Sanding Highly Figured Veneer

Techniques to keep the figure from diminishing during sanding. April 14, 2005

When we prep highly figured veneers for finish, it seems as if the figure diminishes as we sand the veneer. To put it another way, it seems as if there is more figure before we touch the veneer. Is there a rule of thumb on what grit sandpaper to use to keep the figure strong? Or is there something I am missing? We may be sanding too fine... #180, but the fear of sanding through or leaving scratch marks from coarser grit makes me prefer to use the finer grits. I have had the same problem with Eng. sycamore and with Anigre. Finishing seems to restore some of the figure, but not as much as was there before sanding.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor D:
We sand our veneers to 220 grit. If you are starting with a hardwood veneer plywood, yes, you have to be careful of sanding through the 1/64 of veneer left, but you also should be able to start sanding at 180 grit.

If you are laying up your own veneers, you should be able to start sanding at 120, working your way up to 220 in the following steps. 120, 150 180, 220. I pencil mark the material and simply go over the veneer twice with each grit (not aggressively) and usually end up with a very nice panel and no burn through.

To achieve the really nice figure, you may want to sand one more step and go to 320. Also, laying down three or four coats of sealer and sanding these down to the veneer before the last coat of sealer and then topcoating will help a lot.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, I will try going to 320 next time.

From contributor F:

Try Scotchbrite and/or denatured alcohol for cleanup before finishing. You won't sand through, you won't leave micro cuts and scratches to dull the wood surface. You will retain a flat surface and you will remove all oils and fingerprints.

If you routinely sand melamine successfully, if you routinely sand HPL successfully, you can routinely sand veneer successfully. Think about that for a minute.

From contributor K:
I would like to hear more about sanding melamine and HPL - those are items that I try to avoid sanding. Do you sand them to level joints, to achieve a different sheen level than the factory supplies, to eliminate scratches, or what? I can sand veneer, but am I missing something important by not sanding plastics?

From contributor F:
My remarks about sanding melamine were facetious. I meant to emphasize the care necessary when prepping veneer for finishing, especially some of the thinner high quality faces that are available, and more importantly, to offer an alternate method. I don't and I don't know anyone who does sand melamine faces.