I always have a lot of sandpaper in my workshop. I usually buy it in bulk, so that I always have some laying around for my projects without having to worry about it too much. But last weekend it finally happened and I ran out of fine grid sandpaper without noticing it, the stores where already closed and I really wanted to finish my project. So I called up some friends and searched the internet for the best ways to smooth and finish wood without sandpaper. I then tried every method, that I could find and ended up with these 10 alternative ways to smooth wood without sandpaper.
In short, here are the best ways to smooth wood projects without sandpaper. Sand and a piece of leather or cloth, Pumice (a porous vulcanic Rock), Walnut Shells, Rottenstone (similar to Pumice), Wood Shavings, Corn Cobs, a Wood File, Scraping, Burnishing, or even building a primitive sanding tool are good alternatives to sandpaper.
So as you can see, there are several ways to smooth and finish wood without sandpaper. Most methods are quite easy to use, some are very exotic methods and a few are very interesting and result in interesting finishes, that will, however, not be useful for every project.
I will quickly go over every method, how it works, its pros and cons, and my personal takeaways. You can see a short summary in the form of a table down below. And a detailed explanation for every method right below the table.
If you have any questions then feel free to leave a comment down below and I will answer it as soon as I can.
|Method||How it works||Pros||Cons|
|Sand||Sprinkle some sand on the wood and use a piece of cloth or leather to rub the wood with the sand.||Easy to do and fast.||It doesn´t work with every type of wood and a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards.|
|Walnut Shells||Use ground Walnut Shells to smooth the wood surface. It works just like with the sand.||Easy to use, amazing smooth result and it polishes the wood.||Ground Walnut Shell is kind of hard to come by and a lot of cleaning up to do afterward.|
|Corn Cubs||Use ground Corn Cobs to smooth the wood. It works the same way as using sand or Walnut Shells.||Easy to use, very smooth surface and the wood will be polished.||Also kind of hard to come by, you will have to clean your workshop afterward and it takes a while.|
|Pumice||Pumice is a volcanic rock, that is very rough and porous. Wood should always be wet sanded with the Pumice.||Pumice are avaleable in different grids, they hold a long time (less waste) and the result is very good.||Pumice can be expensive depending on where you live and the wood always has to be wet when you use a Pumice to smooth it.|
|Rottenstone||Very similar to Pumice but it is available in a finer grid than pumice.||Available in very fine grids and a little cheaper than Pumice.||It is not easy to come by because almost no hardware stores sell it.|
|Wood Shavings||Wood Shavings from a planer or saw can be used to polish wood. Simply rub the shavings over the wood surface to polish it.||If you have a workshop or you work a lot with wood, then this method is essentially free.||The shavings have to be clean and if you are not careful, then you can end up with some stones or dirt in the shavings which can damage your project.|
|Wood File||You can use a planer, a metal wood file, or something similar to sand wood.||No waste and a good tool will last a very long time.||High initial cost.|
|Scraping||For scraping, you will need a very sharp knife. Carefully scrape over the wood along the grain, changing the angle of the knife will change how much wood is being scraped off.||No waste and amazing results if done right.||Very hard to do right. This method will take you quite some time to learn!|
|Burnishing||Burnishing is done by rubbing either wood, metal, or leather on the piece of wood, that you want to finish.||Easy to use and amazing finish.||It will take quite some time until the finish is done.|
|Building a primitive sanding tool (stone age style!)||The most fun method of this whole article. You can build a primitive sanding tool by glueing some sand to stone.||Easy to do and a lot of fun.||You need a strong glue and very fine sand to end up with a good result.|
Using Sand to Smooth Wood
This is one of the most popular alternatives to sandpaper, other than using sanding tools.
This method is done by sprinkling fine grain sand on the piece of wood, that you want to smooth. Try to spread the sand evenly.
You don´t need a lot of sand either, just a thin layer that barely covers the wood should be more than enough.
Then take a piece of leather or a very thick piece of cloth and start rubbing the sand over the surface of the wood with it.
Try to move with the grain. This will ensure, that the wood is really being smoothed. If you move against the grain, then you might end up roughening up the surface instead of smoothing it.
Try to apply even pressure throughout the process, this will ensure an even finish in the end.
The best part about this method is its ease of use. It is really very simple to sand the wood this way as long as you watch out for the direction of the wood grain, that is.
The biggest con is that you have to clean up your workspace afterwards and sand will be everywhere. It took me nearly 3 days to get rid of most of the sand and even now I still find sand behind or on my tools. I think I will never get compleatly rid of the sand ever again.
The finish is good when the sand is fine enough but it is still a little more work than simply using sandpaper.
Using Walnut Shells to Smooth Wood
You can sometimes get grinded Walnut Shells in hardware stores. It is a blasting medium. It is not very expensive but most of the time you have to buy more than you need. Mainly because they only sell it in 4lbs packages or heavier.
This method is pretty much done the exact same way as with sand.
So spread a thin layer of the Walnut Shell medium on the wood surface and use a piece of cloth or leather to rub the wood with it.
Again, follow the grain of the wood while doing this and try to apply an even pressure to ensure a good looking finish.
I was personally very surprised by this method. It worked really well and the finish looked professional. It was, however, still a lot of work to smooth the wood by hand using this method.
It was also a lot easier to clean my workshop from the Walnut Shell compared to cleaning it from the sand. So that is a big plus in my book!
