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I need to start getting into sharpening and honing so naturally one of the ways I could go would be to get some sandpaper in the 500 + grit count range. (That decision is based off a great video I saw from Paul Sellers that suggest this being a more economical method when starting out. )

At most home improvement stores, in the sections where I normally find sandpaper, the highest grit count I will come across is around 320. However, in automotive sections I find the higher grit counts I am looking for which is usually up to 2000! They are advertised as wet/dry paper.

So is all the very fine/high grit count paper actually wet/dry sandpaper? Is wet/dry just a gimmick of terms? If I find anything with the right grit count does it matter what kind of paper it is (assuming there are multiple kinds)?

  • The correct term is FINE grit, not high grit. I edited your question for clarity. – Benjamin R Jul 23 '15 at 3:49
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    @BenjaminR, "high grit" and "low grit" is extremely commonly used terminology today. – Graphus supports Monica Jul 23 '15 at 10:52
  • @Graphus I guess there's no value in linguistic clarity, then. Which is more clear? High grit or fine grit? Can we improve people's understanding or perpetuate muddying the waters? – Benjamin R Jul 23 '15 at 11:00
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    @BenjaminR, the standard on SA is for edits for clarity if there's a possibility of misinterpretation. I think Matt's point was clear and without ambiguity. And as the term high grit is in widespread use it could be argued that it's perfectly clear to many, perhaps the majority, of readers. And FWIW where I come from nobody would say "fine grit paper" it would be "high-grit paper" OR "fine paper", not a mix of the two. – Graphus supports Monica Jul 23 '15 at 11:04
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    Not trying to re-open a can of worms, but I've never heard the term high-grit used, only coarse and fine. Just sayin'... – FreeMan Jul 24 '15 at 17:42
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So is all the very fine grit count paper actually wet/dry sandpaper?

No. You can get regular papers that go to 400, 600 and even 800 grit (or equivalents). But as a broad generalisation if you see paper that's dark grey, with dark backing paper, it'll be the wet-and-dry type even if it doesn't specifically call itself that.

Is wet/dry just a gimmick of terms?

No, absolutely not. They use a waterproof adhesive, and the paper itself is resin impregnated to make it water-resistant (you notice it when you try to saturate it and the water initially beads up on the back).

With regular sandpaper the adhesive can be very water-soluble and the paper itself will just fall apart if dampened (note: with water).


Now you didn't ask about this but I would recommend you not go with sharpening on abrasive paper. Inexpensive diamond plates and oilstones are available and one or both are a much better intro to sharpening and far far better value, not just in the long term but even initially since high-grit paper can be fairly pricey.

And as the final step I always recommend stropping and always with a homemade strop... woodworkers who buy strops should hand in their woodworking cards :-) As Paul Sellers explains and demonstrates stropping gives that final refinement to your edges in a fast, economical and user-friendly manner. It makes the difference between a sharp edge and a really keen edge in older parlance.

  • As a note, most strops are made with vegetable-tanned leather. I'm not saying chrome-tanned won't work, but veg-tan is generally stiffer, less soft, and will glue better to a base piece of wood due to there being less ( or no) oils in the leather. Also, chrome-tan leather can stain steel. – grfrazee Jul 23 '15 at 14:11
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    @grfrazee, I actually don't use leather at all for strops any more :-) I use denim. I've made two strops from two types of leather and compared them directly with each other and denim and there's no difference in effect. Despite all that's been said about the superiority of one type of leather over another if you're using stropping compound it's that —the fine abrasive— that does all the work. It's only stropping 'dry', on bare leather, that I think leather type makes any difference. – Graphus supports Monica Jul 23 '15 at 18:05
  • With the denim, I assume you also use the stropping compound? Never thought of using denim as a strop, but I guess it makes sense since it supplies a slightly-cushioned surface and an interface for the compound. – grfrazee Jul 23 '15 at 20:38
  • @grfrazee, yes exactly. I use metal polish to charge my strop, but same principle as the purpose-made wax compounds. – Graphus supports Monica Jul 23 '15 at 21:46
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    @aaron, as you're replying to a comment by keshlam you need to use the @ symbol plus his name without a space between, as I've done here with your username, to have the comment show up in his inbox. – Graphus supports Monica Mar 25 '16 at 18:27
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When polishing metals, it is quite common to use very fine grit (high grit count) sandpaper. I use it frequently. It's also recommended to use up to 1500 grit sandpaper when preparing certain wood surfaces prior to oiling with certain products – I did it recently with some Oregon when using a citrus oil and it was smooth as a baby's bottom afterwards (and it smelled amazing too)!

With 2000 grit wet/dry plus metal polisher I have managed to get mild steel to basically look like a mirror. Doing that will give you a workout, I can tell you that. It makes polishing aluminium a breeze.

Wet/Dry sandpaper is not an oxymoron, it literally means one can use the paper as-is (i.e. 'dry') or with some abrasive/'polishing' liquid such as Brasso (i.e. 'wet'). Think of the way you use a cleaning or polishing product with a cloth, this is literally how it works. Wet/Dry sandpaper often is a bit more expensive as the paper ground is tolerant (i.e. it has something of a resist) to the wetness.

Technically the misnomer is the word 'sandpaper': Wet/Dry is not traditional glass/sand beaded paper normally used on wood but a very fine carborundum grit paper.

Because the majority market for these fine grit papers is for (metal) polishing where an abrasive compound can make a huge difference, this is why pretty much all very fine sandpaper is Wet/Dry. But you can easily get 500 grit paper in the other standard paper substrates at most home improvement/building stores.

Check this quick video out which as an example:

How to polish a dirt bike frame

But the video by Paul Sellers is much more instructive, he just takes it as a given that you know what wet/dry 'sandpaper' is.

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Wet /dry is really a specification of how the paper has been fabricated and in particular what kind of adhesive. Wet paper uses a waterproof adhesive, and a waterproof backing which allows for continuous usage with water. The advantage of wet sanding is to clean the area up so the surface is not scratched by the debris build up, as well as keeping the paper clean ... other wise it would clog. Wet paper can also be used with solvents, for some time at least, until the adhesive is dissolved.

Dry paper is just that, paper and it takes about 5 seconds to turn it into gritty sticky mush, when wet with water or solvents..

the higher grit ratings are for finer and finer surface sanding with water.

I have 24 grit Wet paper and trimkuts for the 4 1/2 inch angle grinder. the grit does not matter with the Wet Dry or Dry types.

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