|My pile of sanding sticks and pads|
In one of my dalliances with aircraft modeling, I started using sanding sticks and pads for some of the cleanup work and filing that is an inherent part of model building. While I am sure that many know about them, there may be a few out there who do not, and I feel their value means that all modelers should be aware of them and use them regularly.
While you can buy them from hobby specialists such as Micro-Mark or Squadron, you can do almost just as well, for less money, at your local drugstore. Look in the nail care section of the store.
Now for the why. You may be asking, "I already have mill files, needle files, and sandpaper. Why do I need more sanding tools?" I'm glad you asked that question. Have you ever been merrily filing something and had that, "Oh, sh.... sugar!" moment? You got a little careless or your mind wandered and you suddenly removed more material than you wanted. While the sanding sticks may not prevent all those "whoops" moments, they do prevent many. The reason is that the sanding surface is backed by a dense padding. It provides just a little "give" to the sanding surface and is less "aggressive" than a file. That translates to a little more softness when sanding and edges that are more nicely dressed or finished. In turn, that means better looking models, which is the goal.
Another benefit is the number of finishes available. There are gradations of texture from quite rough down to the equivalent of polishing-grade and everything in between. It's a range that files can't match. While sandpaper has the same range of grit or textures, sandpaper lacks the padded backing with its inherent flexibility.
What are the drawbacks? Sanding sticks and pads are not generally good at getting into tight areas. For very fine applications where you need precise control to avoid accidentally removing a specific detail, they are at a disadvantage because of their size and/or lack of rigidity, as compared to a needle file. They are also governed by coming only in a few basic shapes, all gradations of flat; conversely, files are round, curved, square, triangular, etc.
I urge you to give sanding sticks and pads a try. When I am cleaning up the edges of parts on a new kit, the first thing I reach for now is a sanding stick instead of a file.