How to Sand a Wood Table Like a Pro

3 Materials
1 Hour

In this HT post, I'll show you the procedure I use to properly sand a wood table top. This same procedure also works for refinishing existing tables. This technique consistently produces

Ultimately, I decided to write this post in response to the many questions I see on the HomeTalk DIY Forum regarding refinishing existing tables or the best finish to use for new wood tables.

Please keep in mind, the tools you see in the picture are not required to complete the tasks. I'll do my best to list the tools needed for each step along with an alternate tool if applicable. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.

Walnut Dining Table

I recently built a dining table for my brother-in-law and his wife. The sanding and refinishing process starts at the 2 minute mark in the video. If you are interested, I show you how I joined the walnut wood to create the table up to the 2 minute mark.

Sanding Sequence

It is vital to properly sand the wood table before applying finish.

Remember, the low sandpaper grits are rough and more aggressive. The high grits are smooth and less aggressive. This is why you start with the low grits and move up to the higher grits for a smooth surface.

After many sanding tests/experiments, hours of instructional videos, multiple sanders, and over 250 wood tables - I feel I've accumulated enough knowledge to confidently state my sanding sequence works well. Ideally, the grit sequence should be: 40 grit, 60 grit, 80 grit, 120 grit, 220 grit, and 320 grit.

Please note, 40 grit, 60 grit, or 320 grit sandpaper may not be at your local home center because they are somewhat uncommon. The common grits begin at 80 grit and stop at 220 grit. If this is the case, use the following sanding grits: 80 grit, 100 grit, 120 grit, 150 grit, 220 grit

First, start with 40 grit sandpaper. This sandpaper is aggressive and will rip through some material if too much pressure is applied.

If refinishing a table, the 40 grit will do a great job at removing the old finish.

It's also important to NEVER skip the lower grits because these grits get deep enough to remove hidden scratches and imperfections.

Types of Sanders

There are many types of sanders, but the most common handheld sanders used today are the Random Orbit Sander (Random Orbit Sander) and the Belt Sander. I'll cover each as well as the Sander I use which is a Dual Mode Sander (Festool Rotex).

Random Orbit Sander

These sanders are most common and they can produce a nice result. They were originally invented for the automotive industry called 'DA Sanders' which stands for Dual Action. The 2 actions are the orbit and full circle sweep (the rotation of the sander). The biggest common mistake with these sanders is applying too much pressure, which stops the rotation and causes swirl marks.

Belt Sanders

These sanders are used to remove material rather than creating a smooth surface. The normally are used with lower grit sandpaper and the sandpaper is a circle that fits around a 'belt'. The belt rotates and digs into the surface.

Dual Mode Sander (Festool Rotex)

In my opinion, this sander is worth its weight in gold and it improved my work and workflow more than any other tool I've ever purchased. It is expensive, but it will pay for itself in the first month of ownership if you do this often. This sander has 2 modes: Random Orbit Mode (same as above) & Core Sanding (Rotex) Mode. I only use Rotex mode because it combines an orbital sander and belt sander into one - in other words, removes material like a belt sander but produces a fine finish like an orbit sander. Rotex mode is not random, which means it doesn't stop spinning which eliminates the main problem with Random Orbit Sanders. These sanders also are great polishers.

I recommend to purchase either the Random Orbit Sander if you don't sand often. If you sand often, but don't want to spend a lot of money on a Rotex like mine - I recommend purchasing a RO Sander & a Belt Sander.

If you love tools (like I do) and don't mind shelling out some cash for a great sander, I recommend the Festool RO90, RO125, or the RO150. I use the RO125.

Sanding Technique

My simple wood sanding technique consists of working in a 24" x 24" section at a time.

First, I sand from right to left beginning at the bottom. I work my way to the top of the section.

Next, I sand the same section from top to bottom.

Ultimately, it reminds me of a tic-tac-toe pattern.

I repeat this process on the next 24" x 24" section and so on until I'm done with that particular grit.

So, I do this process on the entire table for each grit in my sanding sequence.

Raise the Grain

Once I'm finished with all my sanding grits, I damp a rag with water and wipe the wood table.

Repeat Highest Grit Sandpaper

While the table is still wet, I attach the highest grit I used in the previous step. In my case, this is 320 grit.

Final Sanding

As a last step, sand the table for the final time with the highest grit using the same technique.

Common Sanding Mistakes

If you have tried sanding a wood table or wood surface in the past and didn't get a good result, you probably fell victim to one of these common mistakes.

  • Swirl Marks as a result of applying too much pressure.

  • Just let the sander do the work.
  • Start sander without sander on surface And stopping the sander while still on the surface.

  • Always place the sander on the material, start the sander, sand, remove the sander while still powered on, and power it off after it is removed.
  • Skipping lower grits.

  • Don't take shortcuts or the wood surface will tattle on you when you apply your chosen finish.
  • Lack of Dust Extraction
  • This is another reason I use Festool because they have the best dust extraction of any sander.Without dust extraction to remove loose particles, they will be regrinded into the material and introduce imperfections.More importantly, inhaling dust in the air is not good for your respiratory system. A dust mask along with a dust extraction system for your sander will make for a healthy environment.
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Jeremy Hoffpauir
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