A Strategy for Woodworking #38: Sanding is Evil

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Blog entry by Gary Rogowski posted 12-15-2014 03:55 PM 2628 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 37: The Right Saw for the Job Part 38 of A Strategy for Woodworking series Part 39: Too Many Fumes »

By conservative estimate, over my 40 years of woodworking I have sanded several hundred miles of wood. My sanding odometer broke one day and I never fixed it so this is just a guess. I figure that I sanded enough wood for a line that went off as far as the eye could see into the desert and then beyond that. I sanded all that wood to within an inch of its life and then just a wee bit more. To be certain.

I sanded the tops of tops and the bottom of tops. I sanded the insides of drawers and the insides of cabinets. Heck I sanded the back ends of drawer sides, corner blocks, and the undersides of feet placed on the floor. I sanded flutes and coves and shapes and flats and I sanded them so that they were perfect.

Why? Because that is what is required when you sand. Because sanding is the first step down the slippery slope to perfection. Because once you start sanding, you see more imperfections, more glaring slips of your hand, more infinitesimal tear-out, more scratches. Oh, look, there’s a little scratch, get that out. Oh feel that, it’s not as nice as this here, smooth that out. Oh get that first coat of oil on and watch the sanding swirls blossom like trout at feeding time on a fish farm. I have to sand those out now.

Hours go by.

Satisfaction wanes, as these hours go by.

In the very beginning, some time close to the Rock Age, I sanded everything with a palm sander. This gave me a greater ability to put in sanding swirl marks so that I could sand longer. I used up miles of garnet sand paper eating up those wood surfaces with my Rockwell palm sander. A few hours of that type of sanding and it left me with my edges more rounded than my work. That sander’s bearings liked to hum a little.

But sometime just before the time my prostate started to enlarge, I realized that time was not my friend. That sanding was not my friend. That sanding wasted my time and that my time and my prostate were valuable. So I quit it. I quit sanding. It saved my prostate. Oh no, that’s an exaggeration of course. But it did save me some time.

I quit sanding to pick up my hand planes and scrapers. I put down my sandpaper to let a sharp iron do the work. And if, or rather when, as I am still humbled by my work, when an error occurs, when some tear-out breaks the surface of my pristine cabinet, when I plane the sides of my drawers and that quarter sawn sycamore acts petulant, when I smooth the inside of a cabinet or box wall and it is not perfect I say to myself: that’s a good thing. There’s the hand of the maker right on the surface of the wood. No more of this perfect for me. If a scratch bothers me, I have a scraper or sharp plane to remove it. I sand still, of course. 400 grit. Done.

The Northwest Woodworking Studio

-- Gary Rogowski...follow my podcast at and twitter @garyrogowski

6 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117746 posts in 4117 days

#1 posted 12-15-2014 04:00 PM

Funny stuff,people don’t always think of the alternatives to sanding.

View Andre's profile


2831 posts in 2345 days

#2 posted 12-15-2014 05:21 PM

That is what I liked about Inside Passage, sand paper was there to repair tools, as flatten plane bottoms, and to polish the brass hinges!

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View DocSavage45's profile


8872 posts in 3382 days

#3 posted 12-15-2014 06:03 PM

And you didn’t even talk about your lungs! LOL! Time and our genes are not on our side? I have come to s similar recognition and I am trying to get decent edges on my hand planes, chisels, etc.

Your blog is right on!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View handsawgeek's profile


663 posts in 1935 days

#4 posted 12-16-2014 02:38 PM

This post is right on. Since embracing hand tool techniques, I have completely discontinued use of my arsenal of (cough, cough) power sanders, as well as making very limited use of hand sanding blocks. For me, it’s planes, scrapers, rasps, and files. And as you so nicely pointed out, it is good to leave some tool marks… an unmistakable sign of hand craftsmanship.

-- Ed

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18707 posts in 4215 days

#5 posted 12-18-2014 11:10 PM

interesting perspective. For a minute I was wondering if your prostate filled with sanding dust ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Roger's profile


21013 posts in 3343 days

#6 posted 12-19-2014 01:25 PM

Ha w/Topamax. I was wondering where that was leading also.. lol Gr8 wisdom from a 40 yearer…...

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

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