How to Smooth Wood: Choose the Best Tool for the Job

When it comes to wood smoothing tools, it's important to understand what to use, when and why. Use this guide to determine whether sanding, scraping or handplaning will work best for smoothing wood on your finished product.



How to Smooth Wood
The “Woodworker’s Guide to Handplanes” by Scott Wynn teaches woodworkers how to choose, maintain and use this indispensable hand tool in every woodworking situation. Learn the different styles of planes, how to sharpen and modify them and how to smooth wood, fit joints and build an efficient workstation.   
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Sanding
The grit in sandpaper acts like a series of minute pointed scrapers, removing wood by compression failure at the points of the abrasive. It is a reliable way to smooth wood, but in some ways, it is as if you are using an uneven bed of nails. It leaves a series of erratic uneven grooves across the board, often leaves little balls of wood fiber at the end of the grooves, and tears the edges of the wood pores and fills them with dust. Clarity of the wood’s grain and figure is compromised for reliability. 
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Deep Scratches
Deep scratches and torn fibers characterize the sanded wood surface. Sanding tears fibers in the surface of wood, while scraping leaves behind fewer ragged fibers that tend to be longer. 
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Scraping
Scraping often leaves a tail at the end of the wood pore the length of which varies from species to species. Planing also can sometimes result in a tail, depending on the species, but it is usually much smaller. A coat of finish raises and stiffens the tails and other irregularities, making the surface look and feel rough. 
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Handplane Removes Wood
A handplane removes wood by shearing the fibers right at the point of its thin, sharp edge. Though the results can be less dependable, the remaining surface is not torn by abrasion or compression failure, revealing the beauty of the wood’s grain and figure. 
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Cabinet Scraper
A cabinet scraper removes wood by compression failure parallel to the grain at the edge of the burr. While it can give dependable results, a heavy cut can result in erratic failure both in front of and below the edge, snowpiling the chip and reducing the quality of the surface. Making a light cut attains best results. 
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