August 29, 2006

The History of Abrasives

Think of a product. Any product. Somewhere in the making of that product an abrasive application takes place. The use of abrasives goes back almost since the beginning of recorded history. Prehistoric men, for example, sharpened their tools and weapons by rubbing them together.

Stone used in building the Pyramids of Egypt were smoothed with a naturally "bonded" abrasive--sandstone! Around 2100 B.C. a creative Egyptian engineer mounted a circular wheel on a crude sort of lathe and ground bronze tools and ornaments, launching the art of cylindrical grinding. During the Middle Ages, armor and swords were ground and polished. The first recorded manufacture of coated abrasives goes back to the 13th century when the Chinese used natural gums to bind crushed seashells to parchment.

At the turn of the century, coated abrasives took a giant step forward with the development of the new electric furnace grains, silicon carbide and aluminum oxide. Over the years, sanding became even more popular as a number of new products emerged on the scene and on the production line. Sanding had an impact on all these products--wood and metal as well as glass. Henry Ford, for example, did more for the metal grinding industry than anyone in history.

Ford realized that an ounce of extra weight in any part acted and reacted upon every part. His demand for light parts of great strength created the first big tonnage of alloy steels, whose sensitivity to heat treatment not only fulfilled his requirement of strength without weight but called for grinding to finish instead of cutting with metal tools.

Through the Industrial Revolution, the post-World War II economic boom and a surging economy in the 1990's, abrasives have always been a part of the production process, and they will continue to do so in this millennium.

Information for this article was taken from Chapter 1 "The History of Abrasives" in the Abrasives Product Training Manual published by the Industrial Distribution Association awhile back. The IDA has now merged with the Industrial Supply Association. To learn more about this resource for distributors, visit For more information on abrasives and sandpaper, please check out our website at:

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