Paint Pro Secret: Paper Sanding

Properly sanding a piece of furniture is the secret to a great paint job. Get in on the pro's tips.
Sara Anderson
The Right Paper
If you're redoing a painted piece of furniture, start with a medium-grit sandpaper, such as 150, and work your way up to a finer paper, such as 220, says Chris McRee, owner of Mountain Craft Woodworks in Brierfield, Alabama. If your piece has deep scratches, start with a 120-grit paper. Whether you're using an electric sander or a sanding block, sand the surface evenly, applying light pressure, and rub with the grain, never against it. Tip: Change paper often, and clean the surface before changing grits. Sandpaper that's filled with dust can scratch wood.

You don't need to remove all the paint on the piece; your goal is just to get a smooth surface before applying new primer and paint. After you've sanded the piece, wipe off dust with a tack cloth. Apply a coat of primer, allow it to dry completely according to manufacturer's instructions, and then sand the entire piece again with a finer sandpaper--around 220 grit. Clean the surface with a tack cloth, and you're ready to paint.

If you are sanding an unfinished piece of furniture, try drawing squiggle marks all over the wood with a pencil. As the marks sand away, you'll be able to see where you've worked. Test the smoothness of your surface by placing a thin sock over your hand and rubbing it over the wood. Where the sock snags, you still have rough spots.

Smooth Finish
You found the perfect dresser for your bedroom--but it's unfinished. You've been eyeing a coffee table at an antiques store--but it needs a paint job. Go ahead and grab what you want when you want it, because with these tips you can sharpen your sanding skills and refinish any piece of furniture to your liking. Yes, sanding takes time and patience, but the right prep work will pay off big time. Consider this your guide to smoother moves. 

Cool New Tools
Many gadgets make sanding easier and save you time, but nothing beats a slow and steady sanding job, whether you're using an electric sander, a sanding sponge, or wrapping sandpaper around a 2 x 4 block. For curved or concave surfaces, such as chair backs, table legs, or headboards, wrap sandpaper around a 1-inch-thick dowel instead of a block. For tight corners, try the Black & Decker Mouse Sander. It has a pointed tip that makes reaching corners a snap. No matter what you're sanding, always work in a well-ventilated area and wear goggles and a mask--especially if you're redoing a piece with several layers of paint on it or something that has been stained and may have a polyurethane coating. This dust can be hazardous to your lungs.

Most Common Mistakes
Don't push down too hard or use sandpaper that is too coarse. If the paper is causing even the tiniest scratch, switch to a finer grit or put less muscle into your work.

Another no-no: Not cleaning off all the surface dust between sandings. If a lot of dust has collected, brush off your piece with a dry paintbrush, and then thoroughly wipe down with a cloth. If your project is extremely dusty, clean the surface with a damp rag. Let dry thoroughly before painting.