When stocking up on your DIY materials, be sure to purchase some sandpaper from your local hardware store.

This is a versatile item that you can use for a variety of tasks around the home.

What, exactly, is sandpaper?

This is basically paper that has a type of abrasive stuck to it so that you can effectively polish or smooth surfaces, such as wood.

Even though you might use sandpaper regularly, you might not know that much about it or its different types.

With that in mind, let’s explore sandpaper!

How Is Sandpaper Made?


Despite its name, sandpaper isn’t made with sand.

Instead, it contains abrasive materials, such as garnet or aluminum oxide, that are attached to the back of the paper. Since these minerals have sharp edges, they are great for buffing and smoothing down surfaces.

Here’s what to know about how sandpaper is made:

  • For starters, sandpaper begins as a large roll of paper that’s about 55 inches wide.
  • Ultraviolet heat is used to dry the paper.
  • It’s then dipped into resin or glue which will be used to attach the abrasive onto it.
  • The paper is rolled out, along with the grit. The grit can be a variety of materials, such as garnet or aluminum oxide, which we’ll explore later on in this article.
  • The grit is moved beneath the paper, before it’s statically charged. The static charge is important because it enables the grit to “leap up” into the resin where it gets embedded.
  • The sandpaper is then baked in a large oven.
  • After it has cured, the sandpaper requires another coating of resin as this ensures it will be tough and durable.
  • The sandpaper will then need to be baked again, before being rolled.
  • Specialised machinery is used to flex, or bend, the sandpaper. This is an important step to prevent the sandpaper from breaking or cracking during use.
  • The sandpaper is then treated to a special type of back coating, such as cloth.
  • A machine is used to cut out different shapes of sandpaper, such as square sheets.
  • The pieces or sheets of sandpaper are packaged and shrink-wrapped, so that they’re ready to be sent to the stores!

What Are The Different Sandpaper Coarseness Levels?

Sandpaper 320

Sandpaper manufacturers put a coarseness level on their products.

This lets you know what the sandpaper’s grit size is so you can choose how coarse you want the sandpaper to be, depending on the work you need to do.

  • Extra-coarse sandpaper: This is sandpaper with 24 to 36 grit, so it’s very tough. You’ll need to use extra-coarse sandpaper when you do tasks such as removing varnish or paint from wood.
  • Coarse sandpaper: This sandpaper has between 40 and 50 grit, and it’s best for projects that involve the removal of debris layers or removing finishes.
  • Medium sandpaper: This sandpaper has between 60 and 100 grit, and is great for sanding rough wood and shaping wood after your project is done, but medium sandpaper is great for general use.
  • Fine sandpaper: This ranges from between 120 to 220 grit, and it’s also a versatile type of sandpaper. It’s great for the final sanding of wood.
  • Extra-fine sandpaper: You can find extremely fine sandpaper that has 240, 320, or 400 grits. These are great for polishing wood and for use between coats of varnish or paint.

As you can see from the above, the higher the sandpaper grit the finer it is, while lower grit numbers mean that the sandpaper is tough and therefore suited to more stubborn sanding projects.

What About The Grit Material?

You might not have realised it, but sandpaper comes in different grit materials. What are they and why do they matter? Here’s a rundown of the most common types of grit material that you can find on sandpaper.

  • Emery: This is a natural grain that’s best for when you need to polish metal because it works well for scrubbing off corrosion. It’s best to avoid using emery grit if you need to sand down wood as it’s too sharp.
  • Flint: This is also natural, and it’s great for removing surface substances from wood, such as paint or varnish.
  • Garnet: This is natural too, and it’s softer than the above-mentioned grits but still rough for a variety of tasks, such as woodworking. It’s ideal for sanding wood finely, but it does dull quickly.
  • Zirconia alumina: This is synthetic grit and it’s ideal for when you need to sand rough wood. What’s great about sandpaper that’s made with this grit is that you don’t have to replace it with new sandpaper too often because its particles tend to become sharper with use.
  • Silicon carbide. This is a durable synthetic type of grit that is great because it’s so versatile – you can use it on a variety of materials, such as soft and hard wood, plastic, glass, and even metal.
  • Aluminum oxide: This is also tough grit, and it’s great for both polishing and sanding. You can use it on metal, alloy steel, and bronze. It’s also useful when you need to sand hardwood. Since it’s both cheap and has a long shelf life, aluminum oxide sandpaper is very popular.
  • Ceramic: This grit is not that sharp, and can be expensive. It’s useful when you want to remove surface materials. You’re likely to find ceramic sandpaper in belts for sanding tools because it works effectively when used with high speed and lots of pressure.

