What is an Abrasive Belt?

Lori Kilchermann

An abrasive belt is used in woodworking and metal work. The abrasive belt is often referred to as a sanding belt or sandpaper belt and is used to smooth out a rough surface finish. In many instances, the abrasive belt might be used to actually shape a piece or create a part from a larger piece of stock by grinding the piece to a desired size and shape. Typically fitted around two or more rubber wheels and driven by an electric motor, the abrasive belt is an important component in most work shops.

Belt sanders smooth wooden surfaces by spinning a roll of sandpaper in a continuous loop.
Belt sanders smooth wooden surfaces by spinning a roll of sandpaper in a continuous loop.

The abrasive belt is constructed by gluing rough abrasive particles onto a cloth or paper-like belt in a circular configuration. The belt is constructed to give the operator a durable, long-lasting product to work with. The abrasive bits used on the surface of the belt are applied in differing sizes, which are known as grits. The larger the grit or number of grits given to a belt, the larger the abrasive bits on the belt. A higher grit rating also reflects a lesser number of abrasive bits on the belt.

It takes far less pieces of large abrasive particle to fill the surface of an abrasive belt than a small abrasive. The size of the grit often determines the longevity of the abrasive belt being used. A finer grit belt will clog and fill with residue much faster than a rougher grit belt. The larger grit provides much more open area to allow the residue to fall free of the belt while a finer grit forms a much tighter surface area that is able to hold on to any residue much longer. When using a fine abrasive, it's a good practice to stop and clean the belt periodically while working.

Heat is the enemy of an abrasive belt. The excess heat will cause the abrasive bits to melt off of the belt as well as cause the bits to burn the surface of the work piece. When using an abrasive on a high-speed application, it is imperative to use a soft backing on the belt. The soft backing not only provides a heat sink to absorb any access heat that is generated, but it also provides room for the abrasive material to conform to the surface of the work piece. Failure to utilize a soft backing cannot only lead to burns in the surface of the work piece, but it can also create small cuts caused from the hard and sharp edges of the abrasive belt cutting into the work piece.

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