Can You Sand Plywood? A How-to Guide

Plywood is a popular choice for indoor home improvement. You can find plywood on most furniture and indoor home designs such as cabinets, flooring, and wall sheathing. While it is excellent for its standardized shape, materials, and versatility, it is a delicate material if you want to sand it. However, sanding is not impossible. So, can you sand plywood? 

You can sand plywood to smoothen and ready it for staining and painting. Use 180-grit sandpaper for the first sanding and if you need a smoother finish, move to 200-grit sandpaper and then 220-grit sandpaper. Remember to sand plywood in the direction of the grain to prevent damage.

Can plywood be sanded?

You can sand plywood boards to remove imperfections and produce a smooth surface for your board. The sanding process is slightly different from other traditional sanding procedures. For the case of plywood, you start with lower grit sandpaper(180-grit) to fine grit sandpaper (220-grit).

Incorrect sanding techniques can ruin plywood layers since the boards have thin layers of wood and cannot withstand regular sanding techniques. I highly recommend using standard 180-grit sandpaper for sanding your plywood boards.

180-grit sandpaper is ideal because it gives off a medium effect on plywood. Ultra fine grit sandpaper creates fine wood dust that can easily block wood pores and affect staining and its overall finish.

Lower grit sandpaper can leave your plywood susceptible to oversanding and ruin the plywood’s texture.

How to sand plywood

Sanding plywood is a delicate process that requires technical expertise, concentration, and technique. It is recommended to sand plywood along the grain instead of against it. Sanding against the grain can cause scratches and other imperfections on your wood and affect the finish.

Here are a few ideas on correctly sanding plywood boards.

1. Clean your plywood.

Always clean the working surface before sanding plywood. You can clean plywood using a dry cloth or vacuum cleaner. Plywood can attract dust, dirt, and other debris that can make effective sanding a challenge and affect your finish. Small solid grains can cause scratches on your surface.

Avoid using a wet cloth to clean plywood before sanding. Wet wood dust can easily clog sandpaper, making it difficult to sand the plywood properly.

The plywood must be dry before proceeding to the next step. If necessary, you can use an alcohol-based solvent to remove stains and additional debris from its surface. 

2. Sand the plywood using 180-grit sandpaper

Position your plywood on a firm, flat surface and sand your plywood with 180-grit sandpaper. 180-grit sandpaper is ideal for smoothening surfaces such as plywood and doesn’t compromise the quality of the underlying surface. 

The grains in the 180-grit sandpaper also make removing gloss, varnish, and other finishes from your wood’s surface more manageable.

Move your paper along the plywood surface about 3-4 times per section. You can try different sanding tools though it is advisable to sand plywood manually (depending on the surface area you intend to work on). Stick to a single pattern when sanding. For instance, when sanding vertically, do so for the entire surface instead of switching patterns. 

Apply moderate force when smoothing. Too much pressure can cause damage to the wood’s binding glue and ruin its quality.

You might also want to check on the quality of your plywood before attempting to use sandpaper. The market offers different plywood boards made from dissimilar materials such as hardwood, softwood, bamboo, and fiberboard. Plywood raw materials can affect how you sand. Some grades might require more preparation than others before smoothening. 

For instance, you can use 90-120 grit sandpaper to smoothen low-grade plywood before moving to 180-grit or finer sandpaper. The grit is also ideal when removing small bumps that could appear on your product (probably because of delamination). For best results, always buy high-quality plywood and sandpaper.

Avoid oversanding your plywood. Excessive sanding can create unappealing grooves, dents, and other inconsistencies resulting in a poor finish. In addition to peeling along the edges of oversanded plywood, it can affect its overall quality. 

3. Sand again with 200-grit sandpaper.

Sand the entire surface before working on the finishing touches. 200-grit sandpaper is ideal when polishing or smoothening plywood. 

200-grit ranks as fine sandpaper. It is perfect for smoothening sanded surfaces that include plywood. However, it is not advisable to solely use 200 grit sandpaper before smoothening your work surface with rougher sandpaper. 

Repeat the process using 220-grit smoothing sandpaper paper and sand evenly along the wood surface for consistent results. Sand at least 3-4 times on each section while exerting minimal to moderate pressure on the plywood to avoid damage. Repeat the step until you are confident that your plywood is smooth enough to meet your expectations.

4. Wipe your sanded area using a dry cloth

Sanding can be a manually demanding task that can take notable durations to complete depending on the affected surface area. Remember to wipe off wood dust from your sanded surface using a dry cloth, vacuum, etc.

Carefully wipe the dust from your sanded surface. Follow a pattern similar to when using sandpaper as you move your dry cloth along the wood grain. Avoid using water during cleaning. Wood has a high moisture absorption and retention rate where using water can damage the binding adhesive and underlying layers.

You should sand plywood in a well-ventilated area. Ensure you have protective equipment such as eye goggles, a nose mask, and working gloves to safeguard your health. Wood dust can be hazardous to people with respiratory issues. 

5. Assess the sanding and apply an ideal finish

A quality assessment involves carefully analyzing the sanded surface and checking for inconsistencies such as undersanding, oversanding and uneven shape.

You can also check for scratches, dents, and other markings that could affect the plywood’s final appearance. Use the 220-grit sandpaper to smooth out any inconsistent patches. You can also move your hand along the sanded surface to check for grooves and rough spots.

You can then apply a high-quality finish to complement your product’s appearance. Some people opt for varnish, wood stain, or paint to improve the aesthetics of their plywood. However, never apply a finish before you are confident that your plywood meets your criteria.

Should you sand plywood before staining?

It is advisable to sand plywood before staining. Sanding removes any finishing or laminate that could affect the quality of your finished product. Correct sanding techniques also open up wood pores underneath the exterior surface and increase the stain’s penetration into the wood fibers.

When staining plywood, consider additional aspects, such as the type of stain. Some stains use water-based solvents while others have oil and gel solvents in their composition. Water-based wood stains might require additional sanding following the first coat to flatten out any wood grains that arise from water use. 

It is better to sand lightly after using the first coat of a water-based stain to ensure consistency. Oil and gel-based wood stains don’t have that problem; you can readily apply them without additional sanding.

Can you use an orbital sander to sand plywood?

Orbital sanders are not the best choice when sanding plywood. Orbital sanders on plywood can easily scratch and mark the sanded surface and cause inconsistencies.

You are more likely to oversand the plywood and damage it when you use orbital sanders. Manual sanding produces a smoother finish with less likelihood of damage.


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