Tumble Sanding for Toy Parts

Advice on how to cobble together a tumbling drum arrangement to sand small wooden items. March 12, 2015

I want to make a Lincoln log set for my three year old grandson. I saw some guys doing this on a YouTube video. They apparently sanded the parts by tumbling them in a cement mixer for three hours. The video did not indicate whether or not they added any abrasive material like sand. It makes sense to do it like this. What kind of abrasive material would work best? Logs will likely be made out of poplar.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor R:
I'm guessing here, having never made a single Lincoln Log either, but have mixed a fair amount of concrete in mixer. I think without sand, you'd just beat the parts up. Mixers will all some sort of internal vanes and without sand to slip and slide in, it seems like the parts would just get carried part way up the drum and dumped into the bottom. Sand would act as a sort of buffer/lubricant as well as abrasive. You could probably do it in a vibratory cleaner which you can get at the junk tool store for a one shot deal. But then I have no experience with wood in those either, so not much help, all in all.

From contributor G:
Google tumble sanding. It is commonly used in metal work. Walnut shells, abrasive, different media work.

From contributor X:
Maybe a sandblaster would work if you are careful.

From contributor K:
We sanded some small parts once by placing them in a coffee can with coarse sandblasting media and letting them spin on the wide belt conveyor. It worked ok.

From Contributor O:
An unwanted clothes dryer also works with the small parts in a can with abrasive. Itís very noisy and very hard on the dryer tub. You can try wrapping the can with a towel and tape. I once worked in a ball bearing factory that polished hardened steel balls by pouring them into 6' round stainless tubs full of abrasives, mounted on springs. The balls worked their way down to the bottom where they were sorted out. This was accurate enough to use for high precision bearing manufacture.

From contributor C:
Why not just get a flap sander or sanding mop? Setting up and experimenting with an unknown system to do one set of logs seems like a long reach.

From contributor L:
In the far distant past I made wooden toys for a (poor) living. To sand lots of small parts I made a tumble sander out of a 30 gallon grease drum. Fastened some rubber vanes inside at an angle so they would move the parts toward the high end of the drum as it turned. Set the drum on a 2x4 frame supported by some salvaged casters. The fifth caster at the bottom end kept the drum in place. Drive was a salvaged, very small gear motor with a belt that went around the drum like a dryer uses. Abrasives were strips of sanding belts I ripped in to about 1" x 4". It took a lot of strips! The contraption had to run for a long time for each batch. Memory is not so good but I think at least eight hours. I no longer remember the grit used either. It worked but some shapes didn't do as well as others. Actually using the drier seems like a good idea. Your wife won't care...too much.

From Contributor O:
This is easy. Give the grandchild the Lincoln Logs unsanded, and give him some sandpaper. Then it is time for your first grandfatherly speech about how "Nothing in this life is free, kid. You gotta learn to work and get some splinters along the way. Now dry your tears and get to work......" But if you do buy a CNC sander sander, be sure to get the digital kind. The analog ones just can't hack it. Enjoy your project.

From contributor W:
Contributor L has it right. I made myself the same setup. It works, but very slowly and it's noisy as heck. You may get dents in the blocks if the wood is soft, like poplar. You need speed reduction on the drive motor. I used a variable speed DC motor and looped the vee belt around the 35 gallon drum. It may be faster and prettier to sand them by wiping the corners against an edge sander belt (running, of course). Of course, if you do that you'll probably sand a couple knuckles also.