Grab a second sander
1 of 1
Double your productivity
With two sanders, you can put both hands
to work and, well, sand twice as fast—duh!
Keep the sanders close together and think
of them as a single machine. If your hands wander apart
into separate territories, you'll oversand some spots and
Sand faster with suction
1 of 1
Keep the surface clean
Connecting to a vacuum
doesn’t just cut down on dust.
It actually allows your random
orbit sander to work faster. Even
with the sander’s built-in dust collection system, the sander
rides on a thin cushion of dust that prevents full contact
between the grit and the wood. So, by increasing dust
removal, a vacuum improves sander efficiency. On some
sanders, hooking up to a vacuum doubles the sanding
Skip a grit
You don’t have to use
every single grit as you
sand your way from coarse to fine. Instead, use every other
grit; 80-120-180 or 100-150-220, for example.
Stop the swirls
1 of 1
Slow and steady wins the race
For faster hand sanding,
you just press
harder and move faster. But with a random orbit sander, that
strategy will actually slow you down. Too much pressure
or speed creates tiny swirling scratches that you’ll have to
sand out sooner or later (often later, after stain makes them
visible). A light touch and patience are the key to avoiding
those swirls. Just rest your hand on the sander; don’t press.
The weight of your arm provides enough pressure. Move at a
snail’s pace; no more than 1 in. per second. Going that slow
feels unnatural and takes some self-discipline. So try this:
stretch out a tape measure along your project and watch the
second hand on a clock while you sand. After about 30 seconds
(or 30 in.), you’ll get used to the right speed.
Know when to stop
How smooth is smooth enough? We put that question
to professional woodworkers—and couldn’t get a
straight answer. (Woodworkers are notoriously noncommittal.)
“It depends...” was the typical response.
Here’s what that means:
“Open-grain” woods like oak and walnut have coarse
grain lines and a rough texture. So sanding to very fine
grits is a waste of time. “Closed-grain” woods like
maple and cherry have a smoother, more uniform texture.
So they need to be sanded with higher grits before
the sanding scratches will disappear.
The finish matters too. For thick coatings like polyurethane,
varnish or lacquer, most of the guys we
talked to stop at 150 grit on open grain woods, 180 on
closed. For oil finishes, which don’t create much
buildup, higher is better; 220 on open grain, 240 on
Bigger is better*
1 of 2
Five-inch sanders are inexpensive and easy to control.
2 of 2
Six-inch sanders cost more but sand almost half again as much surface.
A 5-in. random orbit sander
is the essential sanding
tool for any DIYer. If
you’re a serious woodworker,
you’ll also love a 6-in.
version. An extra inch
may not seem like it would
produce a big jump in sanding
speed, but it means
almost 45 percent more
sandpaper surface, plus
a more powerful motor.
Sanding faster comes at a
price, of course: Six-inch
sanders are two to three times more expensive than five-inchers, and
the larger sanders are a little
harder to control, especially
on vertical or narrow parts.
Presand your stock
Before cutting up boards for your next project, sand them all
with 80- or 100-grit. You might waste a little time sanding
areas that will end up as scraps, but you’ll come out ahead
in the long run. The initial sanding—removing scratches,
dents and milling marks—is the heaviest sanding. And if
you sand boards before cutting or assembly, you can use the
tool that does deep sanding fastest: a belt sander. Sanding
whole boards also eliminates the repetition of stopping,
starting and setup for individual parts.
Save your sanity
1 of 1
Music makes the job easier
is a psychological
disorder caused by
fussy attention to
include drooling on
the project, hearing
voices in the whine of a
belt sander and seeing cartoon
characters in wood grain patterns.
There’s no sure way to prevent
Sanding Syndrome, but a little
Earmuffs or earplugs
speakers block out
power-tool noise while
reducing boredom. Search
online for “stereo earmuffs”
or “noise isolating earbuds” to
browse a huge selection.
Prices range from $25 to $200.
Stack 'em and sand 'em
1 of 1
Save time by gang sanding
Gang sanding with a random orbit or belt sander lets you
smooth a bunch of edges in one pass. As a bonus, the wider
surface prevents the sander from grinding too deep in one spot
or tilting and rounding over the edges. This trick also makes
sanding a self-correcting process; all the parts will end up
exactly the same.
Sand across the grain
1 of 1
Smooth large areas fast
The first commandment
Sand with the grain.
But when you have
a lot of wood to grind
off, break that rule and
run your belt sander diagonally
across the grain (at about
45 degrees). Instead of scratching
away at the wood
fibers, the belt will rip
them out. It’s incredibly
Be careful not
to gouge too deep, and
expect to follow up with some
heavy sanding to smooth the
“plow marks” left behind.
Premium paper works faster
1 of 1
Use the best
Better sandpaper has sharper particles of grit, which bite into
wood faster. And not just a little faster—a lot faster. Premium paper
removes wood at two or three times the rate of standard paper. It
costs a bit more, but the grit stays sharp much longer, so you actually
save money, whether you’re using sheets, discs or belts. Norton
3X, 3M SandBlaster and Gator Ultra Power are three common lines.
Prevent glue spots
1 of 1
Masking tape saves the day
Glue spots are cruel.
When you think all
the tedious sanding
is done and you apply
stain or even varnish,
they’ll appear like
Getting rid of them
means more sanding.
On a flat surface,
glue drips aren’t a big
deal. You’ll remove
as you run through the
normal sanding process.
But in hard-to-sand
spots like inside
corners, prevention is
the best strategy, and
a little masking tape
will save you a lot of