Abrasive Blasting: A Complete Guide to Process, Applications & Safety

 

grit blasting of rust

What is Abrasive Blasting?

Abrasive blasting is a powerful method used to clean or change the surface of a material. It involves shooting particles, like sand or other media, at high speed to clean surfaces or create a certain texture. Often, it’s simply called "sandblasting," though other terms like "media blasting" or "grit blasting" are also used. This article introduces you to the essentials of abrasive blasting, from the equipment used to the safety practices followed.

 

Abrasive Blasting Process

To carry out abrasive blasting efficiently, you will need several pieces of abrasive blasting equipment:

  • Blast pot
  • Blast Hose
  • Nozzle
  • Abrasive media

Abrasive blasting is a technique that uses compressed air or water to propel grains of abrasive material at high speed onto a surface. This process serves either to clean the surface by removing contaminants like paint, rust, or grime, or to alter the surface's physical properties by etching, roughening, or smoothing it.

Steps in the Abrasive Blasting Process

  1. Preparation: The surface to be blasted is prepared, and the surrounding areas are protected or covered to prevent damage from stray abrasive particles.
  2. Loading Media: The chosen abrasive media is loaded into the blast pot. This media could be anything from sand to more specialized materials like walnut shells or steel beads.
  3. Propulsion: Through the use of an air compressor, the abrasive media is forced through a hose towards a nozzle. The compressor's power determines how fast and with what force the media strikes the surface.
  4. Impact: As the media hits the surface, it blasts away the unwanted materials clinging to it. The type of media, its size, and its speed affect how deeply the surface is cleaned or textured.

This process can be adjusted by changing the type of abrasive media, the speed of the media, and whether air or water is used to propel the media. These adjustments can make the process gentle enough for delicate surfaces or powerful enough for industrial-scale rust and paint removal.

Dry Abrasive Blasting vs. Wet Abrasive Blasting

Both dry blasting and wet blasting are effective techniques, but they have different advantages and applications.

Aspect Dry Blasting Wet Blasting
Description
  •  Uses compressed air to propel abrasive media directly onto a surface
  • Combines water with abrasive media to reduce dust and is propelled onto the surface
Advantages
  • High effectiveness for removing tough surface contaminants
  • Faster operation Suitable for a variety of media
  • Reduces dust emissions, enhancing operator safety and environmental protection
  • Preserves the integrity of the surface by reducing heat and friction
  • Suitable for finer media
Disadvantages
  • Creates a lot of dust, which can be hazardous
  • Potential for surface warping from heat
  • Requires additional cleanup due to slurry formation
  • Some media cannot be used with water
  • Generally slower than dry blasting due to prep and cleanup
Ideal Applications


  • Best for hard surfaces needing aggressive cleaning
  • Situations where dust can be controlled and managed
  • Environments where dust creation must be minimized
  • Delicate surfaces where low impact is necessary

 

Types of Abrasive Blasting Media

The choice of abrasive blasting media is critical as it determines the effectiveness and outcome of the blasting process. Different media have unique properties like hardness, shape, and particle size, which make them suitable for specific tasks.

    • Particle Size: Determines the aggressiveness of the blasting and the smoothness of the finish.
    • Density: Dictates the impact force of the media, influencing its effectiveness in stripping and cleaning operations.
    • Mohs Hardness: Influences the media's cutting ability and its durability during blasting.
    • Shape: Affects the surface profile and the media's ability to reach into nooks and crannies on the surface.
 Media Type Common Uses Particle Size Density (g/cm³) Mohs Hardness Shape
Aluminum Oxide Best for tough jobs on metals, including rust and paint removal Fine to Coarse 9 3.94 to 3.96 Angular
Silica Sand Used for various surfaces but generally avoided now due to health risks Fine to Coarse 2.65 5 to 6 Rounded
Nickel Slag Good for heavy-duty cleaning, especially on metal surfaces

