Sanding secrets

Getting a beautiful finish is easier than you think

By Steve Maxwell

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Ordinary overhead shop lights are rarely adequate to reveal the areas you may have missed with the sander. But a 500-watt quartz-halogen floodlight shining across wood surfaces at a shallow angle makes it easy to see those spots.

Test-fit your project without glue, then take it apart and give the components a final sanding with a 180-grit abrasive for hardwoods and 220-grit for softwoods. A little work rounding the corners of the assembled item with a piece of 220-grit paper, and you’re ready to clean up the dust with a vacuum and finish your ultra-smooth project. Now, that wasn’t so bad after all, was it?

Face frames

Woodworking projects often include a framework of narrow stiles and rails fastened to the front of cabinet openings. These face frames always have corners with intersecting grain directions. How do you smooth these opposing pieces of wood without making cross-grain scratches? You don’t–at least, not at first.

If stiles and rails form face-frame corner joints that are more than 1/32″ uneven, level them with a belt sander spinning a 100-grit abrasive in a two-step process. Start by sanding across the grain, right over the ends of the stiles, until the joint is level. Next, rotate the belt sander 90º and remove cross-grain scratching created during the first step. Finish up with a very light sanding over the joint, using a 180-grit disk in a random-orbit sander, and you’re done.

Smoothing profiles

Factory-milled moulding and trim are the most challenging items to sand properly because of their curved shapes and the prominence of milling marks often found on the surface. Hand-sanding removes these flaws, but it takes a lot of work and time. It’s not easy to maintain the enthusiasm required to complete the sanding on these consistently, unless you have some help.

My favourite tool for power-sanding irregular surfaces is an item developed in Canada nine years ago called a sanding mop. Cloth-backed discs of sandpaper are mounted on a mandrel that you can chuck in a handheld drill or drillpress. Spin the sanding mop at about 3,000 rpm, and it’ll smooth all kinds of profiles and contours without rounding over crisp edges. A wider version of this item is made for sanding wider trim on a shop-built table.

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