The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

A clear sandpaper grit chart & guide | all info you need in 1 place

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Finding the right sandpaper for your projects can be hard.
There are so many types of sandpaper, you just don’t know which one to pick.
To be able to find the right sand paper, you need to understand sand paper.
This will give you clarity in 
determining the perfect sandpaper and sandpaper grit.

Grit? P? Size? Don't go cross-eyed!

 It seems so simple, and it is pronounced so quickly: “I’m going to sand some wood!”

Until you go to the store or want to place your order online and get faced with all possible sizes, types, and grits. 
You look at all possible options, but the longer you look, the more unclear it becomes.

P80, P400, P220 … What the hell is the difference?
What do I need for the project I’m working on?
And what does that P stand for?

It seemed so simple when you started.
But the longer you search, the more unclear and confusing it becomes.

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

Well, you have found the right article.

With this in-depth article, I want to guide you step by step to know everything about sand paper, in the shortest possible time. 

Thanks to the sandpaper grit chart, you learn to make the right choice of the grit size, that is most optimal for the project you are working on. 
Whether you need sandpaper for woodworking, painting, metalworking or any other job.

You will also discover the different materials sandpaper can be made of, and how this affects the sanding of wood.

All the information in this sandpaper guide, makes determining the right type of sand paper you need a breeze.
After reading this sandpaper guide, you will be able to avoid wasted time and money on the wrong sandpaper.
You will never be confused, and always be able to determine the perfect sandpaper for the job.

At the bottom of the blog, you will find a free downloadable guide that I want to share with you. 

With that guide, you can quickly estimate which sandpaper grit you need for the project you are working on.

Feel free to download the guide.

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Understanding sandpaper

If you want to know better how you can use a product, you have to know what your product is

Before we jump right into the section on how to find the best sandpaper, I will go deeper into what sand paper actually is.

The better you understand this basic knowledge, the easier it will be to find the perfect sandpaper for your projects.

I have divided this part into the following topics:

  • What is sandpaper?
  • What is the purpose of sandpaper?
  • History of sandpaper.
  • The process on how manufacturers make sandpaper.
  • The components and materials that sandpaper can be made from, and their effects on your project.

What is sandpaper?

Sandpaper is a type of abrasive.
It consists of a strong backing, made of paper or cloth, with small sharp grains glued to one side.

Other types of abrasives include:

  • Grinding wheels
  • Honing stones
  • Sandstones
  • Sandblasting
  • Ball mills
  • Whet stones

What is the purpose of sandpaper?

Sandpaper can be used to remove, level, or smooth excess material. Even polishing can be done with sand paper.

It can also be used to remove old layers of paint, or just to prepare the surface for the application of new paint.

By sanding, imperfections can be removed, resulting in a nice smooth finish.
At the same time, there is an increased adhesion due to the small, rough ridges.

You can use sandpaper for woodworking, metal works, painting and so much more where surfaces need to be smoothed.

History of sandpaper

The idea of sanding materials has been around for centuries.

The Egyptians already used sandstone to update the building blocks of their pyramids.

In China, about the thirteenth century, the Chinese used crushed seashells and sand and bonded them to parchment with natural glue.

After years of improvements, the sandpaper got patented in 1834 by Isaac Fischer Jr.
His way of making sand paper consisted of coating sheets of paper with an abrasive.

In the early twentieth century, around 1921, 3M improved the sandpaper with silicon carbide sandpaper.
The waterproof adhesive and backing, allowed the sand paper to be used on both wet and dry surfaces.

To this day, they still use both Fisher and 3M inventions to make sandpaper.

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

How is sandpaper made?

To make sandpaper, the manufacturer begins in massive 55-inch wide rolls of carrier material.

On this carrier material, they print the grit, and branch information.
Once printed, the carrier will be dried with ultraviolet heat.

Now the carrier will get its first dip into the resin, which acts as a glue for the abrasive.

