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    What Is Sandpaper Made Of & How Is It Made - Red Label Abrasives

    Quick Summary

    The steps for manufacturing sandpaper will vary depending on the backing material, type of abrasive used, and the final product itself. Generally speaking, sandpaper is produced by coating a backing with a resin and statically charging grains to attract to the adhesive resin. Once the grains are attached to a backing, the sandpaper is dried and cured before being cut into sheets, rolls, or discs.

    Sandpaper plays a vital role in a multitude of industries. Woodworkers rely on it to shape and smooth their creations while carpenters use it to achieve a flawless finish. Metalworkers and auto-body repair professionals depend on sandpaper to remove imperfections and create a polished surface. Even in construction and home improvement projects, sandpaper is indispensable for prepping surfaces before painting or applying coatings. 

    Although it’s indispensable in many settings, less is known about what sandpaper is made of and how it is made. In this blog, the team at Red Label Abrasives goes over the different types of sandpaper, how they’re manufactured, and how you can maintain your abrasives for maximum performance.

    Understanding Sandpaper

    Sandpaper is a versatile abrasive tool consisting of an abrasive material adhered to a backing material. Its primary purpose is to smooth surfaces, remove material and build-up, and prepare surfaces for further treatment such as painting, staining, or finishing. There are three main types: coated abrasives, bonded abrasives, and non-woven abrasives. 

    Coated Abrasives

    This is the most common type of sandpaper. It features a backing material, such as paper, cloth, polyester, or film, with abrasive grains adhered to it. Coated abrasives are versatile and widely used across various industries and DIY projects due to their effectiveness and affordability.

    Bonded Abrasives 

    Unlike coated abrasives, bonded abrasives do not have a separate backing material. Instead, the abrasive grains are mixed with a bonding agent, such as resin, and formed into shapes like grinding wheels, discs, or stones. Bonded abrasives are commonly used in applications that require aggressive material removal, such as grinding and shaping metal or masonry.

    Non-Woven Abrasives

    Non-woven abrasives are made of synthetic fibers, combined with abrasive particles and a resin binder. They are structured in a web-like pattern, which allows for flexibility and conformability. Non-woven abrasives are typically used for light cleaning, deburring, and polishing applications.

    Grit Sizes

    Sandpaper grit size refers to the number of abrasive particles per square inch of sandpaper. The higher the grit number, the finer the abrasive particles and the smoother the finish. Grit sizes can range from coarse to very fine, catering to different stages of surface preparation.

    • Coarse grits (lower numbers, such as 40 to 80) are designed for heavy material removal, leveling uneven surfaces, and shaping rough edges. 
    • Medium grits (around 100 to 180) strike a balance between material removal and surface refinement. 
    • Fine grits (220 to 600) are ideal for achieving a smooth surface before finishing or painting. 
    • Very fine grits (800 and above) are used for final sanding, creating a polished and refined finish.

    Understanding the significance of grit sizes helps you select the appropriate sandpaper for your specific task. Whether you need to remove a lot of material quickly or achieve a mirror-like finish, choosing the right grit size is essential to achieve optimal results.

    What is Sandpaper Made Of?

    Sandpaper combines two essential components: the backing material and abrasive grains. 

    • The backing material, which can be paper, cloth, polyester, or film, provides the structure and support for the sandpaper. It also determines the flexibility, durability, and suitability for different applications. 
    • The abrasive grains, such as silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, and ceramic, are responsible for the sanding action. They can vary widely in hardness, cutting ability, and material compatibility.

    Backing Material

    Sandpaper is available with a variety of backing types, including paper, cloth, polyester, and film. Each backing type offers unique characteristics and benefits, allowing users to choose the most suitable option for their specific sanding needs.

