How to minimize dust and loading, maintain a cleaner working environment, get better and faster sanding results and maximize the life of your abrasives
No matter which way you look at it, whenever there is sanding involved, there will also be sanding dust.
Imagine this… you’re in the wood shop trying to breathe, but all you can manage is a cough… you breathe in, and then cough. And continue to cough for the rest of the day.
Or, maybe, you’re working on a project, perhaps refinishing some old wood floors or prepping for a new paint job… and your sandpaper keeps getting clogged…. To the point where you feel like you’re not even making progress because you have to keep replacing your sandpaper – costing you more time and money to get the desired results.
No matter which scenario, the dust is wreaking havoc and needs to be dealt with.
Fortunately, there are some things we can do to minimize dust and the problems it causes, while also maximizing the life of our abrasives and getting better results in the end. Before we jump into those tips, let’s discuss the negative impacts of dust and what causes loading. Then we’ll cover some actions you can take to minimize these issues.
The problem with dust.
Dust isn’t just an annoying biproduct of sanding – it can actually cause negative impacts to your health, your work piece and your environment, while also causing you to burn through your sandpaper as well.
Firstly, working in an environment with a lot of dust is not ideal, as dust is dirty, will get into your clothes, can accumulate on the floor to cause slips, and can be flammable.
Additionally, the more dust that accumulates, the more you’ll be breathing it in. While it’s clear that extended exposure to dust can lead to certain health impacts, such as coughing, allergies and more, following the best practices in this article can help reduce the likelihood that those outcomes will occur.
When sanding, allowing dust to accumulate on your work piece can also cause defects, as you could be sanding the dust particles into your surface, rather than sanding the work surface itself. If left on the surface when applying stains or other similar products, these defects will be visible in the finish. To compensate, you’ll have to spend even more time sanding your pieces. Additionally, working with hard materials that crate excessive heat while sanding can lead to faster consumption of sandpaper due to pre-mature loading.
Why Sandpaper Clogs, and Why It’s a Problem
In sanding, not only are we creating dust and debris, whether from wood, metal, paint or otherwise, but the friction of rubbing the abrasives against your work surface also generates heat and static electricity.
Unfortunately, heat and static are both the enemies of an efficient sanding experience and a beautiful finish. Why?
When it comes to heat, it leads softer materials to become sticky or gummy – such as resinous woods, lighter metals, glues or other adhesives, and paints or lacquer coatings. This stickiness itself will get clogged into your abrasives, in addition to causing the sanding dust or debris to stick to your sandpaper.
As for static, well we’re all aware of the concept of “static cling” – the phenomenon which causes materials to stick to a charged surface. When it comes to sanding, the friction can cause the surface to become charged with static electricity. The more static created, the more dust and grime that will stick to your sandpaper.
When your sandpaper is clogged, not only will you need to change it more frequently, causing the sanding process to take longer and cost more, your surface will not be sanded cleanly – leading to uneven scratch patterns and blotchy finishes.
Tips to Minimize Dust and Loading and Maximize Sandpaper Life
Now that we understand the sources of the issue, we can address both the causes and symptoms. Below are several tips to minimize loading of your coated abrasives products and get the most out of each sponge, sheet, disc or belt.
1. Know what you’re in for… and be realistic.
The first step to maximizing the life of your abrasives is to know what you’re getting yourself into – meaning, understand what your application is and what material(s) you’ll be sanding. Some materials and applications will be more susceptible to quicker loading, while others less so. Understanding whether you’re sanding a soft wood like pine, or hard wood like oak, versus stripping paint or scuff sanding between coats of finish will help you to determine how to effectively prepare for the work to be done.
Once you understand properties of the materials of your job and how much they would be likely to generate heat and static, you’ll be able to make an informed choice about what abrasives you want to use. Choosing the right abrasive for the job is not only key for achieving the best results overall, but also for minimizing loading. So, once you have determined what you’re sanding, you can then use technical elements of the abrasives to your advantage – such as whether you opt for an open or semi-open coat, you opt for a stearated product, or otherwise.
2. Use a Dust Extraction System
When it comes to wide belt sanding, there is typically a dust extraction/management system in place within the machine.
On the other hand, when it comes to hand sanding – whether with an orbital sander or otherwise, it’s also important to manage the inevitable sanding debris. Sanding is cutting, after all, so there will always be some kind of dust. One option for dust removal is a down-draft table – a table with holes that suck in the dust. These can be expensive and may not be 100% effective. The best option would be to use an orbital sander that has a connection for a vacuum with vented holes on the backup pad. This would allow the dust to be removed while still in the process of sanding, ensuring that you would not be pressing the debris back into your surface, causing defects.
