Basswood is a great wood to work with for both beginners and advanced woodcarvers, however, basswood being so soft often leads to certain complications such as uncertainty regarding how to sand it. So in this article, we will be discussing how to sand basswood and some of the alternatives for it.
The best way to sand basswood is by doing it in stages. Start with a 120 grit sandpaper and move up to finish with a 220 grit. Usually, you do not want to go past the 220 grit as most finishes such as staining, painting, or oiling will not work well after that.
Sanding also depends a lot on what you are carving. Fine details and small-sized carvings may get damaged from sanding, and if you are looking for a smooth finish you may decide to move past the 220 grit sandpaper, but you need to make sure you do not have “fuziness” in your wood carvings. That and much more in further discussed in the article below.
How To Sand Basswood, Step-By-Step Guide
Unfortunately sanding basswood does not always lead to great results as basswood, like a few other softer kinds of wood (for example tupelo) happen to develop fuziness after you sand them.
A solution to this would be to move up in stages up to 1600 or even a 200 grit sandpaper to remove the fuzz, but this, of course, has a large downside that most of the carving will be sanded away as well as finishes will not take place after such a sanding.
With that said, let’s get into the best way to sand basswood to make it look as good as it possibly can.
1. Make sure your fine details are safe
Basswood sands very easily, and sands away all minor details if you are not careful.
The best solution to this would be to emphasize the details a little more when you are carving, this way when you sand some of it off, you will be left with the subtle detail you wanted in the first place.
If it is too late for that, try to be a little more gentle when sanding areas with details, but do not leave areas of your carvings unsanded as it will be very noticeable and not leave you with any kind of a good finish or appearance.
2. Sand the first layer
When it comes to sanding you must always start with a lower grit and gradually move to higher grit sandpaper.
Sanding basswood is done the same, at first you want to use something like the 120 grit sandpaper, this will really get rid of all uneven surface and prepare the carving for a smoother sanding
3. Sand up to a 220 grit
After sanding with rough sandpaper, move up to a more medium intensity 220 grit sandpaper.
This will get you pretty close to a smooth finish without losing 50% of your carving to sanding. Also, the fuzziness is bearable with this sandpaper grit, which is why we consider it to be the optimal solution for sanding basswood.
4. Remove Wood Dust
This step is especially important if you are planning to seal your carving with shellac or beeswax, however, even if you are not planning to apply a protective coat you should probably still clean your carving for aesthetical reasons.
The best way to do it is firstly by using a soft brush, the softer the better, so a makeup brush is perfect to remove wood dust.
Other methods include blowing through a straw or even using an air compressor if you happen to have one in your household. You could, of course, go the opposite way and suck with a vacuum cleaner.
A soft cloth will also suffice. With a cloth you need to make sure that it is cotton-rich and snag-free, an old t-shirt is usually sufficient. A yellow duster, however, is not good for this as it can leave yellow threads on the work.
Best Finishes For Basswood
As mentioned above, you probably want to apply a finish to your carving after you sand it. You do not always have to sand your basswood carving before applying the finish, in fact, some carvers skip this step to avoid the many times mentioned fuzziness.
So, here are the top 3 basswood finishes:
This is where the “don’t go over the 220 sandpaper” rules comes into play. If you sand your carving and remove all fibers that can absorb the finish, the end result will be very unsatisfying.
With that said, you should probably experiment with different sanding and finishing variations and decide for yourself what works best for you.
Achieving A Smooth Surface Sanding Basswood
This is an extremely fun experiment because a perfectly smooth surface on basswood is very difficult to achieve as it is quite soft and usually has fuzz instead of smoothness.
Before we start, you need to know that with such a smooth surface, finishing a wood carving will be next to impossible. As well as this involves a lot of sanding so a lot of the carving will be lost in the process.
The idea is to sand the carving up to a 1800 grit sandpaper, gradually of course by starting at around 360 grit.
The reason it’s best to start at an already higher grit is that lower grit sandpaper will sand off too much of the wood, which is a bad idea if you want to go up all the way to 1800 grit paper.
Starting with a 360 grit or even a 400 grit moving up to 600, 1200, 1600, 1800 is a long process that will be fun to take a look at the results of. Different carvers doing this experiment came up with different results, the conclusion would be that it is probably not worth it but the surface is in a condition that is to be proud of.