Wet Sanding Polymer Clay Tutorial: Make Clay Jewelry and Beads Shine

Polymer Clay Sandpaper

8 Sanding Tips for Polishing Polymer Clay to a Beautiful Finish:

If you have read any of the other articles here on my blog, you will know how much importance I feel it is to sand your polymer clay beads. It is probably the most important step if you want your jewelry projects to have that professional look. Here’s some tips on how to do it correctly:

1) Use Silicone Carbide wet/dry sandpaper, not the regular woodworking or DIY home improvement sand paper.

2) Sand polymer clay wet and add a drop of dish soap into your water dip to help reduce clogging of the sandpaper.

3) Wash out sand paper when it gets clogged. A soft brush and dish soap works well for this. Clogged paper doesn’t do much but give you a sore arm from sanding forever.

4) Start with a low numbered grit like 320 or 400. Then progress through higher grits such as 600, 800, 1200 and 1500. Some artists even go to 2000 grit but it is harder to find.

5) The best industrial grade sanding materials are found in auto supply stores. It is tough and you can often find packs with a variety of grits.

6) Cheap sandpapers tend to curl up and wear out faster, so buy the best brand you can afford. Ask because each store carries different brands. 3M makes a great product so look for it if you can.

7) Change sheets often. Sandpaper doesn’t last forever. If you can’t feel a bit of a ‘tooth’ to the paper, it is probably worn out. You might want to always keep a small square of brand new stuff in all the grits so you have something to compare it to.

8) A polymer clay bead or pendant that has been baked hard for at least an hour, will sand way easier and smoother than one that is under baked.

For more information on how to set up your sanding kit here’s a couple of other articles to read:

If you have any other sanding tips for making shiny polymer clay beads and jewelry, I’d love to hear them. Or if you have a question, I’m here to help.

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor

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  1. This is a good concise list of tips.

    Sometimes I find that there are small gouges (like fine lines) or less flat parts on my pieces while I’m sanding them. Do you recommend sanding with dry sandpaper before wet to take out these larger imperfections?

  2. Actually Kimberlee why don’t you read the article I wrote called: Sanding Polymer Clay with Drywall Sandpaper Means Less Gouging. (Click the link by my name.)

    This will help you with your problem!

  3. I stumbled across your web site by doing a google search on how to make polymer clay colors. Your site is so informative and user friendly. Thankx!!!

  4. I have a hard time getting my beads really shiny. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. What is the best last step after sanding with the progressively finer grits and buffing with denim to get that gorgeous shine?

  5. In order to get the gorgeous shine you are talking about Karrah, you are going to need a power tool like a Dremel or a bench buffer to do the job. To learn more about using a Dremel Tool, click the link by my name.

  6. Hello Cindy, I’m having some problems with my beads. I’ve seen all your course tutorials but can’t get to know when my beads are well cooked. I sanded lots of them and then buffed but they don’t shine. How can i resolve this? is it that i haven’t cooked it enough or is it that i haven’t sanded enough? in Chile i haven’t found sands smother than 400, but is really soft, cpuol that be my problem? Thank you!

  7. Hi Consuelo,

    I posted your email question here at the blog because there is information in the article above, that should be helpful for you.

    It is hard to give you exact advice without actually seeing everything that you are doing. But you have identified 2 things that are in fact very important when it comes to getting your beads to shine… proper baking and sanding with high grit wet dry sandpaper.

    You will definitely need to find some wet dry sandpaper higher than 400 grit. You may have to go to an automotive supply store to find it in your area. Body shops use this product for finishing the paint on cars.

    There is a link by my name will take you to another article that you should read for more info about shiny beads.

    For even more info, also be sure to use the search box at the top of the home page of this blog. Use keywords like, shiny, sanding, sandpaper, wet dry, baking… to find lots and lots of helpful information.

    If you have specific questions that the blog articles don’t answer, then you are welcome to post follow up questions in the comment sections underneath the relevant articles.

    Hope this helps.

