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How to Sand Your DIY Project for a Flawless Finish

June 7, 2016 by Scott - Saws on Skates

Hey there friends! Today we’re going to discuss one of my least favorite DIY activities… sanding. Sanding is the worst! It’s dirty, dusty and can be dangerous. Not to mention it kills my carpal tunnel wrist, but that’s another story! Today I will share six of my sanding secrets and show you how to sand your DIY project for a flawless finish.

how to sand fireplace

For your convenience this post contains affiliate links to products or tools I used to complete this project. Click here to visit my site policies.

A quality finish for your DIY project starts with the prep of the wood. A poorly prepped surface often means you can see scratches on your finished project. Just like prepping the metal surface of a car body for paint, we must meticulously prep our wood projects for a flawless finish.

how to sand sideboard

Sandpaper Primer

Before we get into the secrets, we are all familiar with the different grits of sandpaper, right? The lower the number, the more coarse or aggressive the sandpaper. In other words, a 60 grit sandpaper will remove large amounts of wood quickly and leave the surface rough. A 120 grit sandpaper will remove wood less quickly, but leave the surface smooth and ready for paint or stain.

It’s always best to use the least aggressive grit necessary to smooth the wood. For instance, I usually start with 100 grit and then finish with 120 grit on most of my projects. It’s rare that I need to start with 80 grit unless I have some deep gouges or ill fitting joints.

Protect Yourself

Before we start any sanding project we MUST protect ourselves. The sawdust produced when sanding, in particular the fine dust that is too small for us to see, can be extremely dangerous for our lungs. Whenever I’m in the workshop I wear a dust mask. In the past I used disposable dust masks, but recently switched to a toxic dust respirator. Below is the one I’m currently using. This dust mask tightens on top of your head and around your chin to provide a secure fit. I also like that it has replaceable cartridges.

how to sand dust mask

We must also protect our eyes while sanding. I don’t know about you, but having sawdust scratch my eyes is not my idea of fun! Wrap around safety glasses with a foam gasket are great way to keep sawdust out of eyes.

The final thing we need to protect is our ears. If you’re using an electric sander, ear protection is a must. Disposable foam ear plugs work well, but I prefer earmuffs.

Don’t Play the Chase Game

We have all done this. We place a part we need to sand on our workbench, start the electric sander, place the sander on the wood and start chasing the wood around our workbench! There has to be a better way and there is. When I sand the parts for my projects I do it on a non-slip router pad. The rubber grips to the parts and minimizes the “chase game” around the workbench. Sure, the parts still move a bit, but nothing like they do without the pad. For people like me who don’t like sanding, the non-slip router pad makes the task a little more tolerable. Plus you can also use it with your router and sanding block too.

how to sand non slip pad

Let There Be Light

If you’re not using a light when you’re sanding, you’re not seeing the whole picture. Have you ever sanded, thought the surface looked perfect, applied some stain and a finish like poly only to discover the surface is covered in scratches? How do you avoid it? With a utility light or clamp light. I use both depending on the project. Set the light so it shoots across the surface of the wood. The light will catch any of the imperfections in the surface, so I can fix them before I apply paint or stain.

how to sand with light

Go with the Grain

I think we all know this rule, but it bears repeating, always sand with the direction of the grain of the wood. As with any rule, there are exceptions. An exception like a stubborn knot or a bulge in the wood you can’t get level with the surrounding area. In a extreme situation like this you can sand diagonally to the grain. But keep in mind, you will still have to do your final sanding with the grain and it will take quite a bit of effort to remove those diagonal sand marks. So it’s always best to sand with the grain and only use the diagonal technique in extreme situations.

For extreme conditions and stubborn surface irregularities you can sand diagonally…

how to sand diagonal

Then finish sanding with the grain of the wood.

how to sand with grain

Electric Sanding

I use sanding block for quick touch ups, but I primarily use an electric sander for any project that requires a lot of sanding. What’s my go-to electric sander? A random orbit sander. I never use a palm sander! Here’s why… most palm sanders move in one direction. Have you ever used a palm sander and later found figure “8s” on the surface of your project? (don’t forget to use the utility light to spot scratches before you apply a finish!) The reason this happens is because the sander moves in one, circular direction which produces those little figure “8s”. Random orbit sanders move in multiple directions, almost entirely eliminating those figure “8s”. It’s still a good idea to use the utility light though.

how to sand figure 8s

Ease the Edges

I saved my best tip for last and it’s also a pet peeve of mine. Nothing drives me crazier than seeing a DIY project sanded to perfection, but the piece has raw, “sharp” edges. When you see a store bought piece of furniture the corners are just ever so slightly eased or “knocked down”. This helps the piece to look finished and also helps the edges to resist denting and chipping. All it takes is 2-3 passes with a sanding block to make your piece look finished. If you want a more rustic or “country” look continue sanding to give the edges a rounded look.

how to sand edge comparison

Bonus Tip

On a related note, it’s also a good idea to slightly sand a bevel on the bottoms of table legs, etc. Straight edges get caught when sliding the piece and tend to chip and tear out the leg. Sanding a bevel helps to reduce chipping and tearing.

how to sand leg

These are the techniques I use when I prep my projects. I hope you enjoyed learning how to sand your DIY project for a flawless finish and that these tips will help you with your next project. Do you have any sanding tips? Please share them in the comments below!


Everything you wanted to know about sanding... types of sandpaper, how to protect your lungs, how to prevent your project from moving while sanding, how to make sanding marks more noticeable, proper sanding techniques, plus more hints and tips to sand your DIY project for a flawless finish!


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2 thoughts on “How to Sand Your DIY Project for a Flawless Finish

  1. ReallyBrandi says:

    Love your extra tip!!!

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