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Blog entry by a1Jim posted 12-01-2014 01:29 AM 7262 reads 1 time favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch


An important point has to be made before any thoughts of sanding can be approached. That point is the dangers of sawdust and the importance of dust collection. Sawdust can be harmful to anyone that encounters it while sanding. Some people have extreme allergic responses to sawdust, either through inhaling sawdust or contact with their skin. This is important to keep in mind if you start having a reaction while woodworking.


A big issue when dealing with sawdust is to attempt to collect the sawdust at its source with a dust collector (aka a dust extractors) Dust collectors vary in the ability to collect sawdust and its finest particles, so make sure you research how fine of particles your dust collection collects. These fine particles are the most harmful to your respiratory system. Some of these dust collectors have an auto-on set up to turn your dust collector when you turn your sander on.

You may also want to protect yourself with the use of a respirator or dust mask. Mask and respirators come in a wide range of protection, anywhere from a paper mask to hood/mask combos with their own motors to filter air.


Sanding really falls in two categories and some folks would say it should include a third category, shaping wood.


One category of sanding is construction sanding. This is sanding to create or refine a shape or even trim wood and this type of sanding usually uses more aggressive grits of sand paper (36-80grit) and equipment such as belt sanders, edge sanders, oscillating spindle sanders, drum sanders, disc sanders, stroke sanders, hand-held grinders and more.

The first aggressive construction sanding tool most people start with is a belt sander,aka as project killers.
The reason they are so problematic to the inexperienced user of belt sanders is that they are so aggressive.
Let’s look at belt sanders,they come in a number of sizes and brands,what’s best for you will differ according what kind of projects you make, your physical stature and budget. Belt sanders are meant to take off a lot of material quickly so therefore the bigger the better as far as achieving that purpose,the largest hand held belt sanders readily available are 4” x 24” they are heavy and powerful and cover a large are for flattening projects like table tops and slabs. The downside is because of their weight and power they are hard for some people to control.

The next size belt sander is 3”x21 probably the most common size sander in hobbyist and pro woodshops,depending on brand the are lighter and easier to control than the 4 “x24” and therefore, take more time to do bigger jobs like table tops .

The next size belt sander is 3”x18” it is even lighter and less powerful and may take much more time to cut through bigger jobs but much easier to control than it’s bigger cousins, helpful for those with smaller hands that need less weight.

There are also small belt sanders for small projects or specialised use that may not be much more use than a random orbital sander but some people find useful because of their small size and light weight.

There are also belt sanders for tight spaces

Belt sanders come in many price ranges ,I have found that many of the lower price belt sanders may be fine for occasional use but are not tools that stand the test of time for a woodworker that will use them on a more regular basis. In general belt sanders are great tools, they can make construction sanding much easier but can also destroy a project in short order if not used properly. Here’s a link to help you to understand good techniques while using belt sanders.


The second type of sanding is finish sanding, exclusively used to get ready to apply a finish. This type of sanding can be done by hand or by the use of machines. Some of the machines are the same machinery used for construction sanding, such as, drum sanders and perhaps stroke sanders. Still these larger machines are mostly used for the beginning of finish sanding on lower more aggressive sand paper in the 60-80 grit range.


When using sanders either for construction sanding or finish sanding it’s best to let the sanders to the work ,there’s no need to put lots of downward pressure on your sanders or sanding at extreme angles to try and get a defects out of the wood,this type of approach can create move defects than it cures. when using aggressive sanders like belt sanders it’s very important to keep the sander moving so your not digging dips into your’s much better to move to fast rather than too slow over your woods surface. Belt sanders have a reputation as project killers, so use them with great care.
I sand in a pattern(with the grain of the wood) going from left to right over lapping the last section I sanded by about 50%.


More typically small shops and hobbyist use pad sanders and random orbital sanders to sand their projects.
I find many of my students start with pad sanders, aka 1/4 sheet sanders. Pad sanders have square bases and mostly operate on a vibration motion . Usually, after someone has used a random orbital sander (ROS) they seldom use their pad sanders because ROS’s take so much less effort to get through the sanding process . ROS sanders come in a variety of shapes sizes and prices. These type sanders also come in air-driven varieties, but they require a large compressor to supply enough volume air to run these sanders


How the sand paper is connected to ROS sander varies. some use PSA (a self adhesive) sandpaper or hook and loop (velcro). Hook and loop types are much easier to change grits of sand paper than PSA types. In general I believe most folks are in favor of hook and loop style that use ROS”s.


There are any number of brands of hook and loop sandpapers for ROS and I’m sure there are many good brands. In my experience I have had good luck with Mirka brand sanding disc and a brand of sand paper called Abranet that has proven to last longer than others, but the Abranet type disc does cost more . I have not had good luck with box store ROS sanding disc,I have found that they do not cut as well nor does their hook and loop back adhere to the sanders as well, Also some of the box stores disc wear out much quicker that the better brands. If your budget will allow I would suggest buying disc in larger quantities (50-100 box) for a substantial savings in cost over the 5-10 disc packages that are sold.


Because many people try to minimize the amount of time they sand, they try skipping between grits. From my experience this does not produce a good finish or speed the process up. You are much better off starting at grits as low as 60 grit and spending most of your time getting defects out with the lower grits and then working your way through the grits, usually spending less time with each of the finer grits. The process starts with 60-80 then through the rest of the grits, 60,80,100,120,150,180. This is where I stop because sanding finer than that is not necessary and the finer the grit the more you block stains and some finishes. Sometimes sanding finer is a benefit. As an example, end grain should be sanded to 600 or finer to help minimize the amount of penetration of finish so that your end grain does not appear darker, because end grain absorbs more finish .


