How to Sand Wood Faster

Speed up your woodworking projects

Sanding wood can get boring, but you can finish this tedious chore in as much as half the time—and with better results—if you know a few tricks.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Grab a second sander

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Sand faster with suction

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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.

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Stop the swirls

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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 closed.

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Bigger is better*

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.

*Sometimes

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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.

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Save your sanity

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Stack 'em and sand 'em

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Sand across the grain

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Premium paper works faster

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Prevent glue spots

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Clamps
  • Belt sander
  • Dust mask
  • Hearing protection
  • Orbital sander
  • Rags
  • Safety glasses
  • Sanding block
  • Shop vacuum

You may also want stereo headphones.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Sandpaper
  • Masking tape