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A Guide to Abrasive Wheels

In industrial applications requiring precision grinding, abrasive wheels are commonly employed. Such machines have been used by the manufacturing industry for over 150 years to produce high-quality finishes on a number of products. However, despite their widespread use in manufacturing, abrasive wheels are typically unknown to the general public due to their size, price, and narrow range of applications. 

An abrasive wheel is a circular mass of abrasive material that can be mounted on a spinning axle to facilitate grinding. Abrasive wheels have been utilized widely in manufacturing as far back as the 1870s when engineers used glass-like materials as abrasives. However, before such engineering techniques were available, grindstones made of natural stone had long been implemented to achieve similar results.

The production of abrasive wheels is an important and tightly regulated process due to the high risk of injury in cases of failure. Today, most manufacturers use a cold-press method in which two or more materials are mixed together and shaped into the desired disk-like structure at room temperature. Cold-pressing starts with the selection of the various abrasive, bonding, and additive materials, which are all mixed in a specific ratio. Once the material has been combined, it is placed into several molds, which help shape it into various pieces. After the material is set in the molds, a hydraulic press puts up to 5000 psi of pressure onto the material, which helps it settle with uniform shape and thickness. While there are no universal performance standards governing the production of abrasive wheels, most manufacturers have agreed upon and follow voluntary standards.

While abrasive wheels have been formed using a wide variety of materials, the two most commonly used today are silicon carbide and aluminum oxide. Silicon carbide is harder and sharper than aluminum oxide but is more brittle and prone to fractures. As such, it is used on materials with low tensile strength, whereas the opposite is true for aluminum oxide. Other materials such as diamond and cubic boron nitride (CBN) are considered superabrasives and are only used in specialty applications. Each material can be prepared in different grain sizes, with 10 being the most coarse and 600 being the finest. Coarse grain sizes allow for quicker, yet less precise work, while finer grains are used for precision finishes.

Several other factors determine the performance of the abrasive wheel, including wheel grade, grain spacing, and wheel bond. First, wheel grade is quantified on an alphabetical scale from A-Z, with the structure getting "harder" as it moves to Z. Soft grades are compatible with hard materials and have a shorter lifespan, while the opposite is true for hard grades. Next, grain spacing is ranked from 1-17, with 1 being the densest and 17 being the least. Density is positively correlated with the accuracy of the finish and tracks negatively with the wheel's ability to cut deep. Finally, the bonding material used determines the level of cooling and maximum speed at which the wheel can spin. Examples of bonding materials include rubber, oxychloride, silicate, and more.

In general, six types of abrasive wheels are commonly used and are thus explained:

  • Straight Grinding Wheels: Most frequently found in bench and pedestal grinders, straight grinding wheels are used to grind cylindrical and centerless materials.
  • Cylinder: These large wheels are used to create flat surfaces on a variety of materials
  • Tapered Wheel: Tapered wheels protrude down at the sides of the disk, producing a larger surface area that is able to sustain higher lateral loads.
  • Straight Cup: As the name suggests, these grinders are shaped like a cup and are generally used to sharpen tools and produce flat surfaces.
  • Dish Cup: These thin, shallow wheels are almost universally found in metalwork and masonry shops, where they are used to grind tight slots that would otherwise be damaged by other thicker designs.
  • Saucer Grinding Wheel: Commonly made from aluminum oxide, saucer grinding wheels are used extensively to grind saw blades, drills, gears, and more.

If you are looking to procure high-quality abrasive wheels components, there is no better alternative to Industrials 360. As a leading online distributor of industrial components and equipment, we help customers secure rapid lead times and cost savings on a large inventory of ready-to-purchase products. In addition, we are an AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B accredited supplier with a NO CHINA Sourcing policy, meaning every part we offer is authentic and meets various quality assurance standards. Get started on the purchasing process today to learn why many customers choose Industrials 360 to supply all their operational requirements.


March 8, 2022

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