Sanding tools for furniture refinishing

Sanding Tools for Refinishing Furniture

Sarah Stahl
Sarah Stahl
Passion for transforming tired, old furniture into bold works of art. Sharing my learning with you.

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Sanding tools for furniture refinishing

Whether you are starting your refinishing journey, or you are more experienced, the pressure to achieve a flawless finish is the same.  Did you know that the secret to unlocking a professional refinishing look, is the quality of your sanding work in the preparation stage. You may have been led to believe that running a cheap sander over your furniture project is sufficient. For the real professional look, having the essential sanding tools for refinishing furniture is a must.

Table of Contents

The Importance of Sanding Tools in Furniture Refinishing

Sanding is the process of using abrasive materials to smooth and shape a wooden surface. This can be done by hand or with the help of power tools.  It is an important step to preparing a surface for painting or staining. It is the step that creates a smooth and even surface that will absorb the paint or stain more evenly.  When done wrongly however, sanding can leave scratches on the wood surface that will become more noticeable with the addition of stain or paint.  So, let’s check out which sanding tools you need to achieve that perfect finish.

close up of veneer sanded raw

Tip: Before you start sanding, you should know if the piece you are working on is solid wood or veneer; as this can greatly affect how you handle the piece.  Unsure which it is?  Check out this handy “is it solid wood or veneer” checklist.

Sanding Tools – Starting with the right Grit.

For me, the most important sanding tool for refinishing is the sand paper. I spent years trying to save on this part of the job and bought cheaper sanding papers online. When I switched to Festool Sanding Paper, I did notice a huge difference in the durability of the paper and the length of time it was usable. 

Sand paper comes in a variety of grits, ranging from coarse to extra fine. The lower the number on the sandpaper, the coarser the grit is.  Choosing the right grit of sand paper to start with is necessary for a good job. 

40 to 60 grit – Rarely used in Furniture Refinishing.  It’s extremely rough and while it could be used for paint removal, it will most likely damage the surface you are working on.

80 to 120 medium grit – 80 grit is a great starting point to remove the remaining finish or when working on bare hardwood.  120 grit is a better starting point if the piece you are working on is veneer or soft wood.

150 to 180 fine grit – these finer grits should be used to buff out any remaining swirls or scratches from the earlier sandpapers.

240 to 320 is very fine to extra fine grit. – These are finishing grits and for between coats of paint or topcoat.

TIP: When working with sandpaper, you must never skip a grit.  If you are working on a hardwood and started with 80 grit paper, you must continue with 120 grit paper before switching to 150 grit paper and so on.

Festool Sanding Paper for R90 sanding tool.

Hand sanding vs Power sanding Tools

Both hand sanding and power sanding have their benefits when working with furniture. As furniture has been previously finished once before, the sanding you need to complete is more delicate then when the wood was unfinished and raw.

Hand sanding Tools for refinishing furniture

Most often you will use hand sanding when working on delicate surfaces or areas where the power sanders cannot reach.  I would not recommend hand sanding an entire project as you will be exhausted. Unless you are a regular visitor at the gym, then by all means test out those guns! 

The biggest challenge with hand sanding is ensuring that you sand your piece evenly and completely. There are a variety of tools to help you achieve that even sanding job.

close up of a hand sanding wooden table top

Sanding Block

When hand sanding, it is key to ensure you apply even pressure across the sandpaper.  The easiest way is to wrap your sandpaper around a sanding block. This is a rather simple tool which can still create big impact in your projects.

Work with the grain in back-and-forth motions and take your time.

Sanding blocks, one made of cork, the other with foam
Sanding Blocks

Sanding Sponge

This sanding pads are soft, foldable and able to get into smaller corners of your project. They can be available in different grits, so choose the right one for your project.

sanding sponge, must have tool for sanding
Sanding Sponge

Couture Sanding Grips

These small sanding forms are made to wrap your sandpaper around and fit into hard to sand moulding and other shapes.  These forms are an absolute must for the professional furniture refinisher.

 

Contour sanding grips. A must have for sanding furniture
My well worn sanding grips

3M Finishing Pads

I recently tried these 3m between and finishing pads and they have quickly become stables in my tool kit. Perfect for between coats or paint or shellac.

I pick mine up at the local hardware store for only a few euros.  I cannot recommend them enough. 

