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How to Choose and Use Sandpaper

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva teaches the basics of sanding


  1. Start out with a lower number grit sandpaper, like 60 or 80, depending on the material being sanded, and do multiple passes. Increase the grit with each new pass.
  2. Don’t skip grits. If you start at 80, you should go to 100 next, then 120, etc. Skipping grits will force the higher grits to work harder to smooth out the material, so it ends up wasting more time than just committing to each interval.
  3. Keep the surface clean between passes. Use a sander with a vacuum or a vacuum bag to keep the mess down.
  4. Use a belt sander if you have a lot of material to sand down. They’re good for aggressive work.
  5. Finish sanders are good for corners and trim and angles if you’re prepping for paint.
  6. Random orbit sanders are good for most universal sanding projects.


All the different types of sandpaper and sanders Tom demonstrated can be found at home centers. Tom recommends buying a wide variety of grits to ensure the material gets sanded properly.