About Us



Follow Us

Planing vs Sanding: Know When to Do Each



V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com


Planing vs Sanding

Planing and sanding are two basic woodworking operations.

Both remove surface material, but in what aspects do they differ? When should you plane and when should you sand?

The difference between planing and sanding is that planing involves sliding a cutting tool against the surface of a workpiece in a reciprocating manner, resulting in long wood chips. In sanding, an abrasive tool is hovered and pressed on the workpiece surface to remove wood in small amounts as dust.

This article will help you understand the differences between the two and help you decide when to do each.

MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Planing vs Sanding: Understand the Differences

sanding and planing of wood
Sanding (left) and planing (right) of wood

Sanding and planing operations differ in various aspects.

Sandpaper abrades materialPlaning blade(s) cut away material
Workpiece can be fixed or fed into the sanding toolWorkpiece is fixed
Usually done at the final stages of woodworkingUsually done at the initial stages of woodworking
More consistent and smooth surfaceRoughly flat and contrasting surface
Minimal depth of cutHigh depth of cut
Debris is in the form of dustDebris is in the form of long chips
Slightly difficultEasy and straightforward
A quick comparison of sanding and planing

Fundamental Difference

The two processes differ regarding the material removal mechanism and tool used.

Sanding uses a sanding tool with an external layer of abrasive to slowly chip away material from the wooden surface.

In contrast, planing tools use cutting blades to remove a significant amount of material and can make deeper cuts.

Workpiece Movement

In planing, the workpiece has to be kept steady and fixed so that the tool removes material at each successive stroke.

Contrarily, in sanding, usually, the tool has to be moved and pressed at the desired location.

However, in the case of drum sanders, you have to feed the workpiece into the drum rollers, which then pull it in and sand it before driving it out.


Although both operations flatten the wood surface, their performing sequence varies.

Planing jobs are usually performed initially to make a rough cut to obtain an almost flat surface.

Sanding is usually done at the final stage to remove minor surface imperfections and make the surface uniform and smooth.

Resulting Surface

A sanded surface is entirely consistent with minimal pores and openings. It is smoother with minimal flaws.

A planed surface is roughly flat but possesses minor contours and high contrast between the different surface areas.

The number of pores and cavities is also higher on a planed wood, but it shows the original wood texture.

Debris Type

Debris formed on sanding and planing jobs
Debris formed on sanding (left) and planing (right) jobs

Planing results in the removal of long strips of wood that are easier to clean.

In comparison, sanding removes smaller pieces of wood, smaller than sawdust, which is very difficult to clean.

Depth of Cut

Planers possess a greater cutting depth, meaning they can cut deep into the workpiece surface.

In contrast, sanding has a small depth of cut as it mainly abrades material from the outer surface.


Generally, planing is cheaper than sanding as planing tools are more affordable and easier to maintain.

Sanding tools, especially sanding belts and drum rollers, cost more than a planer and require frequent maintenance, which further adds to the operational cost.


The sanding operation can be challenging as you have to look into multiple parameters such as the speed, depth of cut, grit size, etc.

On the contrary, a planing operation is fairly straightforward apart from an electric planer’s control of speed and depth settings. These settings vary for each type of wood.

The manual-type tools are the easiest to understand but require more time and effort.

What is Planing?

Planing a padauk board
Planing a padauk board


A planer removes long wood chips from a workpiece surface.

Planing jobs achieve a flattened and uniform wood surface with clearly defined edges.

You can perform planing jobs with either a hand plane or a powered rotary plane tool. A hand plane tool is easier to use and is affordable.


The planing process involves a one-way or a double-way stroke of the planing tool against the wooden surface to remove surface material upon the frictional contact of the cutting blade.

Each stroke removes long chips of wood from the workpiece surface.

The surface should not have any hard protruding areas as they can damage the planing tool and, in turn, the face of the workpiece.

Once the job is complete, the wood surface is clear and distinguishes pores from the surrounding areas because of their differences in texture and appearance.

Planing jobs are usually performed in the woodworking’s initial stages to remove materials in large amounts quickly.

Tools Required

Manual Plane Tools

Manual planes, also known as hand planes are worked by hand. Compared to a power planer, they are affordable but require more effort.

