I bet you agree that sandpaper is at the core of woodworking. But have you ever wondered if there’s a worthy substitute for sandpaper?
This article will show you how to sand wood without sandpaper using different alternatives.
From our research and experiments with these methods, we’ve identified the advantages of each sandpaper substitute along with helpful tips to help you achieve a beautiful finish.
Let’s get to it
How to Sand Wood Without Sandpaper
There are several alternatives to sandpaper that get the job done. For example; using sand and leather, pumice stone, ground walnut shells, Rottenstone, wood shavings, crushed corn cobs, steel wool, wood file or wood rasp, card blade scraper, burnishing, sanding block, primitive sanding tool, emery cloths, emery boards, and hand planer.
How to Smooth Wood Projects Without Sandpaper
Whenever you run out of fine grid sandpaper, and the trip to the hardware store appears forever away, look around for any of the materials below and get to work.
Method 1: Using sand and leather
This method is one of the easy alternatives to sandpaper. However, you will need fine sand grains and a piece of fabric like leather.
Sprinkle the abrasive particles on the entire wood surface. Ensure the wood is on a flat surface to keep the sand grains from running off.
Place the fabric on the surface and begin rubbing the sand back and forth. Apply even pressure and work in the direction of the wood grain.
You’ll get faster results working on a section at a time and not the entire length of the wood surface.
The advantage here is that it’s beginner-friendly and relatively cheap if you already have fine grit sand. However, cleaning up all the abrasive grains and dust is hectic.
Method 2: Use Pumice stone
You may know a pumice stone as that porous rock often used in pedicures to remove dead skin on the feet. This pumice stone is a volcanic rock that you can use to smooth out rough wood in place of sandpaper.
First, choose the right Pumice stone abrasion level (fine grit to rough grit) suitable for the surface. Then, you can buy them from hardware stores or online on amazon.
Sprinkle water on the wood surface and then rub it with the pumice stone. Ensure the wood surface is wet throughout the sanding process. Dunk the volcanic rock in water if it gets clogged as you sand.
Remember to work with the grain for the best results. Also, wear heavy-duty gloves to keep your hands from unnecessary abrasion.
Once you’re satisfied with the new texture of the wood surface, wash off the debris with a soft bristle brush and water.
The best part is that pumice stones are available in different grits to suit your project and are more durable –reusable, unlike sand. But unfortunately, it’s slow and a bit labor-intensive.
Method 3: Use ground walnut shells
Ground walnut shells make an excellent substitute for sandpaper. You can buy ground walnut shells in most hardware stores or on amazon.
Spread a thin layer of crushed walnut shells on the rough wood surface. Next, grab a piece of fabric, preferably leather, and then rub the walnut shells back and forth on the wood surface.
Apply even pressure and sand along the wood grain. Repeat the process over the entire surface until the wooden surface is perfectly smooth.
Vacuum the sanding dust and the crushed walnut shells off the surface. You can wipe the sanded surface using a tack cloth before applying your desired wood finish.
The advantage is it’s easy to use, especially if you want to polish wood surfaces. But the downside is that crushed walnut shells are hard to come by, and you will need a lot.
Method 4: Using Rottenstone as a sandpaper substitute
A Rottenstone is a porous rock like pumice stone but exists in fine powder form. You may have some luck finding it in a hardware store.
Using Rottenstone is pretty much like working with sand or ground walnut shells. Spread the rottenstone powder on the wood surface and use a piece of felt pad or fabric to rub it on the wood surface.
However, the approach is slightly different if polishing a painted, varnished, or lacquered surface.
Dip the felt pad or fabric in mineral oil, then dab it on the Rottenstone and shake off the excess powder. Then start polishing the surface using even pressure and work with the grain.
Wipe the smooth surface using a fabric dampened in mineral oil or warm soapy water. Finally, buff the surface with a dry cloth and finish the wood with paint or other finishes.
If you’re working on a wood carving, the method remains the same, only that you may need to use an improvised soft bristle brush like a shoe-shining brush to get the job done.
The best part is that it’s available in uniform fine grits that smoothen and polish wood surfaces. The challenge is it may not be available everywhere.
Method 5: Use wood shavings as a sandpaper alternative
If you’ve been sawing or planing timber boards in your workshop, you probably have some wood shavings lying or stored somewhere. Wood shavings can polish wood just like sandpaper.
Assemble the wood shavings and ensure there aren’t any rocks or dirt trapped that may damage your wood surface.
Place the wood shavings on the surface and rub them along the wood grain. You can rub them with your palm while wearing leather gloves or use a piece of woodblock to distribute the pressure evenly.
Decide on the amount of shavings you will need based on the texture and size of the lumber board. This is an easy method but also slow and labor-intensive.
Method 6: Smooth wood using corn cobs
Corn cobs are one of the exotic methods of smoothing wood surfaces without sandpaper.
First, get your hands on crushed corn cobs–the same ones used a blasting medium from a hardware store. They are available in various grits, so choose the grit suitable for the surface in question.
