How to Sand Wood

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

| May 2014

  • Learning how to sand wood is simple, especially if you combine power- and hand-sanding tools to yield the best results.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Large panels. With their wide contact surfaces, random-orbit sanders are naturally at home on large, flat panels.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Wide, flat parts. Again, a random-orbit sander does well here. Note: It is easier to sand parts such as table aprons before assembly.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Narrow parts. On smaller, flat pieces such as the parts for a frame, a pad sander gives more control than a random-orbit sander.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • One disadvantage of detail sanders is that the adhesive-backed sandpaper frequently comes away from the pad.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Flat areas. To maintain a flat surface, you should always use a backing block when sanding large areas.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Rubber profiles. Using a rubber pad that fits the molding helps keep the edges of the profile sharp.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy of The Taunton Press
  • 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.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • Sanding curves by hand. Contour the paper to fit curves in the wood.
    Photo courtesy The Taunton Press
  • “Best Finishing Techniques” from the Editors of “Fine Woodworking,” is a valuable resource filled with tips and tricks for creating the best finishes possible.
    Cover courtesy The Taunton Press

Never fear finishing again! The Editors of Fine Woodworking will give you the skills necessary and confidence to apply finish with ease. Best Finishing Techniques (The Taunton Press, 2011) is an invaluable reference that offers foolproof techniques to guarantee a perfect finish every time. In the following excerpt, David Sorg explains how to sand wood with power- and hand-sanding techniques.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Best Finishing Techniques.

How to Sand Wood

Combine Power and Hand-Sanding for Good Results

The course of true love never did run smooth, according to Shakespeare, and smoothing wood true rarely causes love to course, it would seem. Boredom and fear are more common feelings among woodworkers when sanding their projects. But proper sanding is a crucial part of woodworking, so please read on for some tips and techniques that will turn your boredom into serenity and your fear into fun.



I’ll stick my neck out and state that no project should be finished without first being sanded. Even if you are a hero with the handplane or skilled with the scraper, you won’t be able to get a surface to be uniformly smooth and with an even sheen without sanding. Inevitably, there will be tiny depth changes from adjoining passes of the blade, while the sole of the plane can burnish strips of wood that may show up after a stain or a clear finish has been applied.

Those who rely solely on power tools will inevitably be left with planer- and jointer-knife marks and fibers crushed by the feed rollers. Router tables can leave gouges and scratches, and assembly often produces some errant glue splotches. All of these blemishes should be removed before a finish is applied, and sanding is the best way to achieve this. The most efficient way to sand a surface is with a combination of power-sanding and hand-sanding.






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