How to Choose the Right Sandpaper Grit for Your Project

Kristin Salaky
Written by Kristin Salaky
Updated March 14, 2022
Father and daughter sanding a chair before painting
Photo: Marko Gerber / Getty Images

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty

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Sandpaper is a versatile tool, and can be used from the beginning of a project to its completion. However, choosing a sandpaper that is too rough can take off too much material, whereas a sandpaper that’s too fine won’t produce the desired effect. Use this guide to learn and how to choose the right sandpaper grit to find the best option for your project.

Understanding the Grit Number

First things first, it’s important to understand what the grit number on sandpaper means. The grit size refers to the number of particles that make up the sandpaper This is determined by the amount of particles that fit through the filter or screen during the manufacturing process. 

The most coarse sandpapers are assigned the lowest numbers. As the grit number increases, the level of abrasion decreases. Extra coarse sandpaper, used for commercial jobs, can be found as low as #12 grit, and extremely fine grits range from #800 to #1,200 grit. However, most DIY projects will fall somewhere between #60 to #220 grit. 

Pro tip: Many projects will require multiple grits of sandpaper to get the best results, starting with the most coarse for the first run moving to a finer grit in each subsequent run.

Choosing the Right Sandpaper Grit

Different rolls of sandpaper in workshop
Photo: Richard Drury / Getty Images

Learn about the different sandpaper grit ranges to pick the right one for your project.

Extra Coarse: #24 to #36 Grit

Best for: Heavy duty projects and removing material

Extra coarse sandpaper ranges from #24 to #36 grit. This is the most abrasive type and works well for heavy duty projects and tough jobs, such as:

  • Industrial sanding jobs

  • Shaping wood

  • Removing rust

  • Sanding old hardwood floors

  • Removing caked on paint or varnish 

Take extra care when choosing this type of coarse grit, as it can damage the surface if this level isn’t absolutely necessary.

Coarse: #40 to #50 Grit

Best for: Removing material or paint

Coarse sandpaper typically falls between #40 to #50 grit, and it is strong enough to use on tougher jobs, such as:

  • Shaping wood

  • Removing paint

  • Removing finishes, such as varnish or polyurethane

  • Quickly removing material

Medium: #60 to #80 Grit

Best for: Removing material and preparing surfaces

Medium coarseness sandpaper ranges from #60 to #80 grit and is a versatile option for various projects, such as:

  • Removing planning marks

  • Removing paint

  • Gently removing various finishes, such as varnish or polyurethane

  • Taking out flaws in the wood

  • Preparing bare wood for finishing

  • Sanding between runs during hardwood floor refinishing

Fine: #100 to #120 Grit

Best for: Smoothing and preparing surfaces

Finer grits range from #100 to #120 grit and are typically used for the smoothing portion of a project, or for preparing wood for painting or staining. Here are a few examples: 

  • Preparing wood for finishing

  • Removing stains on wood

  • Removing scratches in wood

  • Smoothing surfaces

  • Removing textured paint on drywall

Very Fine: #150 to #220 Grit

Best for: Finishing and touch ups

Extra fine sandpaper ranges from #150 to #220 grit. It is most often used as one of the final steps in a sanding project, and rarely used as a first run. Here are a few instances when you might choose a very fine grit:

  • Removing finishing scuffs 

  • Removing wood grain fibers 

  • Second and third wood sanding jobs

  • To rough up semi-gloss or high gloss paint before applying another coat

Ultra-Fine Sandpaper: #220 Grit and Above

Best for: Polishing and smoothing

Ultra-fine grit is the least abrasive type of sandpaper and has specific uses, such as:

  • Polishing jobs 

  • Final wood finishing

  • Sanding between coats of finish

Ultra-fine sandpaper can also be used to wet sand, which is a process when liquid is added to sandpaper to serve as a lubricant. This provides an extra-smooth finish, and it is usually done after dry sanding.

Types of Sandpaper Materials

Sandpaper isn’t actually made from sand, as it is actually composed of a certain type of abrasive material. There are different abrasive grain materials that can make a difference on the overall outcome of your project. Here are some of the most common abrasive grains and their specific properties so you can select the best one for the job. 

  • Aluminum oxide: This is one of the most versatile abrasive grain materials, and it is durable and more cost-effective to produce than other types. Aluminum oxide works best for a wide variety of home improvement projects, and can be used on different surfaces, such as wood, metal, and painted materials.

  • Garnet: Garnet is a naturally occurring mineral that can be used to make sandpaper sheets. It is most commonly used for woodworking projects, such as sanding wood, polishing, and finishing wood.

  • Silicon carbide: Silicon carbide is a common sandpaper material choice, and it works well on both wood and metal rough surfaces. Moreover, this abrasive grain can be used for wet sanding projects, like polishing various types of stone.

  • Ceramic: Ceramic sandpaper is one of the hardest and most durable abrasive grain types, but it comes with a higher price tag. It is typically used for rough sanding in conjunction with a power sander to tackle heavy duty projects.

  • Zirconia alumina: This type of sandpaper is more coarse than other options, but it’s not as budget-friendly. It’s typically used for heavier projects, such as sanding metal or raw wood. 

Types of Sanding Tools

Sanding piece of wood with a palm sander
Photo: Jordan Lye / Getty Images

Keep in mind that the tool you’re using can dictate the type of sandpaper you purchase. For example, power tools, such as orbital sanders or belt sanders, require a specific sandpaper shape. While you can manually use just the piece of sandpaper, here are some sanding tools that can make the project ‌easier: 

  • Sanding block: A sanding block, also known as a sanding sponge, is a simple, manual tool that works as a base to the sandpaper. They come in various sizes, and you can use different types of grit, depending on the project you’re working on. 

  • Palm sander: A palm sander, sometimes called a hand sander, is a small device made to easily fit in the palm of your hand. They are the lightest strength power sander, and are typically used with #160–#220 grit sandpaper, ideal for polishing and finishing projects. 

  • Orbital sander: Orbital sanders are bigger and more powerful than palm sanders, and are circular in shape. They are used with #80–#160 grit for projects, such as removing paint and varnish, or prepping wood for paint (without removing a lot of material). Keep in mind that because of their shape, they will need a specific sandpaper disc to fit the tool.

  • Detail sander: A detail sander is similar to an orbital sander, but it is triangular in shape, usually on the smaller side. They work well for getting into corners and small crevices.

  • Belt sander: You can find two different types of sanding belts—handheld and tabletop. Both work by removing material from a given surface with a rotating band, but a tabletop sander is better for larger objects. Take care when using this type of power sander to avoid leaving unwanted gauges or notches in the pieces. 

  • Disc sander: This is a powerful sander that works like a tabletop belt sander by quickly removing material from larger surfaces. However, a disc sander produces a smoother finish compared to a belt sander. 

  • Pole sander: This is a manual type of sander, using a clamp attached to a pole, so you can sand in an upright position. This type of sander is most commonly used for sanding walls, ceilings, and floors.

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