Coarse 3.2 to 4.0 7 Angular
Copper Slag Good for heavy-duty cleaning, especially on metal surfaces Medium to Coarse 3.2 to 3.8 7 Angular
Crushed Glass Ideal for eco-friendly projects, suitable for light cleaning and surface preparation Fine to Medium 2.5 5.5 to 7 Angular
Garnet Sand Preferred for precision work requiring minimal dust and fine profiling Fine to Medium 3.5 to 4.3 7 to 7.5 Sub-angular
Glass Beads Excellent for achieving a smooth, clean finish without altering the metal significantly Very Fine to Medium 2.5 5.5 Rounded
Steel Shot Great for peening applications to improve material strength and remove heavy coatings respectively Medium 4.8 to 7.8 8 Rounded
Steel Grit Great for peening applications to improve material strength and remove heavy coatings respectively Coarse 4.8 to 7.8 8 Angular
Specular Hematite (Iron Ore) Suitable for heavy-duty applications, with additional weight and hardness Medium to Coarse 5.04 5.5 to 6.5 Angular

 

Types of Abrasive Blasting

Bead Blasting

Bead blasting uses fine glass beads that are propelled toward the surface using compressed air. This method is known for its ability to create a clean, bright, smooth finish without causing damage to the surfaces. Glass bead blasting is often used for cleaning metal surfaces, removing calcium deposits, and preparing metal for paint or coatings.

Shot Blasting

Shot blasting involves using small, round metallic pellets, known as "shot." This method is primarily used for strengthening metal surfaces through a process called peening. It's also effective for removing rust, scale, and old paint from metal surfaces, making it popular in the automotive and shipbuilding industries.

Wheel Blasting

Wheel blasting employs a wheel with paddles that rapidly spin to fling abrasive media against the surfaces. This method does not use compressed air but mechanical force, making it highly efficient and suitable for large-scale operations, such as cleaning heavy and rugged materials like foundry castings or forged components.

Wet Blasting

Wet blasting, or Hydroblasting, combines water and abrasive media to form a slurry that is then propelled toward the target surface. This method is gentler than dry blasting and significantly reduces the amount of dust produced during the process. It's ideal for delicate surfaces or when dust could pose a health or environmental risk.

Soda Blasting

Soda blasting uses sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as the blasting media. This mild, non-destructive method is excellent for removing paint, grease, and contaminants without damaging the underlying material. This type of blasting is especially useful in restoration projects, including automotive restoration, as it can clean delicate parts without etching or warping.

Dry Ice Blasting

Dry ice blasting uses pellets of solid carbon dioxide as the blasting media. This method is unique because the dry ice sublimates (turns directly from a solid to a gas) upon impact, leaving no residue. It's perfect for cleaning electrical equipment, removing adhesives, and cleaning food processing equipment because it does not introduce additional waste.

Micro-blasting or Pencil Blasting

Micro-blasting, also known as pencil blasting, involves a very fine stream of abrasive media directed through a small nozzle at a high velocity. This precision method allows for detailed surface cleaning or etching, making it ideal for tasks requiring fine, targeted blasting like cleaning intricate machinery parts or etching delicate electronic components.

 

Abrasive Blasting Dust Regulations

first abrasive blasting process outdoors

Abrasive blasting involves significant health and environmental considerations, especially related to the dust it produces. Various government organizations have set standards and regulations to manage these risks:

Respiratory Protection: Workers involved in abrasive blasting must use appropriate respiratory protection because of the high risk of inhaling toxic dust. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the type of respiratory protection required depends on the airborne concentration of hazardous substances. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.134 outlines the requirements for respiratory protection programs, including fit testing, training, and medical evaluations.

Visible Emissions: Visible emissions from abrasive blasting operations are regulated to minimize air pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates these under the Clean Air Act, which includes standards for the management of particulate emissions. Operations must often obtain permits that stipulate emission limits and require the use of specific control technologies.

