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Besides staining, sanding is the last step to take before completing a woodturning project. Due to the physics of turning wood, specifically bowl turning, some angles could be awkward to try and sand, but the constant rotation makes the process easier if all you have is sand paper. Otherwise, there are a variety of types of the best sander for bowl turning and tools used to give the workpiece a smooth finish. What is used will ultimately determine the difficulty of the process and the evenness of the wood.
Best Sander For Bowl Turning
Finding the right sanding method, as well as the other tools necessary to finish the sanding process, is an important part of completing your bowls. Knowing everything you can about sanders and their methods for bowl turning will help you when you go finish your first one.
We’ll break down each of the type of option as well as describe how to use each one, along with the purpose and benefits of each particular model or method.
Basic Electric Sanders
At the heart of any bowl turning project, when you get ready to make the finishing touches, you’ll likely start with an electric sander. These are used at the start of the workpiece to even out rough spots, which is great for making everything a little easier. Hand sanding a bowl from start to finish is time-consuming, and flattening out splinters or notches in the wood with a sanding disk, but especially sandpaper, is incredibly tedious.
Since bowls are turned starting with solid blocks workpieces, then notched and formed .different woodworking tools, many of the notches or grooves in a bowl are rough, possibly even splintered. An electric sander has the power behind it to take off the excess wood in rough spots without wearing out your hands.
The purpose for the initial run of sanding is not to achieve perfect smoothness, but to “clean up” so that it is suitable for fine discs or hand sanding. Using an angled electric sander while the workpiece is still on the lathe allows you to even out the surface of the bowl until it’s ready for a finer grain.
Close quarter power drill with a 55 degree angle and variable speed ranges from 0 to 1400 RPM.
One of the most compatible electric sanders for bowl turning is the angled drill by Neiko. This particular one sports a 55 degree angle and has variable speed options. It has a 3/8″ keyed bit holder chuck that is simple to replace and can be used for a multitude applications, not just sanding. The paddle trigger controls the RPM and uses a slightly textured grip to maintain a firm hold which helps a lot with accuracy.
Electric Sander Accessories
For smoothing out the angled surfaces on a bowl, you can find accessories for an electric sander that help to reach those interior curves and bottom angles better than the standard head.
Sanding Mandrels: Mandrels are made for a variety of different tools to hold different sanding materials from rings to discs or paper and bands. Generally, a sanding mandrel is used with an electric sander to smooth out the rim of a wood turned bowl. Using a mandrel to attach sanding disks to an angled electric sander allows for a more consistent texture. Setting both the lathe and the sander at a low speed, then sanding in an even motion ensures the rim of the bowl is smooth without creating a notch on the bowl. Attempting to hand sand the rim of a bowl will likely lead to uneven spots that cause the bowl not to take a finish properly. For convenience, a good option is a foam padded mandrel with a velcro back. The foam pads on the mandrel will prevent the sanding discs from being too harsh on the wood, and the velcro backing allows you to quickly change out your disc. This not only protects your bowl, but it also makes the final steps easier.
Sanding Discs: The standard sanding discs for an electric wood sander are called hook and loop discs. Much like traditional sandpaper, they come in different grits. The higher the grit, the finer the sanding. Most brands of sanding discs start with a grit of 100 or 120 and go upwards to 1,000 or more. In the process of trying to prepare your bowl to receive a coat of polish/finish, you’ll likely only use lower grit discs, taking off excess wood and making sure the bowl is good enough to finish by hand. There’s still quite a bit of inconsistencies within the wood that an electric sander simply can’t get. Eventually, finishing by hand with a higher grit will be one of the final steps.
Rotating Bowl Sanders
Unlike a basic electric sander which can be used to prepare a bowl for finishing, a rotating bowl sander is made specifically for sanding bowls. Bowl sanders feature a round rotating head that works with the motion of the lathe to sand it smooth for finishing.
Great for reaching inside concave small to medium sized projects.
A much more specialized option that works great for larger bowls when you need to cover a lot of inner surface. You certainly don’t want to risk accidentally sanding grooves into the inside of your bowl that a traditional model would. For contour sanding and light detail work, having the HandiyWS rotating sander on hand might be a better and safer bet than using most other options.
This style tool works specifically for woodturning. Its adjustable rotating head easily polishes the innards of a concave type workpiece, such as a bowl. The biggest benefit it offers is you don’t have to take your workpiece off, and doesn’t burn or mark your wood from too much friction (a popular issue with sandpaper).
The foam handle is quite durable do to its shockproof and anti-skid qualities that prevents hand fatigue. It comes with 4 padded heads that have a 2″ and 3″ diameter and 10 240-grit discs for all sizes.
A manual friction sander is a step up in difficulty from any of the other varieties, but offers more control over the process. It work by using the motion of the workpiece on the lathe to turn a sanding disc. This allows for extreme precision over the speed and duration. Simply pull the tool away from the bowl to stop sanding. The power and force of a manual option is much lower than its electric counterparts.
