How to Sand Wood

Learn how to sand wood combining power- and hand-sanding methods for optimum results.

Learning how to sand wood is simple, especially if you combine power- and hand-sanding tools to yield the best results.
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Random-orbit sanders (top): For removing large amounts of wood from large surfaces, random-orbit sanders can’t be beat. They are less suitable for small areas, and their shape prevents them from reaching into inside corners. Pad sanders (center): Less aggressive than random-orbit sanders, pad sanders are easier to control, which makes them suitable for narrower and more confined areas such as table legs and the insides of cabinets. Hand-sanding tools (bottom): Sand by hand to finish the job. To keep moldings crisp, use commercial rubber profiles or shopmade foam ones to back the sandpaper. For flat areas, use a backing block made from cork or rubber to prevent your fingers from applying uneven pressure.
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Large panels. With their wide contact surfaces, random-orbit sanders are naturally at home on large, flat panels.
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Wide, flat parts. Again, a random-orbit sander does well here. Note: It is easier to sand parts such as table aprons before assembly.
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Narrow parts. On smaller, flat pieces such as the parts for a frame, a pad sander gives more control than a random-orbit sander.
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To know when power-sanding is complete, apply mineral spirits to surface. Ignore the color that will appear, instead look for telltale signs of scratches.
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Detail sanders come with an assortment of different pads designed to fit most molding profiles. The radius on this pad matches the bead of the apron.
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One disadvantage of detail sanders is that the adhesive-backed sandpaper frequently comes away from the pad.
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Flat areas. To maintain a flat surface, you should always use a backing block when sanding large areas.
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Rubber profiles. Using a rubber pad that fits the molding helps keep the edges of the profile sharp.
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Edges. Break the edges on a project not only to reduce future damage but also to prevent finish from forming a mound at the edges.
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End grain. To lessen end grain’s darker appearance when the workpiece is finished, burnish the wood and fill the pores by sanding end grain up to 320-grit paper.
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Sanding curves by hand. Contour the paper to fit curves in the wood.
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“Best Finishing Techniques” from the Editors of “Fine Woodworking,” is a valuable resource filled with tips and tricks for creating the best finishes possible.
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