Woodworking Tip Number 994 is about the difference between a piece of wood worked with an edged tool and one worked with sandpaper. The way that edged tools work creates a surface that will look better under a finish, and you can use this to your advantage. Here is how it all works.
Edged Tools and Sandpaper
There are a couple ways to create a smooth surface on wood. Before sandpaper was invented, woodworkers used edged tools that cut the wood.
After sandpaper came around, the use of edged tools fell into decline. Older woodworkers kept using them, because they were familiar. The new woodworkers started buying sandpaper because it was easier to learn than edged tools.
Over time, most surface work was done with sandpaper, and edged tools were really limited to hand planes and chisels.
Since then, there has been a huge resurgence of hand tool use. This has shown all woodworkers that there is a difference between making a flat surface with an edged tool and sandpaper. The real difference lies in how the two methods work on the microscopic level…
Sanding is a Grinding and Pulverizing Proces
Very few people really understand what is actually happening when you sand a piece of wood smooth. The particles on the paper interact with the fibers of the wood rather violently, and crush and tear them apart.
The crushing, ripping, grinding, and tearing action of the individual sandpaper grains end up lowering the surface of the wood slowly. The parts that fall off from this process are seen by us as sawdust.
One reason that we don’t really see what we are doing when we sand is because it’s so small, and the sawdust clogs the pores. This makes a surface that looks better than it really is, which is not the case once you look really close.
Edged Tools Slice the Wood
In contrast to sanding, edged tools work in a very different way. They slice wood off in layers, which preserves the structure of the wood. Nothing is pulverised, damaged, smashed, or ground up in the process.
Though you will see shavings, one this that will notably be missing is dust. A cutting process with a sharp tool will not produce dust. Since there is no grinding, there is no way that dust can be produced.
This is one really good way of knowing if your edged tools are being used correctly. When you see dust, you need to take some time and sharpen your tools. If you see shavings, then you are still working the tool correctly.
Edged Tools and Oil Finishes
The cut surface of wood takes a finish differently than a sanded surface. The look is deeper, the glow is better, and there is more variation and shimmer. When you rotate a piece of wood and the color flashes, that’s called Chatoyance.
When you sand wood, the crushed fibers and the clogged dust can’t reflect light that same way, so the effect is reduced. This is because instead of the light being reflected back to the viewer, the ragged surface scatters it.
Even if you invest in a cabinet scraper for the final leveling of your surfaces, you will see a difference in the application of an oil finish. Especially in woods that already glow a little like Sapele and Figured Maple, using edges tools instead of sandpaper can make a difference.
Guitar Making Tip No. 994 Wrap-Up
For guitar makers, edged tools are very common. You can make your finish look even better by using edged tools instead of sandpaper to level the surface. The reason is that the edged tools cut, and sandpaper grinds.
Since the sharp cutting tools remove wood in fine slices, no sanding dust is created, and the pores of the wood are not clogged due to the process. The surface remains clean, and the finish looks better for it.
If you have any questions on Guitar Making Tip No. 994 please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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Tip No. 994 is from my book, 1,001 Acoustic Guitar Making Tips for Beginners, which has a thousand more great tips to get your first few builds on the right track. There is no secret to guitar making, just a lot of small things that you need to get right. These tips will help you.