A guide to sanding: everything you need to know for smooth DIYs


I, like many DIYers, have a love-hate relationship with sanding. It can be such a transformative process…utterly satisfying, yet tedious, messy, and slow all at the same time. If you aren’t careful, you’ll be wiping away layers of seemingly never-ending dust from every surface within a mile radius of the thing you sanded and if you don’t use the correct ‘grit’ sandpaper you’ll either make little impact or potentially cause irreparable damage.

However, as any keen DIYer knows, there’s nothing quite like bringing an old piece of furniture back to life or refinishing hardwood floors and neither of these tasks (or hundreds similar) can be properly achieved without at least a smidgen of sanding. If you want to avoid the pitfalls and grab all the glory instead, read on because our complete guide to sanding wood has all the nitty gritty (pun intended!).

Coarse grit sanding pads on a wooden table

(Image credit: Claire Douglas)

What is sanding?

Sanding is the process where you smooth or shape the surface of a piece of wood (or other material, but we are specifically looking at wood today) by rubbing it repeatedly with an abrasive sheet of paper. This can be done manually with loose sheets of sandpaper folded over a piece of wood or similar for ease of grip, or with an electric sander with attached pads of sandpaper. There are also specially designed sanding blocks and pads, often made from foam, that you use manually in wet or dry conditions depending on the DIY project or upcycling job.

Close-up of sandpaper

(Image credit: Claire Douglas)

When do you need to sand?

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