The densification and grain growth of bodies made from a commercial ultrafine alumina powder was investigated. The primary powder was initially subjected to dry (uniaxial cold pressing) and wet shaping (slip casting), followed by conventional (CS)-, two step (TSS)-, and microwave (MS) sintering to explore the effect of each series of treatments on the densification and microstructural evolution of the specimens. It was demonstrated that a uniform microstructure with higher density would be obtained using the wet shaping method. In addition, microwave sintering was found to be more effective into the densification of the specimens and in yielding a finer grain structure. It is believed that the high heating rate and effective particle packing are responsible for the improvements in these properties. On this basis, it was also demonstrated that the fracture toughness of the samples increased significantly through the application of microwave sintering. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.