Best Sandpaper for Wood: A Practical Guide to Sandpaper Grits [2021]

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Home » Woodworking » Supplies » Best Sandpaper for Wood: A Practical Guide to Sandpaper Grits [2021]

The best sandpaper for wood is a combination of choosing the right grit and the right sander. Did you know the best combination of sandpaper is spread across three machines (belt sander, orbital and palm sander)? In this article learn what sandpaper for wood is best and which grits to use.



Sanding wood is a progression. And it takes patience to do right.

While it’s tempting to cut corners, planning out the sequence of grits and sanders you’ll need for a proper job is vital. From sanding swirls caused by too much pressure, scratches left from course grits, to glossy surfaces that won’t stain properly it’s a job that requires the right tools, sequence of sandpaper grits and time.

In this article learn:

  • Best sandpaper for woodworking projects
  • Types of sandpaper for wood
  • How to choose a tool and grit sequence for your projects
  • Tricks and tools for sanding wood in tight spaces
  • Best sandpaper grit for paint


Types of Sandpaper For Wood

Types of Sandpaper for Wood

While there are dozens of sanders, there are only a handful of sanders (and sandpaper) most woodworkers will use. But, while not all sandpaper fits into a few general types there are grit and hole configurations you should be aware.

Most home woodworkers and DIY’ers will own:

  • Orbital sanders with 5″ discs for hook and loop sandpaper
  • Half or quarter sheet palm sanders
  • Belt sanders (stationary or hand held)
  • Block sanders

Hook and Loop Sandpaper for Orbital Sanders

Hook and Loop Sandpaper

While an odd name for sandpaper, hook and loop refers to the backing that adheres the paper to the popular orbital sander. Through a pattern of tiny loops in the sandpaper that mate with the sanders hooks this sandpaper works much like Velcro.

So what should you look for in this type of sandpaper? Well, be sure to consider:

  • Diameter of the paper to match your sander
  • Dust hole patterns that align to the dust collection holes found in your sanders base
  • Grit of the sandpaper to remove wood at the right rate

Hook and Loop Sandpaper Sheets

hook and loop sandpaper sheets

While most hook and loop sandpaper is sold pre-cut with holes for dust collection there is another option. Surprising to most woodworkers, you can buy hook and loop  sandpaper in full sheets as well.

Why would hook and loop sandpaper sheets be of interest? Well, consider:

  • Hand sanding blocks like this 5-inch hand sanding circle  are a fast way to skip the classic sanding block hassle
  • Custom sizes and hole patterns
  • Non-standard sandpaper grits

Sheet Sandpaper for Finish Sanding and Blocks

The standard 9 x 11″ sandpaper sheets have been around for a LONG time. And while sandpaper is believed to go back to as early as the 13th century, the sandpaper sheet is traditionally used in either half or quarter sheet applications.

Key features to look for:

  • Standard 9×11 size to fit your machines and hand tools
  • Weight of the backing paper to hold up to heavy duty sanding
  • Sandpaper grit range that fits your project needs
  • Aluminum oxide materials for longevity

Sanding Sponges For Wood

One of the best ways to finish off most projects is with a simple sanding sponge. And, with these sponge core sanders with four-sided sandpaper you’ll be able to squeeze into tight spaces that a power sander can’t reach.

Sanding grits available:

  • Extra fine work for final touchups and sanding curves to a finish grade
  • Fine for removing scratches left by coarser grits
  • Medium grits for knocking off sharp edges, removing paint and preparing wood for finer sanding

But they aren’t just for sanding wood, as most sponges also work on metal, paint and other materials. Lastly, some sponges work in a wet/dry environment if your projects take you outside or require grain raising.

Sandpaper for Belt Sanders

Belt Sander for Sanding Wood

Removing wood quickly requires a machine designed to rip away the wood fibers. And, in woodworking, there is no faster way of quickly sanding wood to shape than a belt sander.

Which, in a progression of sandpaper for wood, turns your belt sander into a tool with a limited grit range from course (40 grit) to typically no more than a 180 grit.

Choosing a Sandpaper Grit Progression

The most important thing to consider before starting to sand is what sequence of tools you’ll use for a sanding project. Then, match your sandpaper to the tools based on when you’ll start and stop using them.

Perhaps that’s confusing, especially if you’re newer to woodworking. So, to help you out, here’s a few scenarios to consider.

Sanding Bare Wood to a Stain Grade Finish

Hand Sanding Edge of Wood

First, if your wood was glued together it’s likely uneven and you’ll want to run it through a planer or a hand plane. While I often use a 24-grit in my drum sander, it’s because I don’t like the risk of chip-out from a planer.

Once you have a smoother surface you can start working through a progression of grits and tools:

  1. Use a belt sander on larger surfaces to quickly remove planer ridges and ripples. Start with a 60 or 80 grit paper and then move to 100 or 120 grit. I’ve found it’s best to use a lower grit on harder woods, and plan to spend a bit more time as you progress to higher grit paper to remove the deep scratches.
  2. Then switch to an orbital sander and follow this one rule: do not apply pressure. If I’m sanding after a belt sander I like to go back down to an 80-grit, then work to 120 and 180 grit paper.
  3. Lastly, for a perfectly smooth finish move up to a sequence of 180 and then 220 grit paper on a palm sander.

