Using Sanding Shims

DoubleSidedTapeMy father and I didn’t start out using sanding shims when we created large intarsia projects for commercial installations. We would sand one piece, put it back in place and mark where it joined the next part. Then try to sand the next part down to the line as close as possible. It was years later we came up with the idea of sanding groups of pieces together as one unit. When I shape the pieces my goal is to make it look as real as possible. For example if I were sanding a horse with a white blaze, a color change on the coat does not mean the contour changes. After the parts are sanded they are removed from the sanding shim and I hand sand a very slight bevel around the edges of the parts.

Raccoon with raising shimsThe other time a sanding shim comes in handy is when you are blending in raised areas. Using the raccoon as an example, if I have two raising shims placed under the nose area to add more dimension I would need to blend the in the parts so it didn’t look like it had a stair step shaped nose. I use double-sided carpet tape to hold the parts onto the sanding shim, making sure the raising shims are taped in place before sanding.

Sideview with sanding shim

I use an inexpensive “light duty” carpet tape. You will need at least two pieces of tape to hold each part down. I would rather turn the parts upside down to put the tape on the back of the parts rather than placing the tape on the sanding shim. This way I can make sure each part has enough tape to hold it down. Otherwise you practically have to cover the entire surface of the sanding shim with tape to ensure each part has tape. I really do not like to use that much tape, it makes it much harder to take the parts off the shim without breaking anything.

If there are more than one raising shim stacked up it is going to be easier to put the tape on each raising shim and the sanding shim. Then you have to carefully assemble the parts making sure the raising shims don’t interfere with the placement of the parts. The trick to this is not pressing anything down firmly until everything is in place.

The first piece of tape I put down I like to cover as many parts as possible to help keep the parts from shifting around. Instead of using lots of short pieces of tape I like to use long strips, it sure makes it easier to remove the paper from the tape. Sometimes it is a good idea to edge tape small parts that are on the perimeter of the section being sanded.

If you have trouble keeping the parts on your sanding shim there may be several reasons. One problem is the sanding shim is not flat or the parts were dusty and the tape did not make a good bond, or there isn’t enough tape to hold the part down, and last but not least perhaps you are pressing too hard against the sander.

MustangSandedWe see many intarsia projects that have each part heavily rounded. It gives the project a quilted feel and accentuates each part that makes up the picture. There is nothing wrong with this, it is more of a personal sanding choice that each person decides how they want

their projects to look. As mentioned above I like to make it have the feel of the “real” subject I am making, so I have a realistic goal in mind. I think if each piece is heavily rounded the first thing you notice is all the different pieces of wood. Where as if they are sanded/contoured according to the real thing you see the completed piece and then you realize it is made up of many pieces of  wood.

Big Foot Clown Sanding

Another thought to keep in mind is balance. It can look redundant to have every part heavily rounded. To balance the project I like to have some mellow contours to help accentuate the more rounded parts. As an example the Mustang above has a mellow contour to the neck and the mane is much more rounded. Or the Big Foot Clown on the right, the fingers really stand out next to the flat soles of the shoes. The hair is more flat to help make the face look more dimensional. The face has a mellow contour to help make the nose stand out more. The same with the hat, it has a mellow contour, which makes the ball on top look much rounder than it is.

8 Responses to “Using Sanding Shims”

  1. RICHARD SCHULTZ May 13, 2013 at 9:40 pm #


  2. Charles Brooks March 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    Judy, I visited a neighbor’s workshop in 1997 where he had a finished Intarsia Tigers Head, it was amazing. I ordered your books and patterns soon after that and have completed many pieces since, they are in all of my family and friends homes as well as my own collection, many of yours and patterns I have made from pictures, some not complete and several waiting completion, it is my hobby and I can spend hours on the smallest piece before it is satisfactory. It is such a great pastime. I thank you for the Tiger Head which I now have in my Den with my name on it. 16 years sure went by fast when you are having fun.

  3. Larry Holden August 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    Judy …. I have a couple of dozen of your patterns; I really love them! Your patterns are so much more realistic than anyone elses on the market. Keep up the good work.
    I am still waiting for patterns from you that depict the Haida artwork. These would make a fabulous addition to your collection.

  4. Michael Terrell February 21, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    Hi Judy, my Dad, Foye Terrell was a customer of yours. He passed away 2 years ago. A planned project of his was “Wine Still Life”
    as a gift for my sister. Her never got a chance to make it and now she is getting married next month. I do woodworking but have never tried intarsia. I have the plans he got from you and I want to make it as a wedding gift from our Dad. Is there any step by step video available for this project that would help me?
    Thank you,

  5. Joseph Miller December 7, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    Trying for 3 days to place an order on your Web site that is very slow and after much effort I do get a few selections ordered than the site just becomes unusable. I believe the problem is on your end- the only site on the internet I have trouble with. Can you help? Thank you.

  6. Joseph Miller December 7, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    December 7, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    Trying for 3 days to place an order on your Web site that is very slow and after much effort I do get a few selections ordered than the site just becomes unusable. I believe the problem is on your end- the only site on the internet I have trouble with. Can you help? Thank you.

    • Judy Gale Roberts January 7, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

      Hi Joseph,
      I apologize for taking so long to reply to your comment. It was sort of tucked away in the sanding shim article. We have worked with our web site developer to speed up the site, I think it is a little faster now. You can always call your order in 800-316-9010, sometimes we work a little faster than the internet. Please hang in there.

  7. Kurt Smith June 2, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

    Went to your 2016 Spring Beginners Intarsia Class. It was a great three days of learning all aspects of the making a Intarisa piece. We each did the Trigger Fish and your instructions and showing us the Judy Roberts way then sending us back to our individual stations to apply the procedure to our own piece was very helpful. The hands on help made a lot of difference to help us understand something better. Thanks again to you, Marianne,Stacy and all your staff. I’m Intarisa addicted.

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