Tips for Off-hand Abrasive Belt Grinding Safety

Norton abrasive belts have an excellent safety record. However, as with any power tools, you do have to be careful when you're working; the very power that makes these abrasive belts a great choice for grinding and sanding also makes it necessary to treat them properly.
Expertise - Abrasive Belt Safety - Offhand Grinding


Safe Storage and Handling

Staying safe starts before your machine is turned on, with proper storage and handling of the belts. When your abrasive belts arrive, give the package a once-over to make sure it's in good shape. Look for any breaks, tears or other signs that the contents may have been damaged during shipping. A damaged or frayed belt isn't safe to use, so your best option is to return any items that don't look exactly the way they should.

Once you've opened the package, be careful with the belts. Don't drop or drag abrasives across surfaces; at the very least, this dulls their surfaces, and it can cause serious damage that renders them unfit for service. When transporting, be careful not to drop them and never use hooks to carry or move them.

Keep all of your coated abrasives in a cool, dry place. The best storage conditions will always be between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or 15 to 29 degrees Celsius), and somewhere between 40 and 50 percent humidity. We suggest storing your belts in a raised cabinet with doors; this keeps them out of direct sunlight and away from water, and four or more inches above concrete floors. Also, ensure you are rotating your stock of abrasive belts on a first-in, first-out basis, to ensure you're cycling through your supply in the order in which you receive them.

Always read the manufacturer's instructions before using any abrasives. While you may have a lot of experience with grinding and sanding, every belt is a little bit different, and it pays to know exactly what your abrasives need to stay in good shape.


Safety Gear

Your high school shop teacher wasn't kidding when he told you always to wear safety gear while working with tools. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is indispensable when you work with spinning abrasives. The details of what to wear vary with the job you're doing, the tools you're using and the conditions you're working under, but some things are universal.

Always wear eye protection while you're using a power tool. At the speed these abrasives spin, even a little bit of grit in the eye can be a real problem. Carry goggles with you in the shop, and wear a proper face shield when it's your turn on the belt sander. You also need some kind of hearing protection, so be sure to wear ear plugs while sanding..

Always protect your skin by wearing long pants and sleeves in the shop. Get a good pair of work gloves for your hands, and always wear an apron to keep grit, chemicals and sparks away from your clothing while your attention is on the tools you're working with.

Lastly, remember to protect your lungs while you work by using a dust mask or respirator approved by NIOSH for your particular job. Even when you are not grinding, it is a good policy to keep a mask handy whenever you’re on the shop floor, just in case.

Abrasive Belt Grinding Safety - PPE


Machine Precautions

Now that both you and your coated abrasives are in good shape and ready to work, it's a good idea to review the precautions you should be taking every time you fire things up.

For starters, it's your responsibility to know and comply with all OSHA rules for your shop. These cover details such as latent noise levels, indoor air quality, machine guarding, handling hazardous materials, among other health and safety issues. Post these rules somewhere everybody can see them, and make sure everyone is trained to spot potential hazards before they turn into problems.

Tag and lock out all of your machines between uses. It's easy to let this slide, but it's an essential part of running an accident-free workshop. Read and apply all of the relevant manufacturer's instructions for each piece of equipment.

Don't ever let an untrained or inexperienced worker operate a grinder or sander without supervision. There's no such thing as too much education for your people. Check the condition of the machine before use. Look for broken parts or signs of wear. Lock the safety hood in place and give it a tug to check its placement. This hood needs to protect the operator if the belt breaks or the sparks start flying. You should also have a deflector within 0.25 inches of the sanding surface.

Inspect the machine's built-in ventilation system. High-speed abrasion can toss up a lot of fumes, exhaust and dust, so the vacuum system must be adequate to handle the volume. Be prepared to handle any kind of hazardous material discharge with the stained or painted surfaces you're working on.


Proper Mounting

After you have checked out your machine and belt and ensured they are in good condition, it is time to mount. You want to make sure you match your belt to your machine before you begin by ensuring your machine is wide enough for the belt to be lined up with the drive and idler rolls and that the belt can slip on with no damage. Also, If you are using a belt with overlap joints, make sure the arrow on the backing of the belt is pointed in the running direction of the contact wheel before you begin.

Start the mounting process by slipping the belt over the pulleys with the tensioner retracted and the steering device centered. The belt should slip right on without tearing or cracking. After you have slipped the belt onto the pulleys, adjust it so it fully covers the face of the contact wheel.

After your belt is in place, the tension needs to be increased and power applied in pulses. You should always follow the machine manufacturer’s tensioning guideline. Be sure you check the tension before firing up the machine every time; too little tension gives you a slack belt, which is dangerous, while too much tension may tear the belt, which is also dangerous. None of the pulleys or other moving parts should wobble or look misaligned.

Fire up the machine and let it run for 60 seconds with all guards in place to test the belt. While it's spinning, listen for clicks or other odd noises that could indicate a problem. If all seems well, go ahead and start working.


While You're Working

From a safety perspective, how you work is as important as what you're working on. Approach the machine from the front and stand in a stable position. Raise the item you're sanding to the belt in an upward motion that carries the object away from your body and directs debris into the hood. Avoid contact with the abrasive surface and the belt edge, as touching a belt while it is moving can cause serious injury.

While working, you should intermittently stop the belt and visually inspect for signs of wear or damage.

While accidents are, by definition, not planned, the safety of your shop is in your hands. By following these simple safety precautions, you can minimize the risk of an accident and maximize the efficiency of your whole shop floor. Review the ANSI and OSHA guidelines on this topic for more information, and if you have any questions, reach out to your abrasive and machine suppliers for any available literature and tips.