After that, the grit will be conveyed beneath the backing and is static statically charged.

Because of the static charge, the grit jumps up and embeds in the resin, creating a sharp Edge. 

Then, the paper will be brought into a large oven where it is baked.

Once cured, the sandpaper gets another coat of resin to improve durability.

After one final round of baking, a large die-cutting machine stamps out numerous shapes.

Everything from mouse pads, to random orbital sanding discs, to 9 by 11 sheets.

What is sandpaper made of?​

When you say sandpaper, you automatically think it’s made of sand glued to paper.
That’s not quite correct.

In many cases, the paper or sand will be replaced by an alternative material.
This is done because of the properties of the material and the effect this has when you sand.

Before you can delve deeper into the materials manufacturers use to make sand paper, it’s a good idea to break down sandpaper into components.

Sandpaper will be made out of three components:

  • a bottom or carrier,
  • grains,
  • and glue to stick the granules to the carrier.

Each component can be made from different materials.
I will go through all the materials of each component separately below.

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

Component #1: Bottom or carrier

In addition to paper, manufacturers also use cotton and polyester as materials to make the carrier for sandpaper.
By combining these materials, different types of sandpaper carriers can be made.

Carrier materials

First, I’ll take a closer look at the different materials that can be used to make sandpaper carriers.
Once you understand these materials, I’ll show you the different combinations that can be made to make different types of sandpaper.

Carrier material #1: Cotton and polyester

Because cotton and polyester carriers are tear-resistant and durable, you can use them for heavier applications.
The properties of these carriers will be indicated by a letter.

Code Description
F
Very smooth, mainly used for manual applications.
J
Flexible linen for use in the form of endless sanding belts. This carrier is mainly used for work where the finish is more important than material removal.
X
Universal carrier. It is used for both coarse and fine grains. Only suitable for dry use. When the code X / W is indicated, the X-cotton is treated so that it is water-resistant and can be used with coolants.
H
Polyester carrier with medium stiffness. This can be used for heavier loads and can be used both wet and dry.
Y
This carrier is heavier than the “H” version and is used where heavy to extremely heavy machining is required. This version can be used both wet and dry.
Carrier material #2: Paper

When the manufacturer uses paper as a carrier, a distinction will be made in the weight of the paper used.
The weight of the paper will determine the flexibility and tear resistance of the sandpaper.
The weight will be shown with the letters “A” to “F”.

 I will list them below for you.

Code Weight Description
A
80-85 gr/m²
Light and flexible. used for manual applications, both wet and dry, and for finer grains (150 grit and finer).
B
90-105 gr/m²
Is not used much anymore.
C
110-125 gr/m²
Is less flexible than the A paper and is used for manual applications or on light hand machines.
D
150-180 gr/m²
This paper has a solid backing and is usually used for light hand sanders or for manual sanding.
E
220-250 gr/m²
Fairly tear-resistant and until recently was widely used in heavier applications, such as discs, tires and broad belts.
F
250-300 gr/m²
E-paper is increasingly being replaced by F-paper and is suitable for heavier applications and broad belts.

Types of sandpaper Carriers

Now you know the materials of which sandpaper carriers can be made of, let’s see how they can be combined to make different types of sandpaper carriers.

Types of sandpaper: Film backing sandpaper​

Sandpaper with a film backing is relatively new on the market.
The film backing is similar to C-paper.
This material can be used both dry and wet, and it is very tear-resistant.

Types of sandpaper: Mesh sandpaper​

Mesh is an open web structure made out of polyester.
On both sides of this type of sandpaper, there are grains anchored.
Due to its open structure, this material does not fill up quickly.
That is why it is ideal for sanding paints, lacquers, varnishes, …

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking
Types of sandpaper: Combination carrier​

A combination carrier is an F-paper reinforced with light fabric to prevent tearing.
Usually, these carriers will be used with coarse grains for heavier work.

