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What are abrasives?

Abrasives come in many different types designed for different applications. In essence however they all perform in a similar way using a grit of varying coarseness to remove material from a workpiece. Depending on the coarseness of the abrasive itself, large or small amounts of stock can be removed, making coarser abrasives suitable for shaping and rough work on workpieces, whilst less coarse abrasives are more suited to fine finishing.

Why buy abrasives?

Abrasives are especially useful in industrial sectors like the automotive industry. Abrasives in said industry are often used to grind down burs after the welding process has joined bodywork components together. This allows for a smoother and better-looking finish. Like wise in carpentry abrasives are used to determine the finished look of a workpiece, achieving results that standard straight cutting tools would not be able to achieve.

Abrasive product types

Abrasives come in many different types and are suitable for multiple applications. To help get a general understanding of these we have outlined the most common types below.

• Abrasive belts   -   These are primarily designed for use with belt sanders, they come in a range of grit types and coarseness as well and varying widths for use with different varieties of belt sanders.

• Abrasive brushes   -   Typically used for deburring metal workpieces, abrasive brushes are designed for use with drills or bench grinders. They feature bristles that can be comprised of metal, nylon and sisal (depending on the material of the workpiece involved) and feature different gauges and filament types for different levels of stock removal.

• Abrasive discs   -   Used with power or bench tools, abrasive discs come in a wide variety of types to suit applications from surface finishing to cutting.

• Abrasive pads   -   Abrasive pads come in a wide range of grits and coarseness to suit handheld sanding applications. Unlike sandpaper they aren't susceptible to riding up.

• Abrasive rolls   -   Traditioanlly used for hand sanding, abrasive rolls can be cut or torn to size, to suit multiple applications.

• Abrasive wheels   -   From polishing to rust removal, abrasive wheels come in many versatile forms to suit a variety of tasks.

• Speciality abrasives   -   These abrasives are specifically designed for individual applications. From Whetstones for sharpening blades to steel wool, there are numerous types of abrasives with individual tasks.

Considerations when choosing abrasives

Material - The material of the workpiece being used is the first port of call when it comes to the type of abrasive to be used. For instance, wire brushes are useful for metal and would remove too much stock if used on softer materials.

Operation - What tool are you using the abrasive with? Making sure the product you pick is compatible with the tool you're using is paramount. Not just for the results but for operator safety aswell.

Finish - What finish are you trying to achieve? Are you polishing up metal surfaces (in which case a fine grit would suffice) or are you needing to shape a wooden workpiece, which requires a large amount of stock removal? Getting the right coarseness of grit is the key to getting the desired finish you're after.

Abrasives jargon buster

With such a wide range of products to choose from, shopping for abrasives can be a minefield. So, to keep you informed and help you make your best choice, we've broken down an abrasive quality standard.

What does EN ISO 9286:2021 mean?

EN ISO 9286:2021 - abrasive grains and crude - chemical analysis of silicon carbide
Let's break it down...

• EN - This is a current European standard

• ISO - This is a recognised international standard

• 9286 - The number of the legislation

• 2021 - The year the standard was updated from its predecessor


Which is better, natural or synthetic abrasives?

Natural abrasives were once commonplace, in fact it could be argued that mankind wouldn't have been such a prolific toolmaker without natural abrasives. Essentially, they are minerals and rocks that occur naturally in the earth, and feature traits of hardness allowing them to shape other materials. A good example of this would be quartz or diamond (the hardest material on earth!)

With that said modern manufacturing has had a good run of replicating the properties of natural abrasives with synthetic abrasives. For purists, natural abrasives are the most sought after, however synthetic options have delivered such good results, that they are more or less on par with each other.

How is the size of an abrasive grain related to its number?

Simply put the higher the number, the smaller the abrasive grain and the finer the grit. Likewise, the lower the number the bigger the grain and the more coarse the grit.