There are many other specialized sanders and sanding tools to reach in confined spaces. Some of these are profile sanders, sanding sticks, sanding blocks, sanding sponges, sanding flap disc, quick changing sanding disc, sanding drums (for use in a drill or drill press) sanding cord and shop made aids like psa sandpaper wraped around sticks or even fingernail sanding boards and much, much more.


To go a step further, there are techniques and tools that are used instead of sanding. As and example, a well-sharpened plane or card scraper can produce a ready to finish surface. These types of tools for smoothing wood has been in use in Japan for centuries .


28 comments so far

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4227 days

#1 posted 12-01-2014 01:38 AM

very nice post on sanding, thank you jim, a lot of very good information here.

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Handtooler's profile


1628 posts in 3055 days

#2 posted 12-01-2014 01:48 AM

Excellent article! Fully covers hazards and types of machinery and the abrasives associated with sanding! I’ve learned from this if nothing else to use couser grits than 120 to remove defect and start the process and Why go to 220 or 320 for face grain. I’ve certainly errored and wasted lots of time and effort in the past. Also I MUST be more mindful of my collection methods. Many Thanks for this info.

-- Russell Pitner Hixson, TN 37343 [email protected]

View a1Jim's profile


118145 posts in 4500 days

#3 posted 12-01-2014 01:53 AM

Thanks Bob and Russ .glad it was of interest to you.


View Duckster's profile


439 posts in 2274 days

#4 posted 12-01-2014 02:11 AM

Sawdust is one of the most uncontrolled things today in the shop area. I spent years using the last hour of the work day, cleaning my work areas with brooms, dust pans and air blowers.
Another thing that I incurred like many other of you is that all that dust was still very much in the areas where I was needing to apply finishes..
At first I used a shop vac hooked up to the piece of equipment I was using. It helped quite a bit but I wouldn’t always move the vac with me. Laziness plus old age, I finally bought a complete dust collection system which is hooked up with each piece of equipment with 4” hose.
Now all I do when I’m done in the evening is turn out the lights.
As for sanding, I choose to sand down to at least 400 grit on all my work..
Unlike Jim, which uses stains quite often, I do not. I try to finish almost all my wood to their natural colors. I also prefer lacquer as a finish and I have found that the high grit sanding, I get a smoother, higher gloss finish.

-- Duckster, Texas. {Any day of fishing, Beats a good day at work.} Wash your feet and love Jesus

View whitebeast88's profile


4128 posts in 3114 days

#5 posted 12-01-2014 02:25 AM

thanks for the info,i enjoyed reading and appreciate the help on sanding.never thought about going to 600 on end grain.thanks for the tip.

-- Marty.Athens,AL

View Jerry's profile


3488 posts in 2571 days

#6 posted 12-01-2014 02:39 AM

Jim again, such a great and informative post. Your experience shines through. Thanks!

-- There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be.

View NormG's profile


6508 posts in 3927 days

#7 posted 12-01-2014 03:32 AM

Excellent information, currently use a shop vac to handle dust collection, I know I need a better system and I plan on getting one when I build bigger shop

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View a1Jim's profile


118145 posts in 4500 days

#8 posted 12-01-2014 03:44 AM

Thanks for taking a look Guys.
Duck I know some folks like to sand to higher grits,if it works for you great.


View Tomoose's profile


422 posts in 4297 days

#9 posted 12-01-2014 04:27 AM

Thanks, Jim! Very informative article. Thanks for posting it. You are always providing us all with great comments and insights and I truly appeciate you.


-- “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2930 days

#10 posted 12-01-2014 02:06 PM

A “primer” course for some, and a “brush up” course for others. Good read Jim. (And yes, I read it ALL the way thru :-)

Thanks for sharing

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View a1Jim's profile


118145 posts in 4500 days

#11 posted 12-01-2014 04:30 PM

Thanks Tom for your kind words

Joe thanks for your comments, I know this post was not anything new for folks that have been doing woodworking for a while, but I thought it might help folks that don’t have all that much experience or folks that have missed some details about sanding in the past.


View handsawgeek's profile


663 posts in 2319 days

#12 posted 12-01-2014 04:56 PM

Excellent treatment of the subject of sanding dust.

This is one of the main reasons I do everything with hand tools.

Besides planing and scraping for smooth surfaces, I make good use of rasps and files, which are also capable of replacing a number of of functions normally accomplished with sanding. Fine-cut files can produce finish-worthy surfaces as well.

Good post.

-- Ed

View a1Jim's profile


118145 posts in 4500 days

#13 posted 12-01-2014 05:03 PM

Good point Ed, I agree a good amount of construction sanding can be done with rasps ‘files and perhaps scorps and spokeshaves.


View DocSavage45's profile


9023 posts in 3766 days

#14 posted 12-01-2014 06:06 PM


Good read, covered it pretty much. Even had my Harbor Freight orbital. ( gave it to my brother after 10 years, going strong) LOL!

Migh add grades, types and quality of sand paper? Would have helped me out when I was trying to figure it all out. :)

Good read!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View a1Jim's profile


118145 posts in 4500 days

#15 posted 12-01-2014 06:15 PM

Thanks for the suggestion Tom, good Idea. Abranet is one of the better ones I’ve used.


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