Sanding: The Ins and Outs of Everyone’s Least Favorite Task
I should preface this week’s blog entry by backtracking a bit; sanding is not my least favorite task. I find it to be rewarding, and even relaxing. Maybe I just have too much patience. We’ll see.
The thing about sanding is that it’s all about perspective. A guy can come to you with a rough-cut plank, having just barely worn the sharpest edges down with some 35 grit zirconia crust paper, and tell you “it’s been sanded.” You’re thinking, no…this guy’s just a dunce, but actually, he’s not wrong. Depending on the application his plank is destined for, that could be all the sanding that’s necessary. After all, he did sand it.
Most of the time (especially where furniture is concerned), you’re going to have to spend a little more time with the old block than that. I have one big tip: don’t move on until you’re ready.
Don’t progress from a course grit to a fine grit, belt sander to hand sander, hand sander to wood block, or wood block to fingers and folded paper until you’re finished with the previous tool. Why? Because you’ll be cursing yourself in frustration as you repeat and repeat steps!
Think about it this way. If you’re sweeping a rough concrete foundation, you’re not going to start with a dustpan and a soft bristled whisk. You start with something large, like a push broom, with stiff bristles. If you feel the need afterward, come back and clean up some low spots with the whisk, but if you do that first, going over it with the push broom will simply erase your time and effort.
A lot of people come to me with questions about power sanders of the handheld variety, wanting to know if they should purchase battery or air powered sanders, random orbit or disc sanders, etc. I always answer the same way, which is that it’s all up to you and your job.
Random orbit sanders, perhaps the most common type of hand sander, are an interesting beast, and one that sees a lot of misuse by first timers. The first mistake people invariably make with these things is pressing down too hard on their surfaces. Not only will it fail to speed up your project, it has serious drawbacks: Your paper will wear down to nothing in no time, your surface won’t be flat (no one can press hard on a randomly orbiting power tool with the exact same amount of pressure evenly over an area), and what’s more, it’ll likely ruin your tool, and kill your batteries if you’re using an electrically powered sander.
If you need to take off more material, use a coarser grit, or try different abrasives (there are quite a few options out there). If that doesn’t do the trick, you’re probably using the wrong tool, meaning it’s time for a belt sander. Just go lightly.
If you do your sanding correctly, each step should prepare you for the next, without leaving too much work at the end. By the time you switch to folded paper and fingers, you really shouldn’t have a ton of sanding left to do, and your skin will thank you for that.
Another thing to take into account is the difference between paint and natural finish. If you’re finishing the wood, keep in mind that the finish will harden to create its own surface, one that will have to be sanded again prior to a second coat, and so once the wood looks good, it’s good enough. It doesn’t have to feel like silk. On the other hand, if you’re painting your sanded wood white…all I can say is keep sanding.
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Your Woodworking Expert,