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Ceramic vs Aluminum Oxide vs Zirconia Abrasive Grains

Abrasive grain types

Abrasives has been utilized since the stone era when sand was used to grind, flat, and smooth them. Then, animal skins have been used for honing and sharpening blades and swords. and, now today, fabrication industries utilize various natural and artificial abrasive grains for grinding, sanding, and smoothening of material.

Abrasive grains are mainly classified based on grain hardness, size, and abrasive material. Therefore, selecting the right abrasive grain becomes more important for different grinding, woodworking, and metalworking applications.

What are Abrasive Grains?

Abrasive grains are (either natural or synthetic) hard materials used to remove excess material from the surface. Any hard minerals that are used on metal, wood, alloys, or other materials to grind or polish them are called abrasive grains. The classification of abrasives is based on either natural or synthetic abrasives. Diamond, emery, corundum are natural abrasives.

Synthetic aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, zirconium, ceramic alumina, natural diamond, and other minerals are used to design abrasive grains. These materials are called abrasive due to their hardness and sharp particle form.

The three most common types of abrasive grains are ceramic alumina, zirconia alumina, and aluminum oxide.

#1 Ceramic Alumina Abrasive

Ceramic alumina grains have the longest life and the fastest cut rate among all abrasive grains. They are a new revolution for machining industries. Ceramic abrasive grains can cut consistently and aggressively under moderate to high pressure. The color of ceramic is orange or red. Primarily used in metalworking applications. Ceramic abrasive grits range from 24 to 120.

Ceramic abrasive grains have a more fine micro-crystalline structure than aluminum oxide or zirconia abrasive grains but, ceramic grains are quite sensitive to heat and temperature.

What are Ceramic Abrasives Used For?

Ceramic abrasive grains are widely utilized to manufacture different abrasive tools. Ceramic grains coated tools are used for grinding, deburring, sanding, heavy stock removal, and metal surface conditioning. Ceramic abrasives exceptionally work on aluminum castings, mild steel mill scale, stainless steel finishing, and titanium alloys (used in the aerospace industry).

#2 Zirconium Alumina (Zirconia Abrasive)

Zirconia alumina or zirconium is also known as "Zir". Zirconia abrasives are perfect for coarse to medium grit metal work applications. Commonly zirconia abrasive is found in green or blue color. They can perform in high temperatures and pressure to refine new sharp edges. Zirconia alumina is a self-sharpening abrasive grain. Zirconia abrasive grits range from 24 to 180 (Ideally, zirconia grain work best in the grit range of 24 to 120)

What are Zirconia Abrasives Used For?

Zirconia abrasives are much stronger and can perform better than aluminum oxide grains because they are good heat resistance. This tendency makes them ideal for high-pressure machining and grinding applications. There are differences between (grinding vs machining). Zirconia abrasives are widely utilized in the steel fabrication industry. Zirconia grains are an ideal choice for manufacturing sandpapers sheets, grinding belts, and sanding discs for metal, steel grinding, and finishing.

#3 Aluminum Oxide Abrasive

Aluminum oxide is the most common and less costly abrasive grain. They are utilized for large-scale metal and woodworking applications. Aluminum oxide grains are brown or reddish, although they can also be blue, green, or yellow. Aluminum oxide is long last abrasive grain and has tough cutting edges. Aluminum oxide grits range from 24 to 600.

What are Aluminum oxide Abrasives Used For?

Aluminum oxide abrasives are utilized with different backing materials to perform belt sanding, power sanding, or hand sanding applications. As it works tremendously on wood, metals, and painted surfaces, aluminum oxide is the widely used abrasive grain. Aluminum oxide sandpapers are used for large-scale metal sanding. They are also a good choice for stainless steel finishing (white aluminum oxide) and high-end woodworking (pink aluminum oxide).

#4 Silicon Carbide Abrasive

Which is the strongest abrasive?

Silicon carbide is the strongest abrasive grain.

Silicon carbide is a large natural abrasive grain. Its natural form is long and thin. Silicon carbide is the most extremely sharp grain among all other sharp abrasive grains (for example think, you have a ball with hundreds of sharp razor blades).

What are Silicon Carbide Abrasives Used For?

