Wire brushes are available in all shapes and sizes. They are manufactured with arms for handheld use or formed into wheels to fit angle and bench grinders, drills and other power tools. Typically they are constructed from very hard and springy medium to high carbon steel, brass or stainless steel, and held together by adhesive, staples, or some other fastening. Used in a variety of industrial and DIY applications these abrasive implements remove rust and paint, clean, polish and prepare metal and other surfaces for a variety of finishes. Wire brushes have served the industry well, offering a relatively useful solution for many years. Today, however, new alternatives are delivering superior performance, but most importantly improved worker safety.
So what is the problem with wire brushes? Despite offering satisfactory performance levels, the use of wire brushes places workers at considerable risk, