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Forum topic by RussellAP posted 12-23-2012 09:56 PM 1744 views 0 times favorited 32 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3103 posts in 2254 days

12-23-2012 09:56 PM

I don’t want to open a can of worms here, but I see a couple things going on with woodworkers that definitely divides us into camps.

There are guys out there that just show a piece some 220 and proceed to finish with stain or seal.
Then you have the guys that use 80, 100,120, 150, 180, 220 and quit.
Then you people like me who enjoy the finishing process and start with 40g and end with 1200g switching to 320 just after the first top coat goes on.

Most of the guys say I’m crazy for starting with 40, but you know, if you didn’t plane the piece, you need to somehow get down into the scratches and dirt that gets into the wood. Frankly I don’t know how anyone can just do some 80g to 220g and quit. I’ve tried it and the wood still has many imperfections in it.

When I sand a piece, I’m looking for perfection, not close, but perfect. Why put all that work into making something if you short the finish. It will never look as good as it can.

So I start with 40G on a ROS and work up to 320. Then I seal and repeat the 320, then seal again and use 600 with ROS, then the last finish gets just wiped with 1200 or buffed with a buffer. Then wax goes on and it’s buffed again.

I know you all have your tried and true ways of sanding, but I think most of you let the fact that you hate sanding cause you to take shortcuts and not get the best finished product.

Some woods don’t need much sanding, and higher grits is a waste of time, but most hardwoods can be brought to a lustrous sheen with higher grits.

It’s just a choice though, to go all the way, or just part of the way.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

32 replies so far

View Bagtown's profile


1739 posts in 3698 days

#1 posted 12-23-2012 10:25 PM

You win.
You’re the best finisher on here.
wabi sabi

-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2937 days

#2 posted 12-23-2012 10:35 PM

I don’t understand why you wouldn’t plane the piece to start with.

Also bear in mind that different finishes require different prep. Acid Cat Lacquer manufacturer Becker Acroma, for instance, recommend sanding bare wood to p150. Don’t ask me why, but a Global company like that has several laboratories for formulation and testing and they’re not just saying ‘sand to p150’ for the fun of it.

View RussellAP's profile


3103 posts in 2254 days

#3 posted 12-23-2012 10:59 PM

Some pieces come planed and are just scuffed up. No need to plane again when you can sand it out.
I’ve noticed that it’s either old school or new wave here. I lean toward a Charles Neil approach to finishing and tend to obsess over it where most guys just find something quick and easy and wipe it on. It just kind of floors me how people can hate finishing yet love woodworking.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View Wildwood's profile


2300 posts in 2102 days

#4 posted 12-23-2012 11:18 PM

Asking woodworkers about sanding bare wood and will get different answers. Sanding about removing tool marks and evening out minor imperfections in wood without leaving scratches from sandpaper. Once you have done that you are ready for finish.

Wood species, finish will use, and damage to wood I created dictates my starting and ending grit paper to use. Primarily do wood turning so my planes and cabinet scrapers not much use.
Nice read:

-- Bill

View Bagtown's profile


1739 posts in 3698 days

#5 posted 12-23-2012 11:22 PM

I’m an oil and wax kind of a guy. Unless I’m not.
Guess it depends on the project, and how I feel about it on that day.

-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

View cutworm's profile


1075 posts in 2761 days

#6 posted 12-23-2012 11:49 PM

I think it’s mostly personal taste. Some like the smooth as glass finish and others seem to like a more rustic or less than perfect look.

-- Steve - "Never Give Up"

View a1Jim's profile


117063 posts in 3544 days

#7 posted 12-23-2012 11:57 PM

If it works for you,it works for you. try some Tuna oil too :))

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10368 posts in 3396 days

#8 posted 12-23-2012 11:58 PM

Trying to be at one with nature requires that I let the wood tell me what it needs.
Then, If I have it on hand I use it.
Most of the time I can’t get it to talk to me. Wenge seems to be the most reticent.
What grit I start with depends on how misaligned my joints are.
How high I go depends on how bored I am with the process.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3351 days

