35 Genius Sanding Tips You Need to Know
Save yourself some time and hassle during your next woodworking project with one of these genius sanding tips.
Drum Sanding Jig
This easy-to-build jig transforms an electric drill into a stationary edge sander for inside curves on all kinds of projects. To build one, you need some scrap 3/4-in. plywood, a short 2×4, a 3/8-in.-diameter U-bolt to fit around your drill and two 3/8- in. wing nuts. Housing design and chuck length vary from drill to drill, so we won’t list the exact dimensions.
Use a Sneaker to Clean Sandpaper
Dust-Off Softener Sheets
You can see much more clearly when you’re sawing and sanding if you first rub your plastic safety glasses and face shields with a used fabric softener sheet. The exact physics is a matter of discussion, but this makes wood dust a lot less clingy. The key is to use a dryer sheet that’s been through a drying cycle. It’ll be gentler and less laden with softener.
Shop Vac Dust Collection
Turn your shop vac into a versatile dust-collection system for your home workshop.
Quick Woodworking File
Sandpaper Cutting Jig
Make this simple jig for turning full sheets of sandpaper into smaller sheets to fit your finishing sander, sanding block or another sanding device.
Cut the 1/8-in. deep grooves in the base using a table saw and thin-kerf blade, then attach the stop block. To use the jig, place the sandpaper grit-side down and run a sharp utility knife down the appropriate groove.
Sharpen Tools with Your Belt Sander
Drum-Sander Dust Collector Hack
Capture the dust that ﬂies off a sanding drum before it ﬁlls your shop and lungs! All you need is your shop vacuum, a 3 x 2-in. PVC reducing coupling and a pot magnet. Bolt the magnet to the coupling and put the coupling over the end of the vacuum hose.
A 2-1/4 in. dia. shop vacuum hose ﬁts snugly inside the coupling’s smaller end without clamps or glue. Then just set the hose on the drill press’s metal table and let the shop vacuum eat your dust. You can use this setup on any power tool with a metal table.
Swiffer Sheets for Sanding Projects
Before applying the finish, rub the project (with the grain!) with No. 0000 steel wool. You’ll lift sanding dust from the grain and burnish and shine the surface fibers. Follow up with a Swiffer cloth to wipe away any specks of dust or steel wool.
Stationary Belt Sander
This jig firmly holds your belt sander upside down for easier sanding of handheld project parts. Each sander has a different shape, so custom-cut the plywood sides with a jigsaw to fit yours. Work for a tight fit so the sander is rock steady while you’re working. Use clamps to hold small pieces and don’t wear loose clothing.
Use a Radiator Hose for Contours
The “hose sander” is another great tool for sanding the curvy contours of your woodworking projects. Saw off a straight piece of discarded radiator hose with a hacksaw, clean it inside and out, and wrap a piece of adhesive-backed sandpaper around it. It works great when you bear down for coarser sanding and is just right for lighter-touch finish sanding, too.
Low-Tech Edge Sander
A belt sander clamped securely on its side makes a great hands-free sander for sanding workpiece edges. Just screw a 3/4-in. feed platform to a larger 1/2-in. plywood base.You may also need a thin 1/4-in. plywood strip as shown to elevate the sander body. Clamp the sander to the assembly (snug it—don’t overtighten). If you’re sanding a bunch of pieces, you may need to add a piece of plywood after a while to the feed platform to equalize the wear of the sanding belt.
Put duct tape on the back of some sandpaper and cut it into custom-sized strips for sanding in tight spots. The tape’s tough hide lets you sand without tearing the paper. The strips work great for sanding lathe turnings, cleaning dried glue from project parts, and doing any other job that requires a ﬁrm yet delicate sanding touch. Use a sharp utility knife and a straightedge to cut the strips.
Laundry Day for Belts
Fill a bucket with hot water and laundry detergent, mix well, then toss in the pitch-covered, burned-out belts. Let them soak for several minutes, then scrub off the loosened debris with a stiff-bristled plastic brush. Set the belts aside, and when they’re dry, cut them into wide strips for sanding blocks or narrower pieces for freehand use on delicate or hard-to-reach sanding jobs. Resist the temptation to put the belts back on your power sanders; just use them for hand-sanding.
