Sanding polymer clay is one of those chores that few people enjoy. There are ways to make it easier, and you can learn all about them in my Sanding and Buffing eBook. In the course of doing research for that eBook last year, I came across a new sanding tool for polymer clay called the Poly-Fast. Made in Belgium by Jean Vilain and Sofia Baptista, the Poly-Fast sanding machine is the only polymer clay specific machine on the market. Jean and Sofia have been very responsive to the suggestions that I had for improvements in the Poly-Fast. They’ve also worked with focus groups to learn exactly how clayers will use a sanding machine. I’ve been quite impressed in how proactive they are in responding to feedback as well.
About the Poly-Fast Sanding Machine
The Poly-Fast is a hand-held sanding tool for use with polymer clay. It is 8″ long (20.5 cm) and about 1 3/8″ wide (3.5 cm), and weighs just 5.6 oz (160 g). The Poly-Fast is battery operated, using two AA batteries. It is not rechargeable, but you can use rechargeable AA batteries if you’d like.
The Poly-Fast comes with a removable head that has the hook side of velcro attached to it. The sanding tool comes in a clear clamshell case with holes to hold 8 grits of velcro-backed sandpaper discs. The kit includes 10 circles of each of these grits, ranging from P80 to P1500 grit. You can also buy replacement sandpaper discs in individual grit ratings as well as additional grits in P2000, P2500, and P3000.
In addition to replacement sandpaper discs, you can also buy extra velcro-topped sanding heads. These are not strictly necessary, but it does make changing grits much easier. Just swap out the entire head rather than peeling off wet sandpaper.
The regular sanding heads are not padded, but I didn’t find them to be too hard. The velcro itself does give some cushioning. But if you want a cushioned surface, you can also buy padded replacement heads so you can better sand rounded or curved surfaces.
The Poly-Fast box doesn’t come with any documentation, but there is an English manual in the works. For now, there is a section on the website full of informational videos in both French and English. They’re very clear and easy to understand.
How Does the Poly-Fast Work?
Unlike other sanding tools you might have used, the Poly-Fast sanding machine uses a vibrating motion of 65 times per second. The batteries go into the handle, but the motor is in the head part. The handle is separated from the vibrating head by a black flexible shock-absorbing section. This means that the vibrations that the Poly-Fast makes are not felt in your hand. This is especially true if you hold the tool lightly. Also, try a grip similar to how you hold a pen, and not as you’d hold a sword. This vibrating motion is very fast and quite powerful, but surprisingly quiet.
I was pleased to find that the sanding motion is very effective at removing clay quickly. But it doesn’t create ridges or gouges in the clay. When I first saw the Poly-Fast, I assumed that it would skitter across the surface and be difficult to control. But it’s not. In fact, it works better than I expected it to! An added bonus is that the vibration motion somehow reduces sandpaper loading, making the sandpaper last longer than with other sanding machines.
Using the Poly-Fast Sanding Machine
Since the motor of the Poly-Fast is in the head, you can’t completely submerge it into water. But because the removable sanding heads are deep, you can easily submerge the sandpaper without getting the motor wet. To wet sand, just dip the tip of the Poly-Fast into the water, turn on the machine, and begin sanding. You don’t have to turn it off again before you put the tip back into the water, but you might want to. Otherwise the water will fly around a bit. You can’t really sand things while submerged. Because the Poly-Fast motor doesn’t have a cooling system, the manufacturer recommends that you give it a 10-15 minute rest after 30 minutes of sanding.
You can sand round beads with the Poly-Fast by using the cushioned sanding heads and by folding the sandpaper disc a few times to make it more flexible. Because the head is vibrating and not rotating, it doesn’t have to be a perfect cup shape to sand a round bead. Note that I put the bead onto a ball-end tool to act as a handle for the bead. (That’s another trick from my Sanding and Buffing eBook.)
Occasionally, you need to sand things that are awkwardly shaped and you would have difficulty fitting the Poly-Fast into tight quarters. You can address this by attaching the sandpaper to extend slightly beyond the edge of the sanding head. This will allow the sandpaper to reach tight areas. Because of the vibrating action, the sanding happens without the head moving much at all.
Poly-Fast Hacks (or Tips and Tricks)
When you first get the Poly-Fast, open the case and mark the back of all the sandpaper discs with the grit number. Since they all look very similar, this is an easy way of knowing which grit a particular disc has.
There are only eight slots to hold sandpaper, but you can carry extra discs or packages of higher grits by lifting the tray and storing them underneath.
Be very careful about peeling off the sandpaper when you change grits. The velcro holds pretty tightly and you can peel off the hook side of the velcro when you remove the sandpaper disc. To avoid this, always hold the velcro down with your thumb. You can also try using a credit card to separate the two in one easy motion. There’s a video on their website that shows how to do this. The company knows about this flaw…they say it’s due to the vibrating action and the water…and they are working on finding a solution.
You can use any velcro-backed sandpaper with the Poly-Fast. Use a circle cutter punch (for scrapbooking) to cut the circles. But I have found that velcro-backed sandpaper is difficult to find in small quantities in the US, especially at reasonable prices. For this reason, I recommend re-ordering your sandpaper from Poly-Fast. It supports their business and it’s easier for you. Shipping prices are quite reasonable considering this is overseas shipping for most of us.
If you do have my Sanding and Buffing eBook, then you know about Abranet. Yes, Abranet will work beautifully with the Poly-Fast. In fact, I think that would turn a good machine into a fantastic machine!
Another thing to mention (and this is also explained in my eBook), is that the Poly-Fast sandpaper discs use the FEPA grit scale, which is different from the grit in the US. A P1000 grit is roughly equivalent to a 500 grit in North American sandpaper.
What is My Recommendation?
Do I recommend the Poly-Fast sanding machine for polymer clay? In a word, yes. I still prefer, personally, to sand by hand for a perfect finish. I like having a “relationship” with the piece I am sanding, and I need to feel the clay for that to happen. But the Poly-Fast does exactly what it is designed to do, and it does it well. If you have difficulty sanding by hand and need a sanding machine, then I do recommend the Poly-Fast. I think you’ll like it a lot.
However, I will admit that I do find myself reaching for the Poly-Fast because all the grits and the tool are in one convenient box. When I have a single piece to sand, I often grab the box and head for the kitchen sink. It takes just a few minutes to use and it’s so much less messy than a dozen wet, soppy sheets of sandpaper draped over a box to dry.
Where to Buy the Poly-Fast?
You can buy the Poly-Fast sanding machine from the Poly-Fast website. The Poly-Fast ships from Belgium, but it can be delivered anywhere in the world. The currency is quoted in Euros, but you can find the most current exchange rate here. The prices are really quite reasonable, even the shipping, and with the current exchange rates, the US dollar has a favorable advantage at the moment.
If you’re in Australia, good news! 2Wards Polymer Clay is a distributor for the Poly-Fast and you can order from them.
Disclaimer: I received the Poly-Fast and accessories for review purposes. As always, I don’t have any affiliation with other companies and my opinions are my own! Not sure about my policy on reviews? See my Terms and Conditions.