Should You Sand With the Grain?

Sanding is considered to be an integral part of finalising a wooden project. Without it, the finish will look sloppy as it will have scratches and tool marks. If you are new to the world of woodwork, you’re probably wondering whether you should sand with the grain or against it.

When it comes to wood, understand that if you work on it against the grain, it will tear. Whether it is sanding or cutting wood, always do it with it, not against it. Wood Grain in a tree is made of up fibres usually in its longitudinal position. These fibres are the building blocks of wood, when you work against them, they start to tear. This is why sanding against the grain is not a good idea, always sand with the grain.

If you’re wondering what wood grain is, then you’ll find a few different definitions of it online. Some people refer to it as the formation of longitudinal cells and tubes in trees. While others refer to it as the annual growth rings that really pop out when lumber is sawn at particular angles. Either way, the grain structure of wood has always been fascinating to look at, and it is aesthetically pleasing.

Is There a Difference Between Sanding With the Grain and Against it?

Sanding is the process of using abrasives to remove any scratches or tool marks from the surface of the wood. You gradually move up the grit to remove the marks from the previous grits of sandpaper which results in a smoother surface. 

But when you sand against the grain using normal means, it starts to tear the fibres which constitute the grain structure. This, in turn, ruins the whole purpose of sanding in the first place (which is to make the surface smooth).

When you sand with the grain, it keeps the fibres in it suppressed and smooth. It is just like if you brush the hair against the direction they are growing, it will become fuzzy and uneven. When you brush it in the direction it is growing, it will stay smooth and even. Just like that, if you work against the direction in which the grain is, it will cause tearing.

As an experiment, try to sand against and with the grain on a piece of scrap wood that has been freshly planned. The side that you will have sanded against the grain will become dull-looking. Meanwhile, the side on which you have sanded with the grain will almost remain the same.

If you look at modern ways of sanding, it is completely impossible to not sand against the grain. Random orbital sanders, the most used method of sanding, go against the grain. It goes in random directions, it vibrates and rotates, which is why it is called a random orbital sander in the first place.

Can You Fix Sanding Against the Grain?

As we said before, there is almost no way to avoid sanding against the grain these days. Everyone uses a random orbital sander, whether they are artisans or professional woodworkers. They will start off at a low grit of 80 and work their way up to 150 or 180 grits. If you follow the same pattern, you will see that even after you reach 180 grits, there are still marks from the orbital sander going against the grain.

This is where real professionals, who don’t compromise on quality, take higher grit sandpaper, and slowly sand with the grain. They do this using a sanding block and going with the grain by hand, and in doing so gives them more control and apply even pressure throughout the piece. 

This not only removes the torn grain from going against the grain but removes any marks from the previous grit of sandpaper giving you a smooth surface edge to edge.

Beginner’s Guide to Sanding Wood

Sanding wood is one of the basics of woodworking, so it is important to learn how to do so as a beginner. Sandpaper is an abrasive used to remove scratches and tool marks from wood. The abrasiveness of the sandpaper roughens up the surface of the skin uniformly, therefore, hiding any tool marks, removing material from wood, and making it even.

Higher grit sandpaper has a more fine abrasive surface, which makes wood smooth. But you don’t just use an 80 grit and jump directly to 180. The bigger the jump you make, the more time and resource you will waste on making the wood smooth.

To remove the marks from the previous grit sandpaper, you use a slightly finer grade. For instance, after 80 grit you will go to 100 or 120 grit of sandpaper. Once you are done with 120, you will want to go to 150 grit or 180 grits. Most people stop at 180 grits of sandpaper, and in most cases that is okay.

But if you really want your wooden project to look its best, you need to do one last pass with higher grit sandpaper, for instance, 200 grit or 220. You do this by hand, using a sanding block and moving with the grain. This will smoothen out any marks from the previously used random orbital sander, the tear from grain due to going against it, and previous grit of sandpaper.

Once that is done, you can now apply the finish of your choice to your wooden project. Remember though, you need to make sure not to go any further than that when it comes to sanding. You still want the finish to adhere to the wooden project, which it can’t if its surface becomes too smooth due to sanding with a finer grit abrasive sandpaper.

However, you can sand with higher grit sandpaper between each coat of your finish. This is because you don’t want the sandpaper to be so coarse as to remove the coat of the finish entirely, you just want to scuff down the dust nibs in between the coats. A higher grit fine sandpaper will not be able to remove the coat of your finish easily due to its less abrasive nature.


What does sanding with the grain mean?

Sanding with the grain means sanding in the direction in which the grain is growing instead of sanding in the opposite direction, which will instead be sanding against the grain.

Can you sand hardwood floors against the grain?

You can sand against the grain, there is no issue whatsoever with doing so. At times you can’t help but sand against the grain, as you are most probably using a random orbital sander. But once you are done sanding to the smoothness you want in the hardwood floors, just take some time and sand with the grain with higher grit sandpaper, to knock down any fibres that might be torn and smoothen it out.

Final Thoughts

If you had any confusion regarding what direction of the grain you should sand in, hopefully, our article not only answered the question but also explained the reason as to why you should do it that way. 

We are sure, like most woodworkers, you must be using a random orbital sander to do the job. Because let us face it, sanding is tedious, time-consuming, and a machine that reduces the task and makes it easy for us will be welcomed. 

Just remember to knock down the grain once you are done by sanding with the grain using a sanding block with your hands for the best results.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

Recent Posts