3m between and finishing sanding pads for wood
Must have in your finishing tool kit

Other Safety Equipment

sanding pad, sanding gloves and orbital sanding paper

I also recommend that when you are sanding by hand, to invest in sanding gloves.  They will absolutely save your fingertips during this step.  After forgetting to wear gloves when hand sanding, I am never able to open my phone with my finger print. 

A good pair of sanding gloves will also be designed to minimize vibrations from power sanding and can be useful also when working with your machines. 

You should also always wear a face mask that will ensure you do not breath in the fine dust that you are creating. Some wood dusts are carcinogenic and in addition to wood dust, previous wood finish should be included in the dust.

Power sanding Tools for refinishing furniture

Another sanding technique is power sanding, which is done using a power tool.  The two most popular sanders for furniture refinishing are orbital sanders and palm or delta sanders. Power sanding is a must for larger projects. It’s important to choose the right type of power sander for the job, as each type of sander is designed for a specific task.

  • Orbital Sanders – are great for sanding large areas and removing material quickly. They are also great for creating a smooth finish on the surface of the wood.
  • Delta Sanders – are small and easy to handle. They are great for sanding smaller areas and corners. 
Well Worn Bosch Delta Sander
My well worn Bosch Delta Sander
Well worn Bosch Orbital Sander
My well worn Bosch Orbital Sander

Foam Pads for sanders

Also consider when buying an orbital sander, if there is the possibility to purchase a foam pad for your sander. I had one with my Bosch machine and now with my Festool.  The foam sanding pads are essential when working on a cabinet which has curved surfaces.  Take your time working over a curve and assert no pressure to the machine or foam pad.  The Surfprep sanding machine is very popular due to the foam pad system that it works with.  Unfortunately this product is not available in Europe, but I do hear that their foam pads can be used on some of the Festool Sanders.  If you know more about this, reach out to me or leave a comment below.  I would love to know.

Foam pads for orbital sanders
Foam pads for orbital sanders. A must have for furniture refinishers.

Vacuum and dust extractor

If you have the option to make a larger purchase, consider getting a vacuum and dust extractor that is compatible with your sanding machine.  My Festool Rotex 90 and vacuum was my first big purchase. I made refinishing furniture and definitely a purchase I recommend to anyone looking to refinish furniture professionally.

I promise more information on this sander in the near future.

close up of a festool vacuum that works in combination with festool rotex 90
Festool Vacuum and RO 90

Tools to Prepare the Surface before Sanding

Before you start sanding your piece of furniture, you should remove the old finish as much as possible.  Often this step is skipped as it seems easier to simply sand off the old finish. After all, there are a ton of video’s online showing this very thing. But I believe that this is a costly way to go through your sandpaper and could potentially grid the old finish into the wood grain which will affect any finish that you add.

Carbide Scraper

One of the easiest ways to remove an old finish is via a carbide scraper or paint scraper. I personally use a carbide scrapper from Bahco which makes quick process of removing old finishes. You can also make use of a heat gun to warm up the previous finish and then scrap it off.  

It’s incredibly satisfying to see the old finish scrap off and know that you are not wasting sand paper. So, pick up that scrapper and use those arm muscles.

bahco carbid scrapers for removing paint and finishes from furniture
Bacho 650 and 625 scraper

Paint Stripper

While paint stripper is an additional cost to a project, it is essential for removing thick finishes over delicate wood or veneer. It also works good in areas where you have trouble reaching with a sanding machine or curves that you are struggling to work by hand.

Once you have removed all old finish and paint, you need to take time to fill in any cracks or holes. By filling the holes and cracks now, you can sand down the filler when you sand the whole project. To fill in any cracks or holes, you can use wood filler or wood epoxy. Simply apply the product to the area and allow it to dry. Once dry, check that the space is fully filled.  Some products shrink as they dry. 

Finally, it’s important to clean the surface of the wood before sanding. This can be done using a damp cloth or a vacuum to remove any dust or debris. By taking the time to clean the wood, you are ensuring that you will simply not grind the dirt or old wax into the surface of the wood itself.  This can affect any paint adhering later and increase your work load. 

TIP:  I also take the time between each grit to wipe down the piece and remove any wood dust that was not picked up by my vacuum.  This helps to eliminate anything that might scratch up the surface between each grit you use.

Get Started on that Professional Finish

Sanding is a key part of prep work and should never be skipped and should also not be rushed. By using the right sanding tools for refinishing furniture, you can achieve a smooth surface. Its the chance to make the wood grain pop and prepare the wood for your finishing product. 

Sanding is the area where you can make your project stand out as professional craftmanship.

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