    • Paper:For general sanding, woodworking, and other DIY projects, paper-backed sandpaper is the perfect choice. It comes in a variety of weights, ranging from lightweight to heavyweight, with the heavier options offering enhanced durability.
    • Cloth:When it comes to durability and flexibility, cloth-backed sandpaper surpasses paper-backed sandpaper. It is particularly popular in tasks that demand resilience, like metalworking and automotive repair, as it can endure higher levels of stress without tearing or fraying.
    • Polyester:Sandpaper with a polyester backing demonstrates exceptional resistance to water, chemicals, and tearing. Its high durability makes it a popular choice for wet sanding tasks, including automotive refinishing and marine applications.
    • Film:Film-backed sandpaper is incredibly durable and tear-resistant. It offers excellent flexibility and is commonly used in high-precision sanding applications, such as fine woodworking and electronic circuit board finishing.

    Abrasive Grains

    Sandpaper offers a wide range of abrasive options, including aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, and ceramic, among others. These different types of abrasives provide varying levels of aggressiveness and are designed to tackle specific materials and sanding tasks with optimal efficiency.

    Silicon Carbide 

    Silicon carbide stands as a specialized abrasive renowned for its effectiveness in specific applications. With a hardness and sharpness surpassing that of aluminum oxide, silicon carbide maintains a consistent cut rate throughout the entire lifespan of the abrasive belt. 

    Although more expensive than aluminum oxide, its unparalleled consistency compensates for the added cost. Moreover, its capacity to remove material without generating excessive heat makes it an ideal choice for finishing heat-sensitive materials like stabilized wood, resins, epoxy, as well as automotive paint preparation.

    Aluminum Oxide

    Aluminum oxide is an industry standard for common applications. Open coat aluminum oxide excels in planing, stripping, roughing, and finishing tasks on all types of wood while closed coat aluminum oxide is ideal for snagging, weld removal, and metal grinding. 

    Premium aluminum oxide exhibits high friability, ensuring that the tips of the abrasive grains fragment as it wears, consistently presenting sharp cutting surfaces and prolonging its working life. Moreover, aluminum oxide abrasives can be tailored to suit specific applications, offering a high level of customization.

    Zirconia

    Zirconia, once regarded as the most aggressive and long-lasting abrasive grain, was surpassed by ceramic in terms of performance. Nonetheless, it remains a top-notch option for heavy metal grinding, polishing, and material removal in hardwoods. 

    Zirconia offers a cost-effective alternative to ceramic but it's more suitable for certain applications, as it doesn’t usually exceed 220 grit. Positioned as a middle ground abrasive between aluminum oxide and ceramic, zirconia strikes a balance in terms of price and longevity.

    Ceramic

    Ceramic stands as a top-tier abrasive grain renowned for its exceptional hardness and sharpness. It is considered a premium option, offering the longest lifespan compared to other abrasive materials. Despite the higher price, the investment is justified as it can result in long-term savings.

    Ceramic abrasives excel in aggressive cutting tasks involving metals and hard woods. They perform optimally under high speed and pressure conditions. It is important to exercise caution when working with wood to prevent scorching due to its aggressive nature. Ceramic is also friable, ensuring a continuous supply of sharp cutting surfaces, further extending its already impressive longevity.

    How Sandpaper is Made

    The sandpaper manufacturing process involves a series of intricate steps that transform raw materials into the versatile tool we rely on for various applications. From the creation of the backing material to the application of abrasive grains and the final packaging, each stage is crucial in producing high-quality sandpaper.

    Backing Material Production

    With paper-backed sandpaper, wood pulp or synthetic fibers are mixed with water to form a pulp, which is then spread onto a moving mesh screen. As the water drains away, the fibers bond together, forming a continuous sheet of paper. The paper is then dried, smoothed, and cut into rolls or sheets of the desired size for sandpaper production.

    For cloth-backed, polyester-backed, or film-backed sandpaper, different techniques are used. Cloth backings are created by weaving or knitting synthetic fibers together to form a flexible and durable material while polyester and film backings are produced through extrusion processes, where molten polyester or film materials are forced through a die to form a thin, continuous sheet.

    Adhesive Application

    Sandpaper utilizes various types of adhesives, including resin, phenolic, or hide glue. They are applied to the backing material through techniques such as roller coating or spraying. After the backing material passes through a machine where the adhesive is evenly spread onto one side, the sandpaper is ready for the next stage of the manufacturing process.