Types of sandpaper: Fiber​

This carrier consists of several layers of impregnated paper.
Fiber is hard and tear-resistant and is used for the production of sanding discs.

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

Component #2: Grain

To make sandpaper, the manufacturer will often use different types of materials for the grits.

To select the correct grain, the manufacturer will sieve and sort the particles and bound them on the carrier with glue.

The grits can have a natural or synthetic origin.
Natural materials are softer materials and are most ideal for use on wooden surfaces.
The characteristic of synthetic materials is that they are hard, so you can use it for sanding harder surfaces.  

The ability to remove wood from the abrasive grain will be determined by a number of factors.
The most important being the shape and brittleness of a grain.
Furthermore, heat resistance and orientation 2 are other influential factors.

The more brittle a grain, the less pressure you have to apply to break the grain and create new sharp cutting edges.
Less pressure ensures less heat development and an improved finish. 

The disadvantage of a higher brittleness is the faster wear of the sand paper.

Before we can see what materials the grain can consist of, you must first understand what the density of sandpaper is and how it is referred to.

What does "P" stand for?​

Actually, the “P” you see with the sandpaper grit size is a European code.

In the United States, the Coated Abrasive Manufacturers Institute (CAMI) has determined a scale that determines the sandpaper grit.
On the sandpaper, you see sandpaper grit numbers such as grit 100, grit 220, and so on.

In Europe, the sandpaper grit size has been determined by the Federation of European Producers of Abrasives (FEPA).
For the sandpaper grit size with the FEPA scale, the number will be preceded by the letter “P”, which stands for “Particles”.

FEPA formats do not correspond identically to CAMI formats but are close to each other. 
The sandpaper grit chart below shows the differences.

FEPA CAMI Micron
P80
P120
100
125
120
P150
150
P180
180
80
P220
220
65
P240
60
P280
P320
52
240
P360
280
45
320
P400
42
P500
29
360
P600
400
P800
30
P1000
500
20
P1200
15
600
P1500
13
800
P2000
10
1000
P2500
9
1200
1350
8
1500
5

Sandpaper grain will be measured in microns on the CAMI scale.
On the FEPA scale, the number on the sandpaper represents the number of grains per square inch.

So, with a large number, there are more and smaller grains.
The higher the (P)number, the finer the sandpaper.
The lower the (P)number, the coarser the sandpaper.

What does “P” stand for? A short recap.

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

Sandpaper grit material​

We now know that the density of the sandpaper grit makes a difference when sanding a project.
What also plays an important role is the type of material from which the grit has been made. 

Earlier we saw that natural and synthetic products will be used for the granules.
Each of them is suitable for other applications.

The manufacturer will always indicate the type of grit material for which the sandpaper is suitable.
It is useful to know which type of sandpaper grit is best for your project.

  • Garnet: Soft natural grain. Garnet is slightly softer than flint, making it dull quickly when sanding metal. Garnet is best suited for fine sanding of wood.
  • Flint: a durable natural grain, which is very suitable for sanding old paint or paint.
  • Emery: A naturally hard grain that is less suitable for wood and better for steel and other metals, due to its hardness and sharp parts.
  • Silicon carbide: This is the most durable of all synthetic abrasives and can be used for plastic, metal, hardwood, and softwood.
  • Zirconium oxide is a synthetic medium-hard, but very sharp grain. It is very tough and resistant to heat development. It is, therefore, the ideal grain to quickly remove a lot of material on hard materials. This material will usually be used for coarser grains, and is perfect for sanding metal or sanding rough wood for the first time.
  • Aluminum oxide: A very durable synthetic grain that is very suitable for sanding and polishing different types of metal, but also for sanding all types of hardwood.

Sandpaper grit material, a short recap.

Component #3: Glue

The glue ensures that the granules bind to the carrier. 

Two types of glue will be used for this: natural glue and synthetic resin joints.