Outdoor Use: When abrasive blasting is performed outdoors, operators must comply with local and federal regulations aimed at protecting the environment. This includes managing runoff and preventing contaminants from entering waterways, as well as controlling air emissions. The EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits may be required for operations that have the potential to discharge pollutants into water systems.

Indoor Use: Indoor abrasive blasting requires proper ventilation to ensure that dust and contaminants are effectively removed from the air to protect workers’ health and safety. OSHA's standards (29 CFR 1910.94(a)) specify requirements for ventilation systems in abrasive blasting enclosures, including air quality monitoring and the use of dust collection systems.

Dust Collector Rules: Dust collectors are critical in managing the particulate matter produced by abrasive blasting. OSHA standards mandate the use of dust collection systems that capture and contain dust to prevent workplace exposure. The systems must be designed and maintained to achieve this effectively, including regular checks and filter replacements to handle the high volumes of dust generated.

 

Best Practices for Safe Abrasive Blasting

Ensuring safety during abrasive blasting operations is critical to protect workers and the environment. Here are some best practices for safe abrasive blasting:

Proper Protective Equipment

The use of appropriate protective equipment is crucial to safeguard workers from the hazards of abrasive blasting. This includes:

    • Blasting Suit: Protects the skin from abrasive materials which can cause cuts and irritation.
    • Respirator: Essential to prevent inhalation of harmful dust particles. Respirators should be selected based on the specific hazards of the abrasive materials used.
    • Hard Hat: Offers head protection and often includes a face shield to protect against flying particles and debris.

Dust Control Measures

Implementing effective dust control measures is necessary to minimize health risks from airborne particles:

    • Enclosures: Using blasting cabinets or rooms can contain the spread of dust.
    • Wet Blasting: Incorporating water into the blasting process helps to suppress dust formation.
    • Dust Collectors and Extractors: These systems capture dust at the point of generation and are essential in maintaining clean air.

Ventilation Requirements

Proper ventilation is critical in any abrasive blasting operation, especially indoors:

    • Air Quality Monitoring: Regular monitoring to ensure that air quality is within safe limits is necessary.
    • Exhaust Systems: These systems should be designed to effectively remove and filter out dust-laden air from the blasting area.
    • Fresh Air Supply: Adequate ventilation systems that provide a steady flow of fresh air can dilute and displace contaminated air.

 

FAQs About Abrasive Blasting

What is the difference between abrasive blasting and sandblasting?

Abrasive blasting is a broad term that includes the process of propelling various types of abrasive materials against a surface to clean or alter its texture. Sandblasting is a specific type of abrasive blasting that exclusively uses sand as the blasting medium. However, due to health and environmental concerns, other materials are often used in place of sand.

Why is sand blasting forbidden now?

Sand blasting is largely forbidden or highly regulated now primarily due to health risks associated with inhaling silica dust, which can cause silicosis, a serious lung disease. Additionally, silica dust poses other health hazards, including potential links to lung cancer.

What is the best blasting abrasive?

The "best" blasting abrasive depends on the specific application, desired finish, and the surface material being treated. For example, aluminum oxide is hard and aggressive, making it suitable for preparing tough surfaces like metal, whereas soda blasting, which uses sodium bicarbonate, is gentler and better for delicate surfaces or where chemical reactivity might be a concern.

How much does abrasive blasting cost?

The cost of abrasive blasting can vary widely based on factors such as the type of abrasive material used, the size of the project, the condition of the surface, and local labor rates. Smaller jobs might cost a few hundred dollars, while larger industrial projects could cost thousands of dollars.

What is an alternative to sandblasting?

Several alternatives to sandblasting are safer and often more effective depending on the application. These include soda blasting, dry ice blasting, and water blasting. Each method has its advantages in terms of surface compatibility, environmental impact, and finish quality. Soda blasting, for example, is excellent for removing paint without damaging the underlying surface. Dry ice blasting cleans without leaving any residues, which is ideal for use in industrial and food processing environments.

 

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The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.

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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.