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What is Sandblasting?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sandblasting is a general term used to describe the act of propelling very fine bits of material at high-velocity to clean or etch a surface. Sand used to be the most commonly used material, but since the lung disease silicosis is caused by extended inhalation of the dust created by sand, other materials are now used in its place. Any small, relatively uniform particles will work, such as steel grit, copper slag, walnut shells, powdered abrasives, even bits of coconut shell. Due to the dangers of inhaling dust during the process, sandblasting is carefully controlled, using an alternate air supply, protective wear, and proper ventilation.

A sandblasting setup usually consists of three different parts: the abrasive itself, an air compressor, and a blaster nozzle. For etching and small object cleaning, a workstation to hold the piece of glass is also needed, as is some sort of collector to gather up excess dust. Sandblasting is primarily used for two somewhat different applications. The first of these is to clean a surface of anything that may be clinging to it. The second is to either etch or carve designs or words into glass or a similar material.

The first sandblasting process was patented in the US in 1870. As a cleaning method, it is often used for priming a surface for the application of paint or a sealant. When painting, one doesn't want to trap dust, dirt, or bubbles in a previous layer of paint, or other imperfections under the new layer. By launching small bits of abrasive at the surface at a high speed, all imperfections are knocked loose and can then be easily washed off, creating an incredibly smooth surface upon which to lay the new layer of paint. Sandblasting may also be used for such projects as cleaning the hulls of ships or large structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge.

In decorating glass, sandblasting is a wonderfully popular technique, with few substitutes. While hand-etching is possible, it is incredibly time consuming and expensive, and laser-etching has a range of flaws which make it a questionable choice. There are two main ways in which sandblasting is used to decorate glass: etching and carving.

In glass etching, abrasive is blasted at the glass lightly to turn the glass semi-opaque. This 'whiting' or 'snowing' of the glass can be used to great effect to produce words or images. By adjusting the speed of the sandblasting and the angle from which the abrasive is being launched, differing shades can be created, allowing for some true works of art. Glass is carved by steadily sandblasting the surface through a stencil which protects the areas you don't want to be carved out. Sandblasting as a technique for carving can be very nuanced, with differing depths and angles of cuts creating an array of lighting effects that may be quite beautiful.

The cost of sandblasting equipment depends greatly on the scope of the projects intended. A small home glass carving setup can be acquired relatively inexpensively, while a system with a cabinet capable of handling larger pieces of glass and more nuanced sandblasting can cost significantly more. A professional-level artistic sandblasting setup will likely be quite expensive. Industry-level sandblasting equipment also varies in cost, again depending on the scale and scope of the projects to be completed.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon287327 — On Aug 24, 2012

What is the normal average output of a sandblaster in a per hour per square meter?

By anon285926 — On Aug 18, 2012

If I use a wet sandblasting system, what are the management procedures for residues and environmental

impact?

By anon271327 — On May 25, 2012

What is the sandblasted grass?

By anon259760 — On Apr 08, 2012

Is there any advantage in using steel is a nozzle material for a sand blaster?

By anon250952 — On Feb 27, 2012

After sandblasting, how do I protect the surface from corrosion for one day without painting?

By anon221992 — On Oct 14, 2011

what effects does this have on the environment?

By anon208710 — On Aug 23, 2011

I have gone through the contents of this article and would like to know:

Do we really require sand blasting on steel pipes before epoxy primer plus two coats of polyurethane paint, or can we adopt other methods to clean the surface? Kindly educate me on this subject. -- Amandeep, civil engineer, India

By anon203312 — On Aug 05, 2011

Please tell how the process happens in sand blasting in steam turbines.

By anon171744 — On May 01, 2011

is it OK to sandblast a house made of wood?

By anon161975 — On Mar 22, 2011

i want to sandblast a logo in glass, but the thing is, the customer needs this logo in color. It is possible or not?

By anon158159 — On Mar 06, 2011

what is the method to select grit size, air pressure and nozzle distance to get Rz 20 to 25 micron on steel of hardness 40 -45 HRC.

By anon101290 — On Aug 02, 2010

My neighbor had his entire house sandblasted and 80 year old paint was removed. While the contractors protected themselves, the corn husk sand went all over my house, grass, bushes, etc. I needed to hose down my house everyday for two weeks. I closed my windows but the sand went everywhere around my house. Should they have used some tenting to protect my neighbors and me from the paint and sand? P.S. I am 10 feet away from my neighbor's house.

By anon91245 — On Jun 20, 2010

I use sandblasting when restoring cars. It works great on steel. It will remove paint very easily but if there is thick protective coating it is best to use a scraper to get that off before you start blasting. You don't want to continually blast one spot or you will do damage to the metal.