Natural glue: Very flexible, Not moisture-resistant, Not heat-resistant, Weak grain connection.
Synthetic resin joints: Less flexible, heat-resistant, Moisture resistant, Very strong grain bond.

What is sandpaper made of? A short recap.

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How to find the best sandpaper for your project?​

Looking for sandpaper, even before you will be able to search for that perfect grain, you will be overwhelmed by different shapes and sizes.
But don’t let that bring you down, actually, it is very simple.

By the previous chapters in this blog, you now understand sandpaper better.
That will make it easier to know which sandpaper you need for your project. 

Step1: Choose the right sanding tool

The sizes and shapes only play a role in your choice of the sanding tools you need the sandpaper for.

Every sander requires a different type of sandpaper.
Once you know which sander you want to work with, you can determine the shape.

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

To know what sanding tool you need for your project, I will give you an overview of all the tools.

Manual sanding block​

This is the most inexpensive sanding tool.
By clamping the sandpaper on a handle you can quickly sand large surfaces. 

If you are handy, you can easily make a sanding block yourself.
Watch the video in which I show you how to make a sanding block yourself.

I use sandpaper on a roll for the sanding block.
Just cut the right length, clamp, and you can sand.

Sanding sponge

 A sanding sponge is a smooth sponge covered with abrasive grain. 
The softness of the sponge makes it possible to sand rounded edges evenly.

Palm sander​

This tool is easy to hold with one hand.
You can choose from a variety of sanding plate shapes, including square, rectangular, or triangular. 
For the palm sander, you will be able to purchase ready-made shapes that are usually proprietary.
Palm sanders are ideal for sanding in hard-to-reach places.

Orbital sander​

The orbital sander will make circular, orbital movements without turning. 

Depending on the size and brand, you can use either cut sandpaper, roll sandpaper, or pre-cut sandpaper. 
The orbital sander is very suitable for sanding flat areas.

Random orbital sander​​

Just like a regular orbital sander, a random orbital sander moves in circular patterns.
But at the same time, the entire sanding base also moves in a random side-by-side and back-and-forth pattern.
This can prevent sanding marks if the sander will be kept in one place for too long. 
Random orbital sanders have round sanding plates on which only pre-cut sanding discs can be used. 
The random orbital sander can be used on large areas where a high finish will be required.

Together with my sanding block, this sander tool is my most used tool.
You can see me work with my Festool random orbital sander in most of my videos, and I can highly recommend this tool!

Drum sander​​

Just like a belt sander, the drum sander is quite aggressive and serves to quickly remove a lot of material.

Be sure to watch my video on how you can convert your drill press into a drum sander. 
When you make the drums yourself you can use sandpaper on a roll for this application. 

I gradually learned that the method of sticking the paper on the drum with spray glue, does not work well.
In the last months, I have been sticking the sandpaper to the drum using double-sided tape, which works much better.

Belt sander​​

The belt sander can be used when you want to sand away a lot of material quickly.

On this power tool, there is a sanding belt placed over two rollers and only moves in one direction.

For the belt sander, you can only use sanding belts (loops)

STEP 2: What materials do you need to sand

Each sand paper grit has its own uses.
So, knowing which sandpaper to use on the material you are working on, can eliminate a large group of sandpaper.
To help you with this I have listed all different types of grit and their uses in this sandpaper grit chart.

Grit Material
Garnet
To sand fine wood
Flint
Remove old paint
Emery
Steel and hard metals
Silicon carbide
Plastic, metal, hardwood, and softwood
Zirconium oxide
To remove a lot of material on hard materials such as metal
Aluminium oxide
Sanding and polishing various types of metal, but also for sanding all types of hardwood.

Have you wondered why sand paper can sometimes have different colors? 
The answer is because each color stands for another grit material.

  • The sanding material consists of flint on yellow sandpaper
  • The red and brown sandpaper contains garnet
  • The black and dark gray sandpaper, on the other hand, are made of silicon carbide.

