Are you feeling ready to get stuck into sanding? Whether you want to sand down an old piece of furniture or reshape a surface, it’s a good idea to consider the sanding basics. In our handy beginner’s guide to sanding, we’ll introduce you to the trade and the tools. Learn the basics of sanding and you’ll be in the workplace in no time.
Know the basics of sanding
What is sanding and why do we do it? Firstly, sanding can turn an average project into a great one. Wood straight from the mill can be rough, or contain dents and other marks. Wood sanding helps to smooth the wood’s surface. It can also emphasise the beauty of the wood’s natural grain. In addition to wood sanding, sanding tools can remove rust from metal and polish fibreglass. Finally, sanding prepares the surface for painting – it ensures paint (or varnish) goes on smooth and looks the best it can. Sanding is one of the most important steps in determining the end finish and quality of a project.
Choose the right sandpaper grit
“Grit” refers to the particles of Aluminum Oxide that make up the sandpaper. Larger, fewer particles with more space between them is coarse grit – #60 is a good example. The smaller and more packed together the particles, the finer the grit. Coarse sandpaper removes imperfections faster and with less effort than fine sandpaper – great if you want to shape or level. Fine grit (like #180 or #220) is used for the later stages of wood sanding – for smoothing and polishing. Begin with a coarse grit to level the wood, then buff scratches with finer grits until you reach the smoothness you want.
Know the best sanding tools for your project
The sanding tool you use depends on the sanding surface. For large surfaces, nothing beats a high-speed stationary sanding machine. Aside from these machines, you can use sandpaper alone, sandpaper with a sanding block, an orbital sander or a rotary tool such as the Dremel Multi-Tool. Hand sanding techiques are best when light sanding is required, or when the surface is quite soft. Many woodworkers favour orbital sanders for flat surfaces, and the Dremel Multi-Tool for detailed jobs and hard-to-reach areas. For example, decorative chair legs would be impossible to smooth with the flat surface of an orbital tool.
Pick your Dremel sanding accessories
Dremel sanding accessories in order of coarseness:
Sanding bands : best for flat surfaces and edges. Coarser grit removes more material. Great for roughly shaping wood.
Flap wheels : move with the material, making them suited for contoured surfaces.
Sanding discs : less coarse than bands and flap wheels. Suited to light shaping and removing chips.
Abrasive brushes : perfect for detailed jobs like grooves. Remove the surface layer without damaging what’s underneath.
Abrasive buffs : flexible accessories that take the shape of whatever you’re sanding or buffing. Great for hard-to-reach areas.
More? Compare sanding accessories .
Take safety precautions before you start sanding
Sanding produces dust. Wear a dust mask at all times, so you don’t inhale it. Sand in a well-ventilated area to further minimise harmful inhalation – especially when you’re sanding materials like fiberglass or metal. If you’re working with materials that release toxic particles during sanding, such as objects that have been painted, you’ll want to create a seal around your face. Direct vent goggles have a foam seal to keep particles out of your eyes. Read more about ventilation and protection in How to Avoid Failures While Sanding.
Clamp either the project or your tool before sanding
Sanding is all about preparation and finish, so it’s important that what you’re sanding isn’t going to move during the project. Non-slip pads are great for gripping flat pieces of wood during sanding. Or, simply use a clamp. For detailed projects, the Dremel Multi-Vise is perfect. It can hold the tool itself – meaning you can hold the object you’re sanding (say, a wooden toy) and gently touch it to the tool. It can also hold the object steady while you hold the tool with two hands in a golf grip to minimise bumps.
Keep your sanding surface clean
We’ve spoken a lot about how sanding works to prepare a surface for further steps like painting. But it’s important to do some prep before the prep. By this we mean: prepare the surface before turning on the sanding tool. Use a damp cloth to clean your surface, and make sure the surface is dry before you start sanding. What if you’re in the middle of sanding and want to change to a coarser grit? Use a vacuum cleaner. You can also use a brush, but with a vacuum cleaner you’ll remove all the dust and prevent it from flying around. If you’re working with wood, a vacuum cleaner will also prevent dust being pushed back into the grains of the wood.
Know when to stop sanding
When to stop sanding? That depends on the finish you’re after. If you’re going to finish wood with a light stain, you’ll want the surface to be as smooth as possible. Scratches from coarse grits will absorb more of the stain, making it darker in the scratched areas. This means you should finish with a very fine grit. This kind of finish requires a bit more patience, and several levels of coarseness. Check for scratches by shining a torch at an angle over the surface: the scratches will cast shadows. By contrast, if you’re going to use several layers of paint, you don’t need to sand it as finely.