Most woodworkers buy sandpaper frequently. However, since I got myself a serviceable smoothing plane and discovered card scrapers, buying sandpaper has become something of an event in my shop. I think I last bought sandpaper, a 20-pack of 150-grit, about nine months ago. Today I picked up a 20-pack of 220-grit.
Despite having made a bedframe, two side tables, a bookshelf, a number of wooden spoons, and a coffin (don’t ask), I’ve gone through literally only a handful of sandpaper in the last year.
Normally, I do not sand projects at all. I plane surfaces flat and smooth, and if I need to remove plane tracks, treat tear-out, or break sharp edges, I use card scrapers. The finish left by the scrapers is smooth enough that sanding would be redundant.
Nevertheless, sandpaper still has several small but important roles in my shop:
- Final shaping on tight curves or contours, such as inside the bowl of a spoon. Sandpaper wrapped around a dowel is excellent following a rasp and file, especially in very tight places where scrapers may not be able to reach.
- Tool sharpening and rehabilitation. I sharpen on diamond and Arkansas stones, but I keep a glass plate covered with 150-grit sandpaper for removing small nicks in edges. (Bigger problems go to the belt sander.) On a vintage tool, a light sanding after rust removal will bring back the shine. In fact, I probably use sandpaper on metal as often as I use it on wood.
- Finishing. Some finishes, like lacquer, benefit from light sanding between coats.
And that’s about it. Because I use sandpaper so infrequently, I don’t need to take up valuable space storing multiple packs of multiple grits. I usually have only two grits on hand, 150 and 220, plus some 600-grit that I bought a long time ago for sharpening purposes.
I sure don’t miss sanding. For one, it’s extremely time-consuming to sand every surface in a large project through three or four grits. For another, it makes a big mess. Working indoors, I can’t afford to dust my entire workspace with fine wood powder every time I complete a project. It’s also costly. Sheets of sandpaper look cheap individually, but the cost adds up quickly after several big projects.
Card scrapers are comparatively quick. With a card scraper, there is only one “grit,” and two or three passes over the surface is usually sufficient. With scrapers, it’s easy to work into corners or up to perpendicular surface, and I can avoid rounding over edges if I like. Thin scrapers can bend around gentle curves, or they can be reshaped to match curves exactly. The tiny shavings made by a scraper are easy to clean up, too.
Yes, using card scrapers begins with a learning curve. So do most things worth doing. Yes, card scrapers require frequent sharpening. But the tools required are simple and affordable, and unlike sandpaper, scrapers do not require frequent replacement. Instead of driving down to the home improvement center twenty minutes away for another pack of sandpaper and driving twenty minutes back home, I can spend ten minutes sharpening four or five scrapers without leaving the comfort of my shop. That’s what I call convenience!