By conservative estimate, over my 40 years of woodworking I have sanded several hundred miles of wood. My sanding odometer broke one day and I never fixed it so this is just a guess. I figure that I sanded enough wood for a line that went off as far as the eye could see into the desert and then beyond that. I sanded all that wood to within an inch of its life and then just a wee bit more. To be certain.
I sanded the tops of tops and the bottom of tops. I sanded the insides of drawers and the insides of cabinets. Heck I sanded the back ends of drawer sides, corner blocks, and the undersides of feet placed on the floor. I sanded flutes and coves and shapes and flats and I sanded them so that they were perfect.
Why? Because that is what is required when you sand. Because sanding is the first step down the slippery slope to perfection. Because once you start sanding, you see more imperfections, more glaring slips of your hand, more infinitesimal tear-out, more scratches. Oh, look, there’s a little scratch, get that out. Oh feel that, it’s not as nice as this here, smooth that out. Oh get that first coat of oil on and watch the sanding swirls blossom like trout at feeding time on a fish farm. I have to sand those out now.
Hours go by.
Satisfaction wanes, as these hours go by.
In the very beginning, some time close to the Rock Age, I sanded everything with a palm sander. This gave me a greater ability to put in sanding swirl marks so that I could sand longer. I used up miles of garnet sand paper eating up those wood surfaces with my Rockwell palm sander. A few hours of that type of sanding and it left me with my edges more rounded than my work. That sander’s bearings liked to hum a little.
But sometime just before the time my prostate started to enlarge, I realized that time was not my friend. That sanding was not my friend. That sanding wasted my time and that my time and my prostate were valuable. So I quit it. I quit sanding. It saved my prostate. Oh no, that’s an exaggeration of course. But it did save me some time.
I quit sanding to pick up my hand planes and scrapers. I put down my sandpaper to let a sharp iron do the work. And if, or rather when, as I am still humbled by my work, when an error occurs, when some tear-out breaks the surface of my pristine cabinet, when I plane the sides of my drawers and that quarter sawn sycamore acts petulant, when I smooth the inside of a cabinet or box wall and it is not perfect I say to myself: that’s a good thing. There’s the hand of the maker right on the surface of the wood. No more of this perfect for me. If a scratch bothers me, I have a scraper or sharp plane to remove it. I sand still, of course. 400 grit. Done.