• MLCS Woodworking

11 Secrets For Sanding Wood Like A Pro

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

written by Chelsea Rodgers

The secret to making your projects looking like a professional did the job is sanding. Sanding smooths the wood and prepares it for the stain or paint. If you don’t sand the wood correctly, the finished project will show scratches and imperfections. You put a lot of hard work and effort into your pieces, you want it to show when you’re finished. We put together 11 secrets for you to follow that will make any project look like a pro.

As you’re getting ready to sand your project, it is important to remember the sawdust produced by sanding, even the fine sawdust that can be difficult to see, is extremely dangers to the lungs. A face mask must be worn to keep from ingesting the dust. A mask with a respirator like the one pictured below is recommended but a disposable mask is good too. You can find the masks pictured below in a pack of ten from Eagle America item # 425-5055. You want to protect your eyes from any dust particles as well, and your ears from noisy sanding machines, so put on the safety googles and stick in the ear plugs.

1. Different Grits of Sandpaper

When you're shopping for sandpaper you’ll see different kinds labeled with words like “coarse, medium, and fine” These words are also accompanied with numbers such as 80 100, 150, and 220. What do these words and numbers mean? Let’s break it down:

Sandpaper is graded by how “coarse” it is. A coarse grit sandpaper will remove a lot of material but your surface will be left rough. A medium grit grade sandpaper will remove less material slowly and will give you a smooth finish.

The number found with the grade of the sandpaper determines how much material it remove and how quickly it removes it. The lower number removes more material at a slower speed. For example, sandpaper labeled 60 grit coarse will remove lots of wood quickly, leaving a rough finish. Sandpaper labeled 150 grit coarse will remove smaller amounts of wood more slowly and leave a smoother finish.

2. How do you smooth out wood?

By now you should understand that we smooth wood by sanding. We are told to start out with a more aggressive sandpaper grit and then work your way up to a less aggressive sandpaper grit. The he key is to start with the least aggressive grit necessary to achieve a smooth finish in the wood.

If your wood you are working with show some gouges or the has a few poor fitting joints, then go for 80 grit sandpaper. If your wood doesn’t show any gouges or poor fitting joints, then go for 100 grit sandpaper. After the piece has been completely sanded, go over it again with 120 grit sandpaper. If you need more smoothing still, sand the piece a third time with 150 grit sandpaper.

3. Don’t Skip a Grip

We mentioned early that the key is to start with a more aggressive grit sandpaper and work your way to the less aggressive grit. It’s important to do this progressively. Do not start with an 80 grit sandpaper and then jump to 120 grit. Each step of the sanding process smooths and prepares the wood for the next sandpaper grit.

4. “Sand with the Grain” – What does this mean?

The grain and fibers of wood run the length of the board. Sanding in the same direction as those fibers and grains, along the length of the board will leave a smooth finish. By sanding across the width of the board, the fibers and grains will tear and leave scratches on the surface of the wood.

5. Use Light when Sanding Wood

We’ve all had those projects when we thought we had the surface completely smooth and ready for stain, but the finished project was full of scratches. Sanding scratches can easily be prevented by using light. Not any light will do, you need to use a utility or clamp light positioned across the surface of the wood. Positioning the light this way will catch any scratches or imperfections on the surface as you sand.

6. How Can I Sand Wood Fast?

You can sand wood a few different ways. You can spot sand or touch up with a piece of sandpaper. Usually for this method you can cut a piece if sandpaper into quarters and use a quarter piece at a time. Another method is to mount the sandpaper on a sanding block to sand large areas.

Using sandpaper and sanding blocks still can be time consuming. If you want to sand projects quickly, you can use and electric sander like the Light Duty 5” Detail Benchtop Sander (item #9664). This sander is a multi-function sanding tool with changeable sanding discs.

7. Sand As You Go

If you wait to sand your project until it’s completely assembled, you’re going to have a difficult time reaching certain spots. You want to sand each piece individually as you assemble. Sanding this way is much easier and less frustrating.

8. Don ‘t End Up Chasing Your Wood

The last thing you want to happen is to start sanding only to have your piece of wood fly across your workbench. You can avoid this by using PowerGrip Sanding Mat (item number #9003) to help hold your piece in place.

9. Vacuum Between Grits

It’s inevitable that little pieces of wood and sandpaper will be left behind as you sand. These pieces can end up scratching your piece as you move from the aggressive sand paper to the less aggressive. To keep this from happening you want to be sure to vacuum and particles left behind after each sanding.

10. Ease the Edges

If you look at pieces of furniture in the store you will notice the corners are slightly eased in. This help resist denting and chipping. You can get that same look in your pieces by taking the sanding block and running 2-3 passes along the edges. You can also sand the edges more rounded to create that finish look.

11. Bevel Furniture Legs

Sharp edges can get caught and scratch up your floors. Sanding a bevel on the bottom of things like furniture legs can help reduce chipping and tearing. Plus, it just makes your piece look better!

When you're all finished sanding, you still may notice some small holes or gaps. Don’t worry! You can use Wood Filler in those areas. Let the wood filler dry and you’re ready to stain or paint!

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