Shop-tested sanding strategies

10 sanding strategies to smooth over the roughest of jobs.

Submitted by WOOD community member WOOD Magazine StaffSubmit a Shop Guide
  • Turn auto-body filler into custom sanding blocks

    When working on some fireplace surrounds, I needed to sand a large cove molding to remove saw-blade marks. To make a custom-fit sanding block, I place waxed paper over a short length (4-6") of molding scrap. Then, I put pieces of waxed-paper-covered 18 " hardboard around it to act as mold forms. A rubber band holds the hardboard in place.

    Next, I fill the mold with two-part auto-body filler, making sure the waxed paper lies flat along the molding. When the filler sets up, I pop off the sides of the mold and trim any rough edges with a utility knife before the filler hardens completely. Wrapped in sandpaper, my new custom-fit sanding block makes quick work of smoothing out the cove. I've used this technique with all types of trim molding.
    —Chuck Hedlund, WOOD® magazine staff


    I love my oscillating spindle sander, but when I wanted to change grits, the sanding sleeve invariably stuck to the rubber drum. My wife, Lyn, suggested that I put a little talcum powder on the drum before I slipped the sleeve on. Sure enough, I haven't had a stuck sleeve since.
    —Peter (and Lyn) Hurney, Kailua, Hawaii


    Whether it's leveling a few dust nibs in a finish or cleaning up a spot of dried glue, sanding into small, tight spaces can prove difficult. If you get stumped trying to sand in a spot too tight for an electric detail sander, don't despair. Wooden crafts sticks, available in bulk at most crafts stores, provide the answer.

    With spray adhesive, secure a strip of sandpaper to the crafts stick. Trim the sandpaper flush with the edges of the stick, and you'll have a great little micro-detail sander.
    —John Heger, Chicago


    I learned the hard way that you should release the tension on a drum sander when you're finished using it. Otherwise, the rubber drum remains in its expanded shape and future sleeve changes prove difficult. To shrink the drum back to its proper size, remove the drum sander from the drill press and attach hose clamps near each end of the drum. Tighten them, and leave them in place for a couple of days. When you squeeze the drum back into shape, the sleeve slides right off.
    —J. David Patchett, Frankfort, Ind.


    No matter how carefully you cut them, mitered trim moldings never seem to fit perfectly. To fit the trim, I miter-cut the ends of the trim slightly longer than finished size, then carefully clamp a board with a right angle corner to my disc sander as shown right. Then, I lightly sand the miters to get a perfect fit.
    —Chuck Hedlund, WOOD® magazine staff


    This tip was suggested to me by a retired piano tuner who is without sight but often comes up with insightful solutions to my problems. I was concerned about driving dowels into a fragile piece of wood. He suggested that I reduce the size of the dowels with a flat bastard file as shown left. You place a little pressure on both ends of the file and roll the dowel back and forth. This technique makes it easy to control how much wood you remove, and the glue grooves remain intact because you're not removing much material.
    —Karen J. Myers, Wren, Ohio


    If you're not careful, you can put a subtle chamfer on the edge of a workpiece by sanding it freehand. To keep your corners crisp, build the right-angle sanding block shown above. By keeping the plywood top flat on the face of the workpiece, your sanding will always yield a clean, straight edge that's perpendicular to the face of the workpiece.
    —Ted Kusmak, Alexandria, Minn.


    It's late at night. All the stores are closed. You've got a project that needs sanding and you just wore out your last random-orbit sandpaper disc. You've got plenty of regular sandpaper, but your favorite sander only accepts hook-and-loop-backed abrasives. What to do?

    Keep sanding! From a sheet of regular sandpaper, cut out a disc the same size as the original. Then, find a bolt the same diameter as the dust-collection holes in your disc. Grind the end of the bolt concave so it works as a punch. Put the new disc on a piece of scrap softwood, place the old disc on top of it, and punch out dust-collection holes using the old disc as a template. Glue the back of the new disc to the face of the old one with spray adhesive, stick it on the sander, and you're right back in business.
    —Marilyn Bachelder, Berwick, Maine


    Loading fresh sandpaper onto my sanding drum (the type that takes sandpaper sheets) used to make me crazy. I couldn't keep the paper tight against the drum along its entire length; by the time I got to the bottom, the top had worked itself loose. A length of string solved my problem. After loosely loading the paper onto the drum, I tie the string with a slipknot around the top as shown at right. Next, I wrap the string slowly around the drum, working my way down and tucking the sandpaper into the slot in the drum as I go. When I reach the bottom, I hold the string taut while I lock the paper in place with the key.
    —G.J. Warmbrodt, St. Louis, Mo.


    The graceful curves of some projects aren't well-suited to sanding with a power contour sander. To sand these contours, I wrap a piece of sandpaper around an old (but still soft) paint-roller cover. The nap of the roller gives plenty of cushion and contours itself to the workpiece. Use a 4"-long roller or cut a longer roller to fit. For tighter curves, use a smaller-diameter trim roller.
    —Jan Svec, WOOD® magazine staff

Read more about

Tip of the Day

How to safely make mortise plugs using your tablesaw

Here’s a simple and safe way to form small plugs for the square mortises. This method keeps your... read more