Why And How To Finish Wood Projects Without Sandpaper

We don’t provide sandpaper on field school courses with which to smooth and finish wooden projects such as canoe paddles, long bows, etc. Every course, one or two people get upset about this and urge us to provide it in the future. But there is a reason why we don’t.

Sandpaper is a one time use item. Use it for a bit and it’s no longer useable and ends up in the trash. We don’t want to be advocating the use of a tool that has to be constantly thrown away and repurchased. Endless trips to the store to get one more item is not the goal. One of our intended learning outcomes is knowing how to finish wooden projects away from town without sandpaper. Having a simple tool kit, with no one-use items, for all of our projects is the goal.

With that in mind, here are three ways to finish wood projects (meaning to get them nice and smooth) that don’t require sandpaper.

Scraping. This can be done with a knife held at 90 degrees to the wood, with a cabinet scraper or even a piece of broken glass in a pinch.

Burnishing. Rubbing the wood. There are lots of things you can rub it with, including a wooden block, a piece of leather, a piece of smooth metal or metal pipe, a section of canvas or a smooth stone. In addition to making it smooth, burnishing compresses the outer fibers, making them more rugged.

Sanding. A piece of fabric and a handful of sand functions like sandpaper.

All of these options take a bit more elbow grease than a pile of sandpaper, but none of them require disposable items or an extra trip to town. They are equally functional at home or on a remote expedition.

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  • I guess if we want to live in a fully sustainable world (or as close to it as possible) then we need to have this sort of thing as our ultimate aim. I would suggest that the third option has a limited life too however, as the fabric would ultimately be worn out by the sand.

  • Whitenoise

    Useful bit of advice is that, thanks.

    Often wondered how it was that “others” could get their spoons so smooth.

    I’ll be trying one of the above methods tonight.

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