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I’m always bemused by woodworkers who boast that they never use sandpaper.

I usually say something to them such as: “Then I guess you don’t like old-school technology.”

When they look confused, I add: “Egyptians used sandstone to abrade wood flat. Sanding is older technology than planing, which is a Greek or Roman invention.”

As far as I know there hasn’t been a definitive history written about abrasives. And please don’t ask me to write it – I have enough to do on this earth already. So if you need a good idea for a gritty bestseller….

The problem with abrasives is how they are abused in this modern day. Abrasives have almost always been some part of the finishing process, but the key word in that sentence is “part.” Today, most modern shops start with abrasives and end with abrasives. And that’s when they become the lung-clogging, vibrating misery known as power sanding.

So let’s take a close look at a more balanced approach that was practiced in England during the 19th and 20th centuries.


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