#9 posted 12-24-2012 12:03 AM

I know you said you didn’t want to open a can of worms, but it looks like you did, hahaha. You made a big assumption and I think you have it totally wrong. I don’t think it is pure laziness or hatred of finishing or inexperience that keeps people from sanding to higher grits as you have somehow concluded. I enjoy finishing and do it almost full time at work and enjoy it at home too, but in my opinion it is not only not necessary to sand beyond 150 grit, but also like renners said above, it may be incorrect in some circumstances. Using pigmented stains would definitely be one of the times when it would be wrong. When turning where I will be sanding on the lathe, mostly against the grain, I will sand to a higher grit, possibly up to 600 if needed, but when going with the grain, it just isn’t needed in most cases.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View Bagtown's profile


1739 posts in 3698 days

#10 posted 12-24-2012 12:12 AM

Tuna oil…. . . . . hmmmmmmm…... Cod Liver Oil…...I wonder….

-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

View hhhopks's profile


651 posts in 2345 days

#11 posted 12-24-2012 12:12 AM


-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View RussellAP's profile


3103 posts in 2254 days

#12 posted 12-24-2012 12:19 AM

Dale, its a forum and forums need shaking up once in a while. It’s good to get things out in the open where people can see what others do and talk about it.
I admit that I sand a lot. However I think it’s justified. I’m not one to use a stain unless I have to. I much prefer the natural wood. On my chests I sand to 220 and finish, only lightly sanding after to remove any bumps. But when I want a high gloss shine I go all the way and sand it down using the poly as a filler until the pours are almost full and it shines like a piece of glass.
I’m working with walnut mostly and it does benefit from finer grits, the detail is much more pronounced. I wouldn’t put a high gloss on furniture though, I just prefer satin which is more forgiving of missed steps.
Plus the feel of a piece of wood sanded to 400 is much different than one sanded to 150. I realize the finish like stains or dye will make a lot of difference and it needs to penetrate, but for the way I finish walnut, it would not work.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View dustyrusty's profile


9 posts in 1949 days

#13 posted 12-24-2012 12:32 AM

Personally if I can’t solve the problem with a belt sander I just forget it. Must say I make some of the finest sawdust you saw. HAHA

-- making sawdust is my hobby

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2937 days

#14 posted 12-24-2012 12:33 AM

Russell, glad you started this because I’ve just learnt something from DaleM about sanding for pigmented stains.

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2216 days

#15 posted 12-24-2012 12:42 AM

If you really wanted to open a can of worms, how about ditching the sand paper all together and finishing correctly – jack, jointer, smoother, scraper :)

I am not ready to ditch the ROS yet, but I have seen the light.

I will agree with some of the others though that you may be sanding WAY too much. First, understand why you sand. It isn’t actually to smooth out the wood as much as it is to remove machine marks. If you have a nice spiral head planer, you can probably just start with the 220. When I get my wood planed at the mill, I need to start with 80 grit. When I do, I move all through the grits (100,120, 150, 180, maybe 220). Again, sanding is removing machine marks from other tools (grits)

I can understand the temptation to sand way beyond 220. It looks awesome, and it feels awesome! However you will have a sub-par finish. If you have ever worked with metal or painted cars, you will know what I mean. A simpler example is turning pens.

Your pen kits include really polished, shiny, awesome looking brass tubes. The first thing you do to them is scratch them up with some sandpaper. Why? Because your epoxy or CA glue will not adhere to a slick surface.

The same goes with finish. If you have a super slick surface, the finish has nothing to adhere to. You will not be able to build a beautiful, protective film without good adhesion on your first few coats. Test it out on some scrap and see what I mean. Also the feel of the wood means nothing. When finished, you will only be touching finish. Just for giggles one day, do a proper french polish on something. If you think a piece sanded to 1200+ is smooth, you will blown away after a proper french polish.
You mentioned you work with walnut a lot. The secret to a super smooth walnut surface is not excessive sanding, it is pore filling.

Again, this is personal preference, but mixed with a lot of practical science. I would not trust a finish applied to something sanded way past 220grit (although I do sand endgrain down to 600 for even coloring when finish is applied) to hold up and stay perfect for very long. You are letting most of it pool on top and dry there with not enough “biting” into the timber below.


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