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What is Emery Paper?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Emery paper is a type of abrasive paper used to sand and polish metal. This product features a roughly-textured surface with a smooth paper backing. While emery paper looks and feels like sandpaper, these two products are actually quite different. Generally, emery products are designed for use on metal, while sandpaper is primarily used with wood. This paper is commonly used during watchmaking, jewelry making, and automotive repair or detailing.

Manufacturers make emery paper by gluing abrasive mineral particles to sheets of paper using special adhesive. Emery, a type of naturally-occurring mineral, may also be known as iron spinel or hercynite. While the most basic forms of this product feature a paper backing, emery cloths are much more common, and can be used in the same way as traditional paper versions. Manufacturers can also create emery board by applying this mineral to a wooden or cardboard backing.

Emery paper is sold in sheets of varying sizes, similar to sandpaper. Some manufacturers also attach this product to discs or sanding bits so they can be used with sanding tools. Emery cloth is typically sold in rolls, similar to bolts of fabric, which vary in size to meet the needs of different users.

Compared to sandpaper, emery paper offers greater precision and predictability. This is due to the consistent grain size of emery particles, as well as to their stable structure. These qualities make this paper the best option for high-end metal work, and also result in a more even finish or polish.

Buyers choose emery products based on the level of abrasiveness, or grit. Very course versions are designed for sanding large areas or removing large quantities of paint and rust. They can be identified by their grit number, which generally ranges between 40 and 50. Medium-grit paper is designed for general-purpose sanding, and features a grit number between 50 and 90. Fine paper is the least course, and has a grit value greater than 90. Paper with a fine grit is well-suited to finish work or metal polishing.

Many projects require users to work with several grits of emery paper in order to achieve the desired finish. For example, a course paper will be used first to remove excess metal and sand away seams. Next, a medium grit paper is used to smooth out the surface and remove any remaining impurities. Finally, a fine grit paper refines the metal and brings out its natural shine. Each of these papers can be used wet or dry depending on the final finish requirements.

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Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Jan 10, 2013

My husband has some abrasive sheets of emery paper. He even has some on discs that he attached to his sander to polish the sink.

We have a silver metal sink that had become layered with hardened residue. It had totally lost its shine, and scrubbing with cleaners didn't help much.

He spent a long time at the sink with the emery discs, and he polished it in circular motions. When he had finished, I could see the circular pattern in the metal, and it shone like it was brand new!

By Oceana — On Jan 09, 2013

I've heard of emery boards for fingernails. They have that sandpaper grit, but they are on little sticks that are just the right size for using on your nails.

I didn't know that this material was strong enough to sand metal. It does a good job with shaping my nails, but I have a feeling that emery boards use the most gentle version of the paper.

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