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I wanted to find out peoples opinions and advice on finishing birch stair treads. I do a lot of these but again have only been doing this for about a year and am always looking for better and easier ways to get a good finish. I normally sand first with a 150 grit to get rid of the planer marks, then I stain, then I usually find swirl marks left by the orbital sander so I have to sand down the tread again, (in some cases). After the tread is stained, I spray a coat of MLC KleerVar, sand with a 320 grit and apply one more coat of KleerVar. I find that it takes quite some time in the initial sanding to get rid of the planer marks. Wondering if I should be starting with a heavier grit and working my way down.
 

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I normally use a belt sander to get rid of planer marks. I'm surprised you are getting swirl marks with 150 grit paper. Your sander must run a bit slow. Anyway after sanding with 150 if you would wet the wood and raise the grain you could sand it again with 220 grit paper which should take out the swirl marks. Raising the grain between grit changes makes you sanding more effective.

If you do a lot of treads you might think of getting better sanding equipment. You might get a drum sander or timesaver sander which you could put finer and finer paper on it until there was no need for the orbital sanding. Personally myself I like a stroke sander. The seem more versatile.
 
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