The older I get, the less tolerant I am of certain things, and sanding wood tops my list. Choking on sawdust is bad enough, but there's also the tedium involved. So when a new product comes along that promises to make this work quicker and easier and less of a pain in the lungs, I'm eager to check it out. Microplane, a company known for its fast-working wood rasps and even food graters, recently introduced a line of similarly made stainless steel sanding discs for random-orbital sanders. I also took a look at the company's replacement blades for both sizes of Stanley Surform rasp planes.
Perforated-steel sanding tools have been around for years, but unlike the punched burrs or stamped teeth of some products, Microplane's discs have teeth refined with a chemical etching process that gives them a much thinner and sharper edge. The steel discs have a hook-and-loop backing and attach to your sander just like paper- and cloth-backed sanding discs. They are only sold in a 5-inch size, but a 6-inch version is being developed.
Working against the manufacturer's claim of five times the speed and seven times the life of sandpaper, I found that they did work very well and lasted far longer than ordinary sanding discs. I also found that a light touch worked best; too much pressure tended to flatten the perforations and decrease performance. They come in coarse, medium, and fine; the fine smooths wood to what 120- or 150-grit sandpaper can achieve.
By far the biggest advantages of the Microplane discs are that they cut fast, don't clog, and produce virtually no dust. This bears repeating: No dust! As their name implies, Microplanes cut tiny shavings, ranging from pepper-sized flakes to a coarse grit, from the wood surface. Ordinary sandpaper grinds away at wood, creating much finer, lighter-weight particles that become suspended in the air and are easily inhaled. Another advantage is that they don't leave abrasive grit embedded in the wood that can affect successive planing or carving processes.
While Microplane discs mate with both five- and eight-hole sander pads, I found the small holes hard to line up over the dust-extraction holes. And the discs grip so tenaciously to hook-and-loop pads that they may bend easily when removed, so take care if you expect to reuse them.
The Surform replacement blades I also tested are made in 5-1/2- and 10-inch sizes and vastly increase the performance of these rasp planes. They really ate up wood?especially on end-grain?and made shaving and shaping hardwoods, softwoods, and even painted wood far less of a chore.
With its stainless steel sanding discs and Surform blades, Microplane offers much faster, virtually dustless performance compared to ordinary sandpaper and sanding tools.
–Michael Morris is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.
two-pack Sanding Disc
[assorted three-pack: $14]