One of the last steps of woodworking, or refinishing a wood surface, is hand sanding.
This technique provides the smoothest surface and the best finish for small pieces, pieces with lots of angles or curves, or delicate antique furniture. It’s also best for smoothing out molding, edges, and routed areas.
You may groan at the thought of sanding by hand, but the effort is well worth the results. Plus, hand sanding can be a lot easier if you know the right technique and tools to use. Here are the basics.
How to Sand Wood by Hand: 4 Tricks of the Trade
1. Know When to Skip Power-Sanding
You may be tempted to fly through any sanding project with a power-sander, but this is a mistake. A power hand-sander is, well, way too powerful for finishing, which requires a lighter touch. In fact, your heavy-duty sander could ruin a finer wood piece.
So, when should you sand by hand? The short answer: When the piece is done, and you want to get ready to stain or seal the wood.
Sanding removes mill marks from when the boards were cut, but it also gets rid of flaws in the wood like scratches or gouges – especially scratches left over from your power-sander.
So, save power-sanding for heavy-duty applications. Do it by hand to finish off the wood beautifully.
2. Know What Grit Sandpaper to Use
Not all sandpaper is the same. There are different grits, or grades, you can buy.
The grade of sandpaper is a number that tells you how many sand granules are on the paper per square-inch. The higher the grade, the finer the sandpaper.
Sandpaper with a low grade will have a much coarser grit, which means it will help you sand out imperfections easier.
In general, it’s best to start with a lower grade and work your way up, switching to a higher grade as you refine the finish of your wood.
- For example, coarse-grit sandpaper (size 80 or 100) will remove big imperfections but otherwise will damage and scratch your finely-finished wood.
- Medium-grit sandpaper (sizes 120 or 150) is good for getting rid of old finishes or smoothing out scratches.
- Fine-grit sandpaper (size 220) should always be the last size you use before dusting off the wood and applying stain or sealant. Fine sandpaper smoothes the surface and gets rid of tiny scratches that medium and coarse-grit papers leave behind.
3. Get Sanding Helpers to Make the Job Easier
If you’ve ever tried sanding with plain sandpaper, you know that it can get a bit unwieldy.
To make the paper easier to grip and maneuver around curves, angles, and edges, try getting a tool that can increase your hand sanding speed and efficiency.
- A sanding block, for instance, helps you apply even pressure while you’re sanding. This means you’ll get a better finish in less time.
- Homemade sanding pads can help you grip the sandpaper and fit it into those awkward curves or niches. You can easily create one by cutting down a foam swimming noodle or a piece of foam pipe insulation to size. Then, wrap your pieces of sanding paper around it, secure, and go to town.
- You can purchase sanding grips at the hardware store that will help you hold your sandpaper more firmly while you sand tight curves and contours.
- For removing paint from painted surfaces and wood pieces, you can buy sandpaper that’s clog-resistant. This means the paint won’t build up quickly on the paper as you sand it off, so you can sand longer before switching to a new piece.
4. Sand Smart for a Beautiful Finish
Don’t forget to make sure your sanding technique is correct for the best results on your woodworking projects.
The number one rule you should always follow? Sand with the grain of the wood.
The wood grain lines on your piece should all go in the same direction. Move your sandpaper to follow these lines for the best finish. In addition, you should always choose the correct grade/grit sandpaper for the type of project you’re working on.
Start with a lower grit, then work your way up to a higher grit. Another good rule of thumb to follow as you switch sandpaper grit size is to never skip more than one size at a time. Get to know our tips on tricks in wood varnishing.
For example: You’re sanding with 80-grit sandpaper. Once that’s finished, you need to switch to a finer sandpaper. In some cases, you can skip the next grade (100) and start sanding with the next-highest (120) to make the job go faster.
However, you should never skip two grades when sanding. For instance, never switch from 80-grit sandpaper to 150-grit. You’ll compromise your finish.
It’s Time to Get Sanding
Now that you understand the ins and outs of using sandpaper for hand sanding, you can finish off your woodworking projects with panache.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll end up with a beautiful finished product every time.
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