Introduction: Make a Modelers Orbital Sander Out of a Toothbrush

Picture of Make a Modelers Orbital Sander Out of a Toothbrush

I make a lot of models and since I am always short of cash, improvisation is the norm. So trying to sand a new coat of primer in the tiny crevices of a model I had the brain wave to use an electric toothbrush as an orbital sander. 5 minutes later, success!

This works so well and with disposable toothbrushes being so cheap, I have several of them with different grades of sand paper pre-bonded for different jobs.

Step 1: What You Need.

Picture of What You Need.

An old toothbrush (preferably your own)
Some form of contact adhesive
Heavy duty scissors

Step 2: The First Cut

Picture of The First Cut

I tried various methods of getting the "Mat" that holds the bristles off, even tried burning them first but have now settled on this method as the quickest and least smelly. The bristles are mounted on to a mat that is easy to pull out in one go if you can just gain access from one or more sides. Make your arrow head shaped cuts to the head of the toothbrush and peel the mat off and discard. 

Step 3: Glue and Grit

Picture of Glue and Grit

Once you have achieved the desired shape of the head for the project that you are busy with, liberally coat the head with contact adhesive and allow to dry. Coat the non-grit side of the sandpaper as well.

Once both surfaces are dry, clamp together with clothes pegs for 5-10 minutes.

Job done!

Step 4: Sand Away!!!

Picture of Sand Away!!!

You can now get in to those little nooks and crannies to do the work that can be the difference between an okay model and a really good model. Once the batteries are flat, then you can throw away the toothbrush. 


RandolphD (author)2015-10-30

Congratulations! And reading other comments below it is easy to see all the ramifications this idea will generate :)

Mihsin (author)2014-04-06

Now I can proudly tell my wife why I saved those brushes.

Bryan Cera (author)2012-06-11

I absolutely love this project. Excellent work.

Jason von Techshop (author)2012-03-31

this is brilliant!

Clayton H. (author)2011-11-09

wouldn't be best if you slapped a piece of foam between the sandpaper and tooth brush so it handles better on contours?

chosenangelx (author)2011-07-07

I tried this for one of my models a couple years ago... and it really didnt work... any idea why?? is your toothbrush the kind which does a quick rotation? or one that just vibrates?? this idea would only work on toothbrushes that vibrate.. and not ones that rotate. Good Job though!

gyromonkey (author)2011-06-28

Even MacGyvar would be pleased with this one.....Genius

retrotimelord (author)2011-06-27

But i stiil give it 5 satrs YOU BLOODY GENIUS!!!!!!

retrotimelord (author)2011-06-27

dont you think it would be better to some how take the flat battery out and replace it with 2 AA battery's

abadger1 (author)2011-06-22

I JUST thought about turning an electric toothbrush into a sander to get out the paint that hides in the divots of a weld (On bicycles and such), and cruised over here because I knew for certain someone else would think the same. THX man!

janet777 (author)2011-05-29

You have a very handy idea there! This will really help with my clay sculpture, in those impossible areas. I am going to try wet sand paper in order to make the tool last longer. Thank you for posting this very clear tutorial.

sanjay117 (author)2011-05-25

its a great idea
can anybody make hand grinder of simillar type?
keep it up!

theartist09 (author)2011-05-15

how would this work using velcro and the hook & loop sandpaper? Have you tried this yet? I really like your idea, but i just thought of that when i saw what you had made.

the poodleo (author)2011-05-15

Oh, im making an instructable about filling the seams on models, can i just put a link to this in it because it would be a great tool.

the poodleo (author)2011-05-15

thats a great idea! i mean, you can get small sanding sticks and stuff, but it is definetly hard to get the proper leverage without damaging you're model. i never thought of using anything to make it vibrate though. It would definetly be great for airplanes, because when teh have the raised panel lines, you need to sand them.

confu (author)2011-05-12

Very, very great idea! If U didn´t notice yet, it made it to the makezine blog recently:

Since I do not have amounts of one-way brushes hiding in my flat, I´m now thinking about a quick-release / quick change mechanism for using different "tools" (?) on my my worn out sonicare toothbrush. Which wasn´t that cheap, but it´s down and that would be a really cool repurpose for it.
Detail work with "ultrasonic" power :D

I already thought about velcro and double sided tape as mentioned in the other comments, this may work for sanding but I think that would not be sturdy enough to attach a file or maybe even a tiny sawblade or cutting disk...
With a sonicare I could imagine that its powerful and/or fast enough to do even finer metalworking...
We´ll see. If I can afford a new one and hack the old, I will post it here, promised!
Keep on!

metlcutter (author)2011-05-11

I wonder how this would work with a needle file?

richms (author)2011-05-10

Did you try double sided tape at all? Would be faster than the glue, but I dont know if it would hold well enough.

ilpug (author)2011-05-07

If i could make patches, you would get one. i am a pro at making miniature terrain, and this will help in so many ways. simple and genius. i wont go on forever, but this is awesome!

