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How to Choose the Right Sandpaper Grit and Type for Your Project

What grit sandpaper do you need for wood sanding? What's the grit number for extra fine sandpaper? Your sandpaper grit questions, answered!
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Hand holding sandpaper to choose

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Seeing sandpaper on a project checklist may seem like an easy enough item to check off—that is, until you hit the hardware store and face stacks of sandpaper sheets and booklets, each distinctly identified with different numbers that indicate sandpaper grits.

Each sandpaper grit performs a different job. Generally, the lower the grit number, the more coarse the grit. Therefore, a sheet of 220-grit sandpaper is more coarse than a sheet of 400-grit sandpaper. Coarser grits are used for heavy sanding on rough and uneven surfaces, while fine grit sandpaper is used to polish and finish the surface of materials. Usually more than one—and often three—types are needed for most projects.

It’s helpful to learn about different sandpaper grits, so you can find the right options for your next project.

What do sandpaper grit numbers mean?

Sandpaper consists of fine particles from either natural or synthetic sources. The particles (also known as grains or grit) are sifted through screens and sorted by size before being bonded with adhesive to a paper, sponge, or cloth-type backing to create an abrasive material.

RELATED: 9 Clever Alternative Uses for Sandpaper

In the United States, grit is determined based on a gradation scale established by the Coated Abrasive Manufacturers Institute (CAMI). The higher the number, the finer the sandpaper grit. Most sandpaper follows the CAMI scale, but if you order sandpaper online, you may run across sandpaper grit sized by the Federation of European Producers of Abrasives (FEPA).

Grit sized with the FEPA scale is indicated by the letter “P” preceding the grit number. FEPA sizes are not identical to CAMI sizes, but you can find a very similar option by selecting one of the two closest FEPA numbers.

Sandpaper Grit Chart

Here’s a quick reference that will help you find the right sandpaper grit for the job at hand. Make sure to check out the ‘common uses’ column if you are unsure of which grit to use on the project, and always test an inconspicuous spot or scrap material when using new sandpaper.

GradeCAMIFEPADescription Common uses
Extra Coarse24, 30, 36P12, P16, P30, P36530 to 1815 micrometers
  • Sanding extra rough and uneven surfaces
  • Removing stubborn paint and varnish
Coarse40, 50P40, P50336 to 425 micrometers
  • Sanding rough and uneven surfaces.
Medium60, 80P60, P80190 to 265 micrometers
  • Smoothing wood surfaces prior to painting.
Fine100, 120P100, P120115 to 162 micrometers
  • Light sanding between finishes
  • Can remove scratches created from coarse grits
Very Fine150, 180, 220P150, P180, P220190 to 265 micrometers
  • Sanding bare wood
  • Light sanding between drywall coats or other finishes
  • Can remove scratches from lower coarse grits

How to Choose the Right Sandpaper Grit

Manufacturers may indicate sandpaper grit by the number or by describing it, so it’s helpful to know what each description means.

  • Extra coarse sandpaper (24 to 36 grit): Used for removing paint and varnish, sanding old floors might also require extra coarse sandpaper.
  • Coarse sandpaper (40 to 50 grit): Used to roughly shape wood and remove old finishes, such as light coats of polyurethane.
  • Medium sandpaper (60 to 80 grit): Primarily used to sand rough wood and remove scratches and planning marks.
  • Fine sandpaper (100 to 120): For most DIY projects, this sandpaper will suffice for final smoothing before the work is finished.
  • Extra fine sandpaper (150 grit or higher): Often used between coats of paint or varnish, as well as for finishing.

On many projects, you’ll start with a coarse sandpaper grit, then gradually switch to finer grits to obtain a smooth finish.

Close-up of a man sanding by hand in the workshop
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Types of Sandpaper Grit Material

Most manufacturers list the type of material best suited for sanding on their product labels, but it’s smart to know what type of grit material to look for before you shop. The following are the most common types of sandpaper materials that DIYers may encounter.

1. Flint

Flint sandpaper’s surface has pulverized flint (or quartz) that creates its textured surface. It’s the oldest type of sanding paper and known for being inexpensive. A natural grain, flint is not durable and is traditionally used for light sanding and polishing. It can be rinsed after sanding jobs for repeated use.

Best For: Removing varnish and paint.
Our Recommendation: 3M Scotch Brite Flint Sanding Sheet at All Industrial Tool Supply for $0.16 per sheet
Flint is a natural material that works well on tough sanding products.

2. Emery

Emery sandpaper features a natural grain that’s most often used for removing corrosion and/or polishing steel and other metals. The edges of its particles can be too sharp for sanding wood, and is best for deburring, paint removal, or mechanically finishing a surface.

Often referred to as emery cloth, the abrasive is actually glued to a cloth rather than a paper so it is actually a little more durable than sandpaper.

Best For: Removing corrosion and polishing steel.
Our Recommendation: LYFJXX Emery Cloth Roll at Amazon for $17.99
Emery cloth is a durable sanding material that’s used for tough sanding jobs like deburring or paint removal.

Female carpenter making a little wooden table in her workshop. Young female using sandpaper doing woodwork in a warehouse for her small furniture or carpentry business from her home.
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3. Garnet

Another natural grain, garnet, is slightly softer than flint and emery. Used for polishing and fine sanding of wood, leather, and plastic, it tends to dull relatively quickly when used to sand metal. While it will wear quickly while it’s being used, the rapid wear helps to create a finer finish on the surface it’s sanding. Some use it for power sanding, but it’s also used as a hand sander.

Best For: Fine wood sanding
Our Recommendation: 3M Garnet Sandpaper at Amazon for $6.49
Garnet sandpaper is used for polishing and fine sanding of multiple materials and wears quickly.

4. Zirconia Alumina

Until ceramic was used, zirconia alumina was the most abrasive grain available for sanding projects. A synthetic product, this grit is long lasting and ideal for grinding away burrs on metal and for an initial sanding of rough wood. When sanding metal, the grit particles can actually become sharper, so you won’t have to change sandpaper frequently.

Best For: Grinding away metal burrs and sanding rough wood.
Our Recommendation: ABN Zirconia Alumina Sandpaper Disc Set at Amazon for $15.99
One of the most abrasive types of sanding materials, zirconia alumina is often sold as belts and discs for tough projects.

Carpenter use a hand-held electric sanding machine belt sander to level surface wood in carpentry workshop.
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5. Aluminum Oxide

Another very durable synthetic grit, aluminum oxide is well suited for sanding and polishing various types of metal, including bronze and alloy steel. It’s known for being long-lasting and can be found in a variety of grits from fine to coarse. Aluminum oxide is also a good choice for sanding all types of hardwoods.

Best For: Sanding hardwood and metal.
Our Recommendation: 3M Aluminum Oxide Sandpaper 6-pack at Ace Hardware for $4.59
A general-purpose sandpaper that’s available in a variety of grits, aluminum oxide is durable and long-lasting.

6. Silicon Carbide

Often used for automotive projects or wet sanding projects like polishing marble or stone, silicon carbide is made in coarse grits that can remove rust and in less coarse grits for polishing. The most durable of all synthetic abrasives, silicon carbide is good for sanding a wide range of materials, including plastic, metal, hardwoods, and softwoods.

Best For: Sanding plastic, metal, hardwoods, and softwood.
Our Recommendation: LotFancy Silicon Carbine Dry Wet Sanding Sheet at Amazon for $8.99
Silicon carbide sandpaper is often offered in grits ranging from 80 to 3,000, making it a versatile type of sandpaper for many different kinds of projects.