I want to build a rustic wood chair. My first rustic wood furniture ever. Doing rustic wood is really complicated for me because the wood is very uneven like this: enter image description here
What sander should I use for something like this? At the moment I do the sanding manually but thats a LOT of time. I'm thinking on buying a Dremel 3000 or Dremel 4000 but not sure that it's the best for this kind of job. I don't have too much experience in sanding and woodworking, I just like this style and love the DIY things.

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    Just a notion -- not an answer -- but that might just be peeled cedar, so no need for sanding... May 24, 2015 at 23:12
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    Dremel rotary tools are much less useful than they appear, especially for woodworking. They do have uses, but mostly on metals and plastics unless you are working on very small details.
    – keshlam
    May 25, 2015 at 1:21
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    @keshlam I think that comment should become part of your answer
    – Matt
    May 25, 2015 at 1:46
  • Using a belt sander on such a piece of furniture looks like a capital crime to me. A belt sander is just waaaaaay too brutal and abrasive. Pieces like this one should be done by hand, even if it takes you a week to do it. (But, that's just my opinion.)
    – Damon
    Aug 10, 2015 at 11:52
  • sometimes a pressure washer is a great tool for removing bark and dirt.
    – bowlturner
    May 17, 2023 at 14:57

6 Answers 6


What sander should I use for something like this?

You need tools that can sand contoured objects. There are a number of options, and given the varied nature of your work you'll probably use more than one tool. Here are some choices:

  • flap wheel: Basically a wheel with pieces of heavy duty sandpaper or abrasive cloth inserted around the circumference parallel to the shaft. They come in different sizes, but you'll usually chuck one in a drill press, lathe, or handheld drill. They range in aggressiveness depending on the grit, stiffness of the flaps, and number of flaps.

  • sanding star: Same idea as a flap sander minus the wheel and with the sandpaper turned perpendicular to the shaft. A star is more appropriate for broad, gently contoured surfaces.

  • sanding mop: A sanding mop has about a zillion abrasive fingers. It's constructed like a very thick star that you use from the side, like a flap wheel. What you end up with is a softer version of the flap sander that's far better at conforming to contours. It'll smooth the entire surface and round off sharp edges without being too aggressive. Here's an interesting video demonstrating construction and use of a shop-made mop.

  • sanding brush: This is again similar to a flap wheel with narrow finger-like flaps, but in this case the fingers are backed up with brush bristles that let them push a little harder. Here's one from Grizzly, and here's a video showing one in use.

  • pneumatic drum: Similar to any other drum sander, but the drum is inflated with air. You can vary the pressure to change the amount of give in the drum to make it more or less friendly to contours. Here's one from Lee Valley.

  • buffing wheel: The piece in your photo shows a pretty glossy surface, so you might want to do some buffing after you apply a finish. There are lots of buffing wheels, mops, and other polishing tools available for use with a lathe or bench grinder, and many will work well for contoured work.

For the kind of work you describe, I think a sanding mop or sanding brush is a good place to start.

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    I had thought about this and the sanding brush would be a good start. Never even heard of a sanding mop. Cool
    – Matt
    May 25, 2015 at 10:38

I've made furniture like this.

I use an angle grinder with flap disks to remove any dead wood and do any shaping required, and then the same grinder with a hook and loop pad attachment and various grades of sanding disks. Down to 120 grit is usually enough.


Coming from a traditional stand point you might not even need to use any power tools. Depending on how you are able to remove the bark you might just be able to get away with hand sanding. Pictured in the question is a large bed which could be tedious to do how I am going to suggest but you are just looking to do a chair. That won't be as bad as doing the bed by hand.

How you are removing the bark could play a large role

If you can get the bark off nicely I would think that this would remove much of the need to clean up the wood by hand. I cannot give recommendation for every species but some wood peel better in the spring (like poplar and some cedars) right after they are cut and there are many others that would fair better being peeled only a few weeks/months after they are felled or removed. My suggestion in this case would be to research debarking your particular type of wood. Given the right circumstances you could be able to remove the bark by stripping it literally by hand.

Shifting to a power tool suggestion many have used power washers with great success with the added bonus of not damaging the wood (Although you would likely get very wet).

Either way I think cleaning the bark cleanly would make taking the suggestion that follows easily achievable and potentially fulfilling.

Clean up by hand

In your picture we see debarked wood and that's it (minus the finish of course). You might need to gouge out some knots but I don't see much past light sanding here (if any). This look is supposed to be natural. I am not aware of tools that would do this but sanding by hand, for me at least, seems preferential since you will be using your hands to meet the contours of the wood.

I would think power tools could potentially ruin that look but if you follow the suggestions from Caleb I'm sure you would be fine.

From my own experience

This example is slightly different but when I made a walking stick all I did was strip the bark by hand and remove some chunks away from the knots. The only sanding I did was to round off the knots.

  • Why do I seem to be attracting down votes? I know I'm not the best at this but I don't think I am particularly wrong here.
    – Matt
    May 25, 2015 at 2:44
  • Considering the photo, it doesn't matter whether the OP's interpretation of rustic matches yours; the OP's intention is pretty clear no matter what name it's given.
    – Caleb
    May 25, 2015 at 2:44
  • Also, given the glossy finish, it does look like there's been more than just a light sanding.
    – Caleb
    May 25, 2015 at 2:47
  • @Caleb The rustic bit was a comment and not the focus of my answer. My second sentence leads about the wood itself. I acknowledged that the finish exist but don't cover the topic since that does not appear to be what the op is looking for. Thanks for your feedback.
    – Matt
    May 25, 2015 at 2:55
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I'd guess that this involves a great deal of hand-sanding, if you sand it at all. A detail sander , especially one that can take shaped sanding-block attachments, might speed some of it. Other shaped sanding blocks/sponges/probes might also help. Cabinet scrapers might be another surfacing approach if you know how to use and sharpen those... but basically, if it isn't fairly flat you should expect to have to surface it by hand.


I’ve built a lot of cedar furniture from rough logged trees. The absolute best way I’ve found is to use a gasoline powered pressure washer with a “turbo” tip. Gets into all crevices and can get rid of the bark down to smooth as glass finish.

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    Hi, welcome to StackExchange. Thanks for posting about this useful method, could you add some details, like do you do this on the raw material or after building (which I think was what the OP was asking about but we can't check now as I don't think they're active on the site any longer). Do you get any issues with raised grain?
    – Graphus
    Oct 21, 2021 at 7:05

One option no one has mentioned and actually works very well is a power washer. it can take bark and dirt off and scour the wood clean. This is actually the preferred way when cleaning up root balls for furniture etc.

Depending on the type of wood you are using, many species don't need much more than peeling the bark clean. And as far as peeling bark, the best time is in the spring when the sap is running. It peels very nice and depending once again on the species 'easy'. Winter wood is the worst for peeling. once it's peeled, you can wash it to get rid of the sap and let them dry.

Some species need a little more work, planning or sanding small branches and nubins etc. a random orbit can clean these up nice.

But water (with or without soap) does an amazing job to get branches to the state requested.

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