The best way is to move in strokes. I use a pressurized container system and sand that you can buy from Lowes in a 100lb bag. You don't need to go to school to learn sandblasting. It is fairly easy to learn. Just be sure to read the manual that comes with your system because it will tell you how to use the three valves correctly.

When your sand runs out just sweep it up and use a screen to filter out any debris and then you can reuse the sand as many times as you want. I suggest using a painter's mask and wearing some big protective glasses. Hope this helps.

By anon89226 — On Jun 09, 2010

please tell how much of thick layer should I remove from a metal surface?

By anon84204 — On May 14, 2010

Can you tell me please from up to which thickness of metal plate we can use in this process?

By anon76842 — On Apr 12, 2010

My neighbor sandblasts his old rusty cars and the dust goes all over the neighborhood. Is this a callous and reckless use of sandblasting? Should he be in his garage with a vacuum system. He sweeps it into the gutter which then goes into city water.

By dennispaul — On Apr 10, 2010

what are the major types of sandblasting?

By anon68750 — On Mar 04, 2010

How can I treat sandblast contaminated with hydrocarbons? It´s diesel, to be more specific.

By anon65053 — On Feb 10, 2010

I want to learn sandblasting. Is there a trade school for it?

By anon64963 — On Feb 10, 2010

i just want to know if i am doing sand blasting on my jeep, do i need use emery paper, before any further process?

By anon61157 — On Jan 18, 2010

I want to purchase a desk that has a large clear glass 3/4" tempered clear glass top. However, I prefer a frosted top. I am in Northern NJ. Is there a facility that can offer that service? Thank you. --GGB

By ericetching — On Aug 28, 2009

adeva 1953,

sorry, the previous post was meant for anon40701.

Sea sand would work, but I would highly not recommend it because sea sand and any type of sand in general has a lot of silica that could cause silicosis.

Salt with moisture does speed up rusting, but it shouldn't be a problem if you clean the steel after blasting and there isn't moisture present. -Eric

By ericetching — On Aug 28, 2009

adeva 1953,

The two main types of sandblasters for sandblasting are pressure pot and siphon systems. Then there is also soda blasting. -Eric

By anon40701 — On Aug 10, 2009

please tell me the types of sand blasting?

By adevas1953 — On May 13, 2009

Can you use normal sea sand for sand blasting of steel structures? What are the ill effects the salt in sand on the steel surface? What are the acceptable specifications of sand for blasting steel surfaces?

By mjpenn — On Oct 08, 2008

I would like to know the history of bead/sandblasting. what year did it start, who established the first company, what the first machine(s) looked like and the materials they used. How it has changed throughout these years.

How much competitions / companies are using this technique. Oh so many questions. Anybody know the History?

By anon18556 — On Sep 25, 2008

What is the environmental effect grit has on the environment.

By tdogg11 — On May 05, 2008

Sand blasting a garage floor. The floor has tile installed with a past backing. I'm guessing it was done when home was built approx 35 years ago. The tile is cracking and parts are starting to show the concrete floor with the black tar look. I want to clean the look of my floor and don't know how to proceed. i would like to put that paint epoxy they recommend for floors. I also thought maybe putting tile down again. The paint idea when i contacted the epoxy company tells me i need to clean floor but won't warranty the installation. Which may be the case no matter what I do. Do you have suggestion to what I may have to do. Thanks

By elsewhen — On Apr 01, 2008

to anon518: the frequency which you conduct the sandblasting isn't really an issue. the factors to consider are:

1) the thickness of the material

2) the abrasiveness of the sandblasting media

3) the total amount of time you spend sandblasting the chair.

patio chairs are usually made out of tubular material, and the wall thicknesses used by manufacturers varies greatly.

if you use 'mild' sandblasting media to ensure that you are not removing significant amounts of the underlying material, you probably won't run into too much difficulty.

you might consider sandblasting all the coating off, and once you have completely clean chairs, to apply a new coating of something. if you sandblast thoroughly, and then apply a couple coats of high-quality rust-free paint, for example, you shouldn't have to refinish the chairs for years to come.

By surrealife — On Mar 17, 2008

I'm interested in learning about using walnut or coconut shells in a compressor/blaster as an alternative material for sandblasting. Where could I get info on the correct particle size/consistency of walnut/coconut shells for this purpose, where to buy pre-ground product or how to produce my own?

By anon8943 — On Feb 24, 2008

how about the mechanism of transmission in a sand blasting machine?

By anon7542 — On Jan 29, 2008

How can you measure the finished surfaces?

By anon6547 — On Jan 02, 2008

How can we classify the result of sandblasting?

By anon6489 — On Dec 31, 2007

i want to know about sand blasting grading, specifically about the stage of result after blasting.

By sundayrocky — On May 04, 2007

What is a sander?

By anon518 — On Apr 26, 2007

How often can one sandblast aluminum patio chairs? Will repeated sandblasting harm the furniture?

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