Craft wood: how to get it smooth to varnish/paint?
I'm not sure this is the right forum for this question.
I have bought a number of wooden boxes, kleenex boxes, etc., from Michael's and Hobby Lobby over the last few months. They are all made of some kind of soft white wood that has very little visible grain or knots (not pine). I also got some unfinished wood things from Ikea that have the same problem. I find it impossible to get a smooth finish on these, whether painting or staining/varnishing. Little bumps from the wood always seem to rise up and make the surface rough no matter how many layers of paint or varnish I put on. I have tried sanding first: just seems to make the surface rougher even if using 400. For all the wood dust that's coming up, more is appearing on the surface. Sanding after, between coats of paint, varnish, it's still impossible to get the surface totally sleek the way I can when varnishing a "better" wood like oak. I have no problem with other woods: why these?
The last one I did I used 2 coats of stain, then 2 coats of Polyurethane. Then lightly sanded. I could not remove all the bumps without going down to the layer of stain and ruining that. So 2 more coats of poly, sand again. Still could not get it smooth. 2 more, sand again...I finally gave up after more than 6 coats. I have the same problem with paint on this kind of wood, whether spray, latex, or acrylic craft paint.
What's the secret with these?