One way to tell that you’re getting old is when technology marches forward, providing a replacement for something you think of as new. Non-woven abrasive pads (Scotch-Brite is one brand name) were a great alternative to steel wool, much like cassettes were way better than 8-track tapes.
Steel wool leaves behind little bits of metal. If you work with white oak, those can react with the wood and stain it purple, and steel wool residue can also rust. But as it is with all good things, the non-woven pads had some drawbacks – mainly they were hard to tear into smaller pieces, and they don’t scrunch into nooks and crannies so well.
A while ago, Lee Valley introduced a product called “Siawool.” It’s quite similar to the pads, but instead of a neat container of uniformly sized pads, it comes in a big wad. When you need some, it’s easy to tear off a hunk of the size you need. There are three grades available, and it does an excellent job of final smoothing, or in between coats of finish. If you use an oil finish, you can use a wad of Siawool as an applicator to wet sand as you go. It gets into the little curves and tight corners so you can abrade to a uniform surface.
– Robert W. Lang
Bob Flexner has been writing about finishing in Popular Woodworking Magazine for a long, long time. “Flexner on Finishing“ contains a collection of his articles in book form.