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Home : Trade Secrets Archive : Issue 105, Which sandpaper to use for instrument work?
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Photo: Dan Erlewine Which sandpaper to choose?
Specialty papers for instrument work... What are they all about?
Some of these sandpapers are pretty unusual and handy. Asking around, I found that everybody’s got a favorite sanding paper—and advice for using it. I’ll bet you’ll use one of these tips in your shop today.
Dan Erlewine, January 21, 2010
Photo: Don MacRostie Don’s sanding paddle
This was a new one to me. Don MacRostie made this paddle from 3/8" plywood with a patch of Stikit self-adhesive sandpaper on each end. Don uses the paddle to remove glue squeeze-out and high spots on his Red Diamond mandolins after gluing the binding on.
It’s really easy to control, and works fast.
Photo: Todd Sams Don’t skip grits between spray coats
Here’s Todd Sams (Sams Guitars): “When you’re spraying build coats (building a finish), use 320-grit Fre-Cut first, then spray and sand again. After that coat, move on to 400, 600, and 800-grit. Don't skip grits! Using all the grits makes the work easier for each sheet, so they last a lot longer.
3M Gold Fre-Cut Sandpaper
Photo: strip sanding Okay, I've got a tip: strip-sanding
After making a small “drop-fill” finish repair, I'll strip-sand the spot by pulling ribbons of micro finishing paper over it using fingertip pressure.
I start with Fre-Cut Gold, running the grits from 320-800, then switch to the micro papers from 1000 through 2000. Each grit gets 2 or 3 pulls before I go on to the next. The whole process takes less than two minutes.
Micro Finishing Papers
Photo: polishing After strip-sanding I'll buff the spot out with micro-mesh pads. They’re flexible, and wrap around any shape. That’s useful for peghead repairs, because of all the curves and edges.
They’re good for polishing bone nuts, too. That’s my opinion anyhow, but Don MacRostie makes a good argument:
Micro-Mesh Soft Touch Finishing Pads
Photo: polishing pearl Polishing without blackening
Don says polishing papers are the only way he'll polish pearl and bone nuts anymore. He used to use liquid polishing compound, and it always darkened the nut by rubbing dirty residue into the pores. Polishing papers stay clean and dry, so the nut stays bright.
3M Flexible Polishing Papers
Photo: abrasive cord Slots and tight spots
Erick Coleman
recommends abrasive cord for sanding tight spots like the groove in the top of a Gibson peghead. He also uses it as the last step in finishing a nut’s string slots. It gets rid of chatter marks left by files, and leaves the slot glassy smooth.
So there you have a handful of sanding tips. You’ve probably got more to add to the list; if you do, I hope you’ll send them my way!

Mitchell Abrasive Cord
Problem-solving products for this kind of work:
Micro-Mesh Finishing Abrasives Kit
Long-lasting "cushioned" finishing papers for a scratch-free mirror shine.
Stikit Gold Paper Self-adhesive Abrasives
3M's superior abrasive papers are sized for our radius-sanding blocks and fret/fingerboard levelers.
Fretboard Radius-sanding Beam
Create a constant radius on an unfretted fingerboard, or on installed frets with this unique tool.
More More More
Luthier's Friend Sanding Station
Works with your shop drill press, letting you thickness-sand small parts quickly and accurately. Pattern-sand with your own templates, too.
Micro-Mesh Touch Up Stick
Ultra-fine abrasive stick for spot repairs on high gloss finishes. Three grits on one stick: 2400, 4000 and 12000.
Fret Dressing Stick
Special sanding stick with interchangeable belts. One end rounded, the other pointed. Rotate the belt to bring a fresh sanding surface to the work.
More More More

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