While sandpaper has a multitude of uses, sometimes it's not the best material for the task at hand. At times, more durable materials such as an emery cloth may do a better job, while a sanding block eliminates the time you may spend otherwise cutting and replacing sandpaper that wears out in the middle of the project.
Working on Wood
- Sanding blocks -- sometimes called sanding sponges -- feel slightly rough like sandpaper all around, but bend and squish a bit like a sponge, allowing you to sand things that aren't entirely flat, such as spindles on chair legs. These blocks are more durable than sponges -- and sandpaper -- and can be used many times.
- Emery boards -- yes, the type used to smooth fingernails -- also work like sandpaper. They typically feature a different grit on each side, for both fine and coarse sanding. Emery boards come in handy in a pinch for sanding rough edges on wood as well.
Mainly for Metals
- Emery cloth looks a lot like sandpaper, but has a cloth backing in place of paper, making it far more durable. The grit on the front is often made from a combination of corundum and other minerals such as magnetite and hematite. Emery cloth may be sold in sheets, rolls or bands; the band version is used on belt sanders. Emery cloth is used for sanding metals more so than wood.
- Steel wool can be used to help remove rust from metal or for fine finishing work on wood or metal. Like sandpaper and emery cloth, steel wool is available in grades from coarse to very fine.
- Stone sharpening tools such as oil stones, water stones and whetstones also work a bit like sandpaper, designed to sand or sharpen and smooth the blades on metal implements such as knives and garden tools. These stones may be made of natural or synthetic materials and typically require a drop or two of oil or water to help remove metal filings from the stone. Some whetstones are designed to be soaked in water for up to ten minutes before use.
- Grinding wheels -- designed for use on a bench or pedestal grinder -- are used to smooth, shape and deburr metals. The wheels rotate at high speed while you hold and turn the metal, allowing the wheel to do the work. Grinding wheels are not designed for sanding plastic or wood.
- Pumice is a volcanic stone that also works like sandpaper. Sold in a hunk, it can be used to remove rough skin from your heels. It is also sold in powder form for fine sanding wood. A felt block is used with the powder for fine woodworking projects. Other powders or grits, often made of mineral or metal flakes, are used in rock tumblers to sand rocks and handmade metal jewelry pieces smooth.
- Scrub pads and scrub sponges also behave a bit like sandpaper and are useful for very fine sanding atop painted or finished wood, or to remove loose bits of rust or paint on while refinishing metal patio furniture, for instance.