Most do-it-yourselfers still refer to various grades of "sandpaper," but the proper term for these sanding sheets is "coated abrasives." There are four factors to consider when selecting any coated abrasive: the abrasive mineral, or which type of rough material; the grade, or the coarseness or fineness of the mineral; the backing (paper or cloth); and the coating, or the nature and extent of the mineral on the surface.

Sandpaper
Sandpaper can be held in the hand or wrapped around a sanding block.

Paper backing for coated abrasives comes in four weights: A, C, D, and E. A (also referred to as "Finishing") is the lightest weight and is designed for light sanding work. C and D (also called "Cabinet") are for heavier work, while E is for the toughest jobs. The coating can be either open or closed. Open coated means the grains are spaced to only cover a portion of the surface. An open-coated abrasive is best used on gummy or soft woods, soft metals, or on painted surfaces. Closed coated means the abrasive covers the entire area. They provide maximum cutting, but they also clog faster and are best used on hard woods and metals.

There are three popular ways to grade coated abrasives. Simplified markings (coarse, medium, fine, very fine, etc.) provide a general description of the grade. The grit refers to the number of mineral grains that, when set end to end, equal 1 inch. The commonly used O symbols are more or less arbitrary. The coarsest grading under this system is 41/2, and the finest is 10/0, or 0000000000.

The following
chart contains information on sandpaper types and uses.

SELECTING SANDPAPER
Grit Number Grade Coating Common Uses
Very coarse
30
36

21/2
2
F,G,S
F,G,S

Rust removal on rough-finished metal.
Coarse 40
50
60
11/2
1
1/2
F,G,S
F,G,S
F,G,A,S

Rough sanding of wood; paint removal.
Medium 80
100
120

0(1/0)
00(2/0)
3/0

F,G,A,S
F,G,A,S
F,G,A,S

General wood sanding; plaster smoothing; preliminary smoothing of previously painted surface.
Fine 150
180

4/0
5/0

F,G,A,S
F,G,A,S

Final sanding of bare wood or previously painting surface.
Very fine 220
240
280

6/0
7/0
8/0

F,G,A,S
FAS
FAS

Light sanding between finish coats; dry sanding.
Extra fine 320

360
600

 9/0

_2
_2

FAS

S
S

 

High finish on lacquer, varnish, or shellac; wet sanding.
High-satinized finishes; wet sanding.

1 F = flint; G = garnet; A = aluminum oxide; S = silicon carbide. Silicon carbide is used dry or wet, with water or oil.
2 No grade designation.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:
  • Home Repair Tools: Whether you prefer to use the Yellow Pages for anything that needs fixing around the house or consider yourself a regular do-it-yourselfer, there are a handful of tools that everyone should have in their tool box. Learn all about them in this article.
  • Abrasives: Choosing the proper abrasive for a home repair job usually means the difference between mediocre results and a truly professional appearance. Check out this article for tips on using sandpaper, steel wool, and a file.
  • Steel Wool: When using steel wool, you'll want to choose the correct grade of coarseness appropriate for the job at hand. See this article for suggestions.
  • Sander: Sanders smooth wood and other materials by moving sandpaper across a surface. Check out this article for tips on using all types of sanders.

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