  8. Hi Cindy,

    I have a question for you about sanding my beads. I took a piece of sandpaper that came with a kit I purchased and started to try sanding one of my beads. To my surprise the bead looks like the color is being removed, looks faded, and rough. Is this what happens when one sands a bead? Is this normal? I am tempted to only lightly sand little rough spots and then coat the beads with future floor polish. I have not received my entire sandpaper order so maybe with finer sandpaper I will have better results.


    • @Sue C: Hi Sue, do you know what grit the sandpaper is? You don’t want to start with something TOO heavy, or it will remove too much of your clay. When you sand your beads, though, you will have some of the clay material come off onto the sandpaper. You need to keep rinsing your sandpaper to wash off the “dust” as mentioned in the article above. If more clay is coming off than just clay dust and small irregularities, then your sandpaper is too rough, or your beads aren’t thoroughly baked. Are you baking your beads for a full hour at the recommended temperature?

      When you sand your beads, they do get a little bit dull-looking at first. As you progress through the grits, your bead will get super-smooth, and then when you buff it you’ll see the full glossy color. So, yes, it is normal—unless you’re putting deep scratches in the beads, or large amounts of material are coming off.

      You’re probably going to have to wait for your other papers to get in to get perfectly sanded beads. But if the paper you have is like a 400 grit, and you bake your beads nice and hard, you can get them smooth enough to remove fingerprints and marks. Then it will look better if you put need to put gloss on them (you don’t want to put Future on an unsanded bead, or it will highlight any lines or fingerprints.) Good luck!~Kat

      • @Phaedrakat: Kat, I needed the advice about not using Future on unsanded beads when I made my first 2 big batches of beads. I can see every little ridge from my finger tips perfectly! Of course, I didn’t even know about this site then, dog-gone it. Now I’m trying to play catch-up, LOL!

        • @Tanya L: I know what you mean. I did the same thing with my beads. I originally learned PC from books, and they never explain all the little “details” that make such a huge difference! Cindy’s site here is amazing. It made me a much better clayer, and it sounds like it’s helping you, too. Sure you’re having to play catch up, but at least you’re on the right track now! Cindy’s little tricks and tips will help both of us avoid those kind of mistakes in the “Future”. (Sorry about that almost pun!) Also, with you here now, we’ve gained another friend here at this community! :~)   ~Kat

          • @Phaedrakat: Thanks Kat. I absolutely LOVE it here! Everyone here is so great – welcoming and friendly. And the talent here is mind boggling! Love your pun, by the way. You always make me laugh!

  9. Okay, I’m waiting for my sanding pads to arrive for the beads I finally made. Got a question and I haven’t been able to find the answer. Under what circumstances would you not sand a bead. Since there are all kinds of inclusions, paints, inks, etc. – would you sand a painted piece?

    • @TrudyM: Hi Trudy, anytime you sand a bead, you’re going to remove a thin layer of clay and/or whatever is on top of the bead. So there are lots of reasons not to sand a bead, at least the usual way. Still, you want to end up with smooth, properly-finished beads…so you have to find work-arounds, or do steps out of order, add a protective barrier to “sand through”, etc….

      If you’re covering beads with paint, sanding them would just remove it again. What you can do is sand the cured clay beads first, before painting, to remove imperfections. You don’t have to do all the grits, just enough to remove fingerprints & smooth the surface. Besides, it’s good to leave some “tooth” for the paint to cling to. Then add your paint, inks, and/or other decorations…

      One instance where you would sand a painted piece is if you wanted a distressed look, like the cool stuff Cindy shows in her Distressed Paint Finish video.

      It’s fine to sand beads with inclusions (the kind you mix in first with translucent clay…like glitter, embossing powder, spices, flower petals, colored sand, etc.) Because even though you’re sanding away some of the exterior, the inclusions can still be seen in the finished bead. If you want to use inks, mica powders, foils, etc. on the outside of a bead, you can make it sandable by adding a protective layer of translucent or liquid clay. Then, when you sand, you’re only removing some of the protective barrier, not your decorative colors/powders/inks…

      You can avoid having to sand by taking extra-special care with your clay while in its raw state. For instance, if you’re making beads with mica powders, foils, etc., try using gloves or cornstarch…or use “fingerprints” in the search box for other ideas on how to avoiding them. That way you won’t have to worry about sanding away flaws in your finished piece. You wouldn’t want to remove the “bling” — or undo anything else you did to decorate your bead…