A hand plane
A hand plane

The three major types of manual plane tools are block plane, smoothing plane, and jointing plane tools.

Block plane tools typically remove a high volume of material in a single stroke, and smoothing plane tools remove a moderate amount of material.

In contrast, jointing planes remove the least amount of material but provide the best surface finish.

Power Tools for Planing

The electrically powered plane tools are easier to use and require less effort. They also provide a better surface finish compared to manual hand tools.

A hand-held electric planer
A hand-held electric planer

There are two major types of power tools, bench planes, and handheld electric planes.

Bench planes are stationary machines mounted on a worktable. The workpiece is slid and fed to the plane’s cutters, whose cyclic forward and backward strokes remove surface material.

Hand-held electric planes require physical handling, but an electric motor entirely controls the strokes.

What is Sanding?

Sanding the top piece of the bar stool
Sanding the top piece of the bar stool


In sanding, an abrasive tool removes small wooden pieces from a workpiece and provides a better finish. It can be done using a manual or an electric tool.

For hobby purposes, a manual tool is cheaper and easier to use. However, it can result in a poor surface finish.

You should only employ sanding on a roughly flat workpiece surface to remove any minor defects or protrusions.

A softer wood that cannot undergo planing is ideal for sanding as the final surface will be smooth and flat.

Sanding is the perfect option if the user requires a consistent surface without pores or clear contrast between different regions.


While sanding, the sanding tool abrades the workpiece surface as the tool is pressed and slid over the workpiece, accumulating small wood chips or dust.

The resulting uniform surface is consistently smooth, with minimal pores.

Sanding operation is usually performed in the later stages of woodworking to provide a better finish to the workpiece surface.

Tools required

Manual Tools

The manual sanding method uses sandpaper with a specified grit size.

A smaller grit size is used for more effective material removal, whereas a larger one is used for surface finishing and low material removal jobs.

You must rub the sandpaper back and forth against the wooden surface with adequate force.

In the initial stages, when you need to remove a high volume of material quickly, use sandpaper with a grit size under 100.

After that, in the later stages, shift to sandpaper with a higher grit number, usually greater than 120. 

For convenience, you can attach the sandpaper to a sandpaper holder facilitating easy and ergonomic handling.

Electric Tools

Electric sanding tools are more expensive than hands-on tools like sandpaper but are more straightforward and faster.

These tools are generally of two types, belt sanders, and drum sanders.

A belt sander
A belt sander

Belt sanders consist of single or multiple belts with an external layer of abrasive. They are usually stationary and fixed on a table. However, their hand-held versions are also available.

The abrasive belts are wound around pulleys, and a powerful motor drives them at high speeds.

When the belt contacts the workpiece, the abrasive wear off the surface material.

Similarly, a drum sander comprises a drum roller with an external abrasive layer. The machine is fixed onto a table, and the wooden workpiece is fed into it.

A drum sander
A drum sander

Drum sanders usually remove materials at around thousandths of an inch (1/1000″) per pass.

However, smaller grit-sized sandpaper attached to the drum roll can remove up to a quarter of an inch (1/4″) of material.

Final Thoughts: Which is better?

In the end, it all comes down to your requirements.

If you want to remove more surface material and need the work to have a contrasting surface portraying its original texture, then planing is the best option.

However, sanding is the way to go if you want to remove minimal surface material and maintain a uniform surface with a good finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can all types of wood undergo sanding or planing?

Yes, all types of wood can undergo sanding and planing jobs. However, harder woods lead to less material removal, complicating the process.

What are the safety precautions that need to be followed during sanding or planing?

The safety precautions you must follow during sanding or planing involve wearing a face mask, goggles, safety boots, gloves, and headgear. They will prevent you from flying debris, dust, and cuts on hands because of the pressure applied to your fingers and wrists.

What equipment do I need for sanding or planing?

The safety precautions you must follow during sanding or planing involve wearing a face mask, goggles, safety boots, gloves, and headgear. They will prevent you from flying debris, dust, and accidental cuts on your hands because of the pressure applied to your fingers and wrists during the process.

What is a grain structure in a wooden workpiece?

A grain structure in a wooden workpiece is the arrangement and orientation of the different layers of molecules.

V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com