Darwinfish (author)2011-05-05

If necessity is the mother of invention, cheapness is the father. :D I did something similar with a rotary brush, only I wired it to a model train transformer. Works great.

username252 (author)2011-05-03

Absolutely ingenious! What if I made this to sand down metal pieces? Will the vibration be good enough?

Depending on the life left in the battery of the toothbrush I suppose you will get plenty of vibration. Due to the design of the toothbrush with the pressure relieving neck, you will never get any decent leverage on the head so you are reliant purely on the vibration to do the work. This is what makes it so excellent to do models and light work, it is highly unlikely that you can do damage by being too rough. The corollary to this is that it will probably be too gentle to make a significant impact on any metal object obviously dependent on the type and hardness of the metal.

Thanks. I'll keep that in mind if I make one. I would be using it for mostly polishing to a fine finish, but I should use a real sander for better sanding.

jexter (author)2011-05-03

Really great idea!

joehudy (author)2011-05-02

you cold step it up and use a back scracher that vibrates

nancyCpants (author)2011-05-02

My first thought was that you made a prison shank when I saw the picture. =p

Great tool, though.

Boppo3 (author)2011-04-30

what happened to the coffee?

apburner (author)2011-04-29

Absolutely fantastic idea. Best I have seen in a while.

jas330 (author)2011-04-29

When the batteries are flat/dead replace them from the bottom just unscrew that tip and just glue new sandpaper on

burnerjack01 (author)2011-04-29

Man! You are a %#$%GENIUS!! Absolutely brilliant!

Bongmaster (author)2011-04-29

thing is u can normally replace the battery in them type of vibrating brush :) at least mine u can and it looks similar

WiredWebbo101 (author)Bongmaster2011-04-29

True, but in my experience the bristles die long before the battery so this just makes full use of the potential, that said with my green hat on!

Without my green hat on, I just needed a miniature orbital sander and am too skint to afford one!

Thanks for the comments

Bongmaster (author)WiredWebbo1012011-04-29

wel thanks to this i gone and made one from my olde toothbrush x3
tho i made it different, i 1st cut off the bristles, then heated the stem and bent it back so the head is now about 45 degrees from straight. and i stuck a foam pad to where the bristles were and epoxied the sandpaper to that.

also it was the same brush model u used X3

pioneer518 (author)2011-04-29

Great idea ,but where u've glued the sandpaper to the tooth brush head you should glue self adhesive velcro hook side on then glue the self adhesive velcro to what ever grade sandpaper you wish ..easy to swop and change ..

WiredWebbo101 (author)pioneer5182011-04-29

That was actually my starting intention, then when I went hunting for used toothbrushes around the house I found so many of them I just made lots of them with different grades and types of sand paper glued on.
Do used toothbrushes hide in the house?

Thanks for the positive feedback.

darthmynock (author)2011-04-29

Outstanding !! I'll try out it my old brushes !!

@Everybody: Thanks for all the great comments and encouragement. What a pleasure to post an idea and get positive feedback instead of the grunge and negativity that is the norm on other sites. You have all made my first attempt at an "Instructable" a very rewarding one and I will endevour to better it next time. Thanks a lot!

grunff (author)2011-04-29

That is ingenious! Fantastic example of re-purposing. Thanks very much for sharing.

Lectric Wizard (author)2011-04-29

GREAT IDEA !! I've been keeping the handles from disposable razors as they looked really useful,now I know what for ... a "manual" version of your sander ... THANKS!

capricorn (author)2011-04-29

Easy, quick, cheap, efficient. a commendable Instructable.

Thanks for sharing mate, this is an outstanding job

iPodGuy (author)2011-04-29


iminthebathroom (author)2011-04-29


young skipper (author)2011-04-29

Congrats on the first instructable.

Kiteman (author)2011-04-29

Like all the best ideas, this is so obvious in hind-sight that you wonder why nobody did it before.


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