When sanding by hand, it’s critical to clear your work surface and the surface of your workpiece before and after sanding to remove any debris. You can simply do this with compressed air and a tack cloth.
3. Choose the right abrasive “coating”
If loading is your main concern, opt for an open or semi-open coat on your abrasive. This “coating” refers to the ratio of grain coverage to empty space on coated abrasives. An open or semi-open coating has a range of 60-75% grain coverage versus closed coats, which have 90-95% coverage. This means, with a more open coat, there will be additional space on the sandpaper, allowing for more airflow. This airflow and space create a cooler sanding experience, thereby reducing the possibility for gumminess to occur to begin with. Additionally, the added space means that the sanding debris and residue will be less likely to get caught up on the sandpaper, as it is less tightly packed between the grains. And, even when it does start to clog – as we said before, a certain amount of loading is always inevitable – having the extra space means there is a place for the debris to collect that does not influence the cutting ability of the grains, meaning, the sandpaper will last longer.
(For a more detailed discussion of coatings, read our article: Sandpaper “Coatings”, Demystified.)
4. Choose a product with a stearate coating or antistatic paper base
Stearate is a chemical coating applied to the top of the sandpaper designed to minimize loading. It acts as a lubricant between the sandpaper and the workpiece, allowing the sandpaper to move more fluidly across the surface and generate less friction, heat and static. This means it will make for a cooler sanding experience, therefore making it less likely for debris to stick to the sandpaper.
In addition, Uneeda offers various products on a base of specially designed paper – Antistatex – which is designed to reduce static. This can be a good option for those sanding in dryer climates, where static is a bigger problem. Antistatic properties added to the resins and the backings are mostly used on paper wide belt materials, as that application is the most common for creating static issues.
5. Follow a Proper Grit Sequence and Removal Rate
Each grit of sandpaper is designed to have a specific “removal rate” for material on your workpiece. Using improper grits for your removal rates – i.e. trying to remove too much material with too fine a grit – may cause excess sanding pressure to be used, leading to premature loading, as well as other issues.
When following a proper grit sequence, each successive grit will remove the correct amount of material, and you’ll be able to sand with lighter pressure. Using the proper technique, means your sandpaper will last longer, and you’ll generate less heat and get better results.
For a more in depth discussion of grit and grit sequence, check out our other article: Grit Sequence: Let (gr)it do the hard work for you.
6. Properly Ground Your Wide Belt Sander
When a wide belt sander is not properly grounded, static electricity can build up in the machine due to the friction created while sanding. This is problematic because it leads the dust extraction system to function improperly – leading to other issues – such as lines in the work piece, premature belt wear, loading and dust buildup in the machine. Grounding your machine goes hand in hand with utilizing antistatic abrasives, as previously mentioned. The combination of the two greatly reduce static.
7. Try wet sanding with a waterproof product
If you’re looking to create a high gloss or polished finish, wet sanding can be a good idea to help achieve those results, whether in metal/automotive, solid surfaces, granite, marble, or, though less common, in woodworking, applications, or otherwise. Using a wet sanding technique, likely involving water and/or some lubricant, will make the surface you’re sanding slicker. This will help not only to carry away debris, but also eliminate or minimize the risk for undesired scratches in the finish that would come from pressing the debris into the surface while sanding. Sanding surfaces wet greatly reduces dust in the environment.
8. Use washable products like EKASKY, EKASILK PLUS or UNEESPONGES.
When you’re doing finishing applications, such as sanding primer, paint, lacquer or other polishing items, you could benefit from using a foam backed abrasive. However, when sanding these types of surfaces, they can tend to get caught up on your abrasives. One benefit to using sponges is that they can be washed. This means, that just because the product may have become loaded, it may not need to be discarded. If the grain is still good on the sponge, simply wash the sponge and use it until the grain no longer cuts.
9. Try cleaning off clogged pieces with a brush or rubber cleaning bar.
Similar to washing off your sponges, if the grain is still viable on your abrasives, try cleaning off your belt, sheet or disc with a soft bristle brush or rubber cleaning bar. Be careful not to be too aggressive, so as to not cause a tear.
10. When all else fails, wash your sanding belts and cut into smaller pieces for later hand-sanding use.
If you’re using cloth or other waterproof belts, and they’ve been loaded – but the grains are still good – you can simply wash the belt to remove the debris. If all else fails, recycle the belt by cutting it and using the smaller pieces while hand sanding.
Wrapping It Up
When sanding, heat and static electricity are major problems that contribute to poor sanding results and premature loading. Dust can cause tremendous issues on health, your work environment and your finish – while causing you to burn through abrasives and experience other issues with your tools. Following good techniques for preparation, sanding and cleaning can help to minimize dust and the issues that come from it.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Uneeda’s products and technicians can help you improve your sanding experience, save money and get better results, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.