Proper sanding creates the best finishes, whether you're working with wood, metal or drywall. Learn how to choose the right sandpaper for your work.
Sandpaper is available for use with power tools and for sanding by hand:
Power-sanding products remove material quickly and efficiently. They're a good choice for getting rid of blemishes and for shaping and leveling wood. Power sanding is an effective method of preparing metal surfaces for paint. Sandpaper for power sanding comes in sheets, discs and belts designed to fit specific power tools. Some tools also accept sheets cut to size.
Hand-sanding products give you a lighter touch for woodworking and finishing. You have better control and can sand areas that a power sander can't reach. With proper technique, the scratches align with the wood grain and are less visible. Hand sand wood as final preparation for finishes and between finish coats. Sandpaper for hand sanding comes in sheets you cut to the size you need. You can use some sandpaper for both hand sanding and power sanding.
One way to determine which sandpaper will work best for a particular job is to know the abrasive materials and their properties.
Some papers use natural abrasives:
Other abrasives are manmade:
You may see sandpaper labeled closed-coat or open-coat. Closed-coat products feature abrasives covering all of the backing. This construction removes more material — making it effective for hand sanding — but can clog more quickly than open-coat products. Open-coat products have empty space on the backing, giving waste material room to accumulate without reducing performance. Since they don't clog as quickly, they're effective for power sanding.
Paper is a traditional backing for sandpaper, but you can also find fabric and film backing, which offer better durability. Unlike products with paper backing, you can use fabric-backed products for wet sanding. Film backing on hand-sanding papers allows you to sand contours and difficult-to-reach parts of your work piece.
The grit number of a sanding product indicates the size of the abrasive particles. The lower the number, the larger the abrasive particles — they remove more material but create more noticeable scratches. A higher number indicates smaller particles which don't remove as much material but leave a finer, more polished appearance. Sanding projects use several grit sizes, starting with lower-number grits and moving up the scale to finer, higher-number grits. Each higher grit removes scratches from the previous grit, creating an increasingly smooth surface.
There is a wide range of grit numbers available, from 24 for heavy material removal to 2000 and beyond for working with automotive finishes. Grit numbers between 60 and 220 will handle most household projects.
The specific grit numbers you need vary by project and the material you're sanding, so follow the abrasive product manufacturer's recommendations. Here are some general guidelines:
Grit numbers from 36 to 100 are good for removing material and work well with power sanders. Applications include:
Grit numbers from 100 to 180 perform well with both hand sanding and power sanding, preparing bare surfaces for finishes. This range is good for:
Grit numbers from 180 to 320 work for finishing. Hand sanding is good for these applications:
In addition to sandpaper, there are other abrasives, available in a range from coarse to fine:
Common tools for hand sanding and power sanding include:
Other devices, such as drills, oscillating tools and rotary tools can use bits and accessories designed to handle sanding jobs.
Power sanders generate dust quickly. Look for tools with dust collection and extraction capabilities. Some tools can connect to a shop vacuum with a fine particle filter for dust extraction.
Use suitable breathing protection and eye protection when using sanding or abrasive products. Depending on the tools you're using, you may need additional equipment such as hearing protection and gloves. See the product and tool information for specifics.
Good technique helps create a successful finishing project:
Watch Our Video: How Do I Use Sandpaper?
Follow manufacturers' instructions for use and safety when working with sanding and abrasive products.