What is the physical aspect of abrasives

what-is-the-physical-aspect-of-abrasives-photoThe abrading effect is produced almost entirely by the simple physical process of the harder substance shearing or fracturing small chips off the work-piece to smooth it.

Abrasives are used in three main ways. One is to use the abrasive material directly on a substance: sharpening a knife on a grinding wheel is an example of this. Another is to coat another substance, such as a piece of paper, cloth or rubber on a metal disc, with granules of abrasive material, and use this as a tool; sandpaper is the commonest application of this technique. The third method is sandblasting or gritblasting, where a powerful stream of air containing abrasive particles is directed at an object to abrade its surface.

Apart from their use in sharpening-stones and grinding wheels, direct-action abrasives are also used in powder form. Most domestic cleaning agents (except soap and washing powder) contain abrasives, which are generally silica, pumice or aluminum oxide ground to a very fine powder. The chemical action of the cleaning agent is helped by the abrasive, and the two substances clean faster than either would alone.

Toothpaste also contains a mild abrasive, which is generally finely powdered chalk. Old-fashioned tooth powder often contained powdered pumice or silica, which wore the enamel off the teeth in a short time, but manufacturers now claim that the cleaning action of their product is mostly chemical.

Most abrasives used in industry are applied indirectly by being stuck to a backing. This saves expense because less abrasive is used.

The simplest type of coated abrasive material is sandpaper, which is made by simply glueing granules of abrasive material to a sheet of paper.

Abrasive papers are made in a vast range of types, and have many uses. One unusual application is in the printing industry, where a sheet of paper to be printed on both sides is laid on a sheet of abrasive paper called tympan (abrasive side up) while the second side is printed. In this way, the printed side can rest on the abrasive points, which hold it steady and prevent the wet ink from smearing.

Abrasive-coated belts are used in many industrial sanding machines. These may be made of extra strong paper, or else a fine, strong cloth such as linen or gaberdine is used.

Gritblasting with a machine is a versatile technique. It has the important feature that the workpiece is abraded more or less evenly all over the surface that faces the blast. It is used for cleaning metal objects thoroughly before they are electroplated – electro-plating will not stick to dirt or corrosion. It is also used for incising patterns on plate glass. The area of the glass that is to be left smooth is protected with a tough paper stencil that is only partly eaten away by the blasting. This technique has replaced the older one of etching patterns on glass with hydrofluoric acid.