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Abrasive Pastes for Pen Makers

Phil - Beaufort Ink -  4 Nov 2022 18:00:00 Other articles...

Phil Dart
November 2022

You may not have come across abrasive pastes before now. There again, you might have done, even if you’re a traditionalist - and the one you might have come across most is Yorkshire Grit.

Unless you’re in the US though, you might need to find an alternative to Yorkshire Grit fairly soon, but more on that a bit later.

What the heck is an abrasive paste anyway?

They’re all much the same as each other to be honest - they consist of a blend of waxes and abrasive particles which can be used to sand and polish the work you’ve just turned on the lathe, without the need for a pile of traditional abrasives in ever finer grits. Some contain mineral oil to thin the wax, and some contain a blend of hard and soft waxes, but as I say, they’re all pretty much the same.

Ok, abrasive paste doesn’t replace quite all traditional abrasives, as you still need to sand to 240 grit before you begin using it, and you need to make sure that all your tooling marks have been removed. Once you’ve done that though, you stop the lathe and apply a coating of the paste, then power up the lathe again and work the paste with a cloth or tissue. As you do so, the abrasive particles in the paste break down and become increasingly finer, whilst still retaining their cutting edge, and the result is a fine surface finish on the work piece, as if by magic.

Buff the workpiece with a clean cloth or tissue to remove any visible residue, after which, wood can then be overcoated with a wax finish if that’s what you want to do, whilst acrylics and ebonite don't need any further finishes applied to them at all, other than maybe a top coat of microcrystalline wax to keep the fingerprints off.

Wow! Why don’t we all just forget about traditional abrasives and buy abrasive paste by the bucket load instead?

The reason is, or at least the main reason is that the carrier in all these pastes is wax. That’s great if you want to apply a top coat of wax, or if you don’t actually need a final finish, but it’s no good at all if you want to apply a chemical finish at the end, such as a lacquer, or CA, or a varnish for instance.

The thing is, despite what the makers of some of these pastes try to avoid telling you, is that although you might think a melamine or your CA finish looks great on the pen you’ve just sanded with an abrasive paste, chemical finishes will not adhere properly to wax. Even if you believe you've thoroughly removed all the wax, a chemical finish applied after an abrasive paste will have no long-term resilience. You can put wax on top of chemical finishes, but you can't put chemical finishes on top of wax.

It means that abrasive paste is brilliant for acrylic pens, or ebonite or stabilised hybrids, but it’s not especially useful for wooden pens.

Generally speaking you’ll want to put a chemical finish on a wooden pen to protect it - a simple wax finish will very quickly wear off in use, since although it’s melting point is about 60 degrees, it will go soft at body temperature long before it turns to a liquid, and therefore wax will soon be gone and will offer very little protection to the wood.

On the other hand, chemical finishes on top of an acrylic are completely un-necessary. There is no need whatsoever to protect an acrylic pen, or an ebonite one to any greater extent than it can already protect itself - the most you’ll want to do is maybe apply some microcrystalline wax to inhibit fingerprints. Microcrystalline wax has a far, far higher melting point that bees wax, at least 100 degrees higher in fact, and is therefore ideal for the purpose.

And..... microcrystalline wax will sit very happily indeed over the top of the residue from an abrasive paste., which in any case is a good deal easier to remove from a piece of turned acrylic than it is from the  grain and micropores of a turned piece of wood.

And that, apart from two other aspects which I’ll discus below, is all you need to know about abrasive paste in order to make an informed decision about whether you’re going to use it or not.

The first of those other aspects I mentioned though, is that abrasive pastes will not take you to the same level of finish as, say, Micromesh. The finest grade of Micromesh pad will sand to 1 micron, whereas an abrasive paste will sand to about 15 to 12 microns. That’s pretty fine, although under a microscope you’ll be able to see the difference, but to the naked eye it’ll be, well, pretty fine, but not glass like - the equivalent of perhaps 1000 to 1200 grit.

I’ve never known a pen customer of mine to examine any pen I’ve made under a microscope, by the way.

The second aspect isn’t about the practicalities and use of abrasive paste at all, it’s about the make.

I began by saying that if you’re aware of abrasive paste, the brand which probably first springs to mind is Yorkshire Grit, but that’s not because they invented the stuff. Far from it - it’s been around for years, but Yorkshire Grit were the first to actively market an abrasive paste to the pen turning community, and they were pretty successful at it. It got to a point (and is still there in many quarters) where turners would use nothing else, on any medium, in any situation, irrespective of its suitability for the job, and as I’ve already explained, it is by no means suitable for everything.

As far as I know, we were the only people to publish any sort of information on our website about the suitability of a wax paste - Yorkshire Grit certainly didn’t, and to the best of my knowledge, neither did any of their retailers, apart from us.

You may have noticed that I’m talking about Yorkshire Grit in the past tense. They’re still around, and as far as I know the product hasn’t changed, but earlier this year they sold out to an American company.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Good for them - I hope they negotiated a good deal, and I wish the company that bought it every success.

However, straight away the wholesale price increased, and straight away it meant that if we wished to continue to sell it, we needed to pay for international shipping to get it from the US, and we needed to pay import duty on it too.

The net result? The retail price skyrocketed.

As you’ve already read, these various abrasive pastes that are out there, whilst they may have slightly varying ingredients, all do the same job, and we’ve been selling Chestnut’s version, Cut’n’Polish, alongside Yorkshire Grit for years - it’s just as popular, and it’s every bit as good.

So we made the decision that we didn’t need to charge our customers an inflated price just so they could get hold of a paste that although it had the brand awareness, was not much different to others, and therefore we no longer stock Yorkshire Grit.

We do though, stock Chestnut Cut’n’Polish. (Did I mention that?)

Yes, it’s a Chestnut product. Chestnut Finishes - that well known UK manufacturer of world class finishes for woodturners.

It’s every bit as good as Yorkshire grit (I think I mentioned that before as well), and if abrasive pastes float your boat, then we have it here at a reasonable price.

For the avoidance of doubt, we publish exactly the same information about the suitability of Cut’n’Polish on our website as we did about Yorkshire Grit, and if we ever stocked anyone else’s abrasive paste, we’d publish it for that too.

So just remember the pros and cons of abrasive paste that I’ve explained above, and if you think it’s a suitable type of product for the job you have in mind, for example for your acrylic or ebonite pens, then rest assured that Cut’n’Polish is excellent stuff.


Chestnut Cut n Polish abrasive paste - it's every bit as good as Yorkshire Grit

Chestnut Cut’n’Polish - it’s every bit as good as Yorkshire Grit


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