How to Sand Intricate Wood Carvings Like a Pro

By Kevin Kessinger •  Updated: 09/21/23 • 

After completing your wood carving, most of the time, there is no need to sand it down. However, it is not always the case, and sometimes sanding is needed to complete a wood carving before applying a wood finish.

Sanding is easy, but when carving intricate details on wood carvings, that’s where things get more challenging. In this article, I’ll show you several ways you can about carving intricate and ornate wood carvings easily.

1. Use Wood Rifflers

Wood rifflers are double-ended files, rasp, or both with a gripping spot between the two double-ended edges. A wood riffler is meant to work in tight places to sand or cut. There are different types of wood rifflers ranging from large to small.

Rasps Files & Riffler Needle File Set for Wood

This bundle of rasp and riffler files is great for shaping or sanding wood. They are easy to hold, but are not comfortable especially when used for long sessions.

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Depending on the size and number of teeth a riffler has, it can be used for rough cuts or finer cuts and sanding when working on a sculpture, wood carving, or detailing furniture. Rifflers also come in different end shapes, including straight, knife-like, and curved ones.

Wood rifflers also come in various profiles, such as triangular, square, round, and half-round. The different shapes help a wood carver shape and grind wood in different shapes using your hands.

2. Try Needle Files

Needle files are a type of smaller files that are useful for fine sanding and shaping wood. They come in different shapes from round, half-round, square, knife, and much more that you can use to shape and sand wood.

Needle File Set

This needle filing set is well-built and looks very durable. They are suitable for sanding and shaping wood, softer metals, and plastics. They can easily get into the nooks and crannies of wood carvings for easy shaping or smoothing.

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Also similar to needle files are sanding twigs. Sanding twigs are usually made of foam and sandpaper bonded to it. When properly used, the sandpaper will maintain its bond. They are great for carving intricate and smaller details. Like sandpaper, their grits range from coarse, medium, to finer grits great.

DuraSand Sanding Twigs
$12.99 ($2.60 / Count)

Sanding twigs are great for getting into tight spaces to sand details and smooth out rough carvings easily. They range in size from 5 to 7 inches and are available in different sanding grits.

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3. Folding The Sandpaper

For carving flatter surfaces that do not have a high amount of detail, folding sandpaper works better. Fold the sandpaper between your fingers as the backing when sanding the wood carving.

Folding Sandpaper to Sand Carved Wood

Folding Sandpaper to Sand Carved Wood

With sandpaper, you can cover larger areas in less time. You can also use different sandpaper grits, from coarser grits such as #100 grit to finer sandpaper grits like #320, #400, and higher grits.

Apart from folding sandpaper, you can also use contoured sanding grips. This flexible sandpaper has a rubber backing that allows you to sand contours, profiles, curves, and tight areas. The rubber-backing gives you a good grip, and once folded, the shape remains consistent for a smoother finish compared to finger-backed sandpaper.

Always remember to avoid sanding across the grain when sanding your wood carvings. This will leave visible scratch marks when finishing your wood carving. Although the different twists and curves are different, it can be harder to sand along the grain; always try to minimize cross-grain scratches.

Three Part Wood Box Smoothly Sanded

Three Part Wood Box Smoothly Sanded

4. Power Detail Sander

For sanding intricate details faster, a detail power sander is a good tool you can use. A detail power sander is a type of orbital sander that is pointed at one edge to reach corners, tight spots, and other areas where you need detailed sanding.

Details sanders, unlike other power wood sanders, have a triangular-shaped base that gets into edges and corners to smooth it out. Power detail sanders are great for larger wood furniture carving or other bigger wood carving jobs.

Kevin Kessinger

Kev is the founder of Pro Wood Carving and has been carving spoons, small pieces, and whittling since his teenage years. He has continued to level up his wood carving skills and wanted to share his journey and knowledge with other wood carvers. He launched Pro Wood Carving in 2021 to make wood carving more approachable for everyone looking to improve their skills.