Sanding #3: Don't sweat the small stuff

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Blog entry by schwingding posted 01-08-2008 02:58 PM 7388 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Sanding round (lathe) work Part 3 of Sanding series no next part

As I’ve discussed in the previous two entries to this blog series, finishing is an important part of the “craftsmanship ” that goes into your work. We’ve talked about sanding flat stuff, round stuff, and now we’ll talk about sanding the small, detailed stuff. We will make a distinction between small items like a spoon and detailed items like a face carving, as they require different methods. I’ll also show you the actual products that I like to use in each situation. I think this blog entry might take some time and may need to be done in parts.

In general, small work does not require the same perfect, unblemished sanding/preparation that flat work does, as the eye can only focus on a few planes at a time, whereas a large surface can be examined for differences in the finish with only a glance. That does not mean you shouldn’t shoot for perfection, however.

First lets talk about sanding small stuff, rather than incredibly detailed work. If it is flat, you can probably get by with your tried and true sanding methods, except in small corners and overhangs, or for example in a box – sanding that bottom inside corner can be problematic. You can alleviate much of the problems here by thinking about how you’re going to sand a piece before you put it together. Where you think there may be a challenge, sand the work before you attach or assemble it. This saves a lot of time later on, as well as frustration. When assembling such pieces that have been pre-sanded, put some blue painter’s tape just outside the glue line to keep the glue from getting on the work, as glue causes problems with finish penetration and adhesion. Other difficult to sand things on flat work might include moldings, their odd profiles can be difficult to sand without removing the detail. There are contoured sanding pads available for these, but I don’t find them to be worth the trouble. The tool catalogs are full of them…in my opinion you won’t see them in tool catalogs who’s owners actually are woodworkers. Check with LeeValley – no sanding gimmicks. However, look at Woodcraft – they carry all of the money pits..

If you really want to sand your profile perfectly, take a scrap piece of your molding, wrap it in plastic or wax paper, and apply a heathly dollop of expanding insulation foam to it. As it expands mold it into a shape that you can hold on one side and allow the other to form itself to the shape of the molding profile. When it has hardened, attach some sandpaper to that profile, you’ll have an exact match contour sander. A drill press mounted sanding mop (also from Klingspor's ) can be used extremely effectively on moldings, before they’re attached. These mops are expensive but WELL worth the money in time savings and quality improvements. I have several and use them constantly.

“straight line disease”. That is what I call the sanding marks you see in corners, against molding profiles and anywhere you can’t get a power sander that has been hand sanded. Look into the insider corner of a drawer or a box or up against a molding – you will see sanding scratches that are perfectly parallel to the long plane of the nearby junction. These are caused by sanding in the same exact plane and direction against a corner or joint. They represent inferior work and are fortunately not difficult to avoid by sanding in small circles with a sanding aid. If the area is too narrow to get your fingers in, use a pencil with the eraser side on the sandpaper. Or if you have a rotary tool, use a rotary tool, or the Fein multimaster will also do a good job there. All said, these things are the best tool I have ever discovered for sanding difficult items… . they are mini sanding mops from Klingspor's woodworking shop. There is nothing these things can’t do, and they leave absolutely no sanding scratches.

If however, your work is an item like the spoon here, you will need different tools, and have to wait till my next blog entry as this one is getting too long.

-- Just another woodworker

10 comments so far

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 4400 days

#1 posted 01-08-2008 03:12 PM


Thanks a lot for the follow up on your sanding series. It really helps the rest of us to get good on the last mile. One of the first things people tell me about a piece is: “I really like how smooth it is and how nice it feels”.


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4673 days

#2 posted 01-08-2008 03:26 PM

a wonderful blog series!
very informative

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4387 days

#3 posted 01-11-2008 06:37 AM

Great info! Keep it coming. Thanks so much for taking the time.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Karson's profile


35202 posts in 4913 days

#4 posted 01-11-2008 06:53 AM

Great series. Sanding Huh. I never thought much about it. NOT.

I guess you can do too much. But definitely not enough.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4501 days

#5 posted 01-11-2008 06:59 AM

A lot of good thoughts there. Thanks!

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 4400 days

#6 posted 01-14-2008 05:46 PM


I bought the Klingspor mop you mention in the blog (80 grit) and I noticed something interesting. I t works very well on uniformly dense woods but tends to form ridges on not uniformly dense like oak and especially pine. On pine is basically sands between the dark rings.

Another thing I noticed is that you cannot do any shape correction at all with it (a feature I guess since you want to keep the profile shape intact). It seems that the newwave disks and these mops complement each other nicely.

Did you notice the first behavior yourself or I’m doing something wrong?


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4387 days

#7 posted 01-14-2008 07:05 PM

A lot of good information. Thanks.

View schwingding's profile


133 posts in 4338 days

#8 posted 01-24-2008 02:45 PM

Alin, thanks for trusting me enough to buy my recommendations. I have not noticed that behavior but it is likely because I don’t work in those types of woods. Most of my work is in very dense, slow growth exotics. I can understand how it might sand oak and softer woods in the manner you describe. Also, I don’t have the 80 grit mop so my sanding is probably not as aggressive with the mop as yours may be. I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. I hope you can get some use out of it – if not, I’ll buy it from you. Let me know.

-- Just another woodworker

View bennie's profile


3 posts in 3733 days

#9 posted 08-01-2009 10:40 AM

Alin, when using the Klingspor mop on soft woods you need to use a higher number of grit which will be less agressive and give you the results you’re after.

Bennie, Israel

View a1Jim's profile


117722 posts in 4089 days

#10 posted 08-02-2009 12:04 AM

A lot of good info

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