why I don’t use sandpaper

I don’t use sandpaper and this email received today is a good start in explaining why.

“Hi Robin

Would you mind if I ask you another question? Can’t find any advice on this on t’internet.

I buy a spoon from you, with lovely knife finish and no sanding and when I use it and wash it, it retains that wonderful finish.

When I make a spoon and sand it, cos my knife finish is still not up to much, use it and wash it, the grain raises it’s head and I get an exceptionally rough texture which I can of course remove again by sanding. This goes on and on!

Is it because I sand the spoon in the first place that results in the rough texture after wetting or is there another reason?



So here is the answer for David and others that may wonder why I would choose not to sand work. A finish created by a clean cut with a sharp tool may appear rough to some people particularly if there are large facets or broad cut marks on a turned bowl. A freshly sanded bowl or spoon by contrast feels silky smooth. If you look at that sanded surface under the microscope what you find is that the fibres rather than being cleanly cut have been abraded, the spaces between the abraded fibres are filled with the fine dust from the sandpaper which feels smooth. When we wash it the dust washes away and the abraded fibres swell leaving something that looks under the microscope like a shagpile carpet, that will not feel nice to the touch and unlike the tool cut finish it does not age nicely either.

So what are the options? I would encourage people to persevere with their knife work to get as good as they can with the tool cut finish. If you are going to go the sanded route then this is how to proceed.

Use a range of grits of sandpaper starting at a coarse 120 working down through 180, 240, to 360 or 400. Each grit should be used to sand all over the work taking care in how you use it to avoid rounding off any clean shapes and lines you have made in the work. Now wash the work which will raise the grain, let it dry and sand again very gently with the finest paper. The aim is just to cut off the top of the swelled fibres not to expose a whole new layer of wood. You can rep[eat this last wetting, drying and sanding a few times if you like. Then oil the work, the oil again will swell the fibres and this time I would use the sandpaper lubricated with lots of oil to sand again very lightly all over. Now wipe off the excess oil and leave to dry. This is a good sanded finish that will not go fluffy over time but it does take far longer than a good cut finish.


The two spoons below are both around ten years old, the bottom  one is a tool cut finish and the  top one by my friend JanHarm is sanded. Both feel lovely.



When I started I did use sandpaper as a substitute for skill and since I knew the tool cuts were going to be removed by sanding there was little incentive to struggle on getting those cuts as clean as I could. The day I really started to learn was when I threw the sandpaper away.

14 Responses to why I don’t use sandpaper

  1. Ingo Dyrkton April 22, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    I agree,and if your sanding in a confined area or a lot ,you will be inhaling dust that can be toxic and can give you a sore throat,without using a mask.

  2. Bill April 23, 2014 at 12:27 am #

    What about using a scrapper????

    I often use a scrapper for projects like spoons and never have the raised grain problem.
    When I do make spoons I use saws, chisels, spokeshaves, and scrappers. I know that’s not how you make yours, but I don’t make spoons or spatulas very often, so I use what I have.

  3. Jason April 23, 2014 at 1:51 am #


    Great post. I agree 100%. I used to agonize over sanding, washing, drying, sanding, washing, drying……you know the drill. Now I just strop my edges (be them chisels, irons, knifes, or scrapers) and take a nice clean finishing cut leaving a unique surface that can’t be replicated by anything else. My wife also appreciates that I don’t have saw dust imbedded in ALL of my clothes when I get home :P.

    And to support your idea, my skills have improved immensely when I finally tossed the sandpaper and had to stand behind my surfaces off the tools.

  4. Richard Andrew Law April 23, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    Bog oak wedges?

  5. Robin Wood April 23, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Laburnum Richard, I use it for nearly all my wedges. I like the contrast and it is very hard and strong. I keep a supply of bone dry cleft straight grained laburnum by the fireplace.

    • Martin April 24, 2014 at 7:20 am #

      Robin and Richard,

      Is “wedges” a term for the pieces of wood you start off with and that using dried bog oak/laburnum wedges avoides the sanding problem because of the properties of these woods.
      Sorry, this is a beginner asking.

      • Robin Wood April 26, 2014 at 10:55 am #

        Martin the wedges are nothing to do with sanding, Richard was looking at the stool that I did the photo on and the wedges are the dark bits of wood in the top of the stool legs.

  6. David April 23, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Makes perfect sense!
    I see now that in my impatience to make what I considered to be a beautiful spoon, I’ve lost the plot when it comes to improving my skills.
    Believing that sanding could remove a multitude of sins, I have made little effort to improve my knife finish.
    The result being lots of pretty looking spoons that are actually unpleasant to use. Ultimately, function is the most important thing, a spoon that’s unpleasant to use is just a bit of firewood!
    So, a ‘Eureka moment’, I’ll throw away the sandpaper and start learning.
    Thanks Robin

    • Robin Wood April 23, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      What I would suggest is forget eating spoons for a while. Make serving spoons and cooking spoons. A 90% good finish on a cooking spoon is OK, you will still want to use it and your skills will improve rapidly. Making 90% eating spoons is not so much fun because you will not want to use them.

  7. John Wooldridge April 23, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    A very informative post Robin, thank you for taking the time to write it and also explain the points in a very clear manner.

  8. michael bennett April 25, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Really interesting post again Robin, I definitely prefer the finish straight off a sharp tool, even in joinery and cabinet making. I mainly work restoring 200 year old pianos and have come to the conclusion that sandpaper was not used in early joinery work (from the few pieces of timber I find that have an original unpatinated surface) only sharp smoothing planes and scrapers.

    It leaves a much crisper surface and slightly burnishes the surface. However it takes more time to learn to sharpen one’s tools properly which is probably why sand paper and abrasives have gained popularity in modern times.

  9. Djamel April 26, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Thanks Robin – this is a good post (also enjoyed the rant about the new gimmicky axe).

  10. Luke H January 15, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

    Inspiration! I am throwing my and paper away, as of tonight!

  11. Richard January 2, 2016 at 1:00 am #

    Thanks, very informative!