Sand-Lot 2: The Question

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Blog entry by WhiskeyWaters posted 01-10-2011 07:42 AM 1277 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A reprint from

Returned to school last week with so much to do and catch up on (I did make it to Boston and missed a long day full of meetings and schedule-making). I had several gorgeous “woodworking-as-the-way” moments, only one of which I’ll share. One of my neurologically different students asked to meet the teacher he was making a clock-face for. A huge step for a young man that struggles to hold simple conversations for longer than 5 minutes and finds connecting to others very, very stressful. Anyways, finished the construction/assembly of these two benches this week:

These are made from recycled lumber, including a black-painted, red oak-esque, plastic deck material (I think!). Over winter break I created a pattern for the legs (two 2×6′s stacked next to each other) involving a scoop at the bottom and a notch for the apron piece of 1x you can barely see.

Teacher-to-Teacher question: How important is sanding in this building process? Sanding is an interesting step in woodworking. Often necessary, fraught with peril, boring as a smooth-actioned brace. I find my students lose interest in the zen-like back-and-forth of hand sanding, I burn-out a child’s ears with the power tools and I create pack-a-day-smokers out of eleven year-olds with the dust. Of course, all this can be mitigated with strong safety practices (which we use) and waiting for a good windy day.

But is all that worth it? Will the student learn a skill, a philosophical lesson, a metaphor, a connection with the world by engaging in the act of sanding?

I try to engage in as little sanding as possible, to be honest. I have access to several working hand planes. We use those to prep stock for finishing (most stuff then needs a quick rub-down at like 220 or 320 grit for me to consider it ready to be finished). I find the process quicker, more interactive (whole body movement rather than fingers or hands) and finally, safer and cleaner on dust. I have yet to see a student truly gain an appreciation for beauty, or practice their relationship skills or do anything other than make dust while sanding. So I try to avoid it as much as possible.

But sometimes the project demands a touch of the sandpaper, like these benches. Then I ask myself: should I do the benches (20-40 min of my weekend) or should the students sand (2-3 days to complete if I’m lucky). They will be painted, not stained or poly-ed, so I will sand to a rough (80-grit or 100-grit) texture and paint with left-over paint.

Am I on the wrong tack here? Should I let the students sand?

-- make it safe & keep the rubber side down.

6 comments so far

View spunwood's profile


1202 posts in 2835 days

#1 posted 01-10-2011 07:57 AM

I remember not getting what sanding was alll about. I beleive that was last week. Do the students have time to sand and paint/poly a small piece of wood? Maybe leave 1/2 unsanded? This might help them to see what it is all about before tackling an abstract big project.


-- I came, I was conquered, I was born again. ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν

View spunwood's profile


1202 posts in 2835 days

#2 posted 01-10-2011 07:58 AM

i could see the sanding goig either way. I would not sweat the decision.

-- I came, I was conquered, I was born again. ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν

View WhiskeyWaters's profile


213 posts in 3804 days

#3 posted 01-10-2011 08:10 AM

@ Spunwood – I’m with you w/ the last week comment. I burned through three projects and I should have, but didn’t sand as much as should have, and the projects didn’t turn out the way i envisioned them.

Yeah, I’m not worried about how I choose also – I’m just skipping/moving past a step in the process and my brain is firing off alarm bells. Needed a second opinion – thanks.

-- make it safe & keep the rubber side down.

View learnin2do's profile


889 posts in 2850 days

#4 posted 01-10-2011 11:09 AM

Even with the minor differences i have from …whoever…the “average”, and finding a niche in such a difficult to navigate structure of societal demands can be very intimidating and frightening. I wish thtat someone had introduced me to woodworking a long time ago. It is something you can do without scrutiny from others. If they like it, fine, if not, someone else probably will, and it really only matters if i do. It has given me self-confidence, solace, a few extra bucks, and a way to counteract the stress that inundates my daily life. -Check out my “backyard” project…that is the culmination of my emotional repair from the inadequacy and despair i felt after failing to make it through student teaching.
-sometimes sanding is a big part of it for me; i enjoy it. On the other hand, sometimes i hate hand sanding, and wish to move on to another construction anyways…
I guess that is no help!
-Give the sanding job to the ones who like it…that day…individualized education, man!
The kid down the street with Asberger’s who comes over to play loves my woodworking power tools, only he has to have the ear covers to use them!
How the heck did you get such an awesome job anyway?

-ps…i have 2 skins in the fridge i got to get to SOON!! -i just stretched a couple of ones that seem somewhat hopeless to frames…thinking maybe they could temporarily serve as chairseats (i never got time to work them) -mine are never soft enough to be capes:(

-- ~christine @ used2btrees

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3307 days

#5 posted 01-10-2011 05:49 PM

I look at every step of a project as a link in a chain…and if you skimp on a step… or skip a step you are weakening that link to the finished results. It all depends on your attitude and the results you desire.

View Roz's profile


1699 posts in 3785 days

#6 posted 01-16-2011 05:14 PM

had a Navy Seal buddy who said he learned to do the jobs he liked least the best so he could finish them fast. I think that is a good plan for adults but not for students who you are hoping to develop interest and maybe passion for the trade in.

Sanding is always one of the steps in the process I enjoy least. I think it great that you are teaching the art of the hand plane. I wish I had such instruction. In my 50’s I find that precious few know how to properly use and maintain one or use one at all. So I think you are correct to minimize the unpleasant or boring stuff for now.

-- Terry Roswell, L.A. (Lower Alabama) "Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans."

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