Wood Sanding Tips for Upcycling and Pallet Projects
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There is one thing that all DIY-ers are putting off as much as they can while working on their projects. The dreadful sanding 🙂 But if you want to receive great results, you can’t really skip this step.
So here I’d like to give you some useful wood sanding tips. You can apply them when working with pallet projects or any other DIY/wood creations. Don’t worry. It’s not as difficult as it seems. You just need to know what to use and how to use it.
Few Words About Sanding
In 9 out of 10 cases, you’ll be working with used pallets for your projects. So they are going to be made of rough wooden planks, often with dents and splinters sticking out, ready to “attack” you 🙂
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To prepare them for your projects, you’ll need to sand them at some point. Sanding makes them smooth to the touch, but the main reason behind it is to make them ready for the finishing touches, i.a., paint, varnish, or wood stain.
My first attempt at sanding was a few years back when I needed to refresh the wooden kitchen worktops in my old flat. That was a good lesson and gave me a rough idea of the whole process.
I will try to walk you through it painlessly, starting with the tools and materials needed and then moving on to the process itself.
The Sanding Tools
In the beginning, you have to choose the method you’re going to use. Being that sanding manually or using power tools.
If you go for the first method, you can use a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a wooden block, sanding block, sanding sponge, or sandpaper by itself, just using your hand.
This method is good if you have a small job to do or for finishing touches. For bigger surfaces, you’d want to use electric sanders. It makes the job easier and quicker.
There are several types of sanders, but the main which are good for any type of DIY project are:
- orbital finishing sander
- eccentric or random orbital sander
- belt sander
Have a look at this video explaining the different types of sanders you can use for your projects.
What is the best sander for sanding pallets?
The answer is not simple or, actually, it’s very simple. There isn’t one. Don’t get me wrong. Woodworkers, hobbyists, and DIY-ers have their own favorite brands and will swear by them.
The problem lies elsewhere. The best, perfect sander for pallets doesn’t exist because you’ll always need more than one type.
It’s as simple as that. Different tasks require different sanders. Removing material/shaping, smoothing, and sanding between coats of stain requires a different tool.
I’ve recently written a blog post on the best sanders for pallets, talking about the best options among belt, random orbital, and finishing sanders. I’m sure you’ll be able to find some useful information there to help you find the right tool for you.
However, if you need more options, have a look at the articles I mention below.
Don’t Know Which Sander to Go For? Check Out the Best Finishing Sander-Buying Guide or Best Random Orbital Sander-Buying Guide.
Tips for Sanding Upcycled Furniture
When it comes to sanding furniture, the method/tool that you use depends on the project. Some people say that you shouldn’t use a sander and only sand by hand.
Mostly because a sander could be too aggressive, but since we don’t deal here with strict refinishing but mostly upcycling old furniture, I’d say that you should use what you’re comfortable with.
So if you want to use a sander, that’s perfectly fine. Just remember the few general rules that you’ll find in the summary, and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Any detailing sander or finishing sander should be good to use, but since you’d want to get into tight spaces sometimes, it shouldn’t be too big.
If you go with hand sanding, I’ve got a few tips for you.
- Use a padded sanding block and foam padded sponge for curved surfaces/edges and crevices.
- Sand along the grain with long, light strokes and not too much pressure
- Change paper often to avoid sanding with dull paper and scratching the surface
If you want to know more about refinishing furniture, here is an interesting article you can check out. To find out which sanders I recommend for sanding furniture, check this best sander for furniture refinishing post.
If you haven’t got a big budget and you have to choose between different types of sanders.
Of course, if you’re a beginner and don’t have a big budget, you’ll have to compromise. But with today’s market, you can always find a decent tool at a bargain price.
It might not last you for years, but it’ll suffice and will help you understand how these tools work.
Belt sanders are more powerful and will remove material faster but also are more difficult to control.
Orbital sanders are mainly for finishing, but a quality tool like Makita BO3710 with coarse grit paper (P40-P60) would do the job, in my opinion.