I personally would use this method of smoothing wood in the future, mainly because the finish was so nice. And that makes the hard work of finishing the wood by hand worth it for me.
Using Corn Cubs to Smooth Wood
Again, the method is pretty much the same as the method used for sand and Walnut Shells only this time we will spread crushed Corn Cubs on top of our wooden surface.
You can get crushed Corn Cubs in a few hardware stores as a blasting medium. But, just like before with Walnut Shells, you can only buy big packages of crushed Corn Cubs.
Using Corn Cubs didn´t really achieve as good of a finish as Walnut Shells did for me but the wood surface was quite smooth after rubbing it for a while. It took a lot longer to get a smooth surface compared to the other methods mentioned here, too.
So overall the result was good in the end but most other methods, that I tried, gave me a better and faster result in the end.
Using a Pumice to Smooth Wood
A Pumice is a porous Vulcanic rock. I personally saw a lot of them in Italy and here in Germany, they are quite cheap but, as far as I know, they are a little bit more expensive in the US. Mainly because there is no active Vulcano nearby and thus no easy way to get them.
You can buy Pumice in different grits from fine grits all the way to rough grids. But if you want a very fine grid then you have to use a Rottenstone instead.
You can also buy Pumice Powder but it is kind of expensive and you can only use it once. While you can use the stone multiple times without any issues.
It is recommended, that you make the surface of the wood wet before you go over it with a pumice to avoid damaging the wood.
And as always you should move along the grain of the wood and not against it.
Using a Rottenstone for Smoothing Wood
A Rottenstone is pretty similar to a Pumice. The biggest advantage of using a Rottenstone instead of a Pumice is that the Rottenstone is available in very fine grits.
So if you want a very smooth finish on your wood project, then definitely go with a Rottenstone.
Other than that, the method and the process are the same as using a Pumice.
Use Wood Shavings for Finishing Wood
This is an old trick. I first heard of this way back when I was little and grandfather told me, that you don´t need wood finisher to finish wood. He told me, that he almost always used to use the shavings from his wood project to finish the wood.
It took me years to finally try it and the result is actually amazing.
This is probably the easiest and most effective method out of all the methods in this article.
Simply take a handful of Wood Shavings in your had and rub them over the wooden surface. Try to move along the grain of the wood and apply an even pressure.
It won´t take long and you can already see how the shaving smoothes the wood underneath it.
The only real downside to this method is, that you really need to watch out, that no stones or dirt are among the wood shavings when you use them to smooth your wood. Just a small rock caught between the Wood Shavings can damage the surface of the wood permanently. So be careful!
Using Wood Files for Sanding Wood
I admit, this method seems kind of obvious but investing in a few good Wood Files can save you a lot of money.
My great Grandfather was a Woodworker and I actually inherited his Wood Files from my grandfather. I am using these files to this day and they still work very well.
So buying a few high-quality Wood Files will be worth it after some time. They can hold more than a lifetime or even generations, like in my case, and still, work well.
You can get Wood Files in a huge variety of grits from very rough to very fine and in a lot of different forms and sizes too. I use them a lot and they are an amazing alternative to sandpaper for most projects.
They have their downsides, one being, that they can’t really get into every cranny and if you have a more complicated build or fragile project, then I wouldn´t use them either.
Scraping the Wooden Surface to Smoothen it
Scraping is an awesome method but it is also very hard to learn and even harder to master.
The basic idea of scraping is using a knife to scrape over the wooden surface to smoothen it. Depending on the angle, that the knife is held in, it will take away more or less of the material. You can use a scraper tool, that will control the angle of the knife and hold it in a constant angle to ensure an even finish or you can scrape your wood by hand.
I personally tried to scrape my wood by hand. The result was not great. You are supposed to hold the knife in a 90 degrees angle to scrape the wood properly. I wasn´t able to hold it at 90 degrees consistent enough so my wooden surface ended up very uneven in the end.
But I have seen professional scrape to very great results! So if you are interested in woodworking or if you want to take your woodworking skills to another level, then this may be an interesting skill to look at a bit closer.
Burnishing the Wood to Make it Smooth
Burnishing is a really easy method and it is surprisingly effective as well.
All you have to do is rubbing the piece of wood with either another piece of wood, with leather or with a smooth stone.
This is probably the easiest method to use out of all the methods, that I have covered in this article. It is really just that simple.
By rubbing the wood against another hard surface the wood will become smoother and it will even get a smooth and shiny finish. Depending on the material, that you use, the wood will become very shiny or dull. But either way, the wood will actually be smoother than before and you don´t have to use any sandpaper.
If you don´t believe me, then try it for yourself. I was very surprised by the outcome!
Building a Primitive Sanding Tool
This is my most favorite method. Not because it is the best method but because it is the most fun one out of all of them in my opinion.
You can actually create your own primitive sanding tool out of a stone, some sand, and strong glue. This is actually the same way, that we humans have sanded wood in the stone ages. So this tool is actually a sanding tool in the stone age style.
The basics are pretty simple. Get a smooth stone and apply some glue to one side of it. Then evenly spread a thin layer of sand on top of the stone. Wait until the glue has dried and you are done. You build your own primitive sanding tool.
Now you can use the stone to sand down your wood projects. You may have to periodically apply a new layer of sand to the stone and the results are not perfectly fine but the finish is actually kind of interesting looking.
And it is a lot of fun to try and make this tool work.