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Example sentence:

Sandpaper is used to __ wood.

I thought of polishing but I think that's the process of making wood shiny (e.g. using wax or varnish).

What's the correct word to use here?

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The directly related verb is to sand. It means to use sandpaper (which as you know comes in different degrees of coarseness or grit) to smooth the surface, either by hand, manually, or with a hand-sander that spins or oscillates, or with a belt-sander that uses a loop of sandpaper.

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  • For wood, to sand is the right word. To smooth (out) would also be OK, but not as specific. For other surfaces, to polish, to grind, or in extreme cases like telescope mirrors, to figure (which means extreme smoothness and shape), would also work. – John Lawler Jun 9 '18 at 18:12

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