Choosing the Right Sandpaper

After days of painstaking labor and careful cutting with woodworking hand tools, you’ve finally reached the finishing stage. The first step to finishing your masterpiece is sanding to get that soft, smooth surface that you can eventually stain or polish. Selecting the right type of sandpaper is crucial. The wrong sandpaper could damage your woodworking masterpiece, making those days and hours of handiwork all for naught. Read on for some tips for choosing the correct sandpaper.

Grit
Grit refers to the abrading materials in the sandpaper. Sandpaper is graded on the number of grit particles it has per square inch. The lower the number, the coarser the grit.While there are several variations, sandpaper is normally graded as:

  • Coarse (40-60 grit)
  • Medium (80-120 grit)
  • Fine (150-180 grit)
  • Very Fine (220-240 grit)
  • Extra Fine (280-320 grit)
  • Super Fine (360-600 grit)

As you sand, you are to start with coarser sandpaper and progressively move up to finer grits to remove scratches and misplaced marks made by your marking knife to eventually leave a smooth finish.

Why not just stick with fine grit paper the whole way through? Well coarse grit sandpaper roughs up the surface and removes material quickly, making for easier, quicker sanding when followed with finer sandpaper.

Abrasives
Sandpaper comes in five main types of abrasives, though not all are appropriate for wood working.

  • Glasspaper, or flint paper, is light, pale yellow in color, and generally not great for woodworking as it disintegrates easily.
  • Garnet paper, a brownish-red colored paper, is commonly used in woodworking. Although it won’t sand the wood as quickly as other types of abrasives, it leaves a better finish.
  • Silicon carbide is dark gray to black in color and is generally used for sand metals or for wet sanding. This isn’t normally used in woodworking.
  • Aluminum oxide is used commonly for woodworking, most often used in power sanders. It’s more durable than garnet but its finish leaves something to be desired.
  • Ceramic sandpaper features one of the most durable abrasives available. You can remove large amounts of material fairly quickly. While it is often used for belt sanders, ceramic is sometimes used for shaping wood by hand. On the downside, it can leave a very rough finish, so exercise care if you use ceramic sandpaper.

Getting a Great Finish
Start with a coarse grit aluminum oxide paper to remove any accidental dents left by wood carving chisels or hammers. Follow through with finer garnet sandpaper to get that smooth finish. When you’re done sanding, you should have a nice, smooth surface to paint or stain over.

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