Abrasive Materials: Everything You Need to Know

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 19, 2022
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Abrasive means having a rough surface or texture and able to wear away materials by friction. It can be used to describe people, actions, or things like sandpaper or emery.

An abrasive is a material, often a mineral, that is used to shape or finish a workpiece through rubbing which leads to part of the workpiece being worn away. While finishing a material often means polishing it to gain a smooth, reflective surface, the process can also involve roughening as in satin, matte or beaded finishes.

In this article, I’ll explain the meaning of the word, and I’ll also share some interesting facts about it.

What is abrasive

The Abrasive Nature of Materials

When we hear the word “abrasive,” we typically think of something that causes damage or wear by scraping or grinding. It can be a physical action or a descriptive word used to describe someone’s manners. However, in the context of materials, abrasive refers to a substance that can remove surface material by grinding or rubbing.

Examples of Abrasive Materials

Abrasive materials come in different forms, sizes, and shapes, and they are produced for different purposes. Some examples of abrasive materials include:

  • Diamond: This is the hardest abrasive material and is commonly used for cutting and polishing hard surfaces.
  • Natural stone: Stones like sandstone and granite are used for sharpening knives and other cutting tools.
  • Bonded abrasives: These are abrasive compounds that are bonded together to form a grinding wheel. They are commonly used for polishing and sharpening.
  • Compounds: These are abrasive compounds that are applied to a surface to achieve a desired finish. They are commonly used for polishing and cleaning.
  • Sandpaper: This is a type of abrasive material that is used to remove surface material by scraping or grinding.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Abrasive Material

Choosing the right abrasive material is important to achieve the desired finish and to avoid causing damage to the surface being worked on. Factors to consider when choosing an abrasive material include:

  • The nature of the surface being worked on
  • The desired finish
  • The type of task being performed
  • The time and money available for the task

The Final Stage: Stropping Swords

In the case of swords, the final stage of sharpening is stropping. This involves using a leather strap coated with a fine abrasive compound to achieve a razor-sharp edge. This process is considered important for Japanese swords and is often associated with high price and quality.

The Common Misconception about Abrasive Materials

Contrary to popular belief, abrasive materials are not necessarily destructive. They allow us to achieve a smooth and clean finish on surfaces, and they can be used effectively without causing damage. The key is to choose the right abrasive material for the task at hand and to use it appropriately.

Abrasive materials are classified based on the type of cutting or grinding process they are used for. Some of the most common classifications include:

  • Grinding: This involves using abrasive materials to remove material from a workpiece.
  • Polishing: This involves using abrasive materials to improve the surface finish of a workpiece.
  • Honing: This involves using abrasive materials to smoothen and improve the accuracy of a workpiece.

Mastering the Art of Abrasives: Tips and Techniques

When it comes to abrasive materials, there are a wide range of options available. Here are some of the most common types of abrasives and their uses:

  • Natural abrasives: These include materials like sand, pumice, and emery. They are usually used for sanding, polishing, and honing.
  • Synthetic abrasives: These include silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, and boron nitride. They are typically used for grinding, cutting, and sharpening.
  • Diamond abrasives: These are considered the superior choice for polishing and sharpening due to their extreme hardness.

Choosing the Ideal Abrasive for Your Needs

When selecting an abrasive material, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Hardness: The hardness of the abrasive material should be greater than the material being worked on.
  • Shape: The shape of the abrasive material can affect the finish and efficiency of the process.
  • Size: The size of the abrasive material’s grain can also impact the finish and efficiency of the process.

Using Abrasive Materials Effectively

Here are some tips for using abrasive materials to improve your work:

  • Use the right force: Applying too much force can damage the material being worked on, while too little force may not effectively remove unwanted substances.
  • Keep it dry: Abrasive materials are usually utilized dry, as adding water or other liquids can reduce their effectiveness.
  • Mix and match: Combining different types of abrasives can create a more effective and efficient process.
  • Bonded abrasives: These are products where the abrasive material is bonded to a backing material, such as sandpaper or grinding wheels. They are classified according to the type of bonding agent used.

The History of Abrasives

The use of abrasives dates back to ancient times, with evidence of the Chinese using abrasive materials to sharpen and polish tools as far back as 3000 BC. The use of electrical power to manufacture abrasives began in the late 19th century, with the founding of the Carborundum Company. Today, abrasives are used in a wide range of industries and applications around the world.


Abrasive is a word used to describe something that’s rough and unpleasant. 

You should use abrasive materials to remove material from a surface. It’s important to choose the right abrasive for the job and to use it correctly. So, don’t be afraid to ask your abrasive friend for advice!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.