Ultimate Guide to Wet Sanding Vs Dry Sanding

Any woodworker knows that sanding is a crucial part of all woodworking projects. It allows you to add the finishing touches to your piece and helps elevate it to something that looks more professional.

However, before you start with the sanding process, you will first need to determine which type of sanding your project requires. There are two options – wet sanding and dry sanding – and each has its own uses. Choosing which of them you should use is dependant on the type of project you are working on and what result you’re looking to achieve via sanding.

Wet Sanding

Wet sanding is the process of sanding down a project using a combination of water and an abrasive, usually sandpaper. The process usually requires higher grit sandpaper than dry sanding, and the package will usually indicate that you can use the sandpaper inside for wet sanding.

This type of sanding is usually used as the final finish of a project and is less abrasive than dry sanding. It removes less material and is most commonly used after you have already dry sanded your project.

To finish your project via wet sanding, you should:

  • Clean your piece thoroughly, getting rid of any dust, debris, or existing sawdust that may be on it.
  • Prepare the liquid you’ll be using during the wet sanding process. This will usually be regular water, though you can also add a few drops of detergent to the water to make sanding easier. An alternative to water is using mineral spirits, though that will require you to buy the spirits, while you can use tap water to the same effect.
  • Wrap your sandpaper around a wooden block or a rubber sanding block. You can buy the block at your local hardware store for a couple of dollars, and it makes sanding more comfortable for you.
  • Dip the sandpaper in the liquid and start sanding the surface of the wood. The movements for wet sanding are different from those for dry sanding – with dry sanding, you will need to rub the sandpaper in small circles. Wet sanding, on the other hand, requires you to use straight lines, making sure to alternate your directions between passes. This allows you to get rid of any fine scratches from dry sanding.
  • When your sandpaper starts to dry out, dip it in the liquid once more. Before you do so, check if there has been a buildup of wood dust on the surface of the sandpaper. If there is a buildup, clean the sandpaper with a rag before wetting it again.
  • Repeat the sanding process, using a finer grit sandpaper each time. We recommend going up to 2000 grit before you stop.
  • If necessary, buff your project to finish.

Keep in mind that wet sanding should only be performed when you are hand sanding. Power sanders like orbital sanders should never be placed in liquid due to the safety risks involved. Additionally, wet sanding is meant to provide your project with a super smooth finish, and power sanders tend to be too aggressive to give this type of finish.

Dry Sanding

Dry sanding is the most common way of sanding a finishing a wood project. Sanding wood is a way of polishing and smothering the surface of the wood and helps get rid of any tool marks that may be present on your project. It also enables you to bring out the smaller details in the project, which is an added benefit if you are creating a wood carving.

Like with wet sanding, when dry sanding a project, you should move from coarser grit sandpaper (sandpaper with lower numbers) to finer grit options (higher numbers). 

Dry sanding can be done either by hand, using sandpaper or a sanding stone, or with the help of power tools like belt sanders and disc sanders. While there is a specific method for using a power sander, most woodworkers prefer hand sanding, especially for smaller pieces. Additionally, some of the heavy-duty power sanders are designed for carpentry work and can ruin more delicate projects.

To use your dry sandpaper effectively, you should:

  • Clean your piece thoroughly, getting rid of any dust, debris, or existing sawdust that may be on it.
  • Tear your sandpaper sheet into fourths
  • Fold the piece you’re using so that it’s just big enough that you can hold it with three fingers. Any larger and control becomes difficult.
  • Like with wet sanding, you can use a piece of wood or a rubber sanding block to make it easier to hold on to the sandpaper. However, unlike with wet sanding, you do not need to have this extra aid. This is because, with wet sanding, it can be slippery to try and hold onto wet sandpaper directly. This isn’t the case with dry sanding.
  • The sanding process is relatively simple – all you need to do is rub the sandpaper in small circles the direction of the grain.
  • Like with wet sanding, dry sanding should ideally involve several rounds of sanding. You will need to start with the coarsest grit sandpaper you’ve chosen (usually about 80-120 grit) and make your way up to using the finest grit you have available (usually around 320 grit, though you can go as high as 800 if you like).
  • Between each round of sanding, remove any sawdust that might have built up on the piece, and clean your project thoroughly.

If you’re looking for more detailed help on how to go about sanding your woodworking project, how to use sandpaper to sharpen your carving knives, and other similar questions on using sandpaper, you can refer to this article.

Pros and Cons of the Two Types of Sanding

Each type of sanding has its own positives and negatives. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Wet Sanding


  • It offers a detailed, high-quality, even finish
  • Better at helping details stand out in comparison to dry sanding
  • Is effective at removing paint and similar coatings from items, allowing you to repaint them according to your vision
  • Less dust is involved in contrast to dry sanding
  • Effective at removing scratches from tools and dry sanding


  • Needs different sandpaper
  • Sanding style can be different. This can pose a challenge, particularly if you’ve never used wet sandpaper before
  • Cannot use power tools for wet sanding – must be done by hand
  • Requires people to have a familiarity with the different types of wet sandpaper grits
  • It takes longer than dry sanding

Dry Sanding


  • Offers a smooth finish to your project
  • It helps remove the small imperfections created by the actions of the tools you use while carving
  • Helps with making even homemade products look professional and of world-class quality
  • Is faster than wet sanding


  • Significantly more sawdust buildup than wet sanding
  • Less fine of a finish than wet sanding
  • It can be challenging to know when to stop sanding
  • Navigating sandpaper grits can be challenging

Differences Between Wet Sanding and Dry Sanding

While there are many differences between the wet sanding and dry sanding processes, the main points are indisputable.