Random Orbit Sanders are more versatile and will do the job quicker than an orbit sander. But again, quality tool (like Makita BO5401 or Porter-Cable 382) and quality sandpaper is a must.
You’ve picked your sanding method. Now you have to choose your sanding paper. Whether you use an electric sander or sand by hand, you need to choose the type and grit of the sandpaper. But before we go into more detail, here is a historical fact…
The first use of sandpaper recorded was in 13th century China when crushed shells, seeds, and sand were bonded to parchment using natural gum. The sandpaper was originally known as glass paper, as it was covered in glass particles, not sand.
Types of Sandpaper
There are many types of sandpaper, with variations in the backing paper, the material used for the grits, the grit size, and the bond.
The most common materials used for working with wood are garnet and aluminum oxide.
If you’re using an electric sander, the shape of the sanding paper sheets depends on the kind of sander used.
Sandpaper is graded on the amount of abrasive material per square inch. A higher number means finer grit, and a lower number coarser grit. It usually goes like this:
- P12 – P 36 – extra coarse usually used for hardwood flooring initial sanding, very fast removal of material
- P40 – P 50 – coarse
- P60 – P80 – medium, i.e., for gentle removal of varnish
- P100 – P 120 – fine, used for cleaning plaster and water stains from wood
- P150 – P220 very fine sanding of bare wood
The grit that you choose to start with really depends on what final effect you want to achieve, what kind of planks you have, and what kind of finish material you want to use, e.g., varnish, paint, beeswax, or teak oil.
Coarser grits will remove material faster, so you can get rid of any blemishes (i.e., deep scratches, nicks, and dents). Then you move to finer grits to smooth out the scratches made by previous (coarse) ones.
My advice is to try not to skip a grit if you want a really swirl-free smooth finish, but for pallet projects, it might not be necessary.
You ask why? Well, pallet projects are specific in nature and, in 90% of cases, are meant to look upcycled, rustic, and aged, so an extremely smooth finish it’s not needed.
You just have to try for yourself. Use different varnishes, stains, and finishes.
For my pallet sandbox, I used a water-based, waterproof outdoor wood stain. I was going to do three grit sanding, starting with P60, then moving to P120, and finally to P180, but decided that two grits with the wood stain layer in between would be enough.
The final finish was acceptable, nice, and smooth to the touch.
A different story was when I was doing my kitchen worktops. For the finish, I used a teak oil that leaves virtually no film at all.
To make it really smooth, I did 3 or 4 sandpaper grits, and because I didn’t need to remove a lot of material, I started with P-120 or P-150 with the final one P200-P220 and layers of teak oil in between.
You may also like:
A Quick Guide to Sandpaper for Woodworking
- Always sand with the grain of the wood when using a belt sander. Don’t worry about that if using random orbital except when finishing off.
- Choose the sandpaper grits based on:
- Type of wooden planks (used, rough, or new)
- The final effect and type of finish, i.e., varnish, paint, stain
Oil finishes leave virtually no film, and what you end up feeling is the wood, but you can’t use them for outdoor projects. With a film finishes like a varnish, the finish needs to be smooth, not wood.
- Use 2 or 3 or more grits to achieve desired smoothness, i.e., start with coarse P-40, P-60, then medium P-80, P-120, and finally fine P-100, P-120, or higher like P-150, P-180.
- I always sand between coats. That way, the finish has got more depth to it, so I highly recommend it.
- Remember to always wipe off the wood dust with a damp cloth after sanding and before moving to stain or varnish.
- Don’t forget about the mask, goggles, gloves, and noise-canceling headphones.
One more thing. Some people like to disassemble the whole pallet, sand, varnish, or paint it and put it back together or build a project with prepared planks.
You can do it if you wish to or prepare the whole pallet. It’s really up to you and the kind of design you have in mind.
I hope I’ve shed some light on wood sanding. If you have any other advice, you’re more than welcome to leave a comment. I’ll be more than happy to learn more wood sanding tips.
