How To Sand Uneven Wood Surfaces

While many woodworkers dread the sanding part of a project, especially the hand-sanding part, we actually enjoy it. There is a meditative quality to sanding, stopping from time to time to feel the surfaces, taking note of the areas where more attention is needed.  

The thing about sanding we also enjoy is the satisfaction of taking a curved surface or irregular surface and turning it into a smooth surface.  You know what we mean – those pieces that can not accommodate a power sander – like a belt sander for a table top, or orbital sander or random orbital sander for smaller flat surfaces, or even a sanding block.  Hands, fingers, a chopstick to push a folded piece of sandpaper into a crevice all come into play as you pay close attention to the process of sanding.

It becomes very satisfying to see the fruits of your labor, whether before or after assembly, to smooth out those uneven wood surfaces and prepare them for the finish you’ve chosen.  

For this piece, let’s focus on those latter tasks, the hand-sanding, the fingers pushing the sandpaper into those curves or irregular shapes, and using a chopstick to get the sandpaper into those crevices and grooves.

Sanding Uneven, Curved, or Irregular Surfaces

LINE10 Tools 4-inch Moulding Flap Sanding Wheel Kit, Sander Mop for Drill Press, Pack of 3, 80, 120, 240 Grit

We know our belt sander is not the right tool for sanding uneven, curved, or irregular surfaces unless it is, for instance, a table top.  A flat surface calls for one of those power sanders, but not a cabriolet table leg or a vase with different and curved surfaces.

While power tools come into the picture for these sanding tasks, they are not sanders.  Rather, they can include a drill press or a power drill, for instance.  Here’s what we mean.

Hand Sanding For Irregular Surfaces

Sanding mops.  Have you ever heard of sanding mops?  They are made of various materials and in fact, can be a DIY project if you are curious and up to the task.  One such material is J-weight flexible cloth, and generally, sanding mops are made of materials that are flexible and can adapt to the surface being sanded.  

They are perfect for sanding curves and profiles, as well as intricate and irregular-shaped objects.  They are used in woodworking and metalworks – they can remove burs and rust in seconds.  

If you have a drill press, or merely a drill, or even a lathe, a sanding mop will help you sand those curves to a wonderful smooth and prepare them well for the finish of your choice.  Sanding mops come in a variety of sandpaper grits to choose from.  As with all sandpaper and sanding tasks, a lower grit sanding mop is for breaking down an uneven surface and then followed by ever-increasing numbered, finer grits to get to the finish grit for final smoothing.

Starting at around $13, sanding mops are an inexpensive and effective shop accessory to help with those tight, curved, or irregular surfaces that need to be prepped for finish.

For an idea of how a sanding mop can be an advantageous accessory to keep around your shop, here is an explanatory video to show you one in action.

Sanding Stars,  For sanding contoured or profiled woods, molding, curved pieces, or textured surfaces, a sanding star is an excellent choice.  Sanding stars are made from a very flexible cloth-backed material and are used for finish sanding.  

You can sand contoured and flat surfaces, raised panels, moldings, turnings, or carvings with sanding stars.  Even deburring raised grain is doable without the risk of destroying any intricate features of your workpiece.

As with sanding mops, sanding stars are available in a variety of sandpaper grits, from coarser, lower-numbered grits to the finer, higher-numbered grits depending on where you are in the sanding process.  Also, sanding stars are to be used with a drill press or your shop’s power drill.  

Sanding stars are also very inexpensive, and a pack of three in your choice of grit can be found for under $40.

If you are ambitious enough to want a DIY solution, here is a video that walks you through making your own sanding star from materials you likely already have in your shop.

Cards.  Actually, a variety of cards can also help with those tight spots and grooves that a power sander can’t reach.  Elbow grease (aka doing it by hand), yes, with no power tools to help, but using a credit card or two as a sanding block will get the paper into those grooves and tight spots for you

Corners and grooves can be particularly difficult to reach with just sandpaper and the flat head of a screwdriver.  This credit card(s) trick works well for sanding the irregular edges of a table top, or chair legs.