Spread a thin layer of the crushed corn cob on the wood surface and rub it on the rough surface using a thick piece of fabric or a sizeable wood block. Work with the grain until the surface is smooth.
However, if you’re trying to remove a finish from a log house, you’ll have faster and safer results blasting using compressed air and crushed corn cobs as a blasting media.
This method is equally eco-friendly and easy to use, but it’s slow and requires patience and effort.
Method 7: Use steel wool as a sandpaper substitute
Steel wool is the most common substitute for sandpaper. Most woodworkers prefer steel wool to sandpaper because it is less messy. It also helps that it’s cheap and always available in hardware shops.
If you’re working on rough wood, extra-fine steel wool (#000) will be perfect for the job. However, if you want to remove imperfections between coats of a wood finish, get a fine grit steel wool (#0000 equivalent to 400 grit sandpaper).
Rub the steel wool on the wood surface, following the direction of the wood grain. Apply even pressure and polish the surface until you achieve the desired smooth finish. Run your palm on the surface and smooth out any left-over rough spots.
Brush off the sanding dust and steel wool particles from the surface. The major shortcoming of steel wool is that it rusts and spoils easily if stored carelessly.
Method 8: Use a wood File or wood rasp
Does this option sound obvious? A wood file or rasp is a tool you should consider using if you have them around in your workshop or when you run out of the finest sandpaper.
Still, you can invest in high-quality wood files or rasps that will serve you well and last for generations.
One of the advantages of using either wood files or rasp is the variety of grits (very rough to very fine grit) you get based on your needs. In addition, it also comes in various forms and sizes, guaranteeing you’ll get a suitable for your wooden surfaces.
Method 9: Smooth wood by scraping
Scraping is another excellent alternative for sandpaper. With this method, you can smooth any wood surface before finishing and get amazing results. A scraped surface looks almost identical to a sanded surface.
You’ll need a sharp card blade or a utility knife. Place the blade on the surface, hold it firmly with both hands and drag it towards you—every pass of scraping cuts off loose fibers and any unevenness present. Repeat the process until you have your desired results.
Ensure the blade is flat on the surface and scrape along the wood grain. Note that any slight bend of the blade may chip a chunk of the wood, giving you more work to even it out.
This method will give you excellent results when done correctly, plus it is less messy. However, it’s labor-intensive and requires some concentration and experience to get it right.
Method 10: Try burnishing as a sandpaper substitute
Burnishing is one of the easiest and cheapest methods of smoothening wood surfaces. It is also probably the cleanest because there’s no dust or shavings.
You need to rub a piece of wood or smooth stone against the wooden surface you want to smooth out. The friction between the two objects will lay down any protruding fibers resulting in a super smooth surface feel.
On a finished wood surface, you can burnish using a piece of leather to bring out the desired sheen.
Method 11: Build a primitive sanding tool
This is another one of the very exotic methods of smoothing wood on this list. However, it’s another opportunity to make a fun DIY sanding tool. It’s referred to as “primitive” because it was first used during the Stone Age.
Find a smooth and flat-faced stone, some sand, and potent glue to get started. First, ensure the stone is clean before coating it with glue. Next, sift sand on the glued stone surface, just enough to stick to every glued spot.
Then let the stone sit in a dry place while the glued sand sets. Once the glue is completely dry, you have a primitive sanding tool.
Alternatively, you can get a stiff-backing paper and cut it into sizeable bits. Lay it on a flat surface and then coat it with strong liquid glue.
Next, sift fine grain sand on the glued paper and let it sit until the glue is no longer tacky. Place a board on the glued sand and clamp it for overnight.
Lift the board and cut Your DIY sandpaper using a utility knife. Depending on its grit level, you can smooth down any rough spots on the wood get an amazing finish.
Even though this method is cheap and relatively easy to use, it’s not the most durable option. The sand granules are bound to fall off from regular friction. But you can always replace the falling sand.
Method 12: Use a sanding block as a sandpaper alternative
Another common substitute for sandpaper is a sanding block. You may also know them as sanding sponges because they look like ordinary dish sponges but with a rough texture.
The abrasive texture of the sanding block can smooth down a pre-sanded wood; it can also remove finishes from wood surfaces and sand between coats in a wood finishing project.
Using a sanding block is that you can squish or bend it easily to fit tight spots or unusually shaped surfaces and sand them. They also are more durable and reusable compared to normal sandpaper.
Method 14: Use emery cloths as a sandpaper alternative
You may know emery cloths are commonly used on metal surfaces to remove rust and polish metal surfaces. Emery cloth is pretty much the same as sandpaper.
However, it has a cloth backing and is mostly made of aluminum oxide, making it a lot more durable. You can buy a sheet or a roll of emery cloth from a local hardware store.
Use it in the same way you would common sandpaper. We recommend using a light hand (gentle strokes) and working with the wood grain. You can also wrap it around a hand block to leverage arm muscle.