Best option for larger projects, like vases or bowls, that have a longer handle to even the inside and outside surface.
Using a friction sander, like the Taytools option aboive, is the ideal choice for spot sanding your bowl to a clean finish and not for removing material from the wood. It may be a little trickier to maneuver into the curves and along the rim of the bowl, but the light touch of a manual tool means that there is less of a risk of damaging the wood.
The friction foam-backed sanding pad can take dramatic adjustments for any angle to achieve the perfect positions for complicated designs or reaching those hard to reach spots. The quick change 2″ disc pad only requires light pressure to conform to the workpiece’s shape, and the set comes with 10 120 grit” discs.
Once you’ve done the bulk of the harsher work, it’s important to finish it off by hand. Although it is possible to use an electric counterpart, if you’re planning on coating your bowl with a quality finish, you’ll want to do the last bit of sanding by hand. Hand sanding is done with either sanding discs, the same kind that is used in an electric tool, or with traditional sandpaper. The process by hand is slightly different than what some of the more advance tools provide.
Traditional hand sand paper for optimal maneuverability over any type of project.
As always, the traditional handheld abrasive rolls can be used as well, and PeachTree is perhaps the best sander for bowl turning since it comes with 5 different grit counts (150, 240, 320, 400, and 600), and a lot of each. Alternatively, you could just get one roll of a specific grit count.
Additionally, the amount of compatible workpieces is limitless. From projects as delicate as pens to larger and more complex ones like a vase. Strips are malleable, so they are more forgiving of complicated areas, but are also durable enough to tackle large surface areas.
When hand sanding your bowl, you are sanding for smoothness, going back over spots that were rough to make sure they are smooth and touching up the rest of your bowl. Hand sanding should be the last step of the whole process. If you notice any knots or splintered spots in your wood you will either need to go back to the lathe to work on your bowl or use your electric sander to smooth out the rough spot.
Sanding Tips and Techniques
Knowing how to properly sand your finished workpiece is just as essential as the method you choose to use. Here are some important
The first and most important rule when sanding your bowl with an electric sander is to make sure that both the sander and the lathe are set on their lowest setting. Too much speed on either the lathe or the sander will have you taking wood off your bowl and sanding grooves into it. The sanding process should be slow and steady.
This leads us to the second point. Do not bear down on the bowl while sanding. Many novice woodworkers have a habit of applying lots of pressure to the bowl while sanding. This can cause you to damage the wood or even end up sanding too far into the bowl and ruining your work.
The proper technique is to lightly spot sand the bowl in small increments, never keeping contact with the bowl for long. Even if you are trying to smooth out a knot in the wood, it is better to work it down slowly rather than try to grind into the wood with your power sander.
When using a mandrel, make sure to start with more coarse grit paper to take out the rough spots. Also be sure to change grits frequently, working to a finer one as you progress. As you apply the paper, work towards making the wood smoother as you go. This is the reason why you don’t stay in the same spot for too long.
To keep your electric sander running properly, be sure to stop regularly to blow out the vents as the sander will likely have created a fair amount of dust.
Using a manual option is much the same in technique as an electric one, with the exception that you are using the lathe as the power source. The important part of sanding with a manual kinetic model is to let the lathe and the pad do the work, don’t apply pressure to the surface with the tool while it is turning. Instead, try to let the pad “rub” against the wood, gently smoothing the surface of the bowl as it turns.
Some bowl turners prefer to use a manual sander throughout much of the process rather than an electric sander, it offers much more control and stability while sanding, as well as lowers the risk of damaging the wood. This is entirely up to the preference of the user but is a perfectly acceptable option as both methods are meant to accomplish the same thing.
When hand sanding your bowl you can use either sanding discs or regular sanding paper. The quality and durability of the sandpaper will vary by manufacturer as well as the standard grit sizes.
When working with sandpaper, it is ideal to start with lower grit paper first (either 100 or 120 depending on the maker) and working up. This is so that the sanding produces a smoother surface as you go. You may start with a slightly higher grit depending on how much sanding was done with an electric or manual sander.
As far as technique, there are a few main rules. Firstly, do not use worn or cheap sand paper, doing so will not properly smooth out your bowl. If a piece of sandpaper starts to wear down, change it out to ensure proper coverage.
Second, do not sand for long in one spot. In most cases, you will simply be finishing off the smoothing process and touching up some trouble spots. The lathe will help to do part of the work for you, keeping the piece turning slowly as you go will keep you from spending too much time on the same spot.
Lastly, and most importantly, do not apply pressure to the wood. Even when hand sanding your piece, too much pressure can damage the wood. Lightly touching the piece while the lathe is turning should be enough to finish the sanding process without the need for any extra force.