Sanding by Hand: Just Grit and Bear It

From Associated Press

Sanding can make or break the appearance of a project made from wood.

Even perfect-looking, factory-planed wood needs hand-sanding to open the grain and promote even staining. Final hand-sanding is needed to remove the tiny swirl marks left by an oscillating sander.

Use Correct Grit Size

On work that has been cut on a table saw or run through a jointer or planer, start with 60-grit paper. Follow through with finer grits--80, 100, 120 and 150--without huge skips.

Your first, coarsest sanding should flatten high spots. Subsequent sandings replace larger sanding scratches with finer ones. Where to stop depends on the work. In general, surfaces to be painted should be sanded to 120 grit and fine objects to be stained and varnished to about 150.


To produce an ultra-smooth satin finish, wet-sand between coats of varnish. Use 400- or 600-grit wet-or-dry silicon carbide paper on a sanding block with water or oil.

Use a Sanding Block

With a flat backing, sandpaper can remove bumps and span low spots. And you avoid an uneven, wavy surface caused by just using your hand and sandpaper, since your hand follows rather than corrects irregularities.

Buy a sanding block. Or glue a thin layer of felt or sponge rubber to one side of a block of wood (3-by-5-by-3/4 inches is a good size). Wrap a layer of sandpaper around the block. Hold the block tightly to prevent the sandpaper from shifting as you work. Don’t let the block go more than halfway off the end of the piece, or it’ll round the edge.

Curved Shapes

When you’re sanding curved shapes, use a sanding sponge with a grit surface. Or shape sandpaper with your fingers or the palm of your hand to match the contour of a rounded or irregularly shaped surface.

On some surfaces, it helps to wrap the sandpaper around a blackboard eraser. To sand a long turning, such as a chair leg, wrap sandpaper around the wood so the ends overlap and slide the paper up and down. For shorter sections on a turning, hold a strip of sandpaper at both ends and run it back and forth as if you were shining shoes.

To smooth curved indentations, make a slit down the length of a short piece of old garden hose. Wrap sandpaper, on the hose’s exterior, grit side out, and tuck the ends into the slit. For smaller grooves, wrap the sandpaper around a dowel. For angular crevices, use a piece of scrap wood that fits into the groove.


Sand intricate cuts and small, hard-to-reach places with emery boards. These are easy to handle and provide two sanding grits. For a greater range of grits, glue different grades of sandpaper onto ice cream or frozen-pop sticks.

Sanding Technique

Sand with the grain. Overlap sanding strokes and apply equal pressure on both forward and backward strokes. Sanding at an angle to the grain leaves scratches that are difficult to remove. Sand across the grain only to remove a large amount of wood. Then thoroughly sand with the grain.

Gouges and Dents

Don’t try to sand out gouges and dents. You’ll get wide, shallow, very noticeable craters. Instead, fill deep scratches with wax or putty furniture filler stick. On a flat surface, use a shellac stick that will provide a harder surface. Get one that closely matches the color of the finish. Follow manufacturer’s directions when using filler or shellac sticks.