Most grinding wheels are made of silicon carbide or aluminum oxide, both of which are artificial (manufactured) abrasives. Silicon carbide is extremely hard but brittle. Aluminum oxide is slightly softer but is tougher than silicon carbide. It dulls more quickly, but it does not fracture easily therefore it is better suited for grinding materials of relatively high tensile strength.


Abrasive grains are selected according to the mesh of a sieve through which they are sorted. For example, grain number 40 indicates that the abrasive grain passes through a sieve having approximately 40 meshes to the linear inch. A grinding wheel is designated coarse, medium, or fine according to the size of the individual abrasive grains making up the wheel.


Bond. The abrasive particles in a grinding wheel are held in place by the bonding agent. The percentage of bond in the wheel determines, to a great extent, the “hardness” or “grade” of the wheel. The greater the percentage and strength of the bond, the harder the grinding wheel will be. “Hard” wheels retain the cutting grains longer, while “soft” wheels release the grains quickly. If a grinding wheel is “too hard” for the job, it will glaze because the bond prevents dulled abrasive particles from being released so new grains can be exposed for cutting. Besides controlling hardness and holding the abrasive, the bond also provides the proper safety factor at running speed. It holds the wheel together while centrifugal force is trying to tear it apart. The most common bonds used in grinding wheels are vitrified, silicate, shellac, resinoid, and rubber.

Vitrified. A vast majority of grinding wheels have a vitrified bond. Vitrified bonded wheels are unaffected by heat or cold and are made in a greater range of hardness than any other bond. They adapt to practically all types of grinding with one notable exception: if the wheel is not thick enough, it does not withstand side pressure as in the case of thin cutoff wheels.

Silicate. Silicate bond releases the abrasive grains more readily than vitrified bond. Silicate bonded wheels are well suited for grinding where heat must be kept to a minimum, such as grinding edged cutting tools. It is not suited for heavy-duty grinding. Thin cutoff wheels are sometimes made with a shellac bond because it provides fast cool cutting.

Resinoid. Resinoid bond is strong and flexible. It is widely used in snagging wheels (for grinding irregularities from rough castings), which operate at 9,500 SFPM. It is also used in cutoff wheels.

Rubber. In rubber-bonded wheels, pure rubber is mixed with sulfur. It is extremely flexible at operating speeds and permits the manufacture of grinding wheels as thin as 0.006 inch for slitting nibs. Most abrasive cutoff machine wheels have a rubber bond.


The grade of a grinding wheel designates the hardness of the bonded material. Listed below are examples of those grades:

The grade of hardness should be selected as carefully as the grain size. A grinding abrasive wheel that is too soft will wear away too rapidly, the abrasive grain will be discarded from the wheel before its useful life is realized. On the other hand, if the wheel is too hard for the job, the abrasive particles will become dull because the bond will not release the abrasive grain, and the wheel’s efficiency will be impaired.

Figure 5-8 illustrates sections of three grinding abrasive wheels with different spacing of grains. If the grain and bond materials in each of these are alike in size and hardness, the wheel with the wider spacing will be softer than the wheel with the closer grain spacing. Thus, the actual hardness of the grinding wheel is equally dependent on grade of hardness and spacing of the grains or structure.

Figure 5-8. Grinding wheel abrasive.


Bond strength of a grinding wheel is not wholly dependent upon the grade of hardness but depends equally on the structure of the wheel, that is, the spacing of the grain or its density. The structure or spacing is measured in number of grains per cubic inch of wheel volume. See Figure 5-8.


Every grinding wheel is marked by the manufacturer with a stencil or a small tag. The manufacturers have worked out a standard system of markings, shown in Figure 5-9. For an example use a wheel marked A36-L5-V23. The A refers to the abrasive which is aluminum oxide. The 36 represents the grain size. The L shows the grade or degree of hardness, which is medium. The 5 refers to the structure of the wheel and the V refers to the bond type.



Figure 5-9. Standard system of markings.


Figure 5-10 illustrates standard shapes of grinding wheel faces. The nature of the work dictates the shape of the face to be used. For instance, shape A is commonly used for straight cylindrical grinding and shape E for grinding threads.

Figure 5-10. Standard shapes of grinding wheel faces.


Conditions under which grinding wheels are used vary considerably, and a wheel that is satisfactory on one machine may be too hard or soft for the same operation on another machine. The following basic factors are considered when selecting grinding wheels, though it should be understood that the rules and conditions listed are flexible and subject to occasional exceptions.

Tensile Strength of Material

The tensile of material to be ground is the main factor in the selection of the abrasive to be used. Two types of abrasives are suited to different materials as shown below.

Silicon Carbide

Gray and chilled iron
Brass and soft bronze
Aluminum and copper
Marble and other stone
Rubber and leather
Very hard alloys
Cemented carbides
Unannealed malleable iron

Aluminum Oxide

Carbon steels
Alloy steels
High speed steels
Annealed malleable iron
Wrought iron
Hard bronzes
Factors Affecting the Grain Size

Factors Affecting the Grain Size

Grain size to be chosen when selecting a grinding wheel
depends upon the factors described below.

Factors Affecting the Grade of Hardness

The factors described below determine the proper grade of hardness of the grinding wheel.

Factors Affecting the Structure

Factors Affecting Bonding Material


Refer to Table 5-1 Appendix A  for specific requirements for typical grinding and materials (grinding wheel selection and application).


When a grinding wheel is received in the shop or removed from storage, it should be inspected closely for damage or cracks. Check a small wheel by suspending it on one finger or with a piece of string. Tap it gently with a light nonmetallic instrument, such as the handle of a screwdriver (Figure 5-11).

