How to Use a Manual Sander to Smooth Out Small Projects

You don't need any fancy tools to smooth wood. Learn our best practices for sanding with only sandpaper and a simple block.

Sanding is a simple way to elevate your woodworking projects from DIY to professional status. The process eliminates any splintered parts of the wood and evenly smooths the surface. Sanding can take a little work, but when you use the right tools, it's a manageable step.

Follow along as we walk you through sanding manually with a block. Although there are other methods, manual sanding is best suited for small projects that require only a little bit of sanding, such as smoothing a single piece of wood or touching up a larger project. For bigger jobs, we recommend renting a power sander, like an orbital sander, belt sander, or palm sander.

How to Use a Manual Sander

Step 1: Choose Sandpaper

Before you start sanding, pick the appropriate sandpaper grit for your project. Too-coarse sandpaper will scratch the project's surface, while too-fine sandpaper will make the job take longer than necessary. If the material is very rough, start with a coarse (40-60 grit) paper, then work up to a medium (80-120 grit) and eventually a fine (150-180 grit) paper. If your material is already in decent shape and you're trying to get an extra-smooth finish, start with a fine paper (150-180 grit) and work up to a very fine (220-240 grit) or extra fine (280-320 grit) paper.

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Step 2: Position Sandpaper

Position the sanding block along the edge of the sandpaper. Trace around the sanding block, leaving a few extra inches so the paper can be clamped into place. Cut out the traced shape with a pair of scissors.

Step 3: Attach Sandpaper

If your model has them, loosen the clamps on the sanding block. Typically the clamps are small wing-nuts or knobs that you twist to loosen and tighten. Then insert the cut piece of sandpaper between the holders and retighten clamps until the paper is securely attached. Some sanding blocks use hook-and-loop adhesive to attach the sandpaper, making the process even easier.

Step 4: Start Sanding

Gripping the sanding block's handle, start pushing the sander forward on your material. Make sure that you are sanding with the wood's grain. If you sand against the grain, you'll nick and tear the wood, which defeats the point of sanding.

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Step 5: Switch Papers

If needed, replace the original sandpaper with one of a finer grit. Repeat the above steps until the piece is sanded as desired. Wipe away saw dust with a tack cloth.

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