April 3, 2023

Tips for Sanding and Finishing Wood Like a Pro

When it comes to tips on sanding and finishing wood like a pro, there are tips and instructions you should follow. Each finished product has instructions, but you’ll need additional tips for a better project. Choose the right sandpaper to match the roughness of your material. Choose the right material that suits your needs. Prepare the wood surface and ensure the finish has dried before applying another coat. This article will guide you through all the stages of sanding and finishing.

Definition of sanding and finishing wood

Sanding and finishing are finishing processes for refining or protecting a wooden surface in furniture production. Finishing is the final step of the manufacturing process that gives wood surfaces desirable characteristics. These include enhanced appearance and increased resistance to moisture and other environmental agents. 

Sanding is the process of removing small amounts of material from the surface of the wood using an abrasive. Sanding creates an even surface and enhances the look of wood. Although it takes time to complete a sanding task, every project benefits from sanding.

Sand before finishing to remove defects from the wood surface that will affect the appearance and performance of finishes applied to the wood. Defects come in cutter marks, burns, scratches and indentations, small glue spots, and raised grain. Sanding should not eliminate larger defects such as gouges and discoloration.

Wood finishing is the action of protecting and polishing wooden surfaces, making their appearance richer and deeper. Wood finishes are not the same as wood painting since painting hides the original wooden surface while wood finishes improve the appearance of wood surfaces.


Benefits of sanding and finishing wood

Smooth finish

Sanding smoothes out the surface of the wood and brings it back to an even and smooth finish. That removes any damage and scratches on the top wood surface.

Removal of stains

One of the reasons for sanding wood is the removal of stains. Wooden planks are likely to get stains during their lifetime. Before you try cleaning products, sometimes tough stains are removed with something much stronger. Sanding removes the wood stain, whereas some stain removers will not. Run lightly over the flat surface with a sander to remove the stain and keep its finish. Sand directly onto the floor or with a belt sander for the finer wood stains.

Increases durability

You can also sand the wood to improve the overall durability. As your wood planks age, they become less durable because the plank works more. Increasing its overall wear and tear. This wear and tear can cause the wood to lose its look. If a heavy amount of damage is inflicted, the plank can chip, making it unsafe. Sanding can prevent this from happening.

Easier maintenance

Sanding makes your wood planks easier to maintain. The surface becomes smoother and flatter, making it much easier to clean. 


Finishing is there for protection. That is protection from moisture, either in a liquid or vapor form, or from scratches, dirt, and wear. The thicker the finish, the more moisture-resistant it is.


Another reason for finishing wood is that it decorates your wood product. Decoration means the finish showcases the wood’s natural beauty, color, figure patterns, grain, and depth. It also enhances the wood’s appearance by hiding defects.

Tips for Sanding

Select the Right Sandpaper

It does not matter which material you intend to sand; choose the right grade for the application. Lower numbers are more coarse and suitable for aggressive paint and rust removal, whereas higher numbers are finer for smoothing and final preparation (Grainger.com). 

For stripping wood, use an extra coarse grit of 40; for sanding wood, use a medium grit of 80, finishing wood, use a fine grit of 120 and for super finishing wood, use an extra fine grit of 180. Ensure you sand in the direction of the wood grain because wood sanding across the grain leaves scratches.

Start with Coarse Grit

Start with a sandpaper grit that is coarse enough to remove imperfections without gouging into the material further. That can be 80 grit. You then have to switch to finer grits to obtain a smooth finish. Coarser-grit abrasives remove material quickly but make deeper, more visible scratches. That is why you should follow with finer grits to remove the scratches. 

Move to Fine Grit

Move to a finer grit for an even and smooth surface. Scribble a light pencil line across your wood before you start. It tells you if you are ready to move to a finer grit. Once the line is gone, move up to the next grit. Repeat to the highest grit sandpaper, then wet your wood with mineral spirits to confirm no marks.

Finish with Extra-Fine Grit

Fine grit (150-220) is for an even finer sanding finish (Howstuffworks.com). It is ideal for preparing a surface for finishes. Fine grits close up the wood pores, so sanding too fine grit results in less finish soaking into the surface.

Tips for Finishing

Prepare the Surface

The final step to finishing wood involves wide belt sanding, random orbit sanding, and brush sanding. For flat panel work, you may have to use a wide belt sanding to 220-240 grit sandpaper works well for flat panel work. A linear scratch pattern with a grain of wood is acceptable. 

Pick a suitable finish, shopping through products with varying characteristics. Some of these finishes are shellac, lacquer, varnish, and oil. Proper surface preparation is key to good finishing. It requires a bit of sanding. Work through a sequence of abrasives, starting at 120-grit and moving to 150, then 180 and 220-grit, and finishing up with 320-grit.

Use the Right Finish

All finishes have their strengths and weaknesses. Shellac creates a stunning high-gloss surface, although it is prone to water stains. Lacquer is also quick-drying but very flammable. When Choosing your wood finish, look at the wood type, its durability, budget, ease of use, level of expertise, the drying time of the finish, its environmental impact, and the health hazards associated with the product.

Apply the Finish

Just like when applying the stain, use a natural bristle brush to apply the finish, going with the grain of the wood, not against it. Start by brushing on a coat of your finish. Let it dry overnight. Then lightly sand with 320-grit sandpaper to remove imperfections. Repeat the process till you reach your desired smoothness. 

Let the Finish Dry

Different finishes take different times to dry. Each finish is affected by several factors when it comes to drying. Poor ventilation, cold temperature, thick coats, and humid weather prolongs drying. Allow the finish to dry between coats, but do not exceed any time constraint mentioned in the directions on the can.

Sand Between Coats

Pay attention to the time you sand between coats. The first coat has to dry completely. Do it after every coat except the last coat. If you are to go on to buff the wood surface, you can sand that last coat too. Sanding between coats of stain may not be necessary, but doing so will improve the bond between coats of wood stain and produce a better-looking finish, especially if you use a water-based wood stain.

Check for a Smooth Surface

De-bump the wood surface and make sure it is smooth. Once the dust is out, hold the piece to a light and view the wood surface at a low angle. A glass-smooth finish begins with a level, even wood surface. After sanding a little, scrape the sludge from the wood surface using a plastic spreader. Shiny troughs or spots show that the wood surface is not level.


In summary, sanding and finishing wood are two processes you cannot skip for a perfect job. This is the final step that will determine the final look of your product. Sanding and finishing wood will give you high-quality products. Sanding removes the imperfections on your wood surface. Wood finishing is the icing on the cake. It smooths, protects, and decorates your wood surface. It protects your wood surface from both liquid and vaporous substances. After applying the finish, there will be no unevenness. Follow the instructions and tips on the label to achieve better results.

David D. Hughes

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