One of the first things to learn as an epoxy resin artist is how to make your pieces “pop”! It doesn’t matter if you are doing jewelry, a table, or a piece of art, you will want to make sure you polish it to showcase the full beauty of your work.
Polishing epoxy resin is simple but not always easy. To polish it properly, you will need to sand or wet sand the surface incrementally to a high grit (often up to 3000), and then apply a polishing compound that is able to penetrate resin that has been sanded that high.
Whether you are going to do this by hand or with machines, the process largely varies by preference and project. To make it simpler, I have listed out the general flow of polishing epoxy resin in order to achieve a glasslike finish for your project. Using this information, you can jump into polishing your epoxy resin and getting that “pop” you were going for. Let’s take a closer look.
How to Polish Epoxy Resin with a Polishing Compound
Polishing resin with a polishing compound is the most common method for most applications. This is likely used on jewelry, games, cutting/serving/charcuterie boards, butcher blocks, furniture, dining room tables, river tables, and desks. This method is great because it can leave the wood looking and feeling like wood while making epoxy shine like glass.
Fortunately, polishing epoxy resin with a polishing compound is not overly complicated. Still, you will want to adhere to the directions below to achieve your desired result. Here are the steps to get your epoxy project finished and ready to show the world.
Sand Down the Project
The first step to polishing an epoxy resin project is to sand it down. This could be done in a variety of ways depending on what the project is. Of course, sanding down a large epoxy resin table is going to look different than how you would sand a smaller piece like a craftsman pen that has been designed with an epoxy resin handle.
Still, the most common way to sand epoxy resin is to use waterproof sandpaper. Wet sanding has a lot of advantages when working with epoxy resin that dry sandpaper does not. The primary advantages include the following.
- When Wet Sanding, Less Dust Gets in the Air
The water that is on the surface when sanding catches and saturates the dust particles that would usually be free to float in the air. Epoxy can be a dangerous substance to the human body, particularly if ingested. Wet sanding greatly reduces the risk of epoxy particles being inhaled and ingested while sanding your project down.
Not only will you have an easier cleanup process when wet sanding your epoxy resin piece, but you will create a much safer environment than when dry sanding. Of course, proper precautions should be taken for either method.
- When Wet Sanding Sandpaper Does not Get as Clogged Up
While it would seem that wet sawdust would be more likely to get clogged into small areas, wet sanding actually has the opposite effect. The water helps clear the area of the particles while sanding.
Epoxy resin is notoriously known for its ability to clog up sandpaper. Wet sanding helps you use your sandpaper as long as possible. This means that not only will the cleanup process be much more efficient, but you can save money and resources by prolonging the life of your tools.
- Wet Sanding Reduces Heat of Epoxy
Epoxy resin, when heated, can become softer than it is when fully cured. Due to this, dry sanding for long periods of time can cause the epoxy resin to almost “smudge” instead of sanding down like wood.
It is not often noticeable, but wet sanding adds a layer of protection against this occurring. Along with this, reducing the heat of the epoxy (through the wet surface applied during high levels of friction) can help to maintain the integrity of your epoxy resin project.
To wet sand your epoxy project, you can either do it by hand or with a sander. Make sure if you use a sander, that you pick one that is made for wet sanding so there is minimized risk of electricity coming into play (for safety reasons).
For small to medium-sized projects, I suggest sanding by hand. For medium projects, you can use wet sandpaper that comes with a sanding block. For small projects, like jewelry, you can lay the sandpaper out and rub the object lightly against it. You want to make sure to go from about 120 grit (anything lower will leave noticeable scratches) up to at least 800 grit, but many people choose to go all the way up to 3000 grit which is extremely coarse.
For dry sanding, the best thing you can do is get a random orbital sander (or hand sanding for small projects, though I do not recommend dry-sanding small projects) and work your way from 120 grit to 1200 grit or more.
I often dry sand when working on large projects like tables, although I’m becoming more and more fond of strictly wet sanding. Still, I say this to let you know that either method is possible, you just need to appropriately arrange your setup and process before you begin.
Choose a Polishing Compound
One of the most important parts of polishing your resin project is going to be the compound you choose to go with. A lot of table and charcuterie makers will opt for oils like Walrus Oil or Odie’s Oil. These are great when working with a project that is primarily wood, or will have a lot of potential contact with food as these are natural and non-toxic in any way. When working with something that is mostly epoxy, and needs that glasslike finish, you will want to use a specialized polishing compound- usually used on cars, but in this case, made safe to use on your epoxy resin projects.
The reason for this is epoxy is not porous, and sanding up to 1200-3000 grit causes oils and waxes to have a hard time penetrating the sanded area. You will need something that is able to penetrate a high-grit sanded epoxy. Here are a couple of great options, although there are many more if you explore.
True Grit Sanding Wax
This is great for someone working with wood and epoxy, or someone who wants an initial layer before getting the glasslike finish. Using a grit sanding wax will help remove any scratches left from the sanding and leave a perfectly smooth surface.
Meguiar’s PlastX Polishing Compound
Meguiar’s PlastX is one of the most common polishing compounds for epoxy resin. It is usually used on cars, which are sanded to similar grits. This allows the epoxy to become ultra-smooth and resistant to scratching, while really allowing any color to pop.
3M Polishing Compound
3M is quickly becoming, if not already, the top polishing compound for epoxy resin projects. It comes in 3 parts, and each one builds on the next to create the perfect look. It is commonly used on boats, cars, and resin. Personally, this is all I have been using over the last year and plan to continue to do so (though I will test out others as they are recommended to me).
Choose a Polishing Method
Finally, now that you have gathered your materials and are ready to begin polishing your epoxy resin project, it is time to choose a polishing method. When polishing, you can do so by hand or with a buffing machine of some sort. Still, you want to make sure that you are using a polishing method that is most appropriate for your level of comfort as well as the unique dimensions of the project that you are planning to work with.
If you sanded to an ultra-high grit, it would be unwise to polish by hand. The friction and warmth of using a machine can help get the polishing compound into the resin far better than hand-polishing will in a comparable amount of time.
For small pieces like jewelry, I recommend using a buff motor if you are able to purchase one or use one from a local shop. This will help you have more control over the fine details of the piece, without having to guess where your polisher is working. For larger pieces, you can use a handheld buffer or polisher.
Either of these options will greatly increase the effectiveness and speed of polishing your epoxy resin. Finally, at long last, you will have the pop and shine that you were hoping for with your well-polished, beautiful epoxy resin project.