Q. What is the color-grading system for nonwoven abrasive pads? I'm never sure which color is the best choice for a particular job.

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A. We can't speak for every single manufacturer, but here's the basic industry code: A white pad is extra-fine, approximately equivalent to 600-grit sandpaper; gray compares to 220-grit; maroon, 150-grit; and green, 100-grit. The difference among them relates to the coarseness of grit that's impregnated in the plastic strands, not the thickness of those strands.

Nonwoven abrasive pads offer a couple of advantages over steel wool, especially when you use water-based finish. They don't contain oil, which would adversely affect the bonding of the finish, and they don't leave behind bits of steel that can rust, ruining the appearance of a finish. Even when you're using a solvent-based finish, these pads work well for leveling and smoothing between coats. Hold your hand flat on the pad, or back it with a wood block, and exert even pressure throughout each stroke. When it comes to rubbing out the final coat, experiment to find out what you like best. Pads work well for a glossy finish, but 0000 steel wool might be your best choice for a satin finish because of its more uniform scratch pattern.

Compared with sandpaper, pads do a better job of conforming to tight curves and narrow grooves. That helps when you need to smooth moldings and carvings.

Question provided by Bill Rood, Boston