How Do You Know When To Stop Sanding?


Whether it’s a hobby or a job, woodworking is a fun and rewarding activity. It should be said that a lot of the ins and outs come with experience, though. So knowing when you should stop sanding might not be as plain to some people as it is to others.

You should stop sanding when the imperfections of the previous grit are gone. Grits #180- #220 are good final grits, but it can change depending on both the wood and the planned finish. 

Many different factors go into which grit to use as the final grit in sanding, and certain woods require specific grits just because of their natural grain. When to switch to the next grit, it’s simple, and we’ll cover that and much more. 

An example of how to sand some curly maple

In Between Grits

Before you stop using that final grit, you need to know how to get to that grit first. You should be using multiple different sandpapers in your sanding process for almost every project you work on. You might be fearful that you’re sanding too much, and a lot of people are. 

To avoid over sanding, you need to learn how to stop using the sandpaper you’re using now and move onto the next one. There’s a simple trick to doing this, beyond just knowing you’re done on touch alone. 

When you feel like you’ve sanded your piece with this grit enough, you should try to look at it from a fixed light point, at an angle. Hold it up next to a lamp or a window and rotate it, looking over the surfaces you just worked on, and you should be able to see any imperfections you might have left behind. 

If it’s still a little hard to see any bumps or dents on the surface, then dab just a small amount of water on it to make it shine in the light. That’ll make it even easier to see any difference over the surface. If you don’t see anything, then congratulations, you can move on!

Don’t forget to remove all the dust from sanding, too. That will only get in the way between grits and will cause issues if not cleared before staining and finishing. 

Here’s a list of different grits and their common uses:

  • #60 – Coarse, Taking away a lot of material
  • #80 – Rough, For fully removing stain and material
  • #100/#120 – Medium, Initial starting grit for most woods
  • #150/#180 – Fine, Good for finishing some wood
  • #200/#220 – Very Fine, The final sanding before conditioning and staining
  • #320/#360 – Super Fine, Good for removing light stain and in between oil coats
  • #600 – Ultra Fine, Ultra polishing, mostly used for metalworking

What Finish Are You Going For

Different finishes and woods usually require different levels of sanding. On average, you’re going to want to stay around the #200 range; anything beyond that is just redundant. But there certainly are some circumstances that can warrant going either below or beyond. 

Personal preference is a factor, as well. Some people like to say they start sanding at #100 and carry on up until #320, and that’s okay. These are the most common guidelines people go by, but by no means are they “Rules,” and if you find something else works for you, then go ahead

Where You Want to Stay in the #180- #220 Range

Most of the projects you’re going to be doing are on standard common woods and will probably be conditioned, stained, and then varnished. Pretty much all of these will be in your standard sandpaper range regarding what grit to finish at. 

#180 is probably the most common grit to finish, but if you feel like your wood needs to be just a little smoother, you can go a little higher. Once you go past the #220 range, however, it won’t feel like you’ll be doing much of anything, and you’ll just be wasting your time. 

Especially if you’re going to be using a wood finisher that creates its own film over the wood, then you don’t need to worry about sanding too much. Just make sure you start at the proper grit for the material and work your way up to #180 in increments, and your wood will turn out just fine. 

This is because finishers that create their film over the wood have their own texture, and you won’t be able to feel the difference between #180 and #320. Going into high grits would be a waste of both time and materials.

When you might want to go above #220

The only practical time that you’ll want to use a grit approaching #320 and #400 is when you’re using a finishing oil. Oils don’t produce their own texture as the film creating finishers do, so you need to make sure the wood is good to the touch. 

Before you apply the finisher, #220 grit sandpaper is still plenty fine, though. When you want to apply, the higher grit is actually in between applications of the finisher. There is an important reason why we should do this. 

I’ll start by saying technically, you don’t need to sand in between every coat of finisher, but you will need to sand more in the final coat. It’s simpler and more consistent to sand in between every coat, though. 

The higher the grit sandpaper, the less material it removes. That’s why we use high grit for oil finishing. It can rough the surface pores enough for the oil to penetrate the wood, but not rough enough to remove the stain that may already be on the wood. It can remove the stain if you sand too much, so just a good few strokes with the grain is plenty.

What Grit To Start At

Here is a quick chart showing recommended starting grits for some common woods:

Common Types of WoodRecommended Starting Grit
Oak#120
Pine#120
Cherry#120
Teak#120
Mahogany#150
Cottonwood#100
Birch#120
Maple#120
Rosewood#100
Walnut#150

So the average and most common grit to start sanding is #120. This is usually because of the wood’s hardness or softness, with harder woods requiring you to start with some lower grit sandpaper to get the job done. 

After your initial sand, you’ll want to move to the next grit, with some woods not requiring more than two or three steps of sanding. You shouldn’t skip steps in sanding. Cutting corners and jumping between grits can lead to uneven textures on your wood by the time you’re done if you aren’t experienced enough. 

Higher Grits to Change Staining

One more reason some people might want to keep sanding into higher crits, but whether or not it’s a good thing depends on the person and the project. 

Higher grits can lead to lighter colors than expected once you stain your wood

Most people would agree that the color of stain you choose is the color of stain you want, and you can apply more or fewer layers to change the depth of the color, so higher grit sanding still isn’t too impactful in comparison.

However, let’s say you make a mistake, and the stain comes out darker than you expected or wanted. You’ll want to can continue to sand the wood with high grit sandpaper. You don’t want to use a lower grit because it can take Stain off entirely, but employing a #320 grit can take off a light layer of the stain and lighten the color. 

Conclusion

So to know when to stop sanding, remember: You should take a look at your piece at an angle in front of a light to spot any imperfections. Figuring out what grit to stop at is all about the kind of wood and the wood finish you’re using. Hopefully, this helped you out, so you won’t spend as much time sanding now.

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