Which Grinding Wheel Should I Choose?

Selecting the right grinding wheel for your project is important and with an almost incomprehensible array of products to choose from, it can present a challenge. That’s why we have put together this definitive overview to guide you into making the most informed choice possible.

This guide covers:

What is a grinding wheel?

A grinding wheel is a precision tool with thousands of cutting points on its surface - abrasive grains that are held in place by a bond matrix (hence these are known as bonded abrasives) and separated by pores.

These pores are hollow spaces between abrasive grains and the bond , which help with the clearance of discarded metal chips in the grinding process.

Have a burning question about grinding? Check out our grinding FAQ videos for the answer

When the wheel is in use, the abrasive grains cut into the material that is being ground, removing the unwanted surface material in small chips.

During grinding, the cutting points on the abrasive grains are worn flat; becoming increasingly blunt. At the same time, the increased friction causes a build-up of heat, which fractures the abrasive grain and exposes new cutting edges or begins to disintegrate the bond bridges that hold the abrasive grains in place.

In normal vitrified grinding, the wheel has to be dressed using a dressing tool. By varying the properties of the abrasive, the type of bond, the wheel’s construction, it is possible to produce grinding wheels with a vast range of different grinding characteristics.

What abrasives are available for grinding wheels?

There are 4 main types of abrasive grains available for grinding wheels, these are:

Ceramic Aluminium Oxide

Often referred to as just “Ceramic”, Norton Quantum’s patented ceramic form of aluminium oxide is harder and sharper than conventional abrasive grains.

This ceramic grain has a unique microcrystalline structure that is self-sharpening. This ultimately reduces the regularity that the grinding wheel needs dressing as well and providing a significantly cooler cutting action when in use.

ceramic aluminium oxide structure

Silicon Carbide

Harder than standard aluminium oxide with a very sharp abrasive grain. It is a versatile material, recommended for grinding relatively soft metals such as aluminium or cast iron but can also be used on extremely hard materials such as cemented carbide.

silicon carbide structure_reduced

Zirconia Alumina

For use in rough grinding applications where high stock removal is required. This grain is associated with high tech resin bonds.

zirconia aluminia_reduced

Aluminium Oxide

Generally recommended for grinding materials of high tensile strength, such as stainless steel and tool steels but it can also be used on some high tensile aluminium and bronze alloys.

Aluminium Oxide is manufactured in varying qualities.

Aluminium Oxide Structure#_reduced

Reading the grinding wheel

When selecting the perfect wheel for your project, it is important to know what the pictograms mean on the front blotter.

This guide will help you decipher they mean:

Reading the Grinding Disc

What grit size do I need?

When to select a coarse grit size: where the neatness of the surface finish is not essential to the project, a coarse grit can be used. Also, the coarser the grit, the more rapid the stock removal, which makes it more suitable for large areas of contact than fine gritted abrasives.

They are also the best option for soft, ductile and stringy materials such as soft steel and aluminium.

When to select a fine grit size: fine grits are used when the finish is integral to the success of the project.

Also, choose a finer grit when the project requires a closer, more precise operation over a smaller area of contact. Hard and potentially brittle materials such as glass, tool steel, and cemented carbide are most suited to the finer gritted abrasive.

What grinding wheel grade should I choose?

The grade indicates the relative holding power of the bond, which holds abrasive grains in a wheel.

Soft Grades:

• For hard materials such as hard tool steels & carbides

• For large areas of contact

• For rapid stock removal.

Hard Grades:

• For soft materials

• For small or narrow areas on contact

• For longer wheel life.

Grinding wheelSelecting the right grinding wheel

There are nine main factors to be considered when selecting a grinding wheel for any application:

1. What material will you be grinding and how hard is it?

2. What stock needs to be removed from the material?

3. Work out the shape of the material and the surface finish (or finishes) that are required.

4. What type of machine will you be using? Pay attention to its power and its conditions.

5. What wheel speeds and feeds will be involved? (Norton products are designed and tested for certain applications and operating speeds.

In the interest of safety, please take the time to ensure that the operating speed of the machine does not exceed the maximum operating speed as it is marked on any given product.

6. Determine the size and hardness of the grinding contact area.

7. Will your grinding operation be a wet or dry process?

8. What is the severity of the grinding required?

9. What is the dressing method?

What material will you be grinding?

The type of material affects the selection of abrasive, grit size and grade.

  • Alumina type abrasives are the most suitable for grinding high tensile materials such as steel and ferritic cast irons. The more friable types of alumina are preferred on harder steels and applications having large arcs of contact.
  • Low tensile strength materials and non-metallic materials are most efficiently ground or cut with silicon carbide abrasive. The hardness of the material governs the amount of penetration that can be achieved by the abrasive.
  • For this reason, finer grit sized wheels are required to grind hard materials and soft materials are best ground with medium to coarse grit size wheels. For most efficient operation, the grade must be adjusted to suit the hardness of the material.

As a general guide, the harder the material, the softer the grade of wheel required.

Stock/material to be removed

  • High stock removal rates, as in fettling operations, require coarse grit wheels, typically 12 to 24 mesh.
  • Fine finishes and tight limits on finished workpiece geometry require finer grit sizes. Final surface finish is often achieved by ‘spark out’ where no further infeed is applied and the wheel is allowed to grind until the majority of the grinding sparks cease.


Hopefully this guide has helped you make in making the most informed choice possible. 

In most cases (particularly within maintenance, repair and operations) you would typically use a grinding wheel on an angle grinder. 
Our article on angle grinders explains why they should be an essential item in any toolbox, shed, or workshop.

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If you have some specific questions about grinding, why not try our new grinding FAQ section or send us an email.

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