Sandpaper is an essential tool to smooth and finish surfaces when working with wood and metal. But what can you do if you run out of sandpaper or aren’t able to buy any from the store? Here I discuss the 11 best sandpaper alternatives that you are likely to have lying around the home or stored in the shed.
- Sanding blocks
- Emery cloth
- Emery board
- Sand and leather
- Walnut shells
- Steel wool
- Stone sharpeners
- Grinding wheels
- Pumice stone
- Scrub pads
- Scrub sponges
Some materials have advantages over others and are better suited for particular jobs, which this article will now explore in detail.
Sandpaper alternatives for wood
Sanding blocks are a particularly useful alternative to sandpaper when sanding wood. They have a rough texture like that of sandpaper but are called sponges due to their similarity to kitchen sponges and the fact that they are pliable rather than being completely hard or flat. Their pliability allows you to sand items that aren’t flat, such as parts of a chair or table legs.
This is usually used on metal but can be used on wood so long as care is taken to use it gently. Emery cloth is usually available in sheets or rolls and is often used with power tools. It has a cloth backing that protects it and prevents it from wearing away like sandpaper does, making it much more durable.
Emery boards that are used for fingernails are similar to sandpaper. They usually have a different texture on each side, one smoother and suitable for finer sanding jobs, and the other much coarser and suitable for tougher jobs. They are useful for sanding wood if you don’t have another available alternative.
Sand and leather
The sand and leather method of sanding is most suitable for flat surfaces that do not need a great deal of sanding. When using sand and leather, you first need to sprinkle dry sand on the object that will be sanded. Then, using the leather, rub the item to sand away the rough edges.
Walnut shells are usually used in sandblasting and work the same way as sand does. Walnut shells that have been ground down into a coarse powder are used with a piece of leather cloth to sand the surface of the object. However, walnut shells are not as readily available as sand, and they are more expensive.
Sandpaper alternatives for metal
As mentioned above, emery cloth is like sandpaper but lasts much longer due to the protective cloth backing on it. It is sold in rolls, sheets, or bands and is often used with power tools such as belt sanders. The front surface that is used for sanding is made from corundum, magnetite, and hematite, and it is usually used for sanding metal rather than wood.
Steel wool is an effective method of sanding away rust on metal objects. It is also useful for finer jobs on both metal and wood and can be purchased in many different grades, ranging from fine to course.
Stone sharpening tools
There are several types of tools that are made from stone which are used to sharpen metal tools and items such as knives. These are known as oil stones, whetstones, or water stones, and they often need water or oil to remove the small pieces of metal that come off the implement that is being sharpened. Most whetstones need to be soaked for several minutes in water before they are used.
Grinding wheels are used to shape and smooth metal objects. They are wheels that rotate at speed while you hold the object that is being smoothed, and they are designed to be used on a pedestal grinder or bench. Grinding wheels should only be used for sanding metal and never plastic or wood.
Pumice is a volcanic stone that is often used on hands and feet to remove rough skin. However, pumice is also available in powder form for sanding wood. It’s usually used with a felt block for fine-sanding wood. Mineral and metal flakes make up other types of powders that are used for sanding rocks and handmade jewelry.
Scrub pads and sponges
These also act like sandpaper and are often used to remove loose paint and rust from metal furniture or for fine sanding jobs on painted wood.
Can you make your own sandpaper?
You can make your own sandpaper by getting some thick paper and gluing sand to it. You could also buy some emery powder and glue to use instead of sand, but sand is the better option as it’s readily available, often with no cost involved.
How to make sandpaper (8 steps)
The first thing you need to do is consider the size of your project and decide how coarse or fine your sandpaper needs to be (see the following subheading). Sandpaper sheets should be sufficient for small jobs, while wooden blocks are better suited to bigger projects.
- Look to purchase very stiff paper that is coarse and textured and thick enough to withstand being rubbed vigorously against a rough surface.
- Place your paper on a flat surface such as a table. It’s advisable to place another sheet of paper underneath it to catch any glue or sand that you spill.
- Cover the entire surface of the paper with strong liquid glue.
- Cover the paper evenly with sand (using a mesh gardening sieve will make this easier).
- Allow the glue to dry enough so that it’s no longer sticky to the touch.
- Place a board on top of your sandpaper and weigh it down with something heavy.
- Allow the sandpaper to set for 24 hours.
- Your sandpaper has probably stuck to the paper you placed underneath, so use a knife and separate it. Once it’s free, you can cut your sandpaper into whatever size sheets you need for your project.
You can also make your own sandpaper block if you need one for larger projects. To do this, you need to follow the instructions as above until the sandpaper has started to set, then wrap your paper around a wooden block, attaching it with glue. Then you just need to weigh it down and leave it for 24 hours to set fully as per steps six and seven.
How to choose the right sandpaper for the job
It is important to choose the right grade of sandpaper for your project as different grades have different uses.
Suitable for the first sanding straight after the wood or metal has been cut.
Best used for sanding before treatment with varnish or polish.
Suitable for smoothing a surface between coats of paint, varnish, etc.
Mostly used for the finishing touches and polishing.
If you’re working with wood, then you would usually start with coarse sandpaper and gradually work up to finer sandpaper as the wood becomes smoother.