Finish Sanding Hand-Planed Boards -- Without Losing the Look

A woodworker wonders how to efficiently smooth a surface enough to take finish, without ruining the hand-planed texture. February 8, 2005

I manufacture and then hand plane (distress) wood flooring. I am looking for an automated machine/sander that can help sand out the chatter in the flooring without losing the texture prior to me pre-finishing it. Any suggestions? Orbital sanders take way too long!

Forum Responses
From contributor L:
If you do actual hand planing to the floor boards, then there is no machine that you can use to sand the board without ruining or distorting the hand planing. The only way to sand it is to use a sponge with sandpaper on it and do it by hand. Yes, slow and much labor. But if you use a machine, you will ruin all that physical labor you put into it when you hand planed it. The only way I can see doing it by machine is to use a Flappy Sander, which is a bunch of sandpaper installed onto a drum and then rotated with a motor. You would need to use 150-220 grit "J" weighted paper. I have such a machine, but I use it to sand moldings. It is set up like a molding machine and you feed the moldings through it.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I think a flap sander of sorts may work. Or perhaps a sander with nylon brushes? I have tried some flapsanders, but in order to get the chatter out from the knives, I was also creating streaks or straight lines from the sandpaper. Perhaps I need one with several heads with different grits?

From contributor L:
I use a 1/2 HP motor spinning at 1725 RPM with a gear ratio of 13:40 for a flappy speed of 560 RPM. There is a large nut and bolt that is the hookup for my variable speed Delta stock feed roller. I got the flappy drum from Wood Workers Warehouse, but they are out of business now. Make sure to rip/cut the paper on the ends so you get a paintbrush effect. 1/4" spacing between the rips is what I use. If you are doing wider boards, you can spin them around and do a second pass or get more drums. I used pillow block bearings and a gocart axle because it had the correct 1" diameter. I got most of the stuff from Northern Tools.

From contributor B:

I did a ton of this work in the late eighties for the Beverly Hills crowd; learned a few things, too. If you are using a rounded off paint scraper to plane the wood, you will get a lot of chatter, and fuzz.

Try a scrub plane. This tool has been largely forgotten since the advent of power tools. It has a curved blade and wide throat to clear a lot of shavings without jamming up. It's what was used to dress timber to size before smooth planing. Those characteristic marks seen in older timbers you are trying to recreate were probably made by this tool. You will also be pleased when you find how much faster they are to use than a paint scraper. The marks they make are a bit more distinct and hold up to sanding without washing out better as well. Try regrinding the blade's radius to suit your taste.