Like so many other woodworkers, I used to hate sanding. In fact, many years ago, it was typical for me to spend many hours working on a project, only to get near the abyss of ruining a project by sloppy sanding, followed by applying a sloppy finish. The outcome: a sloppy project, and nowhere nearly as nice as it could have been — in other words, frustrating at best, and ugly at its worst. This was due to ignorance on my part — ignorance about what to do, how to do it, and what to use to do it well. In the end I learned better ways, and I now like the process about as much as doing anything else in the shop. It sounds crazy, right?
It is not that crazy, if you think about it; for it is the looks of the project that ultimately invite touching and feeling the wonderful surfaces, the nice curves and edges… But before I get sidetracked, I can word it better: Learn to sand properly, and the finished quality of your projects will jump to a new level! And by learning to sand properly, you will also gain appreciation for the careful sanding steps required between layers of topcoat you apply to your project. Ultimately, your dyes, your lacquer, your poly, etc., all your finishing materials will thank you, too.
The rule I now apply to my finishing projects is quite simple. If I take 100 hours to build a project, I allocate at least another 50 hours to the finishing process. This time includes sanding the wood, in preparation for the required sealing shellac wash coats, for example; then carefully sanding each layer of finish until I feel nothing but a smooth surface on the entire piece. The process is the same whether I am finishing a lid for small jewelry box, the box itself, of a huge dust cover for a large furniture piece.
The biggest discovery I made in tackling the proper finishing of a project, was finding the proper sanding paper. But not just any sanding paper. I finally, reluctantly, bought some of 3M’s 216U Fre-Cut™ Gold, 600-grit sandpaper; and now I buy it in sleeves of 50 sheets, from Homestead Finishing Products (Owner: Jeff Jewitt, the famous finishing guru). This paper is my secret weapon in a successful finishing process:
As I mentioned, I buy the paper in 9″ X 11″ sheets, and then cut them to fit my sanding pads — each sheet gives me four pieces — I have never made a sandpaper cutting jig, as I find this method is quite simple:
I think that the edge of my 36-inch metal rule works great for cutting the paper to size. If you decide to do it this way, make sure the abrasive faces down, or your rule’s edge will be slowly worn away and you will no longer have a straight edge:
After I finish applying a layer of coating, and the coating has cured or dried properly, I use the 600-grit paper on the sanding block to lightly sand all surfaces; the 216U is a long-lasting paper, and resists clogging with finish better than anything else I have used in the past:
After sanding I then vacuum as much of the sanding dust as possible, and follow it with a thorough wipe-down using a moist paper towel or lint-free cloth:
This next step is crucial, and guaranteed to result in the smoothest finish on the project. Your fingers are extremely sensitive to imperfections on a surface; therefore, use them well, for they will reveal even the tiniest of bumps on the wood:
If needed, I will again sand the areas where “bumps” or imperfections still exist. By going through this entire process, I guarantee myself the best finished surface possible on my projects. If I can do it, I know YOU can, too! Take your time, and you will soon get wonderful results by sanding carefully, and patiently. And you will be happier with your projects.
Disclosure: I am a happy customer of Homestead Finishing. I have no interest in the company, other than their continued success.
— Al Navas