Furniture project part 2- Sanding and drawing.

Okay, so the case is as taken apart as it’s going to be, and all the spray painting save the clear coating is done. What’s next? Sanding.

Here’s where I tell you I own both a palm and a detail sander and yet, I sanded this piece by hand. Why?

Because wood veneer is very thin. How thin? Try about 1/42 of an inch. No, seriously. Now, if this were a solid wood piece, then screw it- you can afford to pull out power tools. But not a veneered piece, because once you break through the veneer, the only thing behind it is MDF.

Okay, so why are we sanding at all? Why not just clean it and leave it alone? Because the veneer has a clear coat and once again, we are trying to remove the clear coat in order to work directly with the wood surface itself. So we’re back to hand sanding.

I’ll state up front I hate working with wood. It’s my single least favorite material to work with, period. But I was taught by the best how to do it. Here’s some tips-

  • For this kind of job, I wouldn’t use any grit more aggressive than 220. If you’re not experienced, I’d even go with a 320 or a 400(but make sure it’s dry- don’t use water soaked sandpaper on wood. It’s entirely counterproductive as it will raise the grain, which is what you’re trying to avoid). Remember, all you’re trying to do is remove the clear coat, not the wood veneer under it.
  • Sand with the grain only (it’s really tempting in corners and on upper and lower edges to not do this. Don’t give in to that temptation- you’ll regret it later.)
  • Be gentle. Go slowly. Unfortunately, if you go too fast you will go through the veneer and then you really have problems.
  • If you don’t know how to sand evenly by hand, use a sanding block.
  • Change your paper often. It’s not gold, it’s just sandpaper. You can use a new piece, I promise. But clogged paper gets you nowhere.

This takes a little time but creates not as much dust as you’d think (it does create a little), because again, you’re not trying to remove wood- just the clear coat sitting on top of it. You will notice a difference in sheen between sanded and unsanded parts, like this:


See how the bottom square has a matte finish and the top is still shiny? The bottom has been sanded and the top hasn’t. What you want to do is sand the whole piece. Now, I didn’t bother sanding the inside because frankly, I’m not going to alter the inside. If i were doing this piece for a commission, I would- but my apartment is so dark that having a light inside makes the things in there easier for me to see in the long run, so I’m leaving the interior alone. YMMV. You decide what you want to mess with.

Once the piece has been totally sanded, it’s time to clean it off. You can do this with a tack rag, which will remove the dust, but it won’t clean the surface. No, for that you want to use alcohol. Denatured is cheap, isopropyl (the kind you keep in your bathroom) works just as well, but it’s more pricy(this piece was cleaned with isopropyl because i seem to be out of denatured.). Frankly, you can do it with vodka if you really wanted to but I can’t imagine why you’d waste the vodka that way. But what’s really important here is this: DO NOT USE WATER. WATER IS BAD.

Water causes wood to swell and raises the grain above the surface. Since we just spent however long sanding this thing, this is the last thing you want, especially when the wood is only 1/42 of an inch thick to start with. Alcohol will not raise the grain and it dries almost instantly. It will clean any surface dirt off your newly sanded wood just fine. But you *have to* clean the wood. First of all you want to get all the dust off the piece that remains from the sanding, and second you want to make sure all the surface dirt is gone from the piece because stain doesn’t have any more intelligence than paint does. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves by a few steps. Clean all the parts of your piece thoroughly.

Now comes the first bit of actual creativity- you have to decide what kind of design you want to put on your furniture. You can draw it out on paper first if you want to, or use a CAD program to design it or do whatever you want. In the end, all you’re going to need is a sharp pencil (I use a .5 mechanical) and whatever guides you’ll be using to create your design.

In my case, I am using circles. Sure, there’s compasses (I have at least two), and you can make a compass out of a thumbtack and string (but why would we push a thumbtack in this thing now?). Me? I wandered around my living room and collected circular items of various diameters and traced them on my piece. I didn’t put any on the back of the case since who the hell will ever see them? (Don’t bother with shit you can’t see- it’s a waste of your time and energy.), but I drew circles all over the sides, the top, and all the door/drawer fronts. Here’s an example, along with some of the things I used to trace them:


I also used spray paint caps and some other stuff. As you can see, some of the circles overlap and some don’t. That’s true all over the case. It will become an important design element in the next step, which is mapping out the design itself and busting out (dum dum DUM….) power tools and chisels.


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  1. […] Furniture project part 2- Sanding and drawing. […]

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