Sandpaper 101

PSA:  Not all sandpaper is created equal. Today we are going to dive into the different types of sandpaper and abrasives, focusing on what to look for and when to use each kind!

Sandpaper/Abrasive Grits

When talking about sandpaper, woodworkers will mention a number – This refers to the level of grit.  More specifically, the grit indicates the number of particles that are in a square inch of the sandpaper.  The higher the number, the finer the grit.  So 60 grit sandpaper will be much rougher than 220 grit.  The highest we use are our sponge discs that are 5,000, but even higher levels are available.

The level of grit on the sandpaper you choose and how you choose to sand will make a difference on how a finish will take to the wood.  Experienced woodworkers will start with a lower grit and work their way up as part of a multi-step process to properly prep the piece.  For example, one could start with a 80-100 grit, go to 120-150.  If you were to finish it off with too low of a grit and then apply your stain, the wood could absorb more than expected making it harder to manipulate the finish to the desired level of intensity. On the flip side if you sand with too fine of a grit you will close the wood up too tight that it won’t absorb enough of the stain and could become blotchy. The type of wood you are staining will change the grit of sandpaper you use.  Keep in mind that a well used 120 grit sandpaper may act more like a 220 grit.

Prep Sanding

After stripping, it is essential to prep sand before applying your new finish!  Depending on your piece of furniture orbital sanding may make your task easier.  We recommend using 120 grit, and follow up by hand with 220. (also keep in mind the type of wood you are refinishing may change the grit of sandpaper you use)  If you are looking to purchase your first electric sander, Ryobi is Tara’s “go-to” brand for many reasons.  They must develop their products keeping women in mind, because they tend to be lighter weight and fit nicely in our smaller hands!  Ryobi is also more affordable and durable.

Finish Sanding

Finish sanding is also an essential part of your finish work. Scuffing between coats of paint to ensures two things:  First, the latter coat will adhere much better; Second, it is an opportunity to lessen or eliminate the appearance of minor blemishes, peaks or brushstrokes from your former coat so that you are keeping your layers as smooth as possible.  You will also want to do this between topcoat layers for the same reasons, even if you’re spraying as this will even out any off-spray. (Learn more about top coats here)  Aiming to achieve a finish as smooth as possible is just as important to the feel of the end result as the look.  For finish sanding, pads are best; Use fine grit for between paint coats and super-fine for between finish coats. We also love to use Mirka scuff pads or sanding discs between coats, which are long-lasting and a better alternative to using steel wool on a water-based finish.

Types of Sheet Sandpaper/Abrasive  (most commonly used for woodworking) 

  • Garnet – This red-hued gem used to make sheet sandpaper. This type of sandpaper is used for scuff and finish sanding. Garnet comes in a variety of grits depending on the manufacturer.  The abrasive on this sandpaper is easily fractured, continuously forming new cutting edges.  This is our personal favorite.  We buy the Norton brand, which is very durable – One piece can last me through most of our projects and then some.  Even after decent use of a square of 100 grit, it can perform as a second act like a 180 grit or as a heavy duty cleanup tool for things like putty (… because hey, we’re The UpCycle Girls after all!).  Norton is a little bit pricier than other sandpapers, but the durability makes it worth every penny.
  • Aluminum Oxide – Aluminum oxide is a very common abrasive for wood, and very easy to find.  But it doesn’t fracture off like garnet sandpaper, and tends to wear down a bit quicker with use.
  • Silicon Carbide Silicon Carbide is sharper and harder than some types of aluminum oxide. The particles on silicon carbide resemble broken glass. Because it is not a very tough and durable material it is not typically used for raw wood sanding but instead used for finish sanding. Some manufactured types have waterproof backing for wet or oil sanding.

UG Tip!  Folding Sandpaper 

If you are new to our blog, you might not know that Tara’s dad Pete has been refinishing furniture for a LOOONG time!  As Tara tells it:  “One thing he still tells me is ‘Make sure you fold the sandpaper right!’  This is a special little secret of ours, that we have decided to share with you.  Believe it or not, you can get 8 usable sanding surfaces out of a single sheet of sandpaper!

Simply fold the sheet into quarters to create seams, and rip into four equal pieces.  Take each piece and fold them all in half till you have a total of eight pieces.  Trifold each piece with the grit facing out.  This results in an ergonomic piece of sandpaper that will easily fit in your hand with good grip.  Additionally, folding the sandpaper this way prevents it from slipping around on itself.  And bonus:  Each folded edge has sandpaper wrapped around for getting into crevices!

That’s it for today.  Thanks for stopping by!  We want to know:  What type of sandpaper do you use? Did you learn anything new from this post?

Happy Sanding,

Tara and Becca

Tune in next week and see what we do to a buffet!

* This blog contains affiliate links. Affiliate link purchases do not effect your shopping experience or price. However they will kick back small amounts back to me for sharing this information on my blog. We only recommend products that we believe in and use ourselves.

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