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Planing Versus Sanding

Which one do you choose; and for which job? We Modern Makers briefly discusses each process in hopes of helping you answer the question.

Ahh, one of the most asked questions within the woodworking hobbyists mind. Should I plane this table top, or would sanding it give it a better finish? Arguably, you will come to almost the same exact results no matter the medium you choose to finish your project; however there are pro’s and con’s to both sides of the spectrum, and We Modern Makers intends to provide you a little more information as to which process to choose.

As it stands, planing is most notably faster for prepping your surfaces for finishing. Planing also uses less disposable materials during the finishing process (if any). Last, planing leaves a much easier to manage mess when you’re done, as well as a much smaller one. Sanding, however, has its own unique traits. Sanding can leave multiple types of textures for a surface especially if you do not plan on putting down multiple layers of gloss coat or finish on the project. It can also leave you with a much more level and ‘flat’ surface that fits more to the tune of paints and modern furnitures.

So looking at these basic priniciples, lets get into the nitty gritty side of Planing versus Sanding and take a look at all the tools and parts of the process to really feel out what exactly fits where at the end of each woodworking project you decide to tackle.

Planing can leave you with a much more Ol’ Timey vibe, as in, A plane may leave a slightly scalloped surface that except with high gloss finishes you might feel with your fingertips more than see. Planing is definitely the fastest route when it comes to finish-prepping a nice slab of wood. You can definitely achieve the scalloped feel with say, an orbital sander, but its a completely different type of texture and most would consider them divots more than scallops, anyway. It can take a keener eye to really see across a plane for the slight changes in grade on a piece of lumber. But, regardless of which process you use, you’re going to develop or have developed the ability to read a piece of wood.

Sanding is tedious work. It takes a ton of elbow grease, not to mention the amount of sandpaper you will go through especially on larger projects. The one upside to this is sanding is undoubtebly the only way to finish certain areas of a project, mostly where you’re not going to have just a flat slab like a table. A lot of hand crafted inlays, sculptures, and turned wood pieces like bed posts ends are impossible to plane, simply by design. This is when the ol’ sandpaper comes out to do its work, and so do you. Sanding wood also tends to create a much finer waste through the use of sanding paper and the dust you will create wearing away at the wood.

Realistically, you will probably use both processes in the creation of your next project. However, We Modern Makers hopes that this outline gives you a little insight as to when to use which process and where. Sanding is absolutely essential when smoothing out small areas of work that you have whittled away, like the beatiful pattern you carved out in the side of your tabletop or chair back. Planing is just a quick means to smooth out the slab top you put all that intricate work into. 

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