Sanding wood is a key step in most woodworking projects.
It's that point when you have done the hard work and only sanding is left before you can finish the wood to what you want.
There are primarily two ways to sand wood, sanding by hand and sanding using an orbital sander.
Regardless of your method, it's possible to get wood to the level that you want by using the correct technique.
In this guide, I'll show you how to sand wood by hand and also using an orbital sander.
How to Sand Wood by hand
Step 1: Choosing Sandpaper of the Correct Grit
Before you sand wood, it's important to understand the grit number of sandpaper and the application for each type of grit.
As the grit number increases, the sandpaper gets smoother.
When you want to remove more material, you use lower grit sandpaper.
Usually, 80 grit is the most coarse grit sandpaper used in woodworking.
When using an oil finish in the wood, it's best to sand using 220 grit in the final round of sanding.
Now that you know what each type of sandpaper grit is for, you can move on to the sanding process.
The correct way to sand for a fine finish is to sand in the increasing order of grits.
The most popular and best way is to sand in steps of 80 to 120 to 180 grit or 100 to 150 to 220 grit.
80 grit is the most coarse grit sandpaper you will need for woodworking.
Step 2: Making Sanding Blocks
Next, we'll make a sanding block using scrap wood.
Make a 7" x 3" x 2" block of wood from scrap wood you have in your shop.
Apply wood glue on the block and wrap sandpaper over it.
You can either wait for the glue to dry or use a nailer to hold the sandpaper in place until the glue cures.
It's a good idea to label each sanding block with its grit for easy identification.
Step 3: Sanding the Wood with the Sanding Block
Now that you have the sanding blocks ready, you need to prepare yourself.
Wear a dust mask to prevent the fine dust generated during sanding from entering your lungs.
In this case, I'll be using an 80-120-180 grit order for sanding.
Place the wood to be sanded on your work surface.
Before starting the sanding identify the grain direction of the wood
Place the 80 grit sanding block on the wood, press down and start sanding in the grain direction.
If you want to remove more material, press down harder.
Now, you could have done this without making a sanding block, but a sanding block lets you sand uniformly and is much less tiring.
After making multiple passes in an area, move to the adjacent area.
The key to a good finish is making sure you sand each area equally unless there are visible thickness differences within the board.
Once you have sanded the entire area on the wood, it's time to move to the next grit.
Use a vacuum cleaner to remove the dust generated and wipe down with a rag to remove the fine dust.
Now use the 120 grit sanding block to sand the entire surface of the wood.
You'll need to make more passes for higher grits as they get less coarse.
If you are tempted to skip the 120 and move to the 180 grit, do not do that.
Skipping grits can result in a poor finish on the wood.
Finish sanding the entire wood and inspect for smoothness.
After sanding with 120 grit you should be able to notice that the wood is already quite smooth.
As the last step, use a 180 grit sanding block to sand the entire wood.
When you have sanded the entire wood once with 180 grit, wipe it down with a wet rag.
This is called wet sanding of wood.
The moisture will raise the grain of the wood making it a bit rough to touch.
Sand with 180 grit once again and you'll have a very smooth surface.
Bring a bright source of light and move it close to the wood to find any rough areas.
If you are planning to apply Polyurethane (PU), or lacquer you can stop at 180 grit.
However, if you intend to do an oil finish, you should sand the wood with 220 grit sandpaper as the final step to get a smoother finish.
Before applying any finish, make sure to use a tack cloth and clean the wood surface.
After sanding you might not be able to easily notice the difference between unsanded wood and sanded wood.
However, the difference becomes very clear after staining them.
Sanded wood takes stain much more uniformly compared to unsanded wood which has a blotchy finish.
Make sure to give at least 8-24 hours for the stain to dry completely before assessing the final result.
Sanding in Edges and Grooves of Wood
When you don't have the space to use a sanding block, you need to hold the sandpaper in hand and do the sanding.
Fold the sandpaper in half and sand multiple times in the tight spot.
Sanding tips when sanding by hand:
Make sure to change sandpaper as soon as it starts showing wear and tear.
Most often, using worn-out sandpaper is what results in a poor finish.
Lower grits like 60 and 80 remove a considerable amount of wood, so you need to be careful when using them so as to not create gouges.
If you are sanding furniture with rounded edges or patterns, shape the sandpaper appropriately and do hand sanding.
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How to Sand Wood with an Orbital Sander
The advantage of sanding with an orbital sander is the power and efficiency.
While hand sanding gives you more control, most often you want to get the sanding done quickly.
To sand with an orbital sander, place the wood on your work surface.
The order of sanding remains the same for orbital sander and hand sanding.
It's best to go in the order 80-120-180 or 100-150-220.
But when sanding with 80 grit using an orbital sander, make sure to be very careful as you can easily sand too much.
Before sanding, connect your shop vac to the sander.
If you don't have a shop vac, attach the dust bag that came with the orbital sander.
Stick sandpaper (80 grit first) on the pad of the orbital sander first.
Place the sander on the surface of the wood and then start the sander.
Do not start the sander first and place the running orbital sander on the wood.
Sand the entire surface along the grain making sure to spend the same time in each area of the wood.
Make sure to move the sander very slowly to prevent swirl marks on the wood.
My advice is to go at the speed of 1 inch per second when sanding.
Also, many orbital sanders have a speed adjustment setting.
You can set the speed to the highest setting for all types of sanding on wood.
A low RPM setting can cause swirl marks in the wood.
Make sure to wipe down with a rag after a round of sanding with a particular grip of sandpaper.
While you had to apply pressure to remove more material in case of hand sanding, with orbital sander you should not press down at all.
Applying downward pressure can lower the life of your sanding machine and result in swirl marks.
After sanding up to 180 grit, hand sand with either 180 grit or 220 grit to give a final finish.
This can get rid of any stray swirl marks produced by the orbital sander.
Sanding tips when using an Orbital Sander
- Wear earmuffs and a dust mask to protect yourself.
- Using a high-quality sander can get the job done quicker and give you a better finish.
- Replace sanding discs as soon as they show any wear and tear.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the best way to sand wood?
The best way to sand wood is to hand sand using a sanding block. Sanding by hand with a block gives you perfect control over the amount of material removed. Make sure to sand progressively from 80 grit to 120 grit to 180 grit when sanding.
Can you sand wood without a sander?
You can sand wood without a sander either by hand sanding with folded sandpaper or by making a sanding block from scrap wood. However, without a power tool like a sander, sanding will take some time and a lot of physical effort is required for sanding by hand.
Which sandpaper is best for wood?
Coarse grit sandpaper like 80 or 100 grit sandpaper is ideal for removing a lot of wood such as for shaping sections of wood. 120 grit sandpaper is best for wood when finishing with Polyurethane (PU) or lacquer. 180 grit sandpaper is ideal for fine finishing such as an oil finish.