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Sandblasting beads are typically small, manufactured spheres of glass that are forced through a blasting machine and onto an intended surface. These beads offer an alternative finishing appearance on a number of different substrates, compared to common sand grit. In addition, the harmless glass spheres also allow workers to use this blasting media indoors.
During the blasting process, an air compressor is attached to a sandblasting machine. Within the sandblaster resides numerous glass beads; the compressor forces the beads out of the machine at high velocities as they strike a surface. A worker will slowly move the machine back and forth until the entire surface has been treated with the sandblasting beads. As a result, the surface becomes indented with small depressions that create a reflective appearance.
Many sandblasting professionals prefer glass beads since they do not cause a lot of damage to the targeted surface. The beads' spherical shape does not cut into the surface like a sharp sand grit; the grit media can chip and harm a surface. Sandblasting beads gently peen the surface to produce a sheen, such as on a metallic substrate. The numerous indentations allow light to reflect from the depressions at different angles. As a result, the surface appears shiny.
These beads are also available in different sizes, limited only by the sandblasting machine's nozzle opening. Smaller beads move through the sandblaster at a rapid pace for faster project completion, compared to larger beads sizes. The worker must decide which bead size is applicable for the particular project; large beads produce a wider indentation across a surface, whereas small spheres generate numerous depressions for an understated appearance.
Another advantage of sandblasting beads is their silica-free composition. Silica sand can emanate through the surrounding air after striking a surface; this dusty mineral can cause respiratory ailments in workers and nearby observers, but the sandblasting beads of glass do not produce any dust residue. As a result, this blasting media can be used indoors without any fear of affecting people's respiratory systems.
Potential buyers of sandblasting beads should be aware of poor manufacturing processes. Some factories recycle the glass beads with harmful heavy metals, such as lead. These beads are more inexpensive to the consumer, but can emit harmful toxins from the heavy metal inclusion; it is good practice to research a bead supplier before purchasing any glass material to ensure that sandblasting workers and clientele are not in harm's way.
@Melonlity -- Aluminum oxide is the most common sandblasting media and it can also be recycled at least a few times. It is considerably cheaper than glass beads, too.
However, one of the drawbacks of aluminum oxide is that it can cause a lot of damage to the surface being blasted if one isn't careful. As the article states, glass beads are a lot less damaging and that is why you will often see them in use in auto paint shops. Blasting off an old coat of paint with glass beads is a very efficient way to make sure the new paint sticks and the cars surface is revealed so that any repairs can be made before priming and painting.
There is another advantage to using glass beads. Those can be recycled several times and used again. High quality beads are good enough to hold up to perhaps two dozen sandblasting sessions. You can really save some money that way.
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