Special effect sanding achieves distressed looks
April 6, 2020 | 11:18 am CDT

Special effect sanding using automated equipment to achieve distressed and other appearances is drawing more attention.

Aaron Brink, product manager, Stiles Machinery, said this is becoming an increasingly interesting topic and the trend is growing. More companies want to create special appearances in an automated way.

“This trend is in full swing in Europe and now we see the interest growing in North America,” he said. It was also demonstrated at AWFS Fair last summer.

“One of the big reasons why I believe we see a trend in doing special effect sanding and achieving special finishes is because the textured melamines and laminates have gotten so good,” Brink said. “Companies are looking for ways to do more unique things with real wood, (things) that are truly unique and custom in order to set themselves apart and earn a premium for doing so.

“The trouble is, they need to be able to do it efficiently to make money at it. Today, the manual methods of doing these things are time consuming, are not repeatable, and take a high skill level. That poses major challenges to effectively do such jobs.

It starts with looking at what appearance the customer is looking for.

“When we sand to create an effect or an appearance, it really depends on what we are trying to achieve,” Brink said. “We start by understanding the look or looks the customer is trying to achieve. The equipment needs to have the right capability in order to do various effect sanding.”

Brink offered a few very specific examples of what Stiles would do in specific instances:

First is making a workpiece look rough sawn

“The process would be quite simple,” Brink said. “Prepare a piece of wood to its finished raw wood form, and then run through the sander with a heavy grit belt (such as) 16 or 24 grit with a cross belt sanding head.

“This will create a rough sawn effect. Furthermore, we can randomly fire the segmented pads to make the effect look like skip and miss planing. Depending on the level of roughness desired, it would be common to sand with a nylon brush afterwards to smooth out the rough fibers. From there, the workpiece can be finished.”

Another application would be making wood pieces with a barnwood appearance.

Brink said this process starts by texturing the wood.

“Then we would proceed to paint the wood, potentially with multiple coats of different colors,” he said. “We would then sand with belts and brushes to sand through different layers of the coats to reveal both the different colors as well as the raw wood.”

The sander can also produce a hand-scraped appearance.

Here, the process would involve taking a workpiece and using an oscillating platen inside a widebelt sanding head to randomly fire down and sand in certain areas, Brink explained. This will typically be used with a heavy grit belt, something like 80 grit. The subsequent steps would be using brushes to smooth the wavy surface.

A widebelt sander can create these effects.

“The heads in the widebelt sander, along with the options included, are the important factors,” Brink said. “The capabilities to do much of this type of work are specialized. Heesemann has various patents associated with effect sanding. “The sandpaper used is not special, but the grits are going to be dependent upon the application.”

An operator would be trained how to use a machine like this to give the results they are looking for.


Brink said many different appearances can be created, including:

-Rough sawn look

-Skip and miss planing look (also rough sawn, but only in certain areas)

-Distressing (could be heavy or light – making the wood look just more 3D or very old) This could also be on assembled kitchen cabinet doors

-Barnwood look

-Hand scraped look

-Wavy patterns

What are the advantages of sanding compared to other processes in distressing?

Brink said a widebelt sander offers a lot of advantages to traditional methods of doing this kind of work.

First, there’s efficiency. Tasks can be done very quickly.

A widebelt sander also delivers repeatability. Users can save programs and do it again later if they wanted to, and get the same results.

Flexibility is another advantage. The tool is not just good for one thing, users can do many different things, which gives them additional capabilities.

Once the sanding is completed, Remaining steps depend on the effect desired. Finishing is often going to be done in between effect sanding steps for dramatic appearances. Brink would consider the effect sanding as part of the finish process.

Overall, Brink said this is a growing trend that he sees on multiple market segments. Stiles sees this in millwork, custom cabinetry, furniture and general wood products.


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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at karl.forth@woodworkingnetwork.com.