy day when the wind carries away the sawdust. Sometimes I’ll do hand-sanding or Dremel work in my workshop, but I prefer to keep the mess outside. Wear a mask when you sand! I’ve breathed in the dust without a mask and found myself coughing and wheezing for several days. This can’t be good for the lungs.

You’ve done the hard and dirty work of sanding. Now it’s time to bring out the color with some oil or varnish.

The next step: Varnish It: Let It Shine!