Metal Fabrication: The Secret To A Great Roll Cage

Stay Safe With These Cutting Wheel Best Practices

by Sally Burke

Cutting and grinding is a given when it comes to prepping sheet metal for fabrication, whether it involves sizing metal pieces for fabrication, cutting out welds or prepping surfaces for welding through grinding. Hand-held grinders outfitted with specialized cutting wheels are an increasingly common tool for these tasks thanks to their versatility and portability.

When using cutting wheels, you want to make sure you're using all the right best practices for safety's sake. The following highlights ideal practices you should follow to avoid serious injury to yourself and others around you.

RPM and Size Ratings Matter

Every cutting wheel is designed to operate at a particular rotation speed, specified in revolutions per minute or RPM. The size and RPM rating of the wheel should be in line with the rated RPM and size capability of your grinder.

The last thing you want to do is deliberately choose a cutting disc with a different RPM or size to get better performance out of your tool. Operating a wheel cutter with mismatched cutting disc size and RPM requirements could pose some safety concerns when using your tool.

Consider the Material

The speed at which you'll be able to make your cut not only depends on the metal you're cutting, but also the abrasive material used in the cutting wheel. Resin-based cutting wheels feature a broad range of abrasives, each with their own unique cutting characteristics:

  • Aluminum oxide—It's the most commonly used abrasive in cutting wheels and it's ideal for cutting through various types of steel and iron, including carbon steel and wrought iron.
  • Silicon carbide—Ideal for cutting non-ferrous metals, silicon carbide offers an exceptionally sharp grain. However, it lacks the overall durability of aluminum oxide and other similar abrasives.
  • Zirconia alumina—Made from a varying percentage of aluminum oxide and zirconium oxide, this abrasive offers enough durability to work on various types of steel and steel alloys, in addition to other materials.
  • Ceramic aluminum oxide—Commonly used in precision cutting and grinding, this material typically blended with other abrasives for use on a variety of materials.

The Importance of Proper Positioning

RPM and size ratings aren't the only important factors to consider when it comes to using cutting wheels. Understanding how to safely use your cutting wheel during use is also important. One factor that is of special importance when using a cutting wheel involves keeping yourself properly positioned while performing your cut.

As you make your cut, make sure the grinder remains perpendicular to the work surface, with the cutting wheel kept at a 90-degree angle. This will keep the cutting action as smooth and efficient as possible while eliminating the potential for kickback. Keeping the wheel as straight as possible during a cut also reduces the possibility of side loading, a potentially dangerous situation that is discussed in further depth below.

How to Avoid Side Loading

The thinner the cutting wheel, the more susceptible it becomes to bending during side-to-side movement during a cut. This is known as side loading and the potential consequences could prove dangerous if you're not careful. Leaning too hard into a cut could cause the wheel to bend beyond what it can safely tolerate, causing the disc to either jam within the cut or shatter completely.

Side loading is a phenomenon that becomes increasingly frequent as you use thinner cutting wheels. The best way to avoid side loading is to only apply as much pressure as needed to allow the cutting wheel to do most of the work for you. When using the proper amount of force, you'll find that you'll be able to merely guide the cutting wheel, as opposed to forcing it along the intended path of travel.

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