What’s sandblasting?

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Sandblasting is the process of using fine particles at high speeds to clean or etch a surface. Sand is no longer used due to the risk of lung disease, and other materials are used instead. Sandblasting is used for cleaning surfaces and etching designs into glass. It was patented in the US in 1870 and is commonly used for priming surfaces before painting. Glass decoration using sandblasting is popular, with two main techniques: etching and carving. The cost of sandblasting equipment varies depending on the project’s scope.

Sandblasting is a general term used to describe the act of pushing very fine pieces of material at high speed to clean or etch a surface. Sand used to be the most commonly used material, but since the lung disease silicosis is caused by prolonged inhalation of the dust created by sand, other materials are now used in its place. Any small, relatively uniform particle 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, blasting is carefully controlled, using an alternative air supply, protective clothing and adequate ventilation.

A blasting setup usually consists of three different parts: the abrasive itself, an air compressor, and a blasting nozzle. Etching and cleaning small items also requires a workstation to hold the piece of glass, as well as some sort of collector to collect excess dust. Sandblasting is primarily used for two slightly different applications. The first of these is to clean a surface of anything that might be stuck to it. The second is to etch or etch designs or words into glass or a similar material.

The first sandblasting process was patented in the United States in 1870. As a cleaning method, it is often used for priming a surface for applying paint or sealant. When you paint, you don’t want to trap dust, dirt, or bubbles in a previous coat of paint or other imperfections under the new coat. By hurling small pieces of abrasive across the surface at high speed, any imperfections are removed and can then be easily washed away, creating an incredibly smooth surface on which to apply the new coat of paint. Sandblasting can also be used for projects like cleaning ship hulls or large structures like the Golden Gate Bridge.

In glass decoration, sandblasting is a wonderfully popular technique, with few substitutes. While hand engraving is possible, it takes a lot of time and money, and laser engraving has a number of flaws that make it a questionable choice. There are two main ways sandblasting is used to decorate glass: etching and carving.

In glass etching, the abrasive is lightly sandblasted into the glass to make the glass semi-opaque. This ‘whiting’ or ‘snowfall’ of the glass can be used to great effect to produce words or images. By adjusting the sandblasting speed and the angle from which the abrasive is launched, different nuances can be created, allowing for real works of art. Glass is carved by constantly sandblasting the surface through a stencil which protects the areas you don’t want to carve. Sandblasting as a carving technique can be very nuanced, with varying depths and angles of the cut creating a variety of lighting effects that can be quite beautiful.

The cost of sandblasting equipment greatly depends on the scope of the projects envisaged. A small home glass carving rig can be purchased relatively inexpensively, while a system with a cabinet that can handle larger glass pieces and more nuanced blasting can cost significantly more. A professional-grade sandblasting setup is likely to be quite expensive. Industrial grade sandblasting equipment also varies in cost, again depending on the scale and scope of the projects to be completed.

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