If you liked this article, don’t forget to pin it to your woodworking/upcycling tips board to have it handy!
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This will be useful information at this time. I just got some cherry blocks that are about 16 inches around and I wanted to finish them for a shelf.
I did finished one and it split very badly. Any tips on how to keep it from splitting? I did finish it with a coat of clear to try to seal it from drying out. It will hang above a heat and cooling vent.
When I started sanding my wood, I started with the 60 grit paper. This did take out the chainsaw marks very quickly.
I’m glad you found the information useful 🙂 The only reason I think why your cherry wood is splitting is that it is not seasoned. Cherry is pretty wet wood and needs to be dried for at least a year( and that depends on thickness as well) before it is ready to be used. Otherwise, it will split as it dries no matter what you coat it with. I’m sorry that this can be disappointing for you, but I think there is nothing you can do but wait or you can try and find some pallet wood that is definitely ready to use for projects. As pallets are made of different type of wood you never know maybe you will come by some nice cherry pieces 🙂
Hi Kasia, you are right that we dreaded to do sanding on wood project. I didn’t even know that we may need several steps of sanding to get a smooth result.
Say, if I have a wooden rack that I bought from Ikea (it’s not finished), which sand paper should I use to smooth it?
In my opinion, Ikea wooden items are pretty smooth when you buy them. You just have to check if it feels smooth enough to touch. if not I’d started at P-120 sandpaper and then check it. If it feels smooth enough as you bought it, just put some finish or stain on it and after drying check if it still feels smooth. If not sand it with P-150 or P-180 and put another coat of stain or finish to seal it. The idea is to check if the colour/shade is the one you like and if the smoothness is the one you want. If you have any more questions just drop me a line I’ll be happy to help 🙂
I am looking to sand some pallets for a desk however I want to make sure I leave a “weathered” look, what grit do you recommend I use?
A weathered look is achievable through many ways, some of them I wrote about in my post 16 Ways How To Distress Wood And Make It Look Old And Weathered. Through sanding, you want to get the surface as smooth as you want/as possible regardless of the look. I usually start with 60 or 80 grit depending on how much material I want to remove. Then I’d move to 120/150 or higher and check the smoothness. I hope that answers your question but if you need any more info I’m always happy to help 🙂
My work has extra pallets sometimes and I have been looking for ways to use them. I never thought of sanding them down, I would agree that it would make them more useful because they won’t be as a course. I will have to see if I can borrow an electric sander so I can start my project because sandpaper would take too long.
Thanks for visiting! I hope you’ll find my tips and ideas here useful for your projects. A power sander is definitely a good idea 🙂 It will save you a lot of time. Sanding pallets prepares them for any finish or stain.
If you have any more questions I’ll more than happy to help as much as I can. Have a great weekend!
Si, what two grits did you use?
60 and 120, 60 and 180 or 120 and 180?
I’ll be standing a lot of pallets (around 40) for my bed and some furniture I want to make so what would be the best? I think I’ll be painting most of them and the smoothness is something I’m not super worried about but this will be my first project of this kind and I’d like an acceptable piece of furniture hahaha
Thanks for your post!
Have a great day (:
Hi, Rodrigo 🙂
Thanks for visiting. I usually use more than 2 grits to achieve desired smoothness. So for example, if a pallet is older, more weathered and I want to remove more material I’d start with grit 40 and move to 60, 80, 120. I’d keep changing the grit until I have the smoothness I want. In a case of painting I’d probably go for 40, 60, 80 and I’d advise to prime them as well before. It’ll save you some paint as you wouldn’t have to put as many coats on them as you would if you didn’t use one.Unprimed wood loves to drink paint 🙂
I’d also advise to get some wood filler and fill all the nail holes. The reason is that with paint you can’t actually wipe off any excess and these holes can “bleed” while drying leaving nasty marks. I hope this will help you and if you have any other questions just give me a shout )
Good luck with your projects and have a nice Friday!