What About Sanding Sponges?

Sanding Sponge

Besides grit, there are also sanding sponges available.

Let’s look at two types of them.

  • Drywall sanding sponges. These are sponges made specifically for smoothing out drywall after it’s been installed. They are stiff and thick, with one of their sides being more abrasive than the other. The abrasive side is best used for the first pass of sanding, while the other, fluffy, side is great for smoothing surfaces.
  • Abrasive sanding sponges. These are sponges that are versatile for a range of DIY projects. They are basically foam blocks that are coated with abrasives which you can use for deburring, finishing, blending, and sanding paint as well as drywall.

What Sanding Tools Do You Need?

While sandpaper is ideal because you can fold it up and use it over and over again, sometimes you require the use of sanding tools in addition to the sandpaper you’ve bought to make your job easier.

So, let’s check out some popular sanding tools and what you can do with them.

  • Hand sander. This manual tool has a rubber pad, side clamps that you will use to secure your sandpaper in place, and a handle so you can move the tool easily. If you need to sand a large area, such as a wooden cabinet or bookshelf, it will make your job go faster.
  • Sanding sponge. This is basically a sponge that’s got sanding grit on it so it works well to sand around edges of wood or other materials. You can also get sanding sponges that have angled sides so you can sand effectively in tight or cramped areas.
  • Orbital sander. This sander works in a circular pattern. If you need to sand large, flat areas, the orbital sander will be very useful.
  • Vibrating palm sander. How this tool works is that you’ll attach the sandpaper to it, switch on the tool, and the vibration will do the sanding. This prevents hand strain because you just need to ensure you direct the sander to where you want it to work.
  • Random orbital sander. Ever noticed that sometimes marks and scuffs are made in the wood during the sanding process? These are caused by using the sandpaper in one area too much. You can prevent it from happening by using a random orbital sander. This also works in circular movements, but it has a base that moves up and down, as well as from side to side.
  • Belt sander. This is a power tool that contains a belt which moves in one direction. You can use it for tasks such as removing varnish, making surfaces level, and sanding very rough surfaces. How it works is that it has a motor which enables two drums, which hold a loop of sandpaper in place, to spin.
  • Bench-mounted sander: This is great for small DIY projects. Bench-mounted sanders make use of various methods to sand down materials, such as by spinning or vibrating. They’re easy to operate because you will move the wood that you’re sanding instead of the tool.

Can You Use Steel Wool Instead Of Sandpaper?

Steel Wool

It might surprise you to discover that you can use steel wool instead of sandpaper.

But does this really work? Here’s what you need to know before you reach for your bundle of steel wool in the kitchen or garage.

First of all, what is steel wool?

Steel wool is basically made up of metal fibres that have been spun together. You might use steel wool around the house, such as scrub stains on stainless steel pans, or remove scratches from glass.

How can you use steel wool as sandpaper?

While it might seem too tough for use, the truth is that steel wool can be used instead of fine sandpaper for a variety of sanding projects you might have to do. These include if you need to remove paint or varnish.

Why steel wool works so well in this regard is that it contains fine strands of steel that are sharp enough to cut the surface of the material you are sanding, and since steel wool can be squeezed into any shape you can use it on small or hard-to-reach spots on items you want to sand.

Steel wool also has various grades, so you can find very fine and coarse types.

The coarsest type of steel wool should be used when you want to remove varnish and paint from wood, such as during upcycling projects, while fine grades of steel wool should be used to sand down wood between finishes.

Since the wool cuts instead of tears the surface you’re sanding, it’s excellent for leaving the finished product smooth.

What about its cons?

Steel wool isn’t always the perfect solution as a sanding tool. This is because it has some drawbacks you should know about.

  • For starters, steel wool can become rusty if it’s exposed to water. So, if you’re using it for water-based finishes this could be problematic.
  • Sometimes, those fine threads of steel wool can get left behind on the material you’re sanding, which can leave behind rust stains.
  • You should also be careful when working with steel wool. It’s recommended that you always wear protective gloves because their small, sharp fibres can pierce your skin and hurt you.

Related Questions

When was sandpaper first used?

Sandpaper hails all the way back to the 13th century, when, in China, crushed sand (yes, sand!) and shells were glued to parchment with the use of the gum.

What’s a good tip for using sandpaper?

It’s smart to start with the roughest type of sandpaper grit your DIY project needs and then move to a finer grit as you do the task.


There are quite a few misconceptions about sandpaper, such as that it’s still made with actual sand.

In this article, we’ve cleared up sandpaper myths and provided you with information about sandpaper, such as its grit levels, grit types, and how to use it for the best DIY results.


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