Hand Tools Archive

Stirring the smoothing vs. sanding pot..

David Weaver
...OK, i'm not really stirring it. Bill and Richard and I have had an offline (online, different online?) discussion via email about this because once again, I can be goaded into testing almost anything. IF there's some fruit, then I can be goaded into testing it and really wasting my time.

But in this case, there are two reasons that I like finish planing:
1) I can do it quickly. If i ever have to sand something, I can generally plane well enough on flat surfaces to sand with 220 grit and have zero defects
2) I like the way it looks while I'm doing it, and it doesn't excite asthma, burn through consumables or get a layer of dust everywhere

But I have to admit, that I can only get relatively minor differences in surfaces on test pieces that I've done.

So, I'm laying down the challenge to everyone - if you're good at finish planing, as I consider myself to be - I'm not good at furniture making, but good at finish planing - do some A/Bs with pieces to see if you can get a solid significant difference in a really well finished piece with 220 grit sanding vs planing (Scrape a third if you want) and then apply something like a french polish (a preference of mine for this kind of testing as you can get a dry-ish gloss finish on a test board in 20 minutes - no BS faffing around with bits that re-absorbed and sanding)

I may remember to start building a small library of different pieces, but this isn't a test I'm going to undertake now.

My initial conclusion - if I'm looking for something out of wood (like the nuance in this spruce, which is immensely pleasing to me and an actual guitar buyer might not care about), it seems like the result is about 90% wood selection and about 10% planing.


The big challenge to me then is getting some contrast with a gloss finish like a french polish on a guitar like this - this has the lightest possible padded coats of polyurethane so that I could prove that it doesn't have small tearout in it, but it'll get planed off when this guitar is built as something will get dented or scratched, and I'd prefer a little bit of warmth to the finish - polyurethane is seriously lacking in that compared to shellac.

So, anyway, I've failed in really coming up with a big difference under finish that I think most other than me would care about -at least thus far.

If anyone wants to join this "open kernel" effort, the A/B comparison has to be the same board and the same finish (the wood type doesn't matter) and more than something like oil and wax (if you prefer something simple like a couple of coats of poly, that would be a good test since it's common and practical). It's not a matter of proving that you can make a board look the same sanding and planing, but a matter of finding situations where there *is* a difference.

I don't wax much to a finish, but I guess if you can show a significant difference there, have at it.

The first few pencils that I made had some tearout from glue pulling wood out at the seam (got that figured out pretty quickly). I sanded the side of one of them and it turned out that the depth of the sanding ridges telegraphed and built french polishing them for longer than I would've worked through. On furniture, you wouldn't be trying to get a french polish type finish in 5 minutes, and I don't suspect anyone else here is trying to make pencils, though I'm sure someone who has turned more than a half a dozen pens will tell me how stupid it is.

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