Silicon carbide abrasives are excellent for making clean & sharp cuts on stainless steel and polishing stone. Silicone carbide grains are not suitable for high-pressure grinding. Despite all these benefits, silicon carbide is not widely utilized for large-scale industrial applications because these abrasive grains are comparatively more fragile and break down too easily. Silicon carbide sandpaper sheets are perfect for automotive sanding, wooden furniture finishing, and metal finishing.

Read More: Silicon Carbide vs Aluminum Oxide Abrasives

Applications of Abrasive Grain

Abrasive grains are utilized in coated and bonded abrasive forms. In a coated or bonded form grains are fused with an appropriate matrix to form grinding belts, flap disc, flap wheel, grinding wheel, and many other abrasive tools. Abrasive grains are utilized in several industrial applications including grinding, sanding, honing, sharpening, smoothening, lapping, sandblasting, etc.

The different abrasive grains are required for different applications, and this is an important factor for their high performance.

Read More: Industrial Applications of abrasives

Choosing the Right Abrasive Grain Size For The Job

Every workpiece needs the right abrasive grain size to give it a fine shape, polish, and finishing. Choosing the right abrasive grain size is important for grinding and polishing to achieve a smooth polished and finished surface.

But, How to choose the right abrasive grain size?

Let us help you, next you will find a detailed abrasive grain chart based on abrasive types, grit, tools, and applications so that you can choose the right abrasive for your job.

Table: Choosing the Right Abrasive Grain Size

Choosing the Right Abrasive Grain For The Job





Aluminum Oxide

Zirconia Alumina


Surface Sander

Belt Sander 

  • Surfacing rough wood
  • Fast stock removal

Aluminum Oxide

Zirconia Alumina



Orbital Sander

Belt Sander

Disk Sander

  • Rough sanding
  • Quick sanding
  • Mill marks
  • Remove paint/rust
  • Saw marks

Aluminum Oxide


Silicon Carbide


Orbital Sander

Disk Sander

Sandpaper Sheet 

  • Smooth sanding
  • Surface finishing
  • Remove material

Aluminum Oxide

Silicon Carbide


Sanding Blocks

Non-woven Pads

Aluminum Oxide

Silicon Carbide



Sanding Drums

Sanding Discs



  • End grain work
  • Round corners
  • Sanding contours
  • Remove large material

Aluminum Oxide

Silicon Carbide


Sanding Blocks

Non-woven Pads

Silicon Carbide

Aluminum Oxide


Extra Fine

Sanding Sheets

Non-woven Pads

  • Wet sanding
  • Remove stains & oxidation
  • Finishing


Steel Wool or Iron Wool

What Are the Different Types of Abrasives Used in Grinding?

Grinding is the process of removing unwanted material or bulk stock removal from the metal surfaces in the form of chips. Grinding wheels are designed with thousands of small abrasive grains bonded by a bonding material. The most common type of synthetic abrasives used in grinding is silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, diamond, and cubic boron nitride CBN.

Zirconia Alumina vs. Ceramic Abrasive

Zirconia Abrasive

Ceramic Abrasive

Zirconia Alumina is coated & resin-bonded abrasive grains.

Ceramic grain structures are similar to zirconia. They are tough resin-coated grain.

Zirconia alumina is high heat and pressure-resistant.

Ceramic grains are comparatively less pressure and heat resistant.

Zirconia alumina has less lifespan & low cut rates.

Ceramic grains have a more extended lifespan & a faster cut-rate.

Less expensive abrasive grain.

Highly expensive abrasive grain.

Zirconia alumina is good for manufacturing sandpaper, abrasive belts, and sanding discs for metal.

Ceramic abrasives are good for aluminum castings, mild steel mill scale, stainless steel finishing, and titanium alloys.

Industrial abrasive tools: flap disc, sanding disc, quick-change discs.

Abrasive tools: flap disc, sanding discs, sanding belt.

Ending Note:

This article was all about the different abrasive grain types, grit sizes, and applications. Hope you are now aware of the abrasive grains and easily identify the difference between ceramic vs aluminum oxide vs zirconia abrasive grains.

Read More: Zirconia Alumina vs Aluminum Oxide
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