Figure 5-11. Checking for cracks.

Check a larger wheel by striking it with a wooden mallet. If the wheel does not give a clear ring, discard it. All wheels do not emit the same tone; a low tone does not necessarily mean a cracked wheel. wheels are often filled with various resins or greases to modify their cutting action, and resin or grease deadens the tone. Vitrified and silicate wheels emit a clear metallic ring. Resin, rubber, and shellac bonded wheels emit a tone that is less clear. Regardless of the bond, the sound of a cracked wheel is easy to identify.


The proper mounting of a grinding wheel is very important. An improperly mounted wheel may become potentially dangerous at high speeds.

The specified wheel size for the particular grinding machine to be used should not be exceeded either in wheel diameter or in wheel width. Figure 5-12 illustrates a correctly mounted grinding wheel.

Figure 5-12. Correctly mounted wheel.

The following four items are methods and procedures for mounting grinding wheels:


Grinding wheels wear unevenly under most general grinding operations due to uneven pressure applied to the face of the wheel when it cuts. Also, when the proper wheel has not been used for certain operations, the wheel may become charged with metal particles, or the abrasive grain may become dull before it is broken loose from the wheel bond. [n these cases, it is necessary that the wheel be dressed or trued to restore its efficiency and accuracy.

Dressing is cutting the face of a grinding wheel to restore its original cutting qualities. Truing is restoring the wheel’s concentricity or reforming its cutting face to a desired shape. Both operations are performed with a tool called an abrasive wheel dresser (Figure 5- 13).

Figure 5-13. Dressing tools.

Mechanical Dresser. The hand-held mechanical dresser has alternate pointed and solid discs which are loosely mounted on a pin. This dresser is used to dress coarse-grit wheels and wheels used in hand grinding operations.

Abrasive Stick Dresser. The abrasive stick dresser comes in two shapes: square for hand use, and round for mechanical use. It is often used instead of the more expensive diamond dresser for dressing shaped and form wheels. It is also used for general grinding wheel dressing.

Abrasive Wheel Dresser. The abrasive wheel dresser is a bonded silicon carbide wheel that is fastened to the machine table at a slight angle to the grinding wheel and driven by contact with the wheel. This dresser produces a smooth, clean-cutting face that leaves no dressing marks on the work.

Diamond Dresser. The diamond dresser is the most efficient for truing wheels for precision grinding, where accuracy and high finish are required.

A dresser may have a single diamond or multiple diamonds mounted in the end of a round steel shank. Inspect the diamond point frequently for wear. It is the only usable part of the diamond, and is worn away it cannot dress the wheel properly.

Slant the diamond 3° to 15° in the direction of rotation and 30° to the plane of the wheel as shown in Figure 5-14 to prevent chatter and gouging. Rotate the diamond slightly in it’s holder between dressing operations to keep it sharp. A dull diamond will force the abrasive grains into the bond pores and load the face of the wheel, reducing the wheel’s cutting ability.

Figure 5-14. Position of diamond dresser.

When using a diamond dresser to dress or true a grinding wheel, the wheel should be turning at, or slightly less than, normal operating speed never at the higher speed. For wet grinding, flood the wheel with coolant when you dress or true it. For dry grinding, the wheel should be dressed dry. The whole dressing operation should simulate the grinding operation as much as possible. Whenever possible, hold the dresser by some mechanical device. It is a good idea to round off wheel edges with a handstone after dressing to prevent chipping. This is especially true of a fine finishing wheel. Do not round off the edges if the work requires sharp corners. The grinding wheel usually wears more on the edges, leaving a high spot towards the center. When starting the dressing or truing operation, be certain that the point of the dressing tool touches the highest spot of the wheel first, to prevent the point from digging in.

Feed the dresser tool point progressively, 0.001 inch at a time, into the wheel until the sound indicates that the wheel is perfectly true. The rate at which you move the point across the face of the wheel depends upon the grain and the grade of the wheel and the desired finish. A slow feed gives the wheel a fine finish, but if the feed is too slow, the wheel may glaze. A fast feed makes the wheel free cutting, but if the feed is too fast, the dresser will leave tool marks on the wheel. The correct feed can only be found by trial, but a uniform rate of feed should be maintained during any one pass.


Buffing and polishing wheels are formed of layers of cloth felt or leather glued or sewed together to form a flexible soft wheel.

Buffing wheels are generally softer than polishing wheels and are often made of bleached muslin (sheeting), flannel, or other soft cloth materials. The material is cut in various diameters and sewed together in sections which are put together to make up the buffing wheel. The buffing wheel is often slotted or perforated to provide ventilation.

Polishing wheels are made of canvas, felt, or leather sewed or glued together to provide various wheel grades from soft to hard. The harder or firmer wheels are generally used for heavier work while the softer and more flexible wheels are used for delicate contour polishing and finishing of parts on which corners and edges must be kept within rather strict specifications.

Buffing and polishing wheels are charged with abrasives for operation. The canvas wheels are generally suitable for use with medium grain abrasives, while felt, leather, and muslin wheels are suitable for fine grain abrasives. Buffing abrasives are usually made in the form of cakes, paste, or sticks which are applied to the wheel in this form. Polishing abrasives are fixed to polishing wheels with a glue.


A wire wheel consists of many strands of wire bound to a hub and radiating outward from the hub in the shape of a wheel. The wire wheel is used in place of a grinding wheel for cleaning operations such as removal of rust or corrosion from metal objects and for rough-polishing castings, hot-rolled steel, and so forth. The wire wheel fastens to the wheel spindle of the grinding machine in the same manner as a grinding wheel.