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Wire Brushes, Wire Wheels, and Abrasive Safety

Sep 23rd 2020

Abrasives and wire brushes are incredibly useful for cleaning, grinding, cutting, deburring, and also finishing metals and other surfaces. But, like with any tool or machinery, it is essential always to follow all safety guidelines recommended by the manufacturer.

When you operate a tool outside of the safety guidelines, a lot can go wrong. You or your operator now can be dangerously hurt if not creating a deadly situation. There are also surroundings that become a risk as well as bystanders. Following the proper safety procedures should never been skipped when dealing with potentially dangerous tools.

Products like grinding wheels, wire wheels, cup brushes, end brushes, or wire brushes are all developed to be completely safe when used as they are designed to be. However, if the operator goes outside the norm or alters the tool/machinery that they are using, then they can become unsafe simply due to what may seem to be just minor alterations.

Safe Practices Do Vary

Like the wide range of tools you will use to complete a job, the safety that goes along with them will vary depending upon the tool you use. The safety instructions are going to be different when comparing different power tools from a die grinder to a bench grinder. The operator needs to review safety guidelines for each tool they are using and the abrasives or wire wheels that go with it. For example, the safety checks for a wire wheel are different than that of a cutting disc.

Are You Using the Right Product for Your Tool?

While you may want to get a larger product for your tool, it may not always be possible. It is essential to compare and match both the size and the speed of the product to what your cutting or grinding tool is capable of. If your tool’s RPMs are 25000 and the attachment is only rated 11000 RPM, it is not a good idea to pair those two together. It is safest always to match RPMs to avoid unsafe working conditions.

A prime example of comparing two products and their RPMs is the 6" x ⅝”-11 Stringer Bead Wire Wheel versus the 7" x 5/8"-11 Stringer Bead Wire Wheel. While they may seem to be very similar products, the RPMs are different. The 6” version can handle 9000RPM, whereas the 7” can only handle 8500RPM. Minute changes can make all the difference in proper safety applications.

Basic Everyday Safety Tips for Wire Brushes and Abrasives

Size

Choose the right size wire wheel or abrasive for your tool. If you put a 7” cutting wheel on a 3” grinder it may not fit in the safety guard. You may also risk throwing off the balance and having it vibrate. Off-balance grinding and/or vibrating abrasives can cause the operator to lose control of the device and create serious safety hazards for themselves and those around them.

Use the Safety Guard

The safety guard is there to help ensure your safety, and also it can be used to tell you if an abrasive item is too big. If your guard does not safely fit over it with enough room to be used properly then it is not safe to use.

As a safety best practice, always keep the guard in place while operating the tool. This prevents using the wrong size accessory on the tool and protect you from the high speed wheel.

Speed

As mentioned above, always match the ratings for the size and speed of the wire brush or abrasive tool you plan to use. Just because an abrasive product fits onto a particular machine, it doesn't mean it is necessarily intended for it, especially when comparing them by their speeed.  Not matching the correct specs for your abrasives can be extremely dangerous to use.

Always check and be sure that the RPM rating of the wire wheel or abrasive product is greater than or equal to the RPM rating of the tool it is being used on.

Position and Orientation

When you are using your tools, some of them can be sensitive to both orientation and position. It is important to review what your tool needs as changing an angle or the position of the tool can affect the performance, quality, life, and effectiveness of the abrasive tool.

Whether it is a wire wheel or a belt sander belt, making sure it is properly positioned and the right tool for the job is important. Some belts are unidirectional and some are bi-directional. It is important to know what you have to work with will match the machinery you are working on. It is also important to remember that when buying flap discs. There are T27 and T29 and while to the naked eye the differences are minute, the T27 is 0-15° and the T29 is 15-25° and can make all the difference to the operator depending upon the angle they intend to use the disc with.

Additionally, cutoff discs should not be used at inappropriate angles. Doing so risks cracking the disc or exploding under the pressures that they are not designed to be used at.

Pressure

Some abrasives work best with aggressive pressure whereas others do not. Being aware of the needs of the abrasive product will allow the operator to extend the life of the product as well as the quality of the product’s performance.

Abrasives do dull over time through wear and tear, however, there are some that will refracture and sharpen themselves through use. This is aided by appropriate pressure in their use. For example, ceramic performs better with less pressure than the aggressive Zirconia abrasive.

The other thing to keep in mind with pressure comes heat. If you are doing a project that will generate a lot of heat due to high pressure needs it is best to use the abrasives that perform best while under those conditions.

Are Dull Abrasives Safe to Use?

The short answer is no. However, when you are using an abrasive tool that has grown dull, many people might respond by applying more pressure. However, that is actually not a very safe idea.

If your abrasive has grown dull then you should replace it. If you are using an abrasive past its life, you have a weakened product that could break or rip and cause injury to you or others around you.

With wire brushes, more pressure will create more stress on the wires and result in filaments breaking. Light pressure is not only the safest way to use wire abrasives, but it actually allows them to perform to the best of their abilities.

How Do You Know if You are Using Too Much Pressure?

This one is pretty easy (even if you are a novice) and should tell you immediately to adjust your pressure as there is an audible drop in RPM. If you hear the RPM on the machine you are using drop, or start to feel or hear the motor is straining then you are likely applying excessive pressure. If you continue past the warning signs you not only can kill the motor, but you may also destroy the abrasive and/or the workpiece you are working on.

It is also a good safety precaution to stop and check if you feel that is happening, think you heard it happen, etc. Your safety and life are not worth the gamble. It is always worth the time to look into odd noises or machine performance.

If you think you were using too much pressure it is important to stop and let the machine have a rest. It will prevent unnecessary additional heat on the workpiece and keep that machine running in the long term.

Always Inspect, Check, and Replace

It doesn’t matter what abrasive or even non-abrasive you are using as triple checking your item for its safe usage is important. Even checking the power cord for fraying is important. With abrasives, always inspect them for chips, cracks, uneven wear on the edge, corrosion, rust, or even missing flaps. If you think there is damage then you should not use it. If you think you dropped the item at some point, then do not use it. Not all cracks or fractures are visible to the naked eye.

Wire brushes, wire wheels, cutting wheels, etc. all wear down over time. As you use your wire wheels or wire brushes or even grinding or cutting wheels they will become smaller in diameter and/or shorter in length. It is important to be aware of this so you can adjust your orientation in regards to the workpiece, pressure to compensate size adjustment, and angle. This way you are maintaining an effective grinding or cleaning without sacrificing yours or others’ safety.

Protective Equipment

You should always use the recommended PPE when working with abrasives. If you think you are saving time by not putting on protective gear to quickly grind something, just think about how much time you’ll waste if you have to go to the emergency room.

At a minimum, you should follow the OSHA guidelines for using abrasives. This includes wearing adequate eye protection and protective gloves. OSHA does not mention ear protection, but we recommend wearing it to preserve your ear health since you’ll be working in a loud environment.

While it is recommended that you wear at least a face dust mask, a respirator mask is always a good idea. It should be mandatory to wear a quality respirator when grinding surfaces that can contain toxic metals, such as chromium.

Need Help Finding the Right Abrasive for the Job?

If you are unsure which abrasive is right for you, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We know how difficult it can be when a few products may work for you, and we’re here to help guide you as best we can. Please feel free to reach out to one of our experts at Empire Abrasives, 1-800-816-3824. Whether you are experienced with these abrasives or a novice -- we are always happy to lend a helping hand.