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I am attempting to create a reasonably smooth finish with no burrs or splinters on a softwood 2x4. No matter what I do there are still thin layers of wood that splinter off, especially near some knots.

I have chiselled then rasped then used a plane then a cabinet scraper and finally 100 grit with a random orbital then 120, 140, and 220 but there are still little “flakes” that run along the grain that catch and splinter.

I have tried sanding with the grain, across the grain and diagonal. This is Home Depot quality construction grade softwood so I’m not expecting miracles but there’s got to be a technique I’m missing.

The reverse face of the board took very well to sanding.

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    Other than the salient points in @jdv's Answer I wanted to add, you don't need to sweat this kind of surface flaking overly much if you're intending to finish. The first coat of any harder finish will consolidate this sort of thing and toughen up the underlying surface somewhat, allowing these to be effectively taken off by light sanding afterwards. Or alternatively you can just use your finish to completely encapsulate them, AKA "bury them in the finish". – Graphus Aug 30 at 7:19
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There's a reason we don't make a lot of furniture out of construction grade pine in North America. Not only is it grown fast with no regard for how it works with hand tools, but it is kiln-dried in a manner that allows it to be sold and turned into stick-frame constructions fast. Few are going to try and "finish" it.

It sounds like you've done what you can. About the only advice I can offer is to get it close enough and then finish it with a few coats of a non-penetrating finish (i.e., one that hardens on the surface, consolidating the fibres) to make it artificially smooth. This often involves wet sanding to "raise the grain" so that these sort of flaky sections can be lightly sanded down to some extent.

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As a quick follow-up, because I'm just stubborn, I tried a few more things, including a flap disc sander (the kind you attach to a rotary multi-tool) and while extremely bombastic and hard to control, got rid of the trouble problems due, perhaps, to the heat being generated in the process. After that I used a "mouse" style triangular sander to deal with all the circular score marks, and then the usual shakedown from 100-880 grit by hand.

The result, though still not pro-grade, is decent given the poor quality of the raw materials I was working with. Still accepting the original answer, but thought I'd add this in in case anyone wanted to try some alternative approaches.

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  • There are some YouTube woodworkers who stubbornly try to get the best they can out of construction grade softwood, so it is possibly. (Search for "stool single pine 2x4" for an example.) I bet you ran into a difficult piece, where the grain, possibly around a hidden knot, changed direction and you get the typical "sheets" of grain material along a flattened edge. – jdv Sep 6 at 13:49

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