How to Sand Cedar Wood

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Sanding cedar is a little different than sanding any other kind of wood because it is so soft. In this article, you’ll learn how to sand cedar wood without damaging it. We’ll also teach you how to sand cedar siding, how to refresh aromatic cedar and explain when sanding cedar could be dangerous.

Cedar Wood Qualities and Uses

Cedar is a popular and versatile wood that can be used in many different contexts. It accepts many different types of stain, and can also be left unfinished.

A guy sanding a cedar wood

Because it is naturally resistant to moisture, unfinished cedar can be used as siding. It weathers to a beautiful gray patina over time. Cedar also has natural pest, rot, and mildew resistance, making it perfect for decking.

Cedar can also be used on the interior of the home. The odor of cedar repels moths, so closets are sometimes lined with cedar. Interior furniture can be constructed with cedar, and it is a particularly popular material for trunks.

Sanding Cedar Wood

Follow these instructions to take rough-cut cedar to a smooth finish.

  1. Check the wood for loose knots. Knots shrink as they dry, pulling away from the wood around them and becoming loose or unsound. Sanding over an unsound knot could dislodge it, tearing it out of the wood. Stabilize loose knots with epoxy before sanding.
  2. Protect yourself. Wood dust can irritate your respiratory system and eyes. Avoid inhaling wood dust; it can cause serious health problems. A dust mask and goggles should be worn whenever you sand.
  3. Use power sanders sparingly. Cedar is a very soft wood and is easily gouged by power sanders. Many times, cedar does not require power sanding and can be smoothed entirely by hand. When the wood is very rough or uneven, a random orbital sander and 100 grit sandpaper can be used to even the surface of the wood.
  4. Finish by hand. Use a sanding block or other handheld sanding tool to smooth the surface of the wood. Avoid the temptation to scrub away with folded sandpaper. 100 grit sanding paper works well for cedar.

Sand in the direction of the grain, dragging the sander along the surface a few inches at a time. Lift the sander and begin again, overlapping your strokes. As you sand, a thin film of dust will form on the surface.

  1. Keep going. After sanding with 100-grit sandpaper, the cedar should feel smooth to the touch and be ready to accept finish. However, an extra pass with 180-grit sandpaper will give you a glass-like finish and is well worth the extra effort.
  2. Remove dust. Run a vacuum over the surface to suck up the fine dust left behind by your sander. Wipe the entire surface of your workpiece with a tack cloth, leaving it dust-free and ready to accept the finish or treatment of your choice.

How to Sand Cedar Siding

Refinish cedar siding by cleaning it, then sanding it down.

  1. Source your materials. For this project, you will need a random orbital sander, medium grit sandpaper, and fine-grit sandpaper. Opt for an orbital sander rather than a belter sander or a palm sander. You will also need a wood cleaner, a bucket, and a scrub brush. If you have access to a power washer or pressure washer, this is also a helpful tool.
  2. Clean the wood. You can purchase a pre-made wood cleaner or make your own at home. You may need to dilute the cleaner, as it is often sold in concentrated form. If you use a pressure or power washer, follow the instructions carefully to avoid gouging the wood with the force of the water.
  3. Wait two to three days. Wet wood cannot be sanded, so you will need to wait for your cedar siding to dry. This usually requires a few sunny or dry days in a row.
  4. Get ready to sand. Plug in your random orbital sander, making sure the outlet is GFCI-rated and any extension cords uses are the heavy-duty, outdoor variety. Check your dust control measures. Protective gear when standing includes a dust mask and safety glasses.
  5. Use medium-grit sandpaper for the first pass. Medium grit sandpaper, in the range of 80 to 100 grit, is powerful enough to remove material, but not so powerful that it will immediately gouge softwood like cedar. Keep the tool moving, sanding in the direction of the grain, using a medium speed.
  6. Use fine-grit sandpaper to finish sanding. Fine grit sandpaper, such as 120 grit, will give the cedar a smooth, finished surface.
A man sanding a cedar wood for project

Refresh Moth-Repellent Cedar by Sanding

It’s a well-established fact that moths are repelled by the smell of cedar. Keeping an aromatic cedar block in your dresser helps keep moths away. Some closets are lined with cedar, and it’s a common building material for storage trunks, as well.

The scent of cedar doesn’t last forever, though. Over time, the smell from the cedar lining your closet or trunk may start to fade. Luckily, this can easily be refreshed by sanding.

Lightly sand with 100-grit sandpaper. When you can smell the cedar again, stop sanding and vacuum up the dust. This method works for the inside of closets and trunks as well as aromatic cedar blocks.

Just make sure to keep any fabric well away from the cedar while you’re sanding.

Is Sanding Cedar Dangerous?

Some people are allergic to red cedar—about five percent of the population. For these people, exposure to cedar wood dust, in particular, could trigger an allergic reaction.

If you’re not allergic, the wood dust from sanding cedar doesn’t pose a particular threat. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Wood dust is a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning it is known to cause cancer in humans. You should avoid inhaling any wood dust, including cedar. A dust mask is essential protective equipment whenever you sand wood.


Cedar is a softwood that responds well to gentle sanding. Ensure cedar is ready for sanding by cleaning it and checking for loose knots. Sand with 100 and 180 grit sanding paper for a super smooth finish.

Some people may be allergic to red cedar, use caution to avoid inhaling cedarwood dust.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.