Sanding and Shaping

In previous posts, I completed the assembly of the stand and the rocking horse itself, so all the major parts are now complete; the next stage of construction will come pretty much at the end of the project - mounting the horse on the stand.  Before that though, there's a whole lot of sanding to be done!

Sanding the stand is straightforward; the wood is already very smooth as delivered and it consists mainly of large flat surfaces.  You should ideally have sanded each piece down to around 220 grit sandpaper before assembly, so the main tasks now are to ensure that there are no rough spots or glue residue left anywhere and to ensure that the wedged tenon joints are sanded flush.  You can use an electric sander for most of this, but the posts are a little trickier and you'll need to do those by hand, and take your time. If you'll be dying your horse, like I did, it's important to get a consistent smoothness across each piece, because the dye will be absorbed differently by the rougher areas and leave a slightly blotchy appearance (I discovered this the hard way, as I'll discuss in the next post!).

Sanding the horse is a different proposition altogether.  It's not difficult, but it will take much longer than the stand and you'll be removing a lot more material from around the areas where the legs join the body.

A raw front muscle block and leg
Most of the sanding is just smoothing out the 'steps' that were left in the main parts by the machining process - this is straightforward and you just need to take your time. I used a random-orbit disk sander which really speeds things up, but you could use any other method, no problem. Just keep going until all the surfaces of the horse's flanks, legs, rump, neck etc are smooth to the touch.

The (slightly) trickier part of this job is dealing with the joints between the horse's body and its legs. These areas, particularly after the addition of the muscle blocks, were quite uneven, with significant steps between the different pieces - body, leg and muscle block. To blend these areas out and create nice smooth contours, I used an 80-grit flap sander mounted in a corded electric drill. This allowed me to remove material quite fast whilst also allowing fine control over where I was removing it from. Here's how it should look after sanding, shaping, dying and varnishing:

A finished back leg
For each leg, I started by smoothing out the surface of the muscle block to:
1 - bring the top edge of the muscle block down to be flush with the body;
2 - taper the muscle block into the leg down near the horse's 'knees' (do horses have knees?) and around the sides;
3 - achieve a smooth contour all the way from the body to the leg.

Because all the parts of the horse are made from plywood, achieving a smooth contour is much easier than it sounds - as you taper the muscle block down, the boundary between each layer (or ply) of the plywood reveals the overall shape of the muscle block very clearly; if the boundaries run in nice smooth evenly-spaced curves, then the muscle block is a nice smooth shape, but if the boundaries are uneven with lots of zig-zagging then the surface has got some hills and valleys in it and you need to smooth it out some more.
Smooth contours mean a smooth leg!

You'll have to remove a surprising amount of the muscle block during this process - the bit that's left on the horse will be a very thin sliver compared to what you started with - but you should get a nice clean result with the body and legs appearing as a single unit.

The final stage is to blend in the front, back and sides of the leg where it meets the body - all the areas that aren't now covered by the muscle block.  I needed to remove quite a lot of material here too, but the flap wheel sander made easy work of it. The flap wheel naturally produces a gently concave shape when worked into the joins, so just work slowly and remove a millimeter at a time until you're happy with the shape you've achieved. The leg pieces are supplied a little oversized compared to the body, so the back legs, for example, protruded about seven or eight millimeters from the body beneath; this overhang needs to be sanded back until the leg and body are flush to each other. The same work is required for each leg.

This whole sanding process took me two whole weekends, so far as I remember - longer than any other part of the build - but it's important to take the time to get it right.

Right leg/flank join - shaped to blend the leg into the body.

The inside of the right front leg.

The inside of the left front leg.

After all this, you should have a perfectly smooth and shapely horse - congratulations! The next step will be to dye (or paint) your horse - that will be the subject of my next post.


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