  • Wet sanding: Removes less material from projects
  • Wet sanding: It is a longer process than dry sanding
  • Wet sanding: Will need to be done by hand (as power tools are not an option)

This means that projects completed with wet sanding often have a super smooth, lustrous, mirror-like finish

On the other hand, we have:

  • Dry sanding: Removes more material from pieces
  • Dry sanding: Is faster
  • Dry sanding: Can be done either by hand or by using power tools

Sandpaper essentially removes a very thin layer of wood from your piece, removing any scratches and other tool marks that would otherwise be visible. Dry sanding offers a smooth finish and is usually done after completing the carving on a project, before applying stains, finishes, or paint (these materials help emphasize scratches, which is why sanding needs to be complete first).

Additionally, some woodworkers will find that it can be helpful to dry sand between every coat of stain or finish that is applied. This is because sanding helps smooth any flaws or dust that may have gotten into the project while the previous coat dried. It also makes it easier for the next coat of finish (or stain) to stick to the previous coat.

There are, of course, other differences as well. For example, wet sanding uses higher grit sandpaper and needs water (or another lubricant). In comparison, dry sanding usually needs lower grit sandpaper, requires no lubricant, and can be significantly messier than wet sanding, as dry sanding creates a lot more sawdust.

Wet sanding is an excellent option at the end of a project when you’re looking to smooth out the final issues before a piece is complete. 

Keep in mind that the first rounds of sanding are usually done to remove major and visible issues and manufacturing defects, which require you to remove significant amounts of material from the surface of the wood. If you’re wet sanding for this purpose, it can take forever, while dry sanding is much faster.

Many people find that the best option is to use wet sanding after finishing with both dry sanding and applying any finish or varnish that you like. Wet sanding not only makes scratches less visible, it also allows you to ensure that the finish is of uniform thickness throughout the project.

Wet sanding is also used for other applications beyond woodworking. It is a great option for removing paint from cars and other vehicles and is also an option when sanding:

  • Drywall
  • Auto-body primer
  • Tiles, especially porcelain or ceramic tiles

Where To Buy The Best Sandpaper

Your local store will definitely have a great assortment of different kinds of sandpaper with different grits that will be sufficient for any kind of project.

With that, if you are looking for sandpaper that is a pleasure to work with, check out Premium Keama Wet-Dry Sandpaper:

The set of 45 pieces of wet-dry sandpaper gradually range from 120-5000 grit giving the flexibility to sand any kind of project. The quality of the sandpaper sheets feels great and it comes in the standard 9 x3.6 inches size. Of course, the best part about this sandpaper is that it is suitable for both dry and wet sanding.

Can You Use Regular Sandpaper for Wet Sanding?

One of the biggest concerns that woodworkers have before committing to wet sanding projects is determining which sandpaper they should use for wet sanding.

There are three types of sandpaper that are commonly available: wet sandpaper, dry sandpaper, and wet-dry sandpaper. The first two do exactly what their names suggest – wet sandpaper is used for wet sanding, while dry sandpaper is used for dry sanding.

Dry sandpaper should never be used for wet sanding, as the abrasive grit on regular sandpaper is held in place with glue that is not waterproof and may result in the grit being released from the paper. Additionally, regular dry sandpaper for wet sanding can also cause more scratches on the wood instead of removing existing scratches.

Wet-dry sandpaper, on the other hand, can be used for both wet and dry sanding. This type of sandpaper is made using silicon carbide abrasives with a latex backing (versus the cloth or paper backing that most dry sandpapers use). This means that the sandpaper will stay intact during wet sanding, and the abrasive grit won’t get loaded up with material and cause scratches on your piece.

If you’ve already been dry sanding your projects and are looking to add wet sanding to your routine, check the sandpaper brand you currently buy to see if it is wet-dry sandpaper. If it is, there is a chance that you will not need to purchase special sandpaper for wet sanding.

However, another consideration to keep in mind is the grit of the sandpaper. Wet sanding usually requires sandpaper that is of a finer grit than dry sanding. While dry sanding usually starts with 80 grit sandpaper and goes up to 320 grit, wet sanding usually starts with 400 grit and goes up to 2000. Even the most detailed dry sanders don’t usually go higher than 800 grit sandpaper when dry sanding.

This means that even if you are using wet-dry sandpaper for your projects, there’s a chance you’ll have to purchase a batch of sandpaper specifically for your wet sanding needs, as you are unlikely to have sandpaper that is of the required grit otherwise. That said, depending on how often you employ the wet sanding technique, you may not need to restock with new sandpaper too often. 

Most people opt for wet sanding relatively rarely, preferring instead to dry sand and complete the project with a coat of varnish, finish, or paint. It’s usually not a go-to technique for hobby woodworkers, though professionals may find they prefer the finish that wet sanding provides.

Sandpaper Alternatives

It should be noted that sandpaper is not the only option you can use to smooth out wood. If you prefer not to hand sand your pieces with sandpaper, you can also consider other options, including:

  • Steel wool
  • Sand 
  • Pumice
  • Crushed walnut shells

You can refer to this article for a more detailed look at these options. As mentioned above, you can also choose to use power tools for sanding instead of opting for hand sanding.

However, keep in mind that these options are only alternatives for dry sanding. If you want to get the effect of wet sanding, you’ll have to use either wet sandpaper or wet sand.

Final Thoughts

Both wet sanding and dry sanding are techniques that improve the look of your woodworking pieces. However, the techniques and processes used are intrinsically different, and woodworkers considering wet sanding their projects should keep in mind that wet sanding is best used as an addition to dry sanding rather than an alternative to the same.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that wet sanding can require significantly more effort from your side. After all, unlike dry sanding, you don’t have the advantage of power tools to help you speed up the process. 

Martin Swizz

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

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