    Coating Abrasive Grains

    Several methods are available for coating abrasive grains onto backing materials. In electrostatic coating, the abrasive grains receive an electric charge that attracts them to the adhesive-coated backing. Another method involves creating a slurry of adhesive and grains, which is then applied to the backing. Some sandpapers use glue to bond the material directly to the backing.

    After the abrasive grains are applied, the sandpaper goes through a drying and curing process that allows the adhesive to solidify, creating a strong bond between the grains and the backing. 

    Cutting, Grading, and Packaging

    After drying and curing, large rolls of coated sandpaper are slit into narrower widths to create individual sheets or rolls of various sizes. This is typically done using precision slitting machines that cut the sandpaper to the desired widths. Then each sheet or roll is carefully inspected to ensure it meets the desired grit specifications. This grading process ensures consistency and accuracy in the abrasive properties of the sandpaper.

    Once the sandpaper is graded and sorted, it is packaged into various forms such as sheets, rolls, or discs. The packaged sandpaper is labeled with relevant information, including the grit size and type, and prepared for distribution to retailers, suppliers, or end users.

    Sandpaper Maintenance

    Storing and maintaining sandpaper properly can extend its lifespan and ensure optimal performance. Here are some best practices to follow:

    • Keep sandpaper in a dry environment: Moisture can damage the abrasive grains and weaken the backing material of sandpaper. Store sandpaper in a cool, dry place to prevent any moisture absorption or humidity-related issues.
    • Organize sandpaper by grit and type: Group sandpaper sheets or rolls by grit size and type for easy access and identification. This helps you quickly find the appropriate sandpaper for your specific task.
    • Avoid bending or creasing sandpaper:Sharp bends or creases can cause the backing material to weaken or tear. Store sandpaper flat or in a suitable organizer to maintain its shape and integrity.
    • Clean sandpaper regularly:Sandpaper can become clogged with dust, debris, or resin buildup during use. Cleaning the surface with a sandpaper cleaning tool or a stiff brush can help remove debris and restore its cutting efficiency.
    • Use sandpaper within its expiration date:Over time, sandpaper can deteriorate, losing its effectiveness and cutting ability. Check the expiration date on the packaging and avoid using sandpaper that has passed its recommended shelf life.
    • Avoid excessive pressure while sanding: Applying excessive pressure while sanding can cause premature wear and tear on the sandpaper. Instead, let the sandpaper's abrasiveness and your sanding technique do the work, applying moderate, consistent pressure.
    • Replace worn-out sandpaper:As sandpaper wears down, its cutting ability diminishes, leading to inefficient sanding and poor results. Regularly inspect the sandpaper for signs of wear, such as fraying edges or significant loss of abrasive grains. Replace worn-out sandpaper to maintain the desired sanding quality.
    • Select the right grit for the task:Choosing the appropriate grit size for your specific application prevents unnecessary wear on the sandpaper. Using a coarser grit than necessary may result in excessive material removal and reduce the lifespan of the sandpaper.

    By following these best practices, you can ensure that your sandpaper remains in good condition, ready for efficient and effective sanding tasks. Proper storage, cleaning, and replacement will maximize its lifespan, enabling you to achieve the best possible results in your projects.

    A Cut Above the Rest For Abrasive Products

    Sandpaper is an indispensable tool that achieves remarkable results in various industries and DIY projects. By understanding the composition and manufacturing process of sandpaper, we gain valuable insights into its capabilities and can make informed choices when selecting the right sandpaper for specific tasks. 

    At Red Label Abrasives, we produce a wide range of premium quality sanding products that can achieve industrial-grade excellence in woodworking, metalworking, and other projects. We offer sanding belts, sanding discs, sanding rolls, and sanding sheets that you can order straight to your door with free shipping.  Custom orders are also available for more specialized applications. If you have questions or would like to place an order, call 844-824-1956 or fill out our contact form today!

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