Sponge Grit Label
After completing an entire kitchen remodel, I had acquired a shoebox full of sanding sponges with different grits, but now I don’t know which block has which grit. I’d like to say I keep the original packaging for items like this, which would indicate the grit and other details for my sanding sponges, but that just doesn’t happen.
I learned my lesson! Now, before I toss the packaging in the garbage can, I write the grit number on the side of the sanding block with a permanent marker.
Folded Sanding Pad
Best power sander in your shop? A quarter sheet of sandpaper and your bare hand! To improve the longevity of this natural marvel, apply spray adhesive to the quarter sheets, then fold them over to make a double-thick one-eighth sheet. They work great for sanding sculpted and molded edges, and the double-ply thickness lets you press hard without tearing a hole in the paper.
Down Draft Sanding Box
This easy-to-make sanding box really swallowed the dust in our tests. And it was sturdy enough to support larger workpieces.
Custom Sanding Bow
Screw strips cut from cloth-backed sanding belts to shop-made wood bows of different thicknesses and use ’em to shape and smooth furniture parts and lathe-turned projects. The coarser grits remove wood quickly, and the ﬁner grits will shine up curved surfaces in a jiff. You can screw the sandpaper strips on with varying tension to best ﬁt the job at hand.
Avoid Over Sanding
Power-sand the tops of plywood edge-bandings with ultra-light pressure, use ﬁne-grit sandpaper, and rub a pencil ﬁrmly along the glue joint before sanding to help monitor where, and how fast, the surface is being sanded away. If you press the sander more to the banding side, go slow and keep a hawkeye on the disappearing graphite. You’ll never waste a 4×8 sheet of expensive plywood—or two hours ﬁtting and gluing on bandings—with an irreversible mistake.
Cushioned Contour Sanding
The pad of my random-orbital sander was a tad too firm for refining chair seats. It flattened out areas instead of creating the soft, subtle contours I was after. So I bought an extra pad base for the sander and softened the base by sticking a piece of 3/8-in.-thick closed-cell foam to the bottom with contact cement.
My sander uses adhesive-backed sandpaper, which I just stuck right to the foam. (If your sander uses hook-and-loop sand-paper, just glue the foam to the extra base with contact cement and then buy some adhesive-backed discs.) I also unscrew the base and use it as a freehand sander to shape and sand legs, spindles and bowls I’m turning on the lathe.
Build a Better Block
To keep the sandpaper from tearing on the edges of his 2-1/2 x 5-in. wooden sanding blocks (custom-made to fit quarter sheets), Ken glued a layer of cork on the bottom.
“Now the paper doesn’t tear, and even better, I can press down hard on scratches. My fingers hold the paper on the sides of the block just fine, so there’s no need to tape it,” he says. You can buy a roll of cork for $5 at home centers.
Legible Sanding Discs
Hook-and-loop sanding discs work great on sanding jobs, and you can reuse them several times before they’re worn out. But it’s almost impossible to read the grit labels on the discs after you’ve used them once because the markings get scrubbed off by the loops. Do this: Whenever you open a new pack of discs, write the grit label on the back with a permanent marker. Now you’ll switch from grit to grit without straining your eyes.
Wood Finishing Techniques: Sand With the Grain
Pencil Visual Aid
Here’s a great old tip that’s worth revisiting. Can’t tell where you’ve sanded and where you haven’t? Scribble light pencil lines over the surface, and then sand away until they’re gone.
You’ll sand the entire surface without missing a spot, even out hard-to-see high and low areas, and know when to switch to a finer grit of sandpaper. The finer the grit, the lighter the pencil lines should be. It’ll take forever to sand off dark lines with fine grits.
When you’re sanding in the corner of that next masterpiece, your vibrating or random orbital sander can dig some nasty scratches or dents with the sander body and the sandpaper on adjoining surfaces. And they’re nearly impossible to fix.
Try this tip: hold a small sheet of metal flashing or plastic laminate between the sander and the surface you don’t want to be dinged up, and then sand as close as you want with no worries. Scratches go on the metal, not on the wood.
