After you have your item shaped and fairly smooth (see Grinding) it's ready for sanding.

Note: This assumes you want a smooth, polished surface. This is necesary for some things (i.e. showing pattern on damascus), but sometimes you have a choice of different finishes. We tend to be accustom to everything being mirror-polished, but consider leaving a more rustic or hammered finish. Getting a mirror polish is a lot of work (less if you have power tools, but still some) and may not be worth the effort in all cases.

If you've sanded wood or anything else, you know the drill: start with a coarse grit and work down to smaller grits. So the big questions are which grit to start with, and how many different grits to use.

For a metal surface that has been filed smooth, I usually start with 80 grit. If you're unsure where to start, try 80 and see how long it takes you to remove the scratches from the previous step. If the scratches dissapear right away, 80 may be too coarse, try a finer grit. If it seems to be taking forever to remove the scratches, try a coarser grit (or try to get a smoother surface with whatever method you were using before sanding).

Here's the sanding sequence I typically use for blades (after filing):
80 grit
100 grit
quench and temper
100 grit again (steel is harder now, same sandpaper doesn't scratch as deep)
150, 200, 320, 400, 600.

600 gives a smooth enough surface for etching damascus, but if you want a real mirror polish, you would have to go to finer grits, and/or add a polish step at the end.

Standard advice about sanding:

1) Each time you go to a finer grit, sand in a different direction. This makes it a lot easier to tell if you have removed the scratches from the previous grit.

2) Make sure you remove *all* of the scratches from the previous grit before moving to the next grit. If you find you have a scratch that you just can't get rid of, go back one (or two) coarser grits and start over from there.

3) The harder the material that you're sanding, the more different grits you'll need to use. Sanding softwood you can get away with going 80, 150, 320, 600. Sanding hardened steel, you'll need more intermediate grits.

If you're just going for a shiny surface, once you're done sanding (and maybe polishing), you're done!

If you're working with damascus, you're now ready to Etch.

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