If the shape is so irregular, though, a deck of playing cards can take the place of your credit card.  The cards and sandpaper will adjust to the contour of the workpiece being sanded.  This playing card sanding block is a neat trick, providing a flexible but firm base for holding the sandpaper against a curved surface.

Sanding Blocks.  After suggesting some out of the norm sanding options for sanding uneven or irregular surfaces, it might seem a bit mundane to mention soft sanding blocks.  However, that really is not the case.

Soft sanding blocks come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and profiles that are designed for particular workpieces.  Lightweight and durable, these sanding blocks are designed for convex pieces, curved pieces, and more.  They are lightweight, so no arm or hand fatigue; glide over varying surface levels; resist most solvents; and, virtually eliminate gouging.  

Baseboard or crown molding, irregular-shaped table or chair legs, and more are all made smooth with soft sanding blocks.  Their tapered edges allow you to sand up to and underneath hard to reach spots.  

They are inexpensive, and a package of six shapes and sizes can be had for around $35.  We’re pretty sure your shop has accessories that are more expensive, but you don’t use them as often as you are likely to use soft sanding blocks for your project.

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Power Sanders For Irregular Surfaces

Angle Grinders.  Yes, we know that these are rather aggressive at removing material  But, with extra care and a well-chosen grinder head, an angle grinder can be effective in reaching otherwise obscure spots on a workpiece.  Angle grinders are designed to remove materials from a workpiece, and isn’t that what sanding is all about?

Angle grinders start at around $15 and can go up as high as $835, but for sanding that hard-to-reach spot on your workpiece and no other purpose in your shop, a $15 angle grinder with the right grinder head can be just the thing for you.

Random Orbital Sander.  We did say hand tools, this power sander can still come in handy with sanding on uneven or irregular surfaces.  A convex surface is a good example of a workpiece that can be sanded with a random orbital sander.  

Convex, as you know, refers to a curved surface like the exterior of a circle or sphere.  When using a random orbital sander on a convex surface, though, there is a little trick to follow. 

Usually, we attach the sandpaper directly to the random orbital sander.  In this instance, though, we would use a piece of polystyrene foam between the sandpaper and the sander.  This will help the sander adjust to the curve of the convex surface and give you a smooth finish to your sanding.

It is likely you already have a random orbital sander in your shop.  Here, then, is another use to which you can put it when working with irregularly shaped workpieces with a convex surface.  

Sanding drums.  The random orbital sander can take care of your convex surfaces, but what about a concave surface – on that curves inward?  Sanding drums will save the day for you.  

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These flexible rubber drums attach to your drill press or power drill and come in a variety of barrel sizes, and you can attach whatever grit sandpaper you want to them. 

Sponges.  Yes, sponges.  Glue a piece of sandpaper to a sponge, and roll it around a piece of dowel, and you have a homemade solution to sanding a convex surface.  Pick the right size and dowel based upon the workpiece, and you have a very handy and useful sanding option that certainly won’t break the bank.  

Lathe sander.  In all of these examples, the sanding solution moves, and the workpiece remains stationary.  With a lathe sander, though, the workpiece moves, and the sanding solution remains stationary.

Whether curved outward or inward, the spinning workpiece presents the spinning surface, and the sanding solution is pressed against the spinning wood.  By adjusting the pressure you apply to the sanding solution, you can achieve a smooth surface to any curve.

Of course, you need a lathe for this option, and perhaps your work does not include turnery.  But if it does, you already know of this solution and have used it in the past.  For the rest of us, we can only hope to have a lathe in our shop someday – we just need a bigger shop.

With a little ingenuity, a little imagination, a few DIY solutions, and some inexpensive accessories, you have your answer to the question of how to sand uneven wood surfaces.  These aren’t all of the solutions, but they are pretty handy suggestions for you to consider.

Last update on 2023-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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