Grinding and Polishing
Grinding practice is a large and diverse area of manufacturing and toolmaking. It can produce very fine finishes and very accurate dimensions; yet in mass production contexts it can also rough out large volumes of metal quite rapidly. It is usually better suited to the machining of very hard materials than is “regular” machining (that is, cutting larger chips with cutting tools such as tool bits or milling cutters), and until recent decades it was the only practical way to machine such materials as hardened steels. Compared to “regular” machining, it is usually better suited to taking very shallow cuts, such as reducing a shaft’s diameter by half a thousandth of an inch.
Grinding is a subset of cutting, as grinding is a true metal-cutting process. Each grain of abrasive functions as a microscopic single-point cutting edge (although of high negative rake angle), and shears a tiny chip that is analogous to what would conventionally be called a “cut” chip (turning, milling, drilling, tapping, etc.). However, among people who work in the machining fields, the term cutting is often understood to refer to the macroscopic cutting operations, and grinding is often mentally categorized as a “separate” process. This is why the terms are usually used in contradistinction in shop-floor practice, even though, strictly speaking, grinding is a subset of cutting.
Polishing and buffing are finishing processes for smoothing a workpiece’s surface using an abrasive and a work wheel. Technically polishing refers to processes that use an abrasive that is glued to the work wheel, while buffing uses a loose abrasive applied to the work wheel. Polishing is a more aggressive process while buffing is less harsh, which leads to a smoother, brighter finish. A common misconception is that a polished surface has a mirror bright finish, however most mirror bright finishes are actually buffed.
Polishing is often used to enhance the looks of an item, prevent contamination of instruments, remove oxidation, create a reflective surface, or prevent corrosion in pipes. In metallography andmetallurgy, polishing is used to create a flat, defect-free surface for examination of a metal’s microstructure under a microscope. Silicon-based polishing pads or a diamond solution can be used in the polishing process.
The removal of oxidization (tarnish) from metal objects is accomplished using a metal polish or tarnish remover; this is also called polishing. To prevent further unwanted oxidization, polished metal surfaces may be coated with wax, oil, or lacquer. This is of particular concern for copper alloy products such as brass and bronze.