Better Abrasives for Handheld Power Tools Means Improved Productivity

April 2012


Abrasives can play a crucial roll in increasing productivity for job shops using handheld power tools for operations such as grinding and preparing metal for paint.

Norton and 3M each offer abrasives with special grains to help get the job done faster and at less cost.

These special grains offer benefits such as increased life, longer lasting sharpness, more consistent grinding, higher stock removal rates and even reduced labor. However, ultimately their benefits lead to increased productivity and decreased cost, which is important for every job shop.

When it comes to abrasives for handheld power tools, Norton manufactures a full line for a wide variety of applications.

“Our product line is tiered,” says Debbie Gaspich, Norton Abrasives’ Director of Product Management, North America. “Our best product tier is the Norzon or Norzon Plus lines featuring a blend of ceramic and zirconia alumina abrasive grains.

“Our mid-tier line includes the BlueFire abrasives line. It is manufactured with zirconia alumina and aluminum oxide, while our entry tier abrasives are typically general purpose aluminum oxide.”

Norton also offers its Gemini 123, which is in the entry or “good” tier. It can be used for several different applications, including finishing.

“For the Gemini 123 product, we tried to provide all of the benefits of a grinding wheel, a cutting wheel and a finer polishing wheel and put them all together, so the customer has a more multi-purpose offering,” says Gaspich. “They get all three of those functions in one wheel.”

In terms of grinding wheels, Gaspich notes that although the most popular size in the US is 0.25 in. thick, Norton makes them in a variety of thickness to accommodate different applications.

“If you’re doing actual grinding, the 0.25-in. size is more economical, because it offers the most life and utility,” explains Gaspich. “You get a thicker wheel, so you have a more rigid wheel, which allows you to apply more pressure to the grinding application.”

Gaspich elaborates further, saying that Norton’s proprietary grain actually works better under higher pressure – not necessarily higher pressure from more force being applied by the operator, but more force offered by a higher frequency grinder. More pressure allows the grain to break down more evenly, extending its usable life.

Norton also offers a full range of cut-off wheels for hand held power tools such as right angle grinders, circular saws, and high-speed portable machines.

 “It used to be that those applications were done by hand with a hacksaw or some kind of tool for cutting off, or even flame cutting, instead of using a grinding wheel,” says Gaspich. “But now that right angle grinders have become much less expensive, and the abrasive wheels can be changed so quickly, they’re becoming much more popular.

“Abrasives for right angle grinding are one of the fastest growing areas in our business.”

With abrasives for the handheld market experiencing so much growth, it’s no surprise that Norton has also developed proprietary grains for them. Norton’s proprietary blend of ceramic alumina and zirconia alumina grains is created from a combination of special manufacturing processes and unique additives, and employ high performance bonds that allow them to stay in the wheel longer.

As a result of these processes, these proprietary grains will micro-fracture as they break down, allowing new sharp edges to be exposed – essentially making them self-sharpening – while also offering a fast cut rate at the same time. According to Gaspich, these grains also excel at grinding materials that are typically very difficult to work with.

“The grinding wheel life can be extended significantly, because the bond holds it in the matrix and utilizes the whole grain rather than expel it prematurely,” she explains. “It also stays sharp longer. The abrasive grain is able to remove material for a longer period of time than conventional abrasives.”

“Norton is the only manufacturer allowed to use our proprietary grains, and therefore provide the industry’s leading performance.”

Besides these special proprietary grains, Norton also offers standard aluminum oxide grains.

“Standard grains are pretty common in the market. They typically achieve similar cutting performance says Gaspich. “But with our proprietary grains, wheels can last significantly longer, even when cutting tough materials.”


3M’s new Cubitron II abrasive products utilize precision-shaped grains. For abrasive products, which use handheld power tools specifically, 3M Company offers a fiber disc for right angle sanders and a quick-change disc called Roloc for smaller disc sanders, both of which are available in standard sizes.

“Our Roloc discs are available in sizes from 1.5 to 4 in. diameter,” says Jeff Simons, 3M Abrasive Systems Division technical service engineer. “They allow people to get into smaller access areas and smaller welds, and they can also be used for deburring applications.”

In addition to the Roloc discs, 3M offers several other abrasive products for handheld power tools. These include a fiber disc called 3M Cubitron II Fibre Disc 982C for carbon or mild steel and 3M Cubitron II Fibre Disc 987C for stainless steel applications. 3M also offers surface conditioning discs called 3M ScotchBrite Light Grinding and Blending (LGB) Discs, intended for secondary operations using a rotary sander. The LGB disc contains ceramic aluminum oxide, which, according to Simons, is unique for a surface conditioning disc.

Watch this video on 3M’s Cubitron II Fibre Disc 982C.

“The ceramic aluminum oxide basically increases the cut rate dramatically over what has been out in the marketplace in the past few years,” he says. “It allows you to refine fiber disc grind surface lines and it has some unique properties such as added durability. This opens the door for users to be able to reduce steps in their processes and also increase productivity.

“Previously, folks would have to do multiple refinement steps after grinding the weld flush in order to prepare it for paint. However, with the LGB discs, which are a more aggressive surface conditioning disc, you can actually combine the secondary steps into one step, in preparation for paint.”

3M’s Cubitron II abrasives that make use of precision-shaped grain technology offer customers a number of benefits, including 50 to 75 percent higher stock removal rates and two to three times the usable life of traditional aluminum oxide, aluminum zirconia and ceramic aluminum oxide fiber discs.

“Ceramic aluminum oxide fiber discs used to be the premium dominant product in the marketplace and Cubitron II fiber discs has reset the game,” says Simons. “It definitely increases productivity and throughput.”

Not only does the Cubitron II increase productivity and throughput, but it could potentially reduce operator fatigue. “With fiber disc in particular, the ergonomic impact is beneficial in the sense that you don’t have to push as hard on the grinder to remove stock.”

A unique aspect of 3M’s precision-shaped grain, when compared to conventional crushed grain, is that every individual grain is essentially the same size shape and sharpness. Abrasive products using this grain slice through metal more efficiently, resulting in higher stock removal rates with less heat-related part damage.

“Overall, the Cubitron II products result in a lower cost per grind,” comments Simons.

Discerning job shops should take note of Norton and 3M’s offerings. If they’re looking to increase their productivity and decrease their costs, the benefits offered by each company’s proprietary grains, such as higher stock removal rates and longer life, will help them accomplish both.


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