Not bad, just rusty

Review: Ultimation Sander

It’s no secret that I’m working on some O-scale builds (which, for the record, doesn’t mean I am switching scales. HO is still my bread and butter).

In working with a larger scale, though, one thing becomes even more important than ever… making things perfect. There’s no hiding in a scale like 1/48 like you can in 1/87. Frankly, in 1/48 why would you want to hide anything?

Let’s face facts, one of the hardest things to get perfect is angles when dealing with stripwood. We’ve all been there, trying to make roof trusses butt up against each other perfectly only to botch the whole thing right on the last cut. We’ve also all been guilty of using way too much wood filler as a result…

So, recently, I set out to fix the problem. The answer lay in finding a sander that would fit my needs. I tried hand-sanding but it wasn’t accurate enough without slowing down to a treacle-like pace. I tried a motorized sander I got at Harbor Freight, but it was overkill. I bought a micro-lathe from eBay that I put a disc sander bit on, but it wasn’t reliable enough. I found a few videos online of folks laser cutting a housing for a small 12v motor that you could DIY a disc sander. It wasn’t for me.

Then I discovered something. A tool called the Ultimation Sander. At $225 it isn’t cheap, especially for a tool that is hand-cranked, but I figured… these kits I’m building, these materials I’m using, the time I’m investing… none of this stuff is cheap either. So why take a premium product and hack it up with a cheap tool? I took the plunge and ordered an Ultimation.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about it: it’s made in Canada and the quality is second to none. This is the type of tool that will be handed down generation to generation, if you wanted to. It really is that well-made and, truth be told, that level of craftsmanship is seldom seen these days and I for one am all too happy to support.

Everything arrived in neat, simple boxes.

The sander itself is pre-built and the only thing you need to do is reverse the crank handle (which is pre-installed the wrong way around for safe transportation)

At almost 5.4lbs over a 7 x 4.5″ size, this little sander isn’t light… but that’s a good thing. Not only do you feel the quality in your hand, it also provides a great ballast for when you’re sanding. Yes, it’s best to clamp it to your workstation, but in some instances you won’t need to.

Everything is machined to a very exacting standard. This protractor was pre-set by Ultimation before shipping and ready for use. It’s clear, easy to use and just what you’d want it to be.

Let’s quickly mention the crank. It’s buttery smooth. The bearings make this thing a joy to turn. I’m serious. For 5 whole minutes I was just turning it because it felt good. For some folks this could be a very expensive stress reliever! In all seriousness, there’s a level of control you feel in each turn that gives you an exacting result you could never achieve with a motor — that’s the Ultimation’s ultimate secret.

For the sanding discs, Ultimation recommend two brands of 120-grit paper in particular (you get a disc pre-installed and another one spare in the box, by the way). These brands are Norton “Stick and Sand” part no. 49828 or 3M “Stickit” part no. 01608. A quick Google search told me 100 discs of either brand will cost $30 and that many discs will last a few lifetimes (remember, this is hand cranked and therefore little or no heat build up… which means discs last a long time!)

Let’s talk about the Repeater. It’s an additional $80 and the only other product Ultimation produce. I don’t think it needs much introduction as to what it does.

Just like the sander, it’s incredibly well-made. It’s a very simple design: swap-out the protractor and fence already on the Sander with the Repeater and that’s it. Yes, you get all the tools included to do this.

So how does it work? A spring-loaded carriage, which is set and adjusted using a thumb knob and fine-tuned using a Thimble graded by 1/1000th of an inch, the Repeater “drives” the stripwood you are working on into the sanding disc until the spring reaches full extension. This simple setting means that each length of stripwood you load in will always come max-out at the same point, thus allowing you to repeat the same angle and length every time.

It’s a wonderful add-on and will save time, patience and, in some cases, your sanity. Now, there are two things I feel worth mentioning about the Repeater that may help decide if it will work for your needs.

  1. The maximum length of stripwood the Repeater can handle is just shy of 6.75″
  2. The Repeater needs to be installed (three screws) whenever you need it.

Personally, I think it’s a very worthy addition to the Sander. There are many, many instances where I will be using it and it’s something I’d rather have on hand.

So… most importantly… how well does this Sander work?

I used a piece of 1/8 by 1/16 for my test. Whilst the weight of the sander made things possible, clamping made the process silky smooth. The bearings made the sanding easy and when I sanded off enough material and got close to my angle, I was able to slow it down and give the stripwood a super clean finish — something nigh-on impossible to do on a motorized unit.

The 45-degree angle I chose is sharp and required zero clean-up. I sanded another stick to 45-degrees and wouldn’t you know it:

I graded the angle to a perfect 90-degrees and it was a satisfying moment.

Conclusion: when I first discovered the Ultimation I admit, I was skeptical. That much for a sander with no motor? Well, having used it, it almost seems silly to have even thought about it that way. This is a precisely made product for our very precise hobby. It’s absence of a motor is what give you back the precision we need. Honestly, this is one of those tools that changes the game. Just like my NWSL Chopper or my Proxxon Hot Wire cutter, this little Sander is here to stay.

[ ] Refund, please!
[ ] Yeah, it works… I suppose.
[ ] Great, but not for everyone.
[ ] Beyond impressed.
[ x ] Perfection, perfected.

by Craig on November 27, 2021