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Sandpaper (or sanding paper) is a heavy paper coated with sand or other abrasive material and has three uses:

  • to remove materials
  • to smooth materials
  • or to prepare them to receive an additional coat.

Sandpaper works by scratching and removing tiny bits from the surface of the material against which it is rubbed. Sandpaper with high abrasion and applied with sufficient force will remove significant amounts of material (like a file would), and so one can use the flexible quality of sandpaper to even out surfaces, round corners, or make indentations. If one sands with sandpapers of progressively smaller grit (that's the number of sanding particles per square inch), the papers create smaller and smaller scratches and thus the feel and appearance of a smoother surface. In some cases, such as between coats of polyurethane or when applying paint to an already glossy surface, it is necessary to use sandpaper to "scratch up" the surface so that the top coat can lock into the scratches in the existing coat.

Grit Size

Sandpaper's abrasive strength is labeled by "grit," which is the number of abrasive particles per square inch. As the grit gets higher, the particles get smaller, and so the sandpaper's ability to make large scratches declines. Sandpaper grits range from 40 to 600 and correspond to designations of "course" to "super fine."

Choosing the Right Sandpaper

In addition to grit size, you should consider

the abrasive material (typically aluminum oxide or garnet) and the adhesive that holds it to the backing (glue or resin). Either type of abrasive is fine for wood, but choose aluminum oxide for the any other material. A resin binder is better since it holds better and will allow the sandpaper to last longer under heavy use.

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