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grit size - types of sandpaper - types of grit - using sandpaper

These days the term 'sandpaper' covers abrasive grit on flexible backing sheets used to smooth many types of material. True 'sandpaper' (i.e. backing paper covered with grains of sand) is no longer available commercially but has been replaced by backing sheet covered with glass, aluminium oxide, silicon carbide, garnet or other specialist grit. Generally the terms 'sandpaper' and 'glasspaper' are used generically to cover all types of grit attached to a backing sheet - 'Sandpaper' is used below in general terms to refer to the family of sheet type abrasives.

Each type of grit has different characteristics which make each most suitable for specific applications, an understanding of the types of grit is essential so that the right type is chosen for a particular job.

Simply, the abrasive grit is fixed by an adhesive to a backing sheet - the type and size of grit, the type of adhesive and the type of backing material all have an effect on the suitability of a sandpaper for a particular job.

Grit size

Various sizes of grit are available for all types of grit material, the size is referred to by a number which represents the number of holes per linear inch in a sieve screen - they range from 40 (very course) to over 400 (very fine). Good quality sandpaper will have universal sized grit. The size of grit is used to classify the sandpaper by 'grade' as follows:

Grit size        
240 upwards  

Very Fine

The individual sheets of sandpaper are normally marked on the reverse with the grit size (i.e. 120) and/or with the grade (i.e. medium).


Sandpaper is available in a number of types, each type being available in a number of grades:

* Sheets - normally (at least in the UK) about 280 x 230 mm, often sold for the DIY market in packs of 4 or more sheets,
  either of the same or mixed grades. Usually only suitable for hand sanding.
* Rolls - available in a number of widths (e.g. 50, 115mm), each roll is of a single grade.
  Although it is produced for use with power tools (e.g. orbital sanders), it can be used for hand sanding.
* Discs - for use with rotary sanders or other power tools. The discs are used with a stiff but flexible backing disc.
  The sanding disc is fitted to the backing disc either by a central securing screw/dished washer or by a self-adhesive backing.
  Various diameters of disc are available, the diameter of the sandpaper should match the diameter of the backing disc.
* Belts - for use with belt sanders. Various widths and lengths are available to suit each belt sander on the market.
  Sandpapers sold for power tool use are generally more robust than most types sold for hand sanding.
  While sandpapers for power tool use can be used for hand sanding, the reverse does not apply -
  hand sandpapers will not last very long if used with a power tool.
* Flexible Block - Flexible abrasive blocks are normally of rectangular cube with grit on four faces, two faces of one grade
  of grit and a different grade of grit on the other two faces. The block tend to be less durable, but can be useful when decorating. Blocks are available with different types of grit and different grade.

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Types of grit


Generally composed of quartz granules on a paper backing, this is an inexpensive, relatively soft abrasive for sanding painted or natural timber, metal, and other materials. It wears relatively quickly and is best suited to provide a roughish finish before a really smooth surface is attempted.

Normally only available with non-waterproof adhesives/backing paper.

Aluminium Oxide

This man-made material is suitable for shaping, sanding and polishing hard metal such as iron and steel, but also effective on timber. Aluminium oxide cuts much faster and lasts longer than glass or garnet.

It is available on non-waterproof, cloth or waterproof backings.

Cloth backing offers flexibility and is suitable for heavy-duty applications, such as rust removal and metal shaping.

Silicon Carbide (wet and dry)

Silicon carbide paper, also known as 'wet and dry' paper, is suitable for both dry and wet sanding. It is suitable for sanding hardwood and plywood, soft metal like brass and aluminium, and plastic; also used for smoothing glass edges and frosting glass surfaces. It is fast-cutting and almost as hard as diamond, but it is brittle so the coarser grades will wear fast if used on hard metal.

When used with water, it gives a very fine sanding of paint or varnish between coats. It can be used with mineral oil for smoothing and polishing metals. The lubricant helps to keep both the abrasive and the surface cool and floats away sanding waste; a additional advantage is that it prevents the formation of fine air-bourne dust. The wet slurry which forms will need to be wiped away during and after smoothing.

'Wet and dry' is extensively used during vehicle body painting as, with water, it can give a very smooth surface to each coat of paint - generally we expect higher quality paint finishes on Automobiles than on household fitments.

Steel Wool

Although not a sandpaper, Steel Wool is used for fine 'sanding'. It is much used by the serious cabinetmaker as it has a much finer abrasive effect than grit materials on sandpaper. The fine steel strands cuts rather than abrades the surface, producing very fine finishes; as the wool is used, small pieces of it break off and mix in with the sanding dust.

Steel Wool is graded starting at a very coarse 5 through to a series of noughts - 0000 being the finest.

Although excellent on timber and metal, steel wool should not be used for smoothing plasterwork or other surfaces where the fragments of steel may become embedded and could rust stains.

Steel wool can be used to 'sand' complicated shapes such as metal castings or wooden mouldings.

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Using Sandpaper

For best results:

• Always use the correct type and grade of sandpaper for the job in hand - do not use paper sold for 'hand sanding' in a power tool.
• Start by using a medium or course grade paper. Change the grade of paper you are using as the job progresses.
• Let the abrasive grit do the work, do not use undue pressure it will only clog the paper or cause the paper to wear out unnecessarily quickly. When power sanding, very little pressure is necessary, just guiding the tool is normally sufficient.
• Use a sanding block when hand sanding.
• Move sandpaper along the grain of bare timber, not across.
• On a smooth, non-grained surface, move the sandpaper in small circular motions.
• When using a lubricant, do not let the surface dry out. If excessive wet waste material builds up, wash it away from the work area.
• Take all appropriate safety precautions, (see our shop for safety products) especially when power sanding - refer to the instructions from the sandpapers and power tool manufacturers. Only allow competent people to use a power sander; with the abrasive surface moving it can cause injury if it comes in contact with skin or damage if brought into contact with an unintended surface.
• Store sandpapers carefully in a cool dry area. Except for papers made using waterproof adhesive and backing material, any dampness may cause the adhesive or backing to fail or weaken and grains will become detached.
• If the paper becomes clogged after a short time of use, look at the surface being sanded - if it is timber, the timber may be damp - allow time for it to dry out. Paint which clogs paper may either be too new to sand or old paint applied in thick coats which have not gone off.


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Metal Cutting Discs, Sanding Discs, Backing Pads, Xtra Thin Cutting Discs, Flap Discs, Metal Grinding Discs, Wire Brushes, Spindle Mounted Flap Wheels, Stone Cutting Discs, Wire Wool and many other Miscellaneous Abrasives

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for more help and advice

Abrasives • sanding • grinding • polishing • finishing • Sandpaper • Sanding Discs • Sandpaper Sheets • Wet-and-Dry Sandpaper • Glasspaper • Aluminium Oxide sandpaper • Silicone-Carbide (wet-and-dry) • Garnet Paper • Steel Wool • Industrial Abrasives • Zirconium Sanding Discs, Flap Wheels, Backing Pads• Zirconium Sanding Discs, Flap Wheels, Backing Pads • Abrasives • sanding • grinding • polishing • finishing • Sandpaper • Sanding Discs • Sandpaper Sheets • Wet-and-Dry Sandpaper • Glasspaper • Aluminium Oxide sandpaper • Silicone-Carbide (wet-and-dry) • Garnet Paper • Steel Wool • Industrial Abrasives • Zirconium Sanding Discs, Flap Wheels, Backing Pads• Zirconium Sanding Discs, Flap Wheels, Backing Pads.

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