A Complete Guide to Surface Preparation for Steel Fabricators and Manufacturers
Are you a steel fabricator or other manufacturer looking for a high-quality finish on your product? Learn the importance of surface preparation in this article.
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A beautiful finish starts with a clean, smooth, well prepped surface.
If you work in the steel fabrication or manufacturing industries, proper surface preparation is the key to a successful outcome for your products and services.
In order to ensure the correct preparation, you need high-quality products that will help you produce high-quality finishes.
Read on to learn more about the various styles of products available and surface prep technologies that will help you get the job done right the first time.
Using a mixture of tiny abrasive grains, fillers, and bonding materials, these bonded abrasives work well to get a fine finish for smooth surface preparation. Manufacturers like 3M and JET continually experiment with new surface prep materials in the form of abrasive grain and other bonding materials.
With so many different products available, it's easy to find the right bonded abrasives for your specific job. Each product is made to create a specific finish, provide a specific cutting speed, and meet various cutting and stock removal or requirements.
You can use bonded abrasives to cut-off and to grind on a variety of handheld tools and machines. Some examples include angle grinders, straight grinders, vertical grinders, and petrol saws.
These products are specifically referred to as grinding wheels and can be directly attached to an assortment of tools. Be aware of the different grades which can tell you how fine the abrasives will grind metal.
When choosing bonded abrasives, make sure they will work for the specific type of metal or other material you're dealing with. Many new products are able to work on every type of metal which makes them more versatile and flexible for a number of applications.
The term coated abrasives refer to the abrasive material being coated or adhered directly to a type of backing material. Some common examples of backing material include paper, cloth, resin, film, fiber, rubber, or polyester.
One very common coated abrasive is sandpaper, which can be used on almost anything from wood to metal and beyond. You'll find coated abrasives available in a huge assortment of sizes, shapes, materials, and grit levels.
These specific surface prep accessories can be used with sanding blocks, hand-pads, grinders, and orbital sanders for a fine, smooth finish. The abrasives can be applied to grind, sand, or deburr for a sleek final finish.
You may need to use a coated abrasive while working with paint, varnish, or filler. Other coated abrasives are specially designed for woodworking in order to smooth the surface and prepare it for sealant, stain, or varnish. Wood must be completely clean before it can handle any finishing product, which is why using abrasives is so important in the finishing process.
Coated abrasives come in many more formats other than your standard sandpaper. For example, portable belts come in a long strip that can be attached to a belt sander, die grinder, or rotary drill for machine-powered surface prep without the need for manual labor.
Graphite products are similar to coated abrasives, but they're usually constructed of heavy canvas with a graphite backing. These belts are placed on the platen of a sander to help create a slippery surface.
When a graphite surface prep product is attached, it reduces friction that can cause heat buildup. These helpful products also decrease the drag on your sander motor and bearings, extending the life of your equipment.
You can purchase graphite rolls in a variety of different lengths and widths depending on your needs. These pads cover sanding machines that have flat contact elements to give you a smooth operation. They're often used with surface sanding machines in the wood and timber product industries. Graphite is also used in the woodworking trade, and it's also a popular choice for many metalworking applications as well.
Non-woven Abrasives for Smooth Surface Preparation
With a non-woven abrasive, small abrasive grains are bonded to flexible nylon fibers to give you a more controlled and consistently smooth finish. These abrasives tend to have an open-weave finish for a constant supply of new grain as the older fibers and grains start to wear down.
Many non-woven abrasive products feature a flexible, spring-like design that reduces or eliminates undercutting or gouging the material you're working with. Like many other surface preparation products, non-woven abrasives come in several different subcategories.
Flexible clean and finish non-woven abrasives are typically designed for hand operations. These surface prep accessories are not as strong as some other products due to less grain, fiber, and resin being used to produce them. They typically come in the form of hand pads, sheets, or rolls for manual operation.
If you need something designed for machine use that can withstand higher RPM's, look for high-strength non-woven abrasives. These products are made with strong nylon fibers and a higher volume of resin for more durability. Using several discs of these products together can remove small burs on threaded parts like screws, and they also work well to create a smooth satin finish on parts that have an irregular shape for a consistent appearance.
If you need to change a product's surface without removing or damaging the base material, look for surface conditioning non-woven abrasives that typically come in the form of discs or belts. To remove coatings from things like metal, wood, or plastic, try an extra coarse abrasive that's effective at removing paint and rust.
