Growing up we had a string of small wooden boats. My parents took care of the daysailers, while my sister, brother, and I were expected to take care of the dinghies. In our early years, that meant sanding, sanding, and more sanding. Eventually we would take on more interesting jobs, but the sanding never went away.

My father had a variety of softwood blocks to wrap the sandpaper around. Having a block in hand was easier on the fingers than holding a piece of paper, and it didn’t seem to take away from the quality of the finish. Ever since those early years, I’ve continued to cut and wrap sheet sandpaper around wood blocks.

Photographs by the author

3M’s Stikit hand blocks are ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in an adult hand—large or small.

A few years ago, I took a part-time job in a local boatyard that carried painting and varnishing products; among them were some bright-yellow foam hand-sanding blocks. They were not cheap, and yet we sold several every fitting-out season. I pooh-poohed the idea of spending good money on something I could pull out of the offcuts pile, but one day, after I’d spent the previous evening sanding my own boat at the yard, one of the varnishers noticed me flexing and stretching my hand. He handed me his yellow foam sanding block and a short strip of self-adhesive sandpaper and said, “try it.”

That 3M Stikit Soft Hand Block felt good in my hand. It was flexible and soft enough that I could sense the surface below, and it molded to the curves on which I was working, rather than sanding right through them. Indeed, I seemed to get a smoother, more even surface, not only with less effort, but also in less time. I tossed the wood block back into the offcuts bin and have never looked back.

If the vinyl pad is dusty before applying the sandpaper the corners may lift, but the paper stays attached and the performance remains unaffected.

The bottom of the Stikit Soft Hand Block is faced with vinyl and measures 2 3⁄4″ × 5″ to work with 2 3⁄4″-wide self-adhesive sandpaper. The flexible molded body is curved and sloped to fit comfortably in the palm with the thumb resting in the groove along the bottom edge and fingers curling around and pressing down on the top. It can be used for sanding flat and gently contoured surfaces, and replacing the sandpaper couldn’t be easier.

After years of use the hand block continues to do good service. The foam has become discolored, but the texture remains soft and comfortable in the hand, and the foam has not stiffened.

The Stikit paper adheres well to the vinyl face and stays put when being used but is easily peeled off when you need a fresh piece or a different grit. 3M says the paper can be peeled and reused but in my experience the adhesive’s grip loses its effectiveness. If I do peel off paper that still has useful grit, I tend to keep it for using by hand without the block. The 2 3⁄4″ width is a standard size and there are several brands available, but I have only used the Stikit. Depending on the grit, it comes in 15-yard to 45-yard rolls and local stores will often sell it by the foot.

The Stikit paper itself has provided an unexpected bonus: In recent years I have found holding a piece of sandpaper becomes quickly uncomfortable. For gentle finish sanding I have pressed down on sandpaper without holding it, which is fine until you’re working on a vertical surface and release the pressure—many a piece of paper has ended up beneath me in the bilge under the foredeck. With the Stikit paper, I simply tear off a short piece and stick it to my fingers. Now, when I release the pressure, the paper stays attached to my hand.

Both the hard and soft hand blocks have vinyl bottom faces 2 3⁄4″ wide to take 3M’s Stikit Gold sandpaper.

The 3M Stikit Soft Hand Block is not the cheapest on the market and square-inch to square-inch, the Stikit paper is pricier than 9″ x 11″ sheets, but I have never regretted paying more. Sanding has never been easier, nor my finishes better, and I seem to have far fewer scraps of sandpaper lying around the shop.

Jenny Bennett is managing editor of Small Boats.

The 3M Stikit Hand Blocks are available from many hardware retailers and online vendors and are currently priced starting at around $28. The 3M Gold Stikit paper is available in grits ranging from P100 to P500; a 45-yard roll of P220 is currently listed at $69.20.

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