If you sand a lot of thin wood on your drum sander, you’ll wear out only the bottom part of the drums. Flipping them over allows you to use the top, but the middle remains unused. Here’s a frugal solution, courtesy of reader Robert Allen: Cut the sanding drum in half and flip the parts end for end.
Don’t scratch up the workpiece you just sanded by flipping it over on a dinged-up workbench. Next time you sand a project, lay down a scrap piece of carpet to protect the wood, keep it stationary as you sand and dampen the sander vibrations on your hands. No scrap carpet around? A 2 x 6-ft. washable runner ($8 at a home center) works great—just shake it out between jobs and roll it up for storage.
Glue up a bunch of disposable sanding blocks and stop fussing with reloadable store-bought blocks. When the sandpaper’s used up, toss them and make more. A 2 x 4-ft. piece of 3/4-in. medium-density fiberboard (MDF) will make a lot of medium and fine sanding blocks. Saw the fiberboard into 2-1/2 x 5-in. blocks.
Then space the blocks—six per sheet—on sandpaper coated with spray adhesive. With a sharp utility knife, trim the sandpaper flush with the blocks. Write the grit size on the sandpaper with a permanent marker. It’ll be easy to find the grit you need, and the ink won’t stain your wood.
Dustless Drilling and Drum Sanding
PVC Sanding Files
Stick sandpaper to cutoff pieces of PVC water pipe with spray-on adhesive and you’ll be able to sand concave curves to perfection. PVC pipe is labeled by inside diameter; here’s an index for the outside diameter of useful pipe sizes.
- 1/2-in. i.d. = 7/8-in. o.d.
- 3/4-in. i.d. = 1-in. o.d.
- 1-in. i.d. = 1-1/4-in. o.d.
- 1-1/4-in. i.d. = 1-5/8-in. o.d.
- 1-1/2-in. i.d. = 1-7/8-in. o.d.
To apply sandpaper to the pipe, spray both the paper and the pipe with a generous layer of adhesive. Let both surfaces dry for several minutes before joining them. Use two grits on each pipe—80-grit for sculpting a precise radius, and 100- or 120-grit for finish sanding. When the sandpaper’s worn out, just pull it off, spray fresh adhesive on a new strip and go back to having fun.
Homemade Detail Sander
It can be hard to sand louvered doors and shutters and other items that have a lot of tight spaces. Oscillating tools with sanding pads work great, but the sanding pads don’t always come with the tools and are expensive to buy. That’s why I make my own using a dull blade and custom-cut sandpaper glued on with spray adhesive. When the sandpaper gets dull, I just peel it off and stick on a new piece.
Hand Sanding 101
With a few special tools and good sandpaper you can smooth wood easily and quickly by hand with first-class results. Often even better than with a power sander. We tell you how to choose the best sandpaper for the job and demonstrate several of our favorite tools.
PVC Dust Catcher
Most Incredible Sanding Block
For the final sanding of a prize project, it’s hard to beat good old hand-sanding. When you put away the power sanders and carefully hand-sand with the grain—using ﬁner and ﬁner grits of sandpaper—you’ll produce a smooth surface to take pride in for years to come.
To make your own “super hand sander,” glue a piece of a computer mouse pad or other “closed-cell foam” to a wooden sanding block. This creates a ﬁrm yet giving base that gently increases sanding torque on ﬂat surfaces and convex corners while ensuring a ﬂat, scratch-free surface.
Use a heavy coat of photo-mount spray adhesive or rubber cement to glue the mouse pad to the block. Apply adhesive-backed sandpaper to the block for the beginning sanding steps. Since extra-ﬁne sandpaper isn’t widely available with adhesive backing, apply ordinary extra-ﬁne paper to the block with a light coat of photo-mount spray.
Raise Your Shop Vacuum to Your Benchtop
Tired of sawdust covering your workbench and woodworking tools? This adjustable vacuum hose holder attaches to the shop vacuum and can be rolled into position exactly where it’s needed for a drill sander. Learn how to build it here.