All About Sandpaper

Associated Expert

Whether you are re-finishing furniture, removing rust, or smoothing out spackle on a wall, the right type of sand paper can make a world of difference.

The ABC's of Sand Paper

Many of the home improvement projects you'll tackle will require that little thing called Sandpaper. Most people have used it, seen it, or at least heard of it. But believe it or not, there are several uses and types of sand paper out there. So whether you are re-finishing furniture, removing rust, or smoothing out spackle on a wall, the right type of sand paper can make a world of difference.

Sandpaper is the most common item from a larger group of products known as "coated abrasives". Although each manufacturer classifies sand paper a bit differently, in general its rated as follows:
  • The higher the grade or grit number, the finer the paper.
  • The lower the grit number, the coarser the paper.


Fine sand paper is used for that smooth-as-a-baby's-bottom touch.
Coarse sand paper is used when you really need to take off a layer of old paint or rust.
Keep in mind - there are many levels in between, and you often start with a coarse sandpaper, then end with a fine one.

Simple, yes? Well, there's more: Sandpaper is also available in several different materials, grit size and backing:



Aluminum oxide

(Belts are a dark red)
  • Most common - you'll use this on most projects.
  • Durable, general-purpose grain
  • For use on wood, fiberglass, metal, plastic or painted surfaces.
  • Preferred for power tools
  • Man-made
Emery Dull black
  • Natural
  • Used for hand sanding
Garnet Reddish brown
  • Good for hand sanding, finer items
  • Not very durable.
  • Natural



  • Cheapest and least durable.
  • Natural.
Zirconium oxide Brown
(Belts are blue)
  • Specialized version for power tools only.
  • Used for extreme cutting and grinding.
  • Man-made
Silicon carbide Shiny black
  • Extremely fine grit.
  • Man-made

...And nope, its not the same as the good ol' cooking you may have eaten down South. "Grit" refers to the number of abrasive particles or grains per square inch. Grits can be as high as 1500, but for most people's needs the following grit range will do:


GRIT SIZE MAIN USES 36 - 40 Extra Coarse Heavy material removal on extremely thick surfaces. 50 - 60 Coarse

Heavy material removal, rough sanding or paint stripping.

80 - 100 Medium

Medium material removal and pre-paint finishing.

120 - 150


Light material removal and pre-paint finishing.

180 - 220 Very Fine

Finish sanding and sanding between coats.

280 - 320 Extra Fine

Sanding between finish coats

360 - 600 Super Fine Final surface sanding, extra smooth finish


The back of sand paper is made from various materials: cloth, paper, fiber, or a combination. Why is this important? Because it depends what you are - or are not - going to attach the sand paper to. Are you using it by hand, on a palm sander, a belt sander or a floor sander? The thickness is designated by the letters A-E, thinnest to thickest. The most commonly used backings are C and D. BACKING MATERIAL APPLICATION A weight Lightweight paper Used in very fine grits for hand sanding. Flexible, good all around B weight Lightweight paper For wet or dry hand sanding. C and D weight Medium weight paper For sheets and discs used in hand sanding or random orbit sanders. E and F weight Heavyweight paper For discs and belts used in power sanding. J Cotton cloth Designed for flexibility. X Cotton cloth Used for heavy-duty sanding belts . Combination Reinforced heavyweight paper For discs and drums used in floor sanding. EXTRA INFO  
  • Most sandpaper comes in 9 x 11" sheets that can easily be cut to fit your needs.
  • Precut sanding sheets, pads, and discs are available in clamp-on or stick-on versions for power sanders.
  • Wet/dry papers with water-resistant backings are moistened with oil or water to reduce dust and clogging.
If you have a lot of sanding to do, always start with the LARGE grit paper first, then move to the smallest (finer) grits. Once finished sanding, always thoroughly remove the dust from your project - use a vacuum or slightly damp cloth.
"Where there is sand, there is dust" - and sometimes a few wood particles. This can be hazardous to your health. Some power sanders have dust collector systems, but its usually not enough. Make sure you:
  1. Always wear protective eye wear - contact lenses & sawdust do not mix!
  2. Don't wear lip gloss -- trust us on this one, or else you'll be lickin' sawdust and grime all day!
  3. A mask or respirator is also a good idea for larger sanding projects - your lungs don't need the extra burden.
  4. If possible, sand outside your home. Sanding inside will not only make a mess, but can get into your vents or air duct system and cause problems. If you're project cannot be moved, then be sure to seal off vents, close doors to other rooms, and open the windows.
Happy Sanding!
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