There is one thing that all DIY-ers are putting off as much as they can while working on their projects. The dreadful sanding :) But if you want to receive great results you can’t really skip this step.
So here I’d like to give you some useful wood sanding tips. You can apply them when working with pallet projects or any other DIY/wood creations. Don’t worry. It’s not as difficult as it seems. You just need to know what to use and how to use it.
Few Words About Sanding
In 9 out of 10 cases, you’ll be working with used pallets for your projects. So they are going to be made of rough wooden planks often with dents and splinters sticking out ready to “attack” you :)
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To prepare them for your projects you’ll need to sand them at some point. Sanding makes them smooth to touch, but the main reason behind it is to make them ready for the finishing touches i.a. paint, varnish or wood stain.
My first attempt at sanding was a few years back when I needed to refresh the wooden kitchen worktops in my old flat. That was a good lesson and gave me a rough idea of the whole process. I will try to walk you through it painlessly starting with the tools and materials needed and then moving on to the process itself.
The Sanding Tools
In the beginning, you have to choose the method you’re going to use. Being that sanding manually or using power tools. If you go for the first method you can use a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a wooden block, sanding block, sanding sponge or sandpaper by itself just using your hand.
This method is good if you have a small job to do, or for finishing touches. For bigger surfaces, you’d want to use electric sanders. It makes the job easier and quicker. There are several types of sanders, but the main which are good for any type of DIY projects are:
Have a look at this video explaining different types of sanders you can use for your projects.
What is the best sander for sanding pallets?
The answer is not simple or actually, it’s very simple. There isn’t one. Don’t get me wrong. Woodworkers, hobbyists, and DIY-ers have their own favorite brands and will swear by them.
The problem lies elsewhere. The best, perfect sander for pallets doesn’t exist because you’ll always need more than one type.
It’s as simple as that. Different tasks require different sanders. Removing material/shaping, smoothing and sanding between coats of stain requires a different tool.
I’ve recently written a blog post on best sanders for pallets talking about the best options among belt, random orbital, and finishing sanders. I’m sure you’ll be able to find some useful information there to help you find the right tool for you. However, if you need more options, have a look at the articles I mention below.
Tips for Sanding Upcycled furniture
When it comes to sanding furniture the method/tool that you use depends on the project. Some people say that you shouldn’t use a sander and only sand by hand. Mostly because a sander could be too aggressive. But since we don’t deal here with a strict refinishing but mostly upcycling old furniture I’d say that you should use what you’re comfortable with.
So if you want to use a sander that’s perfectly fine. Just remember the few general rules that you’ll find in the summary and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Any detailing or finishing sander should be good to use but since you’d want to get into tight spaces sometimes it shouldn’t be too big.
If you go with hand sanding I’ve got a few tips for you.
- Use a padded sanding block and foam padded sponge for curved surfaces/edges and crevices
- Sand along the grain with long light strokes and not too much pressure
- Change paper often to avoid sanding with a dull paper and scratch the surface
If you want to know more about refinishing furniture, here is an interesting article you can check out. To find out which sanders I recommend for sanding furniture, check this best sander for furniture refinishing post.
If you haven’t got a big budget and you have to choose between different types of sanders.
Of course, if you’re a beginner and don’t have a big budget you’ll have to compromise. But with today’s market, you can always find a decent tool at a bargain price. It might not last you for years but it’ll suffice and will help you understand how these tools work.
Belt sanders are more powerful and will remove material faster but also are more difficult to control.
Orbital sanders are mainly for finishing, but a quality tool like Makita BO3710 with coarse grit paper (P40-P60) would do the job, in my opinion.
You’ve picked your sanding method now you have to choose your sanding paper. Whether you use an electric sander or sanding by hand you need to choose the type and grit of the sandpaper. But before we go into more detail here is a historical fact…
The first use of sandpaper recorded was in 13th century China when crushed shells, seeds, and sand were bonded to parchment using natural gum. The sandpaper was originally known as a glass paper, as it was covered in glass particles, not sand.
Types of Sandpaper
There are many types of sandpaper, with variation in the backing paper, the material used for the grits, a grit size, and the bond.
The most common materials used for working with wood are garnet and aluminum oxide.
If you’re using an electric sander the shape of the sanding paper sheets depends on the kind of sander used.
Sandpaper is graded on the number of abrasive material per square inch. A higher number means finer grit, lower number coarser grit. It usually goes like this:
- P12 – P 36 – extra coarse usually used for hardwood flooring initial sanding, very fast removal of material
- P40 – P 50 – coarse
- P60 – P80 – medium i.e. for gentle removing of varnish
- P100 – P 120 – fine, used for cleaning plaster and water stains from wood
- P150 – P220 very fine sanding of bare wood
The grit that you choose to start with really depends on what final effect you want to achieve, what kind of planks you have and what kind of finish material you want to use e.g. varnish, paint, beeswax or teak oil.
Coarser grits will remove material faster so you can get rid of any blemishes (i.e. deep scratches, nicks, and dents). Then you move to finer grits to smooth out the scratches made by previous (coarse) ones. My advice is to try not to skip a grit if you want a really swirl-free smooth finish but for pallet projects, it might not be necessary.
You ask why? Well, pallet projects are specific in nature and in 90% of cases are meant to look upcycled, rustic and aged so extremely smooth finish it’s not needed.
You just have to try for yourself. Use different varnishes, stains, and finishes.
For my DIY Pallet Sandbox, I used a water-based, waterproof outdoor wood stain. I was going to do 3 grit sanding starting with P60 then moving to P120 and finally to P180 but decided that 2 grits with the wood stain layer in between are going to be enough. The final finish was acceptable, nice and smooth to touch.
A different story was when I was doing my kitchen worktops. For the finish, I used a teak oil that leaves virtually no film at all. To make it really smooth, I did 3 or 4 sandpaper grits and because I didn’t need to remove a lot of material I started with P-120 or P-150 with the final one P200-P220 and layers of teak oil in between.
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A Quick Guide to Sandpaper for Woodworking
- Always sand with the grain of the wood when using a belt sander. Don’t worry about that if using random orbital except with when finishing off.
- Choose the sandpaper grits based on:
- Type of wooden planks (used, rough or new)
- The final effect and type of finish i.e. varnish, paint, stain
Oil finishes leave virtually no film and what you end up feeling is the wood, but you can’t use them for outdoor projects. With film finish like varnish, the finish needs to be smooth not the wood.
- Use 2 or 3 or more grits to achieve desired smoothness i.e. start with coarse P-40, P-60 then medium P-80, P-120 and finally fine P-100, P-120 or higher like P-150, P-180
- I always sand between coats. That way the finish has got more depth to it so I highly recommend it
- Remember to always wipe off the wood dust with a damp cloth after sanding and before moving to stain or varnish.
- Don’t forget about the mask, goggles, gloves, and noise-canceling headphones
One more thing. Some people like to disassemble the whole pallet, sand, varnish or paint it and put it back together or build a project with prepared planks. You can do it if you wish to or prepare the whole pallet. It’s really up to you and the kind of design you have in mind.
I hope I’ve shed some light on wood sanding. If you have any other advice you’re more than welcome to leave a comment I’ll be more than happy to learn more wood sanding tips.
If you liked this article don’t forget to pin it to your woodworking/upcycling tips board to have it handy!