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.

Author Robin Wood

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