Making Friends with a Detail Sander: Refinishing Your Front Door

Detail Sander with Rubber Bits

Detail Sander with rubber "bits"

I love wood. Maybe it’s the way the surface glows when sunlight suffuses the grain, lighting up any room with golden radiance. Or maybe it’s the tactile pleasure of rubbing my hand over a smooth, sanded finish. Whatever the reason, I enjoy bringing out the inner beauty of wood with sanding and staining. Over the years—and multiple refinishing projects—I’ve learned that you don’t always have to do things the hard way, rubbing your fingers raw with sandpaper to get into cracks and crevices. That’s where my second love—the detail sander—comes into play.

Related: 10 Tools for Your Apartment You Never Thought You’d Need

The detail sander and I made our acquaintance several years ago, when I decided to refinish the front door to our house. The front door had been a sore point with me for many years. Although I loved the fact that it was constructed of solid wood and had decorative appeal, I loathed the paint job, which was stark white with blue trim. When the paint started to look a bit shabby, I decided the time had come to tackle the job.

Detail Sander

Front door before refinishing

I had put off doing anything about the door for a long time; I confess I was intimated by the decorative patterning, which consists of carved concentric circles centered in sculpted squares. I dreaded the thought of long hours of painstaking work trying to remove the paint from those crevices. But then I discovered the detail sander, which is designed to make short work of sanding corners, edges and other tight spaces.

Detail sanders feature a small vibrating triangular “head” to which you attach sandpaper. Some detail sanders, mine included, also feature hardened rubber “bits” in different shapes and sizes; you wrap these bits with adhesive sandpaper to get into curved spaces or slots. Armed with this inventive tool, I was able to reach into all of the nooks and crannies of the pattern, removing the offending paint and prepping the door for its eventual mahogany stain.

Detail Sander

Front door refinished

There are a few key factors to keep in mind when using a detail sander:

• Remember that it is a sander and, like with any sander, you have to keep it moving or you’ll wind up with an unsightly groove or a notch.

• Be sure to use a light, controlled touch, rather than bearing down hard; it is better to go over the same spot several times than to try sanding it all in one pass.

• Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles, bits, and grades of sandpaper to achieve the exact results you want. The heart and soul of the grain is in there—you just need to spend a little time to bring the true loveliness of the wood to light.

For more on painting and refinishing, consider the following Bob Vila articles:

Paints and Finishes
How to Paint Like a Pro
Paint Makeovers: An Expert Tells All