Non-woven Abrasive Wheels
Convolute wheels are an excellent surface prep tool if you want to polish something and make it shine. These products are made by wrapping and bonding a special web material with abrasive grain and resin around a central core. The wheel must be used in the direction that the arrow indicates to get the correct results, but they're easy to use and highly effective when done right.
A unitized wheel is made by pressing the web material with the abrasive grains and resin into a slab, and then wheels are cut from the slab. You can run a unitized wheel in either direction and there are no arrows printed on them, which makes them a more versatile option in some applications.
The benefit of these specific surface prep products is that they are perfect for finishing. Many products are waterproof, washable, and durable enough for long-term use. They also resist rusting and are non-conductive, and they're a perfect choice when you need to leave a smooth, beautiful finish.
Wire Brushes and Nylon Brushes
Brushes made of stiff wire or nylon can be used in a wide variety of applications. These surface preparation accessories are available in a huge range of sizes, shapes, and can fit on an assortment of different tools depending on the application it's used for.
Wire and nylon brushes are often used for cleaning and can help with removing loose rust, loose mill scale, dirt, and other foreign matter from steel and other surfaces. Using a brush will help you prepare a surface for painting or finishing by ensuring a clean, smooth surface.
Aside from surface prep applications, brushes are also a great tool cleaning accessory. Welders often use wire brushes to remove contaminants before finishing or between weld passes. The tip of the brush does most of the work and functions as a mini hammer to help clean and prep the work surface.
When using a wire or nylon brush, maintaining the correct pressure is the key to ensure that it works the way it should. If you put too much pressure on the brush, it can bend the wires and prevent the tips from working correctly which can lead to wire breakage and a reduction of brush life.
All surface prep brushes come in a range of knot styles, trim lengths, and wire gauges. This allows you to fine-tune the brush performance to suit your needs and the specific application. Stringer bead brushes have narrow knots from the base to the top which makes them ideal for penetrating tight spaces like corners and cracks.
A cable-twist brush features a twist all the way to the tip, but with a wider profile. This allows the brush to cover a wider surface area. Standard twist brushes typically flare out at the end for an even wider coverage area and better flexibility.
For effective paint and rust removal, a crimped-wire brush is ideal. These brushes work well for surface prep where you need to ensure good paint adhesion to your product. Wheel brushes are better suited for small and tight surface areas, and cup brushes do well covering large, wider surfaces since they can clean these areas in one pass.
Other Surface Preparation Products
Every industry has specific requirements to ensure a well-prepped surface and a high-quality finished product. In most cases, you will need a surface prep product for steel, wood, concrete, plastic, or aluminum.
Aside from using wheels, grinders, and other abrasives, you may also need specific products that help you prepare for this step in the process. Paint removers and solvents can help to quickly dissolve old layers of paint and other products that must be removed before you can prep the new surface.
You may need these items to clean a surface of any imperfections, organic matter, residue, rust or oxidation, or other prior finishes that were previously applied. Once all of the residues are removed, the surface is ready to be smoothed, sanded, or otherwise treated before taking on a new finish.
For concrete surface preparation, you may need to use heavy machinery such as blasters or grinders in order to get the right results. Clean concrete thoroughly and make sure that all residue and grime are completely removed before refinishing floors or applying products to the material.
Almost every premature coating failure is a result of improper or incomplete surface prep. Take your time when working with materials and remove loose dirt, grime, and leftover paint or other finishes so that you have a new surface to work with. If you paint over loose particles and grime, the new finish will not adhere. Even tiny traces of dirt can get in the way of your coating's ability to stick to the surface and look the way it should.
Always clean surfaces using a specific cleaning solution to remove any dirt, oil, and other contaminants. Remove rust or rough edges when applicable to help you achieve a flawless finish for the end product.
Whether you use a grinder, a nylon or wire brush, sanding wheels, chemicals, or a scraper, all of these surface preparation tools play a vital role in achieving a perfect finish. While every industry has different, specific standards, it's common knowledge that proper surface preparation is vital to ensuring you get the right finish in the end.
Prepare Your Surface the Right Way
Whether it's wood or metal, concrete or plastic, using the right surface preparation products will help you get a smooth and even finish. Be sure to read the specifics of each product to ensure that you're choosing the right one for your needs and your specific industry.
From wire brushes and grinding wheels to sandpaper and other abrasives, these products are constantly adapting to meet the needs of the consumer and industries as a whole. Make sure you're following current industry standards and guidelines so you know you're getting the correct finish for your business.
For more information about surface prep products and to shop our current selection, visit our website and feel free to contact us with any questions.