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The Best Sandpaper and Grits for Woodworking

Updated: February 15, 2021
The best sandpaper for woodworking is rarely the cheapest. With differences in paper, abrasive material types and quality of build the finish of your next project depends on quality paper. In this guide learn what sandpaper is best for wood.
Best Sandpaper for Wood
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The Best Sandpaper and Grits for Woodworking

With woodworking there are a lot of buying decisions. 

And while choosing sandpaper may not be an area many think to spend time on, the bottom line is there is a big difference between an off brand paper versus industry leaders like Festool and Norton. 

In this guide we’ll look at what separates good paper for bad:

  • Grit material determines the quality of the material that removes the wood. The better sandpaper has at least aluminum oxide, and premium sandpaper will use ceramic aluminum oxide.
  • Adhesive is important as it keeps the grit on the disc and prevents rapid replacement of the paper.
  • Backing material is graded on weight and the best sandpaper has a flexible backing that prevents tearing.

Top Sandpaper Picks

Best universal random orbit:

Standard duty random orbit:

Professionals random orbit pick:

Best sheet sandpaper:

Best multi-pack sheets:

Festool sandpaper:

Last updated on 2023-01-26 at 19:42 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Sandpaper Construction

First and foremast, the term sandpaper is a bit misleading. Because, in fact, the grit isn’t made from sand but one of variety of synthetic or natural materials. And, the best paper has a well-designed backing and adhesive that make it stay together for longer periods:

  • Grit is typically one of the following materials: silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, alumina zirconia or ceramic alumina. 

Types of Grit

There are four general types of grit:

  • Silicon Carbide is a self-sharpening grit that is versatile from metal to wood and even glass. It specializes in wet/dry applications.
  • Aluminum Oxide is by far the most common for woodworking and can be used from aggressive stock removal to fine sanding.
  • Alumina Zirconia specializes in heavy stock removal with aggressive grit design.
  • Ceramic Alumina is a premium grit that is know for its longevity. 

1. Choosing Belt Sander Sandpaper Grit

Belt sander grit

Hardwoods: 24 grit and up

Softwoods: 80 grit and up

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.

Recommended: For a 3×21″ sander a multipack of SATC sandpaper belts with grits from 40 to 120 grits is perfect. 

2. Best Sandpaper Grit for an Orbital Sander

orbital sander grit

Hardwoods: 24 grit and up

Softwoods: 40 grit and up

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 or 220 grit to smooth out the sand marks.
Because you want the best finish possible try to avoid any downward pressure on your orbital sander

Recommended: A multi-pack of high quality Mestool 5 that fits most sanders is a great place to start.

3. Palm sander

palm sander grit

Hardwoods: 80 grit and up

Softwoods: 100 grit and up

For palm sanders or mouse 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 120 grit, then 200+ grit to a fine finish over 300 grit sandpaper on almost all words.

Again, be careful on downward pressure with your sander.

Recommended: For a mouse sander the LEBRO multi-pack has 40 to 240 grit pads to meet all your needs.

Frequently 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.

  • About the Author
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( Woodworker )

Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.

4 thoughts on “The Best Sandpaper and Grits for Woodworking”

  1. THANK You for advice re belt grit sizes and size for what purpose first time replacing the original sand belt that is clogged .

  2. Hi Peter,

    I don’t understand your question completely, but if you are asking when to replace a sand belt I generally replace it when (1) the grit is worn to where it no longer removes wood at the required speed, (2) when there is any amount of sap that prevents all of the paper from contacting the wood or (3) if it is torn. On most sanders I’ll change sandpaper every 15 minutes.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  3. Hi,

    I need to sand lichen and dirt from a teak bench. Which numbers of paper would you advise. I’ve only got a mouse sander

  4. Hi Polly – I would start with a 220 or higher grit on a sander; or to reduce any risk to the bench a sanding sponge as it will get into all the crevices.

    Another option is a pressure washer as it will power away dirt much like when used for a deck. If used, be careful to keep the nozzle far enough from the wood to avoid damaging the fibers.

    Thanks,
    Eric

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