If you have any curves, tight spots or areas a power sander can’t reach then use a sanding sponge to finish out those hard to reach spaces.

Sandpaper Grit for Painted Wood

Belt Sander With Pine Pitch Grit Clogged

While a newly built project won’t have a layer of paint to deal with, some projects start out with painted surface and will require a bit of work.

Since sandpaper relies on grit to remove wood fibers, removing paint poses a unique challenge as paint tends to stick with the paper where wood particles fall off.

However, there are a few ways to combat this issue:

  • Start with a courser grit such as 60 or 80 grit
  • Sand with the grain to avoid causing more wood damage than needed
  • Use a sandpaper eraser to remove paint that has clogged your grits

While a belt sander is the fastest way to remove paint, be sure to test out a few tools and adjust your tools speeds to find the right combination.

Sandpaper Grit Progression

Which Wood Sandpaper to Use - Grit Progression

By now you probably understand that you start with a lower grit and work your way to higher grits. So, to help you out, here’s my general progression for hardwoods and softwoods lumped into three categories.

Grit #1: Wood Removal (Belt and Orbital Sanders)

  • 24 grit should only be used for aggressive stock removal (drum sander)
  • 40 grit can be used to remove large scratches and dents (belt sander, orbital sander)
  • 60 grit is a great place to start removing planer marks with any type of sander

Grit #2: Scratch and Blemish Removal (Orbital and Palm Sanders)

  • 80 grit is your next grit if you started with any grit prior to remove deep scratches
  • 100/120 grit starts to remove visible scratches left by 60 and 80 grit

Grit #3: Finish Sanding (Palm and Detail Sanders)

  • 150/180 grit on almost all woods removes any visible scratches
  • 220 grit is the last grit I’ll use on almost all woods as the sanding sealer and clear finish will complete the process of a smooth finish

Now does this mean you need to do all of the grits? Of course not. I do prefer, though, to at least consider pairing a 150 and 220 grit together while doing finish sanding.

And, often, I like to use a 180 grit orbital sander followed by a 220 grit pad sander for the best possible final finish.

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You’ll notice a trend here of a recommendation to start with a lower number grit and work your way up. Except, of course, if your only goal is rapid removal of wood and the finish isn’t important. When would you do that? Well, one example is grinding cabinet filler strips to fit the wall.

With the all powerful belt sander you can go down to a 24 grit that will quickly remove the wood. And sometimes too quickly so I recommend someone new to this tool to start with an 80 grit. If you are sanding cabinet doors or drawer fronts then starting at an 80 grit and working to a 120 or 150 grit is a great way to reduce time spent with an orbital sander.

Belt sanders come in 3×21″ and 4×24″ models so you can plan accordingly when looking at the best sandpaper.

BEST Sandpaper fOR an Orbital Sander

orbital sander grit

When choosing grit for your random orbit sander think of it as a progression of at least three different grits. My preferred sequence for most woods is:

  1. 60 grit to remove deep sanding marks from a belt sander
  2. 120 grit to start to knock down the grain
  3. 180 grit to smooth out the sand marks.

Because you want the best finish possible try to avoid any downward pressure on your orbital sander. And, lastly, keep the sandpaper clean of any chips or debris to avoid swirls.

BEST SANDPAPER FOR A Palm sander

palm sander grit

For palm sanders and detail sanders the goal isn’t fast removal of wood.

Instead, you are looking to remove any scratch marks or sander swirls from the previous sanders. While you can start more aggressive, I like to go with 150 grit, then 200-300 grit for the final finish.

Be sure to use as minimal pressure as possible while sanding to avoid the dreaded swirls. Certain woods, like maple, tend to show every imperfection in the final finish.

Frequently Asked QuestionsFrequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to sand wood?

The best way to sand wood is more than just sanding with the grain. First, if your budget allows and you plan enough woodworking a drum sander will allow you to achieve sanding results you cannot achieve with hand sanders. Then, your sanding will need to progress through an orbital sander and then a palm sander to achieve a scratch-free finish.

Do you sand wood wet or dry?

There are very, very few needs to have to wet wood while sanding. With most cabinet or furniture quality wood already kiln dried the age-old "grain raising" technique is really just more work. Instead, use a progression of coarser to finer grits and sand until you have reached at least a 220 grit. Then, keep your project dry until it's time to stain or seal it.

What grit of sandpaper do I use before I paint wood?

Prior to painting wood its advisable to sand until at least a 180 grit to ensure an even finish that closes the wood grain. Choosing to paint prior to sanding with this fine grain of sandpaper could lead to surface imperfections showing through the paint.

Summary – Sandpaper for Wood

While it’s tempting to rush this step, choosing the right sandpaper for your projects and then sticking to a continually finer grit sequence is critical. And, since you’re almost done with your project you’ll be on to finishing your masterpiece soon enough.

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