The importance of sanding when building a chicken coop

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Sanding mill glaze off chicken coop lumberThere’s something about sandpaper. In the excitement of building the ideal chicken coop, DIY coop builders often either don’t realize or underestimate the role of sandpaper in building a coop that lasts. But if you’re planning to apply a preservative, stain, paint, or other sealer to your chicken coop lumber, sanding it first is a must. Especially if the wood you’re working with is new and smooth.

I should mention first that most plywood should be ready to go as is. What I’m talking about here is dimensional lumber (2x2s, 2x4s, etc., called “timber” outside of the U.S.). The reason that lumber needs to be sanded first has to do with how it is milled and something called “mill glaze.”

What is mill glaze?

When lumber is being milled, the saw blades and planers used to cut and shape it rotate at very high speeds, creating considerable friction and heat. This heat pulls water-soluble resins to the surface of the wood, creating, in effect, a polish that can prevent coatings and sealants from penetrating or adhering to the wood. This is what’s called mill glaze, and it results in the smooth surface often found on newly milled lumber.

How to prepare wood for building a chicken coop?

There are products (chemical washes) out there that you can wash wood with to help remove mill glaze, but nothing works as well as plain old sanding. For a relatively small DIY project like a chicken coop, sanding is the quickest and cheapest way to go. Sanding also works well for preparing older or recycled wood for use in a chicken coop, removing dirt and UV-degraded surfaces.

(Also see these posts on the best wood choices for a chicken coop and choosing the right plywood for a chicken coop.)

Kiss my grits

People often turn to sandpaper when they want to smooth a rough surface. In the case of removing mill glaze, your goal is the opposite. You want to raise the fibers, opening the surface so that it will accept more of the paint, sealer, or wood preservative. For this purpose 50-, 60-, or 80-grit sandpaper or sanding pads are the best. These are pretty rough grits, and that’s the idea. (On second thought, don’t kiss them.)

Sanding by hand

To sand your lumber by hand, simply have a sanding block and sheets of sandpaper ready by your cutting station. When you’ve cut each piece of lumber to size, give it a quick sanding on all four sides, then move on to your next cut. This way, sanding becomes part of your rhythm. It also gives you a chance to go over each cut piece to make sure it all looks right.

Power sanding

Sand wood for a chicken coop in advanceIf you have a power sander, things could go even more quickly. As I mention in my chicken coop plans, I find it easier to sand lumber before you’ve made any cuts, because the sizes of the pieces are more uniform. You’ll be sanding a bit more wood, but the efficiency gained in doing it all at once more than makes up for any extra time spent.

  1. Lay out your lumber and secure it to your working surface.
  2. Remove any staples or tags.
  3. Sand each piece of lumber one side at a time, then flip to the next side and repeat until all four sides are done.
  4. Brush off dust with a rag, then stack your lumber aside.

Tips to stay safe when power sanding

  • Protect all your human parts. Wear eye and ear protection, gloves, and a dust mask or respirator to keep fine dust out of your lungs. Proper ventilation is important too.
  • Keep clothing, hair, and jewelry away from the power tool.
  • Use clamps to secure your lumber.
  • Maintain control of the tool, but don’t force it. The tool’s weight should be enough pressure to do the job.

What are the best power sanders for a DIY chicken coop project?

There are several types of power sanders, but I think two are well suited to the job of sanding lumber for a chicken coop—a random orbital sander and a belt sander.

Random orbital sanders are versatile and easy to control, and the random orbit of the circular sanding head helps prevent uneven sanding. This isn’t as crucial when you’re doing the rough sanding required in building a chicken coop, but it does allow for you to use this type of sander to do finish work on other projects down the line.

Belt sanders are a lot faster and more powerful. I bought one recently when I was building multiple chicken coops at one time. I laid out the lumber a few pieces at a time and blasted through a bunch of it at once. Belt sanders are good for removing a lot of material quickly. Beyond your chicken coop construction project, a belt sander is good for things like refinishing a wood floor, porch, or deck or stripping old paint from a large surface area.

If you’re investing in a new power sander for your DIY chicken coop project, get one that’s built to last a lifetime. Look for name brands like Milwaukee, Dewalt, Ridgid, Makita, Porter Cable. My belt sander is a Ridgid, and I liked that it’s backed by a (mailed-in-for) lifetime warranty. My orbital sander is an old Black & Decker, which has been sufficient, but when it dies, I’ll replace it with something better.

Of course, the best tool is the one you never have to buy. If you can borrow a power sander from a friend, neighbor, or tool exchange, all the better. And although it’s been about seven paragraphs now since I last mentioned it, remember that sanding your chicken coop lumber by hand works well too.

Have any sanding tips or experiences to share? Leave a comment.

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