Chances are you’ve started reading this blog because you finally want clarity in determining the perfect sandpaper grit for your woodworking projects.
Well, you have come to the right website. In the shortest possible time, you will know everything about sandpaper, making the choice of the grain size or type of sandpaper a breeze.
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.
With this blog, I want to guide you step by step in a better understanding of which type of sandpaper you need.
With this information, you will be able to avoid wasted time and money on the wrong sandpaper. You will never be confused and 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.
Some basics about sandpaper
“If you want to know better how you can use a product, you have to know what your product is”.
By gaining that basic knowledge you will be able to make the right choices much faster.
Let this blog be your guide in collecting this knowledge.
What is sandpaper made of?
When you say sandpaper, you automatically think it is made of paper, but that is not entirely correct. Sandpaper can be made from many different materials.
Another thing that is often misunderstood is that the fine particles on sandpaper are made of sand. But that is not correct.
Sandpaper is made up of three components: a bottom or carrier, grains, and glue to stick the grains to the carrier.
Below I discuss these three components and their properties. This will quickly give you insight into choosing the right sandpaper grit.
Bottom or carrier
In addition to paper, manufacturers also use cotton, polyester, or combinations to make sandpaper.
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 are indicated by a letter.
Very smooth, mainly used for manual applications.
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.
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.
Polyester carrier with medium stiffness. This can be used for heavier loads and can be used both wet and dry.
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.
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 is shown with the letters “A” to “F”.
I will list them below for you.
Light and flexible. used for manual applications, both wet and dry, and for finer grains (150 grit and finer).
Is not used much anymore.
Is less flexible than the A paper and is used for manual applications or on light hand machines.
This paper has a solid backing and is usually used for light hand sanders or for manual sanding.
Fairly tear-resistant and until recently was widely used in heavier applications, such as discs, tires and broad belts.
E-paper is increasingly being replaced by F-paper and is suitable for heavier applications and broad belts.
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. The grains are anchored on both sides. Due to its open structure, this material does not fill up quickly. That is why it is ideal for sanding paints, lacquers, varnishes,…
Types of sandpaper: Combination carrier
A combination carrier is an F-paper reinforced with light fabric to prevent tearing. Usually, these carriers are 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.
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 bond 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 is 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 sandpaper.
The glue ensures that the granules bind to the carrier.
2 Types of glue are 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.
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 numbers such as grit 100, grit 220, and so on.
In Europe, the sandpaper grit size was determined by the Federation of European Producers of Abrasives (FEPA). For the sandpaper grit size with the FEPA scale, the number is 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 table below shows the differences.
Sandpaper grain is 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.
Sandpaper grit material
We now know that the density of the sandpaper grit makes a difference when sanding a project, but what also plays an important role is the type of material from which the grit is made.
Earlier we saw that natural and synthetic products are used for the granules and each of them is suitable for other applications.
The manufacturer will always indicate the type of grit material for which the sandpaper is suitable, but 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 is usually 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.
Have you wondered why sandpaper 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.
Sandpaper grit material, a short recap.
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How to find the best sandpaper for your project?
When you are looking for sandpaper, even before you will be able to search for that perfect grain for your project 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 already know much better in which direction to look to know which sandpaper you need for your project.
Choose the right sanding tool
The sizes and shapes now only play a role in your choice of which 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.
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.
This tool is easy to hold with one hand and 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.
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 is 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 is 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!
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 does not work as well. In the last months, I have been sticking the sandpaper to the drum using double-sided tape, which works much better.
Choosing the perfect grit
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, all options are listed below along with their application.
At the bottom of the blog, you can download a handy guide for free that you can keep in your workshop.
P40 & P60 – Coarse – These coarse grains are only 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 to use 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.
Tips when sanding
Finally, I will give you a few more useful tips when sanding:
- 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 are 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.
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