Choosing the proper abrasive tool for a home-repair job usually means the difference between mediocre results and a truly professional appearance. Depending on the task, you'll choose between sandpaper, steel wool, and a file.

Sandpaper: 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.

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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.

Electric Sander: Need to sand a surface but don't have all day? An orbital sander is the handiest for most small projects. Since it's power tool, it can make sanding jobs easier and quicker.

Steel Wool: Steel wool comes in many grades of coarseness. Always apply the correct grade of steel wool to the work you have at hand, as detailed in the chart available at the right.

Files: A wood rasp, with a rasp and/or curved-tooth cut, is used to remove excess wood. The piece of wood is final-smoothed with a single-cut or double-cut file. You may not need files for most quick fixes. If you do decide to add some to your home-repair toolbox, buy an assortment of flat files -- wood rasp, bastard, second-cut, and smooth.

Now you know all the basic materials used in most home repair projects. Once you start fixing up your home, the objects described within this article will become only too familiar to you.

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