STEP 3: Sandpaper grit chart.

The correct choice of sandpaper grit size is important because not every project requires the same thing.
Depending on the type of material and the finishing level, you will have to determine which sandpaper grit is best for the job.

Sandpaper grit can be divided into 4 groups: coarse, medium, fine, and extra fine.

To give a clear overview of the sandpaper grit you need for your project, you can see all sand paper grit numbers listed below along with their application.
Use this sandpaper grit chart whether you need sand paper for woodworking, metal works or any other job.

At the bottom of the blog, you can download a handy guide for free that you can keep in your workshop.

The perfect sandpaper grit guide for woodworking

P40 & P60 — Coarse — These coarse grains will only be needed for very coarse sanding, such as clearing rough wood, removing large irregularities in the wood, and removing old paint layers.

P80 — Coarse — In most cases, this will be the starting grit you use for most hardwoods.
With this grain, you can remove saw blade burns and deeper scratches on the surface.
It is less recommended using this grain on softwood. Better use the next step for that.

P120 — Medium — Any wood that was too soft to sand with P80 can be started with this P120.
This grain is ideal to use as the first step on softwoods such as pine, poplar, etc.

P150 & P180 — Medium — P180 is perfect for preparing latex paints.

P220 to P 280 — Fine — If you want to apply wood stain, these grain sizes are the right preparation for this.

P320 & P360 — Fine — When sanding between layers of polyurethane, the P320 will wipe out any surface inconsistencies.

P400 & P500 — Extra fine — if you want to apply oil finishes such as tung oil and teak oil, they require a surface that is finished at this level.
P400 & P500 will also smooth the polyurethane top layers.

P600, P800 & Up — Extra Fine — P600 and P800 are good options for finishing a piece that is about to be polished.

Sanding tips

Ok, now you know all details to pick the right sandpaper for the project you are working on, you can get started. 

Here are some handy sanding tips to help.

  • Learn how to sand properly to make it easier and faster. Go to this article, and learn some great techniques. 
  • It is best to let wet wood dry before you start sanding.
  • Sand in several steps with increasingly fine paper to remove scratches from the previous sanding.
  • Always take an intermediate step with a maximum difference of 100 grains.
    For example, if you sanded with P120, the next step may be a maximum of P220.
  • Wear a dust mask when sanding.
    Wood sanding dust is harmful and even toxic in some types of wood.
  • Always use good dust extraction.
    Most sanders will be equipped with a suction nozzle to which you can connect a vacuum cleaner.
  • If possible, sand along with the wood grain for the best end result.
  • Clamp your workpiece.
    Rotating parts can injure you!

Sandpaper alternatives

Sandpaper is an extremely useful abrasive, but there are also a few things you can use as an alternative to sandpaper.

The first alternative is sand.
To do this, sprinkle some sand on the wood and use a cloth to rub the sand over the wood.

Another little-known alternative is the use of ground corn cobs.
It works the same way as using sand, and it polishes the surface.

A final, but very handy alternative, is wood shavings.
By working a lot with wood, you will undoubtedly have a lot of it.
Take a look under the planer or table saw, you will undoubtedly find wood shavings there.
It is a free method, but make sure that your wood shavings are free of impurities.
Just rub these wood shavings over the wood surface, and you will see that you can polish the wood.

Can you make sandpaper yourself?

Yes, you can make sandpaper yourself!
In addition to being a fun job, it is also cost-effective.

You can make your own sandpaper in a few simple steps:

  • To start, take a coarse, thick type of paper for the carrier.
  • Then apply a liquid adhesive to the surface.
  • Before the glue has dried, sprinkle sifted sand over the surface.
  • Allow the glue to cure sufficiently. You can check this by checking whether the glue no longer sticks.
  • When the glue no longer sticks, place the paper between two planks of wood and clamp them firmly together for 2 days.

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