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Hard, fine particles used to polish metals, stone, wood, glass, and other materials. Naturally occurring materials used as abrasives include Diamond, Emery, Corundum, Sand, Garnet, Quartz, Pumice, diatomite, Kaolin, Fuller's earth, Talc, Chalk, and cuttlefish bone. Manufactured materials used as abrasives include Silicon carbide, Aluminum oxide, Zirconium oxide, Titanium dioxide, green rouge (Chromic oxide), Stannic oxide, cerium oxide, Glass, Boron carbide, boron nitride, and Synthetic diamond. Abrasives are sold as powders, slurries, and as abrasive cloths, papers, and wheels. They are characterized by hardness and particle size. Their hardness can be measured on the Mohs' scale in which the diamond is rated as a 10. Mild abrasives, such as chalk and talc, have a hardness of 1-3 Mohs. Diamond and silicon carbide are hard abrasives. Particle size depends on the mesh of the sieves used for separation, i.e. a 600 grit abrasive contains particles 8 micrometers and smaller.

Synonyms and Related Terms

diamond; emery; corundum; sand; garnet; quartz; pumice; diatomite; kaolin; fuller's earth; talc; chalk; cuttlefish bone; silicon carbide; aluminum oxide; zirconium oxide; titanium dioxide; green rouge; chromic oxide; tin oxide; cerium oxide; glass; boron carbide; boron nitride; steel wool; abrasive paper; lubrisil, micromesh; abrasive powder; crocus powder; jewelers rouge; rottenstone; tripoli powder; whiting; Schleifmittel (Deut.); abrasif (Fr.);


Compound Names Chemical classification Source Color Hardness Density Particle size Commercial product names
diamond balla, bort, carbonado carbon Naturally occuring primarily in Africa, southeast Asia, South America and Australia; Synthetic-made in 1955 transparent to black 10.0 3.51-3.53
emery corundum; emery flour, jeweler's emery oxide Natural mixture of corundum and magnetite; used since ancient times black 8.0-9.0 3.7-4.3 Carborundum
silicon dioxide sand, silica, quartz, glass, flint, chert, tripoli powder oxide Naturally occuring world-wide clear to opaque 5.5-7.0 2.2-2.6 Silex
garnet pyrope, almandine, carbuncle silicate Mineral red 6.5-7.5 3.52-4.32
pumice potassium aluminum silicate silcate Natural volcanic mineral-used since ancient times gray 6.0-6.5
diatomite diatomaceous earth, fossil flour, siliceous earth, infusorial earth, silicate Mineral skeletons of water plants gray 1.9-2.35 Snow Floss, Celite®, Sil-O-Cel, Super-Cel, Kenite®, Diactiv®, Primisil®
kaolin kaolinite, China clay, Devonshire clay, bolus alba, procelain clay, argilla, fuller's earth silicate Naturally occuring world-wide white 2.0 - 2.5 2.6-2.63
talc talcum, soapstone, steatite, asbestine, tailors chalk silicate Naturally occuring world-wide white, gray or green 1.0 2.5-2.8 2.0
calcium carbonate chalk, whiting, calcite carbonate Naturally occuring in most part's of the world as marble, limestone, and sea shells white 3.0 1.8-2.7
iron oxide hematite, colcothar, crocus powder, ferric oxide, jeweler's rouge, optical rouge oxide Naturally occuring world-wide. Used since ancient times red 5.5 - 6.5 4.2-5.3
silicon carbide Carborundum carbide Synthetic-discovered in 1884 green to black 9.0-9.5 3.22-3.23 Micromesh, Carborundum, Unirundum, Carbofrax
aluminum oxide alumina, corundum, sapphire oxide Mineral (corundum); Synthetic-first made in 1888 white 8.8-9.0 2.8-4.0 Alundum®, Aloxite, Bauxilite
titanium dioxide titania oxide Mineral (rutile); Synthetic-anatase made in 1906; rutile made in 1938 white 6.0-6.5 4.26 0.2-0.5 micrometers Titanox; Unitane
zirconium oxide zircon, zirconia oxide Mineral (baddeleyite); synthetic white 5.85
chromic oxide chromia, green rouge oxide Synthetic-first made in 1809 dull green 0.1-1.0 micrometers
stannic oxide putty powder, jeweler's putty, tin dioxide oxide Mineral (cassiterite) white 6.0-7.0 6.6-6.9
cerium oxide ceric oxide, ceria oxide brown Ceriorouge
tungsten carbide carbide
boron carbide carbide Synthetic black 9.0 2.60
metal wool steel wool, bronze wool metal
rottenstone silicate
feldspar silicate Naturally occuring world-wide.
plant products walnut shells, rice husk, dusting powder (cellulose) cellulose
animal products fish skin, horse tail, horse hair
whetstone oilstone, snakestone, honestone, rubbing stone, coticule, Ayr stone


Properties of Common Abrasives (Excel)

Properties of Common Abrasives (pdf)

Resources and Citations

  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 4
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • Robert Fournier, Illustrated Dictionary of Practical Pottery, Chilton Book Company, Radnor, PA, 1992
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • Tom Rowland, Noel Riley, A-Z Guide to Cleaning, Conserving and Repairing Antiques, Constable and Co., Ltd., London, 1981