Great information on sanding and relevant too! I am just about to start painting some previously lacquered slatted wardrobe doors and I think I have to sand them first so that the paint will have something to hold to. I have been putting this off as I really did not want to do this by hand. After reading your post I think I might give the orbital sander a try. Might make my job a heck of a lot easier. Thank you!
I’m glad you liked it!Sanding can be a daunting task and nearly all of the woodworkers absolutely hate it. Sanding painted/lacquered surface by hands might be difficult and time-consuming so I definitely recommend using an orbital sander. I’m writing a buying guide for random orbital sanders, so if you haven’t chosen one yet it’ll be ready next week and I’m sure will help you to get the best one.
Don’t forget about some kind of face mask or respirator especially when sanding painted wood.
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I want to make sure that I get my furniture sanded before I try to paint it. It makes sense that I would want to make sure that I sand it properly! I’ll look into what tools would be the best for my furniture.
Thank you so much Kasia for these excellent sanding tips. I’m a novice carpenter just venturing out into using wooden pallets for some beginner projects. I’ve already visited my local Men in Sheds for some much needed advice. Apparently replacing cupboard doors with pallet wood is not an easy first choice. Maybe I should have visited them before removing the old doors! At least they corrected my plans for me. I had drawn the brace going from top to bottom instead of bottom to top. Many thanks once again.
Nice wood sanding tips, I like to read this post & enjoy it.I shared this on Facebook and my followers really enjoyed it.Keep up the amazing work!
My fiance and I just recently moved into a new home and we noticed some repairs that need to be made. Both of us really appreciated your tip to sand with the grain of the wood. However, both of us are so busy that we may just hire a hardwood dustless sanding service.
This is all such excellent advice!! Thank you! I just recently got into pallet wood building and completed a set of rustic bookshelves and wasn’t sure if I was using the right sandpaper. After reading this post, it seems I was right on with it :). I needed a “rough” look and finished it with a dark stain and it looks great! My next project is a trunk and I am wanting it almost glass smooth. What do you recommend?
I’m pleased that I could help 🙂 As for your question you could use either marine varnish or clear epoxy resin. Both will give you extra smooth, gloss finish but for your project, I’d lean towards the varnish. Epoxy can be tricky and you’d have to do one side at a time if you’d want to have a thick layer. I hope that my answer will give you some clues. If you have any more questions I’ll be happy to help 🙂
I am in the process of laying quite a large area of pallet decking. My husband has the job of sanding, so if you have any more advice on a quick way to sand this and best stain tips. We live in Palm Springs, California, so it has to weather heat more than rain/wet weather….
Thank you so much and have a great week
Hi Georgie 🙂
My advice would be to get 1/3 sheet sander or if the area is large to use a floor sander. You can always hire one and I think It be more efficient and a lot quicker. As for stains, I’d use decking stain that’s semi-solid and has a strong UV protection built in or you can go for a solid one if you don’t care about the grain being visible. And make sure is not too hot when you apply it. The temperature should be around 70F and avoid direct sunlight and very hot day. Make sure you always check the label for instructions. I hope that this will help. Let me know if you’ve got any more questions.
Thank you so much for sharing your expertise about wood sanding tips. I’ve found your information about the wood sanding tips very interesting. I’ve shared it with my partner as well. Keep up the awesome work!
is there not a sanding machine that you can just stick a piece of palate wood in and it will come out with all the sides sanded?
Hi Karen! Yes, there is. You put the planks in and they come out sanded. There are a few drawbacks though. The machine is bulky and expensive and not everyone uses the sander on wooden planks. For example, in some pallet projects, you don’t take the pallet apart or you want to use your sander in a remote place like a garden or indoors. You still have to keep in mind the paper grits to achieve desired smoothness and I’m not sure this kind of sander sands all 4 sides at once. I hope my answer helped and thanks for stopping by!
Great tips all around – absolutely essential for anyone that wants to start working on their first wooden pallet projects. Thanks!
Thanks so much for all the tips! Very informative read. I’m a newbie to woodworking and this is so helpful!
Hi Jen, glad I could help 🙂