sanding /prepping figured woods

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by tcarswell posted 11-20-2017 03:08 AM 2190 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View tcarswell's profile


81 posts in 2460 days

11-20-2017 03:08 AM

I’ve been doing a lot of smaller projects boxes /cabinet on stands etc. I work most of the time with domestic highly figured woods birdseye maple cirly maple /cherry /walnut. I have studied alot on finishing and trace coating etc. But I don’t hear a lot about the prep work . I tend to sand everything to 400 as I’ve noticed visible scratch patterns on wood sanded to 220 in the past (maybe I’m picky or overly cautious ) well I’ve seen lots of info about sanding figured woods to lower grit like 150 to 180. Is it beneficial to do that ? For that matter I can noticeably see the scratches at 150 grit I can’t imagine finishing at that point. Am I being overly picky or is something wrong with my sanding regimen ? I spend plenty of time going through the grits and I don’t skip any grits.
Thanks for any and all help folks

-- Nothing worth doing is easy ! (or simple)

16 replies so far

View sras's profile


6255 posts in 4290 days

#1 posted 11-20-2017 03:29 AM

I do the same as you. Others may have better info but for me, I like how the wood looks and feels with the higher grits.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Lazyman's profile


7434 posts in 2549 days

#2 posted 11-20-2017 03:52 AM

I haven’t done much with figured wood myself but I’ve read the same as you that sanding to the finer grits doesn’t help and might actual hurt the final finish. They said that instead of going to finer grits to us a well sharpened cabinet scraper for the finest finish on figured wood. I’ve seen this myself on a walnut piece I did a few years ago. It wasn’t figured but the finish left by the scraper was amazing.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View pottz's profile


18781 posts in 2145 days

#3 posted 11-20-2017 04:13 AM

well I think sanding to 150 or 180 is not enough to achieve a good finish,my rule of thumb is at least 220 what you think is right!

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View JenniferMichaels's profile


6 posts in 1349 days

#4 posted 11-20-2017 05:22 AM

I have not actually worked on this, but i think Tcarswell, the method you are using is good one and it will work.

View tomsteve's profile


1175 posts in 2380 days

#5 posted 11-20-2017 01:26 PM

the best way to find out is do some samples.

View OnhillWW's profile


305 posts in 2393 days

#6 posted 11-20-2017 01:34 PM

I go to 400 or more with these types of woods. Doing so also helps to get the finish o be absorbed more evenly as with end grain. Other considerations:

Not all papers are created equal. Use quality paper – e.g. Klingspor, Festool, Mirka etc. They sort the abrasives to be very uniform and this will give a very even finish, also the granules stay attached to the paper rather than rolling around on your work.

Use a quality ROS sander, one with small orbits, quality tools will spell out the orbit in their spec sheet.

Always use good dust extraction from the beginning, i.e. 100 grit on down. Once material has been cut get it out of the way especially with harder woods but true for all. Even with good extraction when using grits in excess of 300 I clean the pad often with a rubber pad cleaner.

And technique plays a role as well. How hard to press, how to move the sander around the piece etc. Generally I focus on trying to get the pad to sit evenly on the work and applying little more weight than the sander itself. Keep it in motion never sitting still. Others may disagree but I start and stop the sander off the work surface, i.e. start it, move onto surface and sand, remove from surface and then turn the sander off.

-- Cheap is expensive! - my Dad

View OSU55's profile


2801 posts in 3151 days

#7 posted 11-20-2017 01:40 PM

Dont think you are doing anything wrong. The final grit to prep with depends on the wood, the grain, and the finish schedule. Sandind with the grain on straight grain wood 180-220 is fine, but figured wood will show scratches. Pigmented stain will show any little flaw, dye wont. A film finish will fill in small scratches that wont show. As others said, test samples are the way to find out. Dedicate some shop time, lay out out a test plan, and try different things.

View bondogaposis's profile


6000 posts in 3512 days

#8 posted 11-20-2017 02:31 PM

A lot depends on the wood. For instance open grain woods like oak, I sand to 180 grit and that is it. For finer grained woods like maple I go to 220 grit, but that is for ordinary grained wood. Also how you sand makes a difference. I always use a ROS that is hooked up to a shop vac. I believe that pulling the dust off as you go really helps with a better finish. Finally I will hand sand a few strokes with the final grit just to remove any swirl marks. If you see scratch marks then I wouldn’t hesitate to go finer. Have you ever noticed how wood turners will typically sand to 600 grit or finer? That is because they sand at right angles to the grain, and you have to go that fine in order for the scratches to disappear. With highly figured woods grain direction is all over the place making it nearly impossible to sand with the grain, so I think that sanding with finer grit is called for. Especially since smaller projects like boxes invite more scrutiny.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Aj2's profile


3948 posts in 2959 days

#9 posted 11-20-2017 03:04 PM

I don’t sand at all it’s been years since I bought sand paper. I will use a card scraper if I cannot handplane

-- Aj

View tcarswell's profile


81 posts in 2460 days

#10 posted 11-21-2017 03:06 AM

Thanks for all your input. I use a mirka deros 5 mm orbit and a festool 2mm orbit and hand sanding at 400 to wrap up. I really could be way better with my planed and my scrapers. I have plenty of expensive ones I really should get to be better with. I watch doucette and wolfe videos and they don’t seem to ever use sandpaper and work almost exclusively with top top grade figured wood.

-- Nothing worth doing is easy ! (or simple)

View OSU55's profile


2801 posts in 3151 days

#11 posted 11-21-2017 12:40 PM

I didnt mention planing or scraping since you were talking sanding, but if you have the tools that is the way to go. I plane or scrape everything I can. Dont use card scrapers much – rough on the hands. Cabinet scrapers (#80) or scaper planes are excellent tools. I do a light hand sanding with 320 to find any tool marks.

View Robert's profile


4641 posts in 2642 days

#12 posted 11-21-2017 03:16 PM

I’ve heard fine grits can interfere with oil penetration. Finer grits best done after staining, oiling, etc, right?

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View OSU55's profile


2801 posts in 3151 days

#13 posted 11-22-2017 01:22 PM

I ve heard fine grits can interfere with oil penetration. Finer grits best done after staining, oiling, etc, right?

- rwe2156

Ive sanded up to 800 on the lathe and never found it to be a problem.

View Lazyman's profile


7434 posts in 2549 days

#14 posted 11-22-2017 01:49 PM

I have read that finishing with a scraper can create such a smooth surface that it can actually repeal stains and oil. In fact, I think that they said that because sandpaper was once pretty expensive it was mostly used to scuff the surface after scraping to help it accept an oil finish.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View bbrown's profile


392 posts in 4713 days

#15 posted 11-22-2017 02:28 PM

I use a lot of figured wood: maple, cherry, walnut.
I sand surfaces to 150 and endgrain to 220.
The whole point of using figured wood is to maximize the figure and get it to really show, or pop with the finish.
For me, this is best achieved by avoiding anything finer than 220 grit.

-- Traditional Woodworking & Carving classes at my shop in Coastal Maine:

showing 1 through 15 of 16 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics