The Sanding Block


Novice woodworkers often ask how to develop skills with a hand plane. The resurgence of hand-tool woodworking over the last decade has brought these timeless tools to the forefront again. And, while they are not difficult to use, the learning curve for proficiency is greater than that of their corded counterparts.

While I can understand the romantic drive toward hand tools, I’m certainly not giving up my apprentices (you know them as the table saw, jointer and planer). Even if you’re a total power-tool devotee, it doesn’t mean you don’t need good hand-tool skills. There are just some operations that are better done by hand.

To build hand-tool skills there are things you’ll need to practice, but that doesn’t mean you have to stand at a bench for hours, mindlessly pushing a plane. You can develop skills by making something useful for your shop – an inlaid sanding block.

When I started woodworking, Werner Duerr (my teacher) had his students make a sanding block shortly after learning how to sharpen. The block helps build planing and chiseling skills, and improves your accuracy. It works with a quarter of a sheet of sandpaper, so it needs to be a specific size. Plus, in order for it to function properly, the bottom of the block has to be flat.

Making the block a specific thickness and including a quarter-round edge on the top and a figured maple diamond inlay aren’t functional necessities, but they do kick up the skill level of the project a bit. It’s an easy project that you can accomplish in a short period of time, is fun to make and helps you become a better hand-tool woodworker.

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7 thoughts on “The Sanding Block

  1. Looks like it is worthTrying.

  2. Well presented article. A full article on inlaying would be good.

    1. Thanks. There’s more inlay to come. Stay tuned.

  3. I appreciate the fundamentals and not assuming everyone has been at this for years. I’m relatively new to woodworking and need this. I don’t necessarily want to do it 🙂 but know that it will help in the long run. I’m also looking forward to more inlay so I will stay tuned!

    1. Bob,

      The exercise is actually lots of fun. I taught this sanding block as part of my fundamentals classes for seven years (I’m sure a few of my former students will be happy to chime in and give their evaluation of the exercise) and only a handful of people viewed it as a chore, while most seem to enjoy the challenge. Because you’re relatively new to woodworking, give it a try and, if you run into difficulties, contact me. I’m happy to help if I can. The most important thing to remember when you’re making the block is, you’re supposed to be having fun. If the pressure becomes too much, take a break and come back to it later. It’s just a sanding block. 😉

  4. Bob
    As one of Chuck’s former students (still getting over the fact he really did leave) I can vouch that although the exercise was challenging it was a lot of fun and helped a great deal to understand the importance of reading grain direction. Something that you will need if you want to pursue inlay and carving.
    Even though you may never use this “manual” method to square and flatten a board it will absolutely develop those skills necessary in tweaking joinery and cleaning up machine marks. It also provides a better appreciation of how your machines (jointer, planer) operate making the task simpler.
    You will be amazed how many times you might just pull out your hand tools for a minor task before walking over to your power tool and figuring out how to do it safely!
    Give it a go you’ll enjoy it.
    And not a paid plug I might add! haha

  5. Thanks for this article guys! I actually made pretty much this exact thing as an inlay practice a few weeks ago before I even saw this article. The block was just sitting there looking pretty but now I realize it may have a use!


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