      I’m not sure how to word it, but I guess the answer to your question is this: you should always sand a bead…unless you can’t — unless sanding it would undo the effect you took steps to achieve in the first place! I hope this helped a bit…& hope I didn’t misunderstand your question! ~Kat :D

      PS: There’s tons of info & blog posts on things mentioned in this reply (inclusions, painting, cornstarch, avoiding fingerprints, adding bling, foils and much more!) A search will lead you to them, or you can always ask another question… :D

  10. Wow, Kat, you gave me the encyclopedia. Thank you so much for taking the time to give me some extra tutoring. Don’t worry, I’ve done the research here and elsewhere and collected all of Cindy’s articles on sanding and finishing. I’ve sanded some beads and buffed and yes, I’ve fallen in love with the process and the feel. Even thought that someday I’d get a buffing wheel. In the meantime I do a mean buff on an old pair of jeans.

    I guess I was thinking of a pair of earrings I made (I don’t sell, I just enjoy creating) in celebration of the Jackson Pollack exhibit I went to. I threw caution to the wind (as he did), and with a black sheet of clay, textured, dropped paint, textured again, cut out into huge discs and then baked. I love them. They’re funky, earthy without a shimmer and I thought of Pollack laying an unstretched piece of canvas on the floor and doing his thing and figured, I’ll defy the rules and leave as is. These earrings are my favorite polymer anything so far because I had fun and felt truly myself.

    I’ll now go back to basics which are so important to learn in order to really express myself. Tomorrow…..lentil beads! shine and all! Again, thank you for all you bring to us newbies at the blog. I really appreciate you.

    • @TrudyM: Sorry for all the extra reading! Sometimes I don’t realize (or forget) how much experience someone has…and rattle on WAY too long! ;D Thanks for what you said, too…

      Your earrings sound beautiful, and the paint/texture technique seems simple yet really fun! I’ll have to try it myself. It’s no wonder the earrings are favorites, expressing yourself like that is what it’s all about. Enjoy making your lentils, & “throwing caution”…just have fun! :D

  11. Kat: I am still a newbie and I love that you shared so much. Always appreciated. I do get lost sometimes on this journey. I also wasn’t specific in my question. So thank you!!

  12. Also, if you investigate a few online shops, you’ll find that places like firemountaingems.com offer both the flat pad system, and two options of all the same grits on stick pads and rolled. With these you can get to almost every fingerprint, lol.

    Using the micropad system has entirely changed my view of sanding, and I find I no longer dread it, and dream of sanding assistant fairies.

  13. Speaking of Micro Mesh, while I don’t like their Soft Touch sanding pads at all (i.e. the type Cindy used in her video) , I *LOVE* their regular sanding sheets. These cloth-backed abrasive sheets come in a variety of sizes (I bought 150mm x 300mm), and you can wrap them around sanding supports of whatever shape or stiffness suits each item to be sanded or just use them directly.

    I bought mine from the The Sandpaper Man:

    (If you’re an Aussie and you really want the Soft Touch Pads, The Sandpaper Man has them too.)

  14. In other words, I can leave marks/scratches on my baked polymer clay and feel comfortable, because as soon as I sand the piece they will come off?

    • @Reyna Castano: A general rule of thumb is… the fewer marks/scratches you leave on your beads prior to baking, the less sanding you will have to do after baking. So really it all comes down to how much you like the sanding process. Most people prefer to sand as little as possible ;-)

  15. Does it have to be regular wetordry sandpaper or ultrafine wetordry sanpaper?
    Also, I have been looking for the pack that contains various grits and I can’t find it anywhere. Where do you guys get yours from? I live in L.A.

    • Usually the wet/dry sandpaper grits that are used in working with polymer clay are the ultra fine grits. I look in the auto supply department of big box stores or if you have an auto body shop in your area that is a good place to go. I buy 400, 600, 800, 1200 and 2000 if I can find it. My new favorite is to use Micro-Mesh Abrasives instead though. I feel they do a faster, smoother job than the regular wet/dry papers do. I wrote about it some time ago here: Micro-Mesh Abrasives

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