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Smooth Moves: Sanding Techniques for Furniture

From the basics of choosing the right sandpaper to getting a flawless finish, this post explores the steps of sanding furniture.

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Starting on a new furniture refinishing project often requires sanding to some degree in the process. Sanding not only smoothens the surface but also ensures optimal adhesion for the new finish. This post can be used as a guide through the decision making process of whether to scuff sand for a light refresh or embark on a more comprehensive full sanding adventure.

Scuff Sanding

If you are going to be painting with chalk paints sometimes you can get away with just scuff sanding your piece. Scuff sanding is taking a fine grit sandpaper and basically scuffing up the entire surface of the piece. Using anywhere between 150 - 220 grit sand paper for this job. What we are trying to do with scuff sanding is dulling the surface and giving it a little "bite" so the paint will have better adhesion. After scuff sand just wipe the dust away with a damp cloth and allow to dry.

Choosing the Right Grit

Coarse:  40-60 grit sandpaper - This is rough sand paper that is good for removing tough paint or stains, rounding the corners or shaping a piece. I never start with this grit, but I will move to it once I have tried a medium grit and the orignal finish does not come off well.

Medium:  80-150 grit sandpaper - This grit is great for basic sanding and removing old paint or stain. Usually I will start here when I am sanding.

Fine: 180-220 grit sandpaper - This grit of sandpaper is perfect for scuff sanding furniture before painting and smoothing out the surface. Using this before painting or stainging will make the finish much smoother.

Extra Fine:  320-400 grit sandpaper - This grit is nice to use between coats of paint or topcoats, and it will help achieve a smoother finish.

When I need to do a standard, basic sanding - I usually start with the 80 grit sand paper and work my way up through all of the grits to the 220 grit. (80, 100, 120, 150, 180, 220) This helps achieve a smoother finish. Always sanding with the grain.

Materials Needed:

  1. Sandpaper (various grits: coarse, medium, fine)

  2. Sanding block or an electric sander

  3. a damp cloth

  4. Respirator or dust mask

  5. Safety goggles


1. Safety First:

- Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes and a dust mask or respirator to avoid inhaling dust particles.

2. Clean the Surface:

-Avoid sanding dirt, grime, grease, etc. into the wood by cleaning the surface before sanding.

3. Remove Hardware:

-If your piece has hardware (handles, knobs, etc.), remove them to make sanding easier and to avoid any damage.

4. Select the Right Sandpaper Grit:

-Start with a coarse grit sandpaper (60-80 grit) to remove existing finishes, paint, or imperfections. Move to finer grits (120-150, 220) as you progress to achieve a smoother finish.

5. Use a Sanding Block or Electric Sander:

-If sanding by hand, use a sanding block or wrap sandpaper around wooden block to ensure even pressure. For larger projects, an electric sander can speed up the process. Move the sander in the direction of the wood grain.

6. Be Consistent:

-Keep a consistent pressure and movement to avoid uneven surfaces. Pay extra attention to corners, edges, and intricate details that may be hard to reach with a power sander.

7. Check Your Progress:

-Periodically stop and feel the surface to check your progress. The goal is to achieve a smooth and even surface.

8. Switch to Finer Grits:

-As you progress, switch to finer grits to smooth out the surface. This will prepare the furniture for painting or refinishing.

9. Clean the Surface:

-After sanding, use a damp cloth to remove dust and debris from the furniture. Ensure the surface is completely clean before applying any finish.

Remember patience and thoroughness in the sanding process will contribute to a professional-looking finish on your furniture.

Sanding Small Areas

For small hard to reach areas I wrap/fold sandpaper over a card or a scraper to sand.

Proceeding to slide up and down to remove any finish.

Until I am happy with the results.

Common Issues & Resolutions

Seeing swirls or "pigtails" - This is often caused by pressing too hard on the sander. Resand with a lighter hand and work through the sandpaper grits to remove it. It helps to start with one grit lower than what you are sanding with.

Sanding veneer - Wood veneer is a paper thin cut of wood that is applied to the surface of a piece of furniture, and sanding it is a delicate process. It is best to pay close attention when sanding, using a very light hand when using a sander. It may even be best to hand sand these areas.


Drop your own sanding questions or issues in the comments below I would love to try to help if I can.

Now that your piece of furniture is sanded and ready you can move to the next step of priming, painting, or staining. Check out these topics for your next steps:




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