So, as I'm sure most of you are aware, sandpaper is used to smooth the rough, the grinding away of material such as wood, paints, fillers etc, known as stock removal. Finer grits are used in preparation, to create a key on surfaces for painting and lacquering and can even be used to polish scratches out of glass.
Sandpaper is a loose term and covers a wide range of abrasive types and can be made from not only paper but cloth, latex, film, foam, fibre and most recently Net, which has become increasingly popular due to its dust extraction capabilities. We'll speak more about these at a later date.
Ok, so down to the 4 main grains/grits used in today's sandpaper
Aluminium oxide is the old favorite due to its versatility and cost. Its widely available in many forms such as discs, rolls, sheets, belts and pretty much any other application you can think of. Used for stock removal and finishing in woodworking, car body repair, decorating and some composite industries
Zirconium is an aggressive, long life grit used for fast cutting & heavy stock removal, mostly used in metal working industries it can also be used to make quick work on wood. You are more likely to find Zirconium abrasives in the form of belts, flap discs and fibre discs, although other applications are available
Silicon Carbide (SIC) abrasives can be considered a more specialised type with 2 main functions. (1) Due to the blade like shape & structure of the grain they give a narrow, uniform scratch pattern making it perfect for low pressure, fine finishing on woods & veneers, plastics and between lacquer coats. (2) SIC is also the best option on hard materials such as glass, stone and marble. Available in discs, sheets, rolls and fibre discs
Ceramic is fast becoming the king of abrasives. More widely available and cost effective than it used to be thanks to manufacturers like Smirdex and their 750 Ceramic Net range. Ceramic grain is extremely versatile, fast cutting and longer lasting due to the grain fracturing as you use it rather then wearing down to a blunt edge. Handling stock removal and finishing with ease in a vast range of industries including woodworking, metalworking, automotive, marine, aerospace, decorating and composites. Available in discs, rolls, belts, sheets, flap & fibre discs
Hopefully this has helped simplify what abrasive grits are used for different applications. To summarise, Silicon Carbide for fine finishing and hard materials, Zirconium for aggressive stock removal on wood and for use on metal, Aluminium Oxide a good all rounder for general purpose work. But just as Aluminium Oxide took over from Garnet many years ago as the effective, better performing abrasive of choice, the increasing availability and reduction in cost of Ceramic types are seeing them taking over as the market leader.
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