Although you can use emery cloth to smooth out most wood surfaces, it’s best to use it between coarse and fine grit material. You also need to ensure no iron particles are trapped in the wood fibers that might rot with time and ruin a finished surface.
Method 15: Try emery boards
Emery boards are also referred to as nail files for manicures and pedicures. They are made by adhering sandpaper to all the sides of a wooden back or cardboard. Each side of these emery boards has a different grit for every stage of nail filing.
You would use an emery board as a sandpaper substitute to sand between coats of a wood finish. Alternatively, use it to buff out imperfections after the last finish coat. You can also smooth wood surfaces previously sanded with coarse-grit material.
Although the grit level varies on these boards, they range between fine and ultra-fine. Also, considering they are available in smaller sizes, they are most practical for smaller projects or surfaces.
The downside is that the grit level is limited and isn’t suitable for large surfaces.
Method 16: Smooth wood using a planer
A hand planer is another reliable alternative to sandpaper. However, use this method while prepping fresh wood with rough edges.
A planer will smooth down a wooden surface by slicing a bit of wood with every stroke. It will also get you an evenly thick wood board; if you have irregularly shaped wood board pieces, you can get them all to look and feel even.
Again with this method, you have to work with the wood grain. This method as an alternative for sandpaper is the fastest and with minimal mess –wood shavings are more manageable than sanding dust.
However, it requires some expertise to get a flawless, smooth surface.
- Sand and leather
- Pumice stone
- Ground walnut shells
- Wood shavings
- Crushed corn cobs
- Steel wool
- Wood file or wood rasp
- Card blade scraper
- Sanding block
- Primitive sanding tool
- Emery cloths
- Emery boards
- Hand plane
Tips to Remember when Smoothing Wood Surfaces Without Sandpaper
Now that you have the alternative methods of sanding wood without sandpaper, here are some helpful tips (cardinal rules) to help you execute the task at hand.
Ensure uniform abrasive particles
This applies more to using sand particles with leather or primitive sanding tool. Sand granules have varying sizes and shapes, leaving different scratch textures on the surface.
The best way to ensure you have uniform grit of sand granules is to pass them through a sifter. Sifting sand particles allows you to have different grit levels –from coarse to extra fine, enabling you to sand your wooden project to perfection.
Sand with the wood grain
When it comes to sanding and most wood-related activities, always work following the direction of the wood grain and not against it.
Sanding across the grain beats the purpose of sanding in the first place because it cuts the wood fibers and leaves ugly scratch marks on the wood surface.
Begin with coarse grit and finish with a finer grit
Sanding prepares wood for finishing. With that in mind, it’s best to start sanding the surface using a coarse grit tool to remove major imperfections. Then gradually move to medium and fine grit to remove the scratches from previous grits.
Stop sanding the surface once you achieve your desired smooth and even surface appearance.
Apply uniform pressure
Sanding with bare hands will likely leave the surface with a few dips here and there. One way to distribute sanding pressure on the surface is to use a solid wood block with a flat surface.
Compared to your palm, a woodblock runs parallel to the grain and guarantees the resulting sanded surface is flat and smooth. Plus, it eases the amount of pressure you’d put on your arm.
What is the fastest way to sand wood by hand?
The fastest way to sand wood by hand is by wrapping the sandpaper on a hand block. Once the sandpaper is secured, every sanding pass is swift and even. Keep sanding along the wood grain. Finally, clean the wood sanding dust using a shop vac and follow with a tack cloth.
How do you make homemade sandpaper?
- Cut a stiff-backed paper into your desired size.
- Lay the paper on a flat surface.
- Coat the face of the paper with liquid glue.
- Sift sand onto the glued paper.
- Let the glue and the sand dry for about an hour.
- Place a board on the glued sand and clamp it for 24 hours.
- Carefully lift the new sandpaper off the surface.
What can I use to sand wood?
You can use regular sand paper to sand wood. Alternatively, Sand and leather, pumice stone, ground walnut shells, Rottenstone, wood shavings, crushed corn cobs, steel wool, wood file or wood rasp, card blade scraper, burnishing, sanding block, primitive sanding tool, emery cloths, emery boards, hand plane, and homemade sandpaper are good alternatives.
How do you hand sand wood?
First, pick out the correct sandpaper grit suitable for your project –coarse, medium, and fine-grit sandpaper. Then wrap coarse grit sandpaper on a hand block and sand wood along the grain. Remove the dust, repeat sanding with medium grit, and then finish with a fine-grit sandpaper. Collect the dust and wipe the sanded surface using a tack cloth.
We’ve elaborated on the various ways how to sand wood without sandpaper. These sandpaper alternatives are relatively affordable and easy to use, while some are very exotic methods resulting in interesting finishes.
Speaking from experience, our personal favorite is using a sanding block, and the most fun is building a primitive sanding tool.
Which of these alternatives for sandpaper have you tried? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.