Best Sandpaper To Use For Upcycling Vintage Wood Furniture

Best Sandpaper To Use For Upcycling Vintage Wood Furniture

Sand Like a Pro: Best Sandpaper Grits for Upcycling Vintage Wood Furniture

Best Sandpaper To Use For Upcycling Vintage Wood Furniture

Vintage and antique wooden furniture is making a comeback in many homes due to its timeless designs and quality craftsmanship. Breathing new life into a tired-looking vintage piece can be highly satisfying. However, to get your upcycling furniture project off to the best start, it’s important to choose the right sandpaper grits.

Sanding old wood correctly helps prep the surface, so when you apply paint, stains, or varnish, they adhere well for a professional, smooth finish. Get this prep work wrong, and you could end up with a lumpy finish.

So what sandpaper grits work best for upcycling vintage wooden furniture?

Medium to fine grit sandpaper between 80 and 220 is ideal to smooth and remove surface blemishes from old wooden furniture prior to applying paint, stain, or varnish. Start with a medium 80 or 100 grit, then work up through finer grits of 150 and 220, finishing with an extra fine 400 grit if required.

In this guide, I’ll go into more detail on choosing the best sandpaper grits for upcycling projects on both softwoods like pine and hardwoods like oak. I’ll also look at whether to sand by hand or use a power sander.

How Sandpaper Grit Works on Wood

Sandpaper comes in a range of grit sizes from super coarse 24 grit through to extra fine grits over 400. The grit number refers to the number of abrasive particles per square inch of sandpaper.

So the higher the grit number, the finer the abrasive particles and the smoother the sanding effect on wood.

Here’s a quick overview of the main sandpaper grits for sanding wood and what they are best used for:

  • Coarse sandpaper with grit sizes 24 to 50 is used for rapid stock removal of old paint and varnish or to aggressively smooth and level wood. Can leave deep scratches.
  • Medium grit sandpaper from 60 to 100 is suitable for the initial smoothing of rough old wood, removing scratches from coarse sanding and prep for painting/staining. Leaves shallow scratches.
  • Fine sandpaper with 120 to 220 grit gently smooths wood and erases scratches from medium grits, prepping for paint/stain/varnish. Leaves very fine scratches not visible to naked eye.
  • Extra fine sandpaper from 280 to 400 grit gives an ultra-smooth sanded surface ideal for applying clear finishes to show the wood grain. Leaves no visible sanding scratches.

What Grit Sandpaper is Best for Upcycling Old Wooden Furniture?

When upcycling and restoring vintage wooden furniture made from soft and hardwoods, I would recommend starting sanding with medium 80- or 100-grit sandpaper. This will rapidly remove any old, chipped paint or varnish coatings and smooth out scratches and marks on the bare wood.

Then progressively work through finer grits of 150, 180, and 220 grit sandpaper, which will gently erase the coarser sanding scratches, preparing the surface for repainting, staining, or clear coating with varnish.

For upcycling furniture projects where you want to retain and showcase the wood grain, go up to 280 or 320 grit to get an ultra-smooth finish before applying clear varnish.

Finishing with a very fine 400-grit sanding is ideal if you are applying a clear water-based finish like water-based polyurethane varnish. This will maximize wood clarity.

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What Sandpaper Grit for Removing Old Paint and Varnish?

When stripping old paint or varnish from antique wooden furniture, start by using a paint and varnish stripping gel or solution to soften layers of old paint and clear finishes.

Once the stripping chemicals have done their work, you’ll need to use coarse grit sandpaper to rapidly remove the gunky residue.

For removing paint and varnish, 40 to 80-grit sandpaper is ideal to speed up the removal of old cracked, and bubbled layers of paint and clear top coatings. Use coarse paper for rapid stock removal, then switch to fine for smoothing.

What Grit Sandpaper for a Wood Power Sander?

What Grit Sandpaper for a Wood Power Sander?

