We have an original 1950’s oak wooden banister in the house we’ve just bought. The problem is that it is covered in the old varnish that hadn’t aged very well and was a horrible orange colour. Time for me to sand it back to its original glory. This post is about how to use an electric sander to do the job.

There are two ways to sand this: (1) the manual way with a piece of sandpaper, and (2) the right way with an electric sander. It took me 4 hours with the electric sander so I can only imagine that it would have taken about 2 weeks doing it manually!

The equipment

I’m using a Black & Decker electric sander that I picked up from Woodies for €100. I had never used one so was about dubious about my own abilities, but in truth, electric sanders (not to be confused with belt sanders) are probably the easiest and safest power tool that you can use. It has a motor that rotates around 13,000 times a minute which moves sandpaper very very quickly in constantly changing directions across the surface you are using it on. All you need to do is hold it tightly and make sure you are controlling it, and not the other way around.

You will need to buy a bunch of special sandpaper in the shape of your particular device – you cannot just buy sheets of normal sandpaper and stick them on an electric sander. The sheets you buy have a Velcro background and stick to the surface of the sander. Mine has holes in the middle as you can see below, which is connected to a vacuum which is meant to suck up all the dust as it goes (spoiler alert: it doesn’t!).

You’ll see mine also has a diamond shaped tip – this is to get into corners easily. This tip also wears out the quickest. Rather than replace the whole sheet when it wears out, the sheet has replacement tips which are really handy.

Before you start, this will be incredibly dusty work. Everything in range will be covered in dust so use dust sheets, close doors and open windows. If you are doing this over a large surface area you will want to get a dust mask and eye protectors. I also used eye drops a few times during the day – it’s amazing how quickly sawdust dries you out.

How to use an electric sander

To use the sander, simply hold it tightly, turn it on, place it on the area that needs attention and move it across the surface evenly. My advice is to do the same surface three times with different grades of sandpaper. Start with a coarse paper of around 60 grit, then go to 80-100 grit and then finish with 120-140 grit. This makes sure you have a really smooth finish at the end. It will be tempting to skip a grade to get it finished sooner, but it is worth it – trust me!

That’s about it – sanding any surface is about patience and maintaining your concentration. Go slowly, go through the various grades, and replace the sheets when the paper gets worn and smooth.

All the effort will be worth it – here’s what my original banister looked like compared to the untreated sanded version.

The next thing we need to do is figure out how to either varnish or wax it. I’ll keep you posted!

Fancy a bigger challenge? Why not learn how to sand original wooden floorboards!

-Seán

 

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