If you mention sanding to most people who have had to do it, whether in a DIY or professional setting, you'll probably get a groan in response. It's not a task that many (or any??) people enjoy. It's dusty, hard work, and noisy, among other things. It therefore tends to be something people try to avoid where possible, which is possibly why we're often asked if it's even necessary in the first place!
I should mention at this point that this question refers mainly to Reclaimed Boards, as opposed to New Boards - you'll see below that it is the issues you will find mainly on a reclaimed timber that sanding will help with.
I feel like this is my go to response in our FAQ articles, but as with how to finish many DIY and timber based projects, the answer does tend to be "it depends!". Usually what it depends on is the final use, but in sanding it's also to do with customer preference in terms of the look and feel of the board, as well as whether or not you plan to treat the board too.
Sanding certainly isn't necessary from a structural point of view as it provides no enhancement to the strength of the timber. All sanding is doing is remove debris from the outside of the board, and then smoothing off the surface of the timber thereafter. In some cases this is necessary and in others it may not be at all.
When it isn't necessary...
If you're perhaps using the boards to make some garden planters, or maybe you're cladding a wall with them and want to keep as industrial look as possible, then in these sorts of instances and many others you may just wish to keep the boards completely unsanded. They'll still function exactly the same as if they were sanded and you'll save yourself a lot of time and effort by not having to do so. All their original charm and character will be preserved as well as those poor fingers.
When a board might need a small amount of sanding...
In probably the majority of cases, customers will wish to lightly sand the boards. This will not only remove any muck such as cement, glue, or paint from the board, but will also smooth down any particularly rough sections of wood. Many boards will have various splinters on the edges and corners and this will remove these and make the board safer to handle.
A light sand also in many people's opinion does improve the appearance of the board. Whilst we love a rustic, industrial look, sometimes a completely raw board can look a little too dirty and rough. A light sand will take the unsightly stains and surface muck off whilst maintaining a good level of character. But if character is the most important feature for you, then make sure not to overdo it. It may be best to test a small patch first on a side or area that won't be seen.
We find that a light sand is used in instances where the board is the feature in its own right, such us as a shelf on a wall, but where it doesn't need heavier sanding for complete flatness.
Additionally, if you plan to treat the wood with an oil, wax, or (heaven forbid!) paint, then a light sand will prepare the timber for the treatment. Otherwise, the product will sit on top of anything on the surface of the timber rather than penetrate into the wood.
When a board might need a heavier sanding
Sometimes a heavier sand is in order, and this will in most cases be when the use of the board requires a certain amount of flatness, such as with a tabletop. Here, the sanding needs to be taken to a level where not only surface imperfections are removed, but also any twist, cup, or bow in the wood (which are inevitable with any piece of timber over time) will be reduced.
This is particularly important when boards are being joined to one another, as even small amounts of twist between boards will make for a really uneven surface. The boards need to be made more uniform so that flatness continues from one board to the next, across the whole surface.
Apart from this, some people just prefer a more sanded appearance. Scaffold boards can often have so much character (a.k.a. dinks and dents!) that even a heavier sand will leave the board still looking much more rustic and original than a brand new board, whilst giving a really pleasing and more refined finish than only a light sand.
Whilst the previous options (no sanding, or a light sand), can be achieved even by hand, with sandpaper and a block, the more thorough sand would really need to be completed with some sort of electric sander (we'll go in to this in more detail in a future article!). It's not to say it is impossible with sandpaper and a block, but it would take so long you will probably lose the will to live before you've achieved the desired result.
When treating a board
In many instances customers will also wish to treat their boards with some sort of protective finish. This might be oil, wax, varnish, or any of the many different options out there. You can see our earlier blogs on how to treat boards for indoor use or for outdoor use for more details on what exactly is best to use, but either way, the boards will need some sanding first. This is because the treatment needs to be applied directly to the board, so if there's something on the surface such as cement or dirt then whatever you apply will just sit directly on top of this and not penetrate in to the wood, therefore not giving the protection you're looking for.
For this reason, the board needs to be sanded clean, to a level where the whole surface is exposed timber.
You will want to pay particular attention to the ends of the board, as these are naturally rougher and more absorbent due to the orientation of the grain. This means that the end grain soaks up more oil, so can end up often looking darker than the rest. A way round this is to sand the ends with a higher (finer) grit, as this serves the purpose of closing up the grain, allowing less absorption. We'll look more in to this in a later article. It's also why we recommend not using a higher grit than 120 on the rest of the board, as anything higher will lower absorption too much, except for the end grain where you may wish to go a little higher as mentioned.
What we can offer
After reading the above, you might be fast going off the idea of sanding, and we certainly wouldn't blame you. Whilst it is certainly an achievable DIY task, it's also something that most of us just don't particularly want to do.
The good news is that we can do it for you!
You'll see that we offer sanded options in both our reclaimed and new boards, saving you all the effort and stress. We offer both a light "hand sand" and a heavier "machine sand", so we really cater for all aesthetics. These cost a little more than a sanded board, but when you take in to account the equipment, labour, dust and mess, it's well worth it. We are well practiced at getting a quality and consistent finish, so if you trust us with this part of the process then you won't be disappointed. We can even oil the board too :).
As always, feel free to browse our full range of Products to see more, or otherwise pop us a message on email@example.com with any questions that you have.