The Mythology of Sanding

Don't bother getting philosophical about sanding. Just get started.

Sailing World


It’s a lot smoother than it looks. Michael Lovett

I’m stuck in an infinite loop of surface preparation. The first stage of revarnishing the Sled, my father’s Thistle, involves sanding off the top coat of old varnish to achieve uniform smoothness. Right about now, it feels like I’ve been sanding for weeks, getting nowhere, with no end in sight.

It took me a few weekends to work from stem to stern with 240 grit—sanding a section, vacuuming up the dust, hitting the spots I missed, and moving on to the next place. On Saturday, I started in with the 320. The surface is starting to feel really smooth to the touch, and it’s about ready for varnish. But my sanding days aren’t nearly over. Once I’ve finished with the 320 and completed some epoxy repairs on the rails and other places, I’ll apply the varnish. But in between coats, I’ll have to sand the whole boat again. Ugg. Imagine that: looking at your reflection in a newly varnished surface you spent weeks preparing, only to mar it again with a fresh sheet of sandpaper. Sounds like a punishment handed down by Zeus himself—forced to sand and varnish the same 17-foot boat for eternity.

That would be a lousy way to spend the afterlife, but you’d end up with a really nice boat. Chipping away at the Sled weekend to weekend, progress is pretty slow, and I haven’t begun to see results. But I know I’ll get there eventually, and I’ve got plenty of time, so I’m taking it at my own pace. Along the way, I’m trying to think of the project less as physical punishment and more as meditation.


Ha! I’ll bet that’s what Sisyphus tells himself each time he gets his rock to the crest of the hill. Meditation. Yeah right. Who am I kidding? Sanding is punishment.


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