Using a power sander on old wooden furniture speeds up sanding compared to hand sanding. Orbit sanders that have a random sanding motion are best for prepping furniture for painting or staining.

Start power sanding using 60 to 80-grit paper to flatten surfaces and quickly remove marks, scratches or old flaking paint/varnish layers. Then switch to fine 120 to 220 grit in the sander to smooth the wood ready for repainting or applying clear finishes.

Power sanders can be aggressive, so always finish by hand sanding with the finest 280 to 400-grit paper. This prevents visible swirl marks that machine sanding can leave behind.

Sanding by Hand or Sander for Upcycled Furniture?

While power sanders speed up sanding furniture, hand sanding with sandpaper sheets has its place too.

Hand sanding allows more control when working on detailed areas like curves, grooves, and joints that are hard to reach with a power sander.

Always do final smoothing and finishing sanding by hand using fine grit 180 to 220 sandpaper. This ensures an even, consistent, smooth surface for flawless paint and varnish finishes.

Hand sanding does take more physical effort. So I recommend using a sanding block, which makes sanding flat surfaces much less tiring on your hands. See my guide to hand-sanding old furniture here.

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Best Sandpaper for Upcycling Pine Furniture

Best Sandpaper for Upcycling Pine Furniture

Upcycling furniture made from softwoods like pine is very popular. Pine was used to make a lot of retro mid-century furniture.

The advantages of pine are that it’s relatively soft and the grain is less dense than hardwoods like oak or mahogany. This makes sanding pine easier and faster to achieve a smooth surface.

Pine also takes stains, paint, and varnish nicely. Although pine is prone to dents and scratches unless a tough clear top coat is applied.

For sanding pine furniture, I recommend starting with medium 80- or 100-grit sandpaper. This will smooth any rough areas and remove old paint, stains, or varnish efficiently.

Then use finer grit sandpapers from 150 to 220 grade to gently remove coarser sanding marks and prep the soft pine surface for restaining, painting, or clear coating with polyurethane varnish.

What Sandpaper grit is best for Oak and Teak Furniture?

What Sandpaper grit is best for Oak and Teak Furniture?

Upcycling hardwood furniture like oak, teak, and mahogany requires a similar sanding process, but extra care needs to be taken due to the dense hardwood grain.

Hardwoods are more prone to deep sanding scratches, so always sand in the direction of the wood grain, using lighter pressure than with softwoods.

Start sanding with 80- to 120-grit sandpaper to remove any old finishes and smooth the surface. Then switch to fine 150 to 220 grit to refine the surface, ready for restaining or recoating.

Always finish sanding by hand, going up to 320 or 400 grit papers to achieve a super smooth surface that shows off beautiful wood grain when clear varnishing.

My top tips are to take extra time sanding hardwoods by hand and check for deep scratches between grit changes. Go up to 400 grit for the smoothest results when clear coating dense hardwoods.

Key Takeaways: Best Sandpaper for Upcycling Vintage Wood Furniture

  • Use medium 80 to 100 grit sandpaper to remove old paint/varnish, smooth rough areas, and prep soft and hardwood surfaces for recoating.
  • Finish sanding by hand with 150 to 220 grit to erase coarser scratches and achieve a smooth surface before restaining/painting.
  • Go up to 320 or 400 grit papers when clear coating to maximize the visibility of wood grain.
  • Always sand in the direction of the wood grain, using light pressure, on dense hardwoods like oak and teak to avoid deep scratches.
  • Hand sanding with a block gives the most control for finishing furniture, especially in the more detailed areas that power sanders can’t reach.

Now you know how to choose the best sandpaper for preparing and finishing vintage wooden furniture ready for repainting, restaining, or clear coating.

Correct sanding grit selection along with proper sanding techniques will give you the best possible surface to help your upcycled vintage furniture projects look revived and beautiful once again!

Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for sanding different types of antique and vintage wooden furniture. Happy upcycling!