Woodworking Talk banner
  • Hello Everyone! Let us know what you would spend a $50 Amazon gift card on, HERE For a chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card!
1 - 4 of 4 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
61 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey all,
I have seen varying opinions on where people rate steel wool in relation to sandpaper. Some of the issues occurring with trying to compare the two is that the steel wool has different properties, owing to the way it cuts and the wooven structure of the material. So, I tried to make some visual comparisons.
I took several slides, covered them in clear tape, and then colored the tape with a black sharpie. Then, I took several grits of sandpaper (p1500, 2000, and 3000) and 0000 steel wool and scuffed the surfaces of the slides to compare them side by side. Naturally, this is not the same as using them with the respective materials you would use in wood working, but it is what I had available at the time and I think it does reflect what I tend to see in my own applications.
You can make your own judgements, but overall the 0000 steel wool appeared to be definitely finer than the p1500 and about equivalent to 2000. There were a few deeper scratches with the 2000 grit sandpaper and many finer ones that are a bit more difficult to see in the images, but there is a caveat that might explain the uneven gouging with the 2000 grit. I used my fingers to press the sandpaper and steel wool on the surface. As a result, the sandpapers were not as evenly pressed against the slide while the steel wool is a thick pad of steel wool, which tended to better distribute the force of my fingers, and, therefore, was much more consistent. If a soft backing was used for the sandpaper, I believe that the 2000 grit sandpaper would have yielded a more consistent and finer cut than the 0000 steel wool, but it is too close within the error of my current methods to say for sure.

Finally, you can see that the 3000 grit was much finer than the 0000 steel wool. I found these results quite interesting, as I often hear people say that 0000 steel wool is somewhere between p600-1000 grit, but I found that it was much finer than that! In context of what 0000 wool is often used for, it makes sense that it wouldn't be that coarse.

I might repeat the experiment in the future with better backing, more consistent sanding, different grits, and other materials. Any comments would be appreciated.

Cheers!
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
61 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
For wood, i dont think theres much in the way of comparison between the 2. Both result in smoother pieces sure, but the steel wool, the finer stuff at least, has more of a burnishing action as opposed to the abrasion given by the sandpaper. Course, in a material like the plastic you were using the steel wool would have an abrasion effect, not so much on a piece of maple though. There is some abrasion going on, but a lot more burnishing

Yes, you have a very good point. I can see that being true. I think the marker trick would be more relatable to film finishes. The slides with the wool looked to be more "burnished" as well. At least that was the case when compared to the lower grits. I am not sure if it has to do with the woven nature, the way the metal cuts, the springiness of the fibers, or maybe a bit of everything. However, the higher grits seem to have more of a polishing action, which may not just be due to the depth of the cutting being more shallow, but how tight the cutting action is. I believe they are all aluminum oxide sandpapers, so I don't think it has anything to do with the abrasive type changing.

I've added a couple macros of the slides to try to illustrate what I mean. I know some people complain about steel wool not being flat so it tends to gouge the material unevenly, but it did wonderfully in the test conditions.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
61 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Why would any one sand wood to 1000 or greater? Wood has fibers stickin' all kinds of which ways even with straight grain. Steel wool would be used to polish or even a film finish like BLO or lacquer which has no directional fibers, at least that's how I used it. In my experience using anything greater than 220 on wood will just burnish the fibers not cut them. At that point you are ready to put a finish on the wood, not continue sanding.

Anytime I get into sanding a film finish with 320 or greater I use a soap and water or mineral spirits wash to carry away the particles. Otherwise the paper just clogs up and becomes useless. :vs_cool:
I can't say I have ever done it, that's why I was kind of caught by surprise by the comment. However, I did inherit a piece of raw-wood furniture with a live edge and it is a beauty. The woodworker really polished the surface of the coffee table and used no finish whatsoever. I get the philosophy and art behind it and it's kinda neat; however, I plan to give it a "proper" finish just the same.

I'd see the use of 0000 steel wool to smooth a surface after raising the grain. When someone uses a water-based stain, they may want to remove as little material as possible while flattening the surface. That said, I'd opt for burying the grain with a film finish and then sanding before following up with more coats.
Thank you for the input!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
61 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I'd see the use of 0000 steel wool to smooth a surface after raising the grain. When someone uses a water-based stain, they may want to remove as little material as possible while flattening the surface. That said, I'd opt for burying the grain with a film finish and then sanding before following up with more coats.
Thank you for the input!
Yikes, yeah, dont do that. Keep steel wool very, very far away from water-based finishes, otherwise the wool will leave tiny flecks of steel in the wood that the water in the finish will then rust.

Actually, you could probably shorten that to "keep away from steel wool". Dont get me wrong, its handy stuff, but theres better stuff to use. Like Scotchbrite. Scotchbrite is fantastic, doesnt fall apart nearly as fast as steel wool, wont rust, isnt reactive with any finishes that ive used, just all around better to deal with. The 'abrasive' action is about the same too, theres some abrasion going on but mostly a burnishing effect, on raw wood.

If youre using this on film finishes though, a white scotchbrite pad loaded with some paste wax will leave you with a beautiful finish. Not a full gloss, not quite a satin either, just somewhere in-between. The scotchbrite has just enough abrasiveness to catch the little dust nibs and the like and take them off, but not enough to start carrying off the finish unless youre really pushing it. The wax lubricates the action, and leaves that final sheen on the finish once you buff it off. My personal favorite way of ending a shellac finish
As long as the water-based finish has dried, you are two yikes too many. Additionally, I also used a 3m synthetic pad on a slide, and it gave a heterogeneous mixture of cuts. So to me, it is not worth it if the product will buff down to a certain degree, but also leave larger scratches. In this regard, the 0000 steel wool was superior under my testing conditions. So, use a scotchbright pad if you don't mind having a few larger scratches and there is a good reason to be concerned about pieces of steel wool discoloring the piece, or better yet, use sandpaper, micromesh, polishing compound, or something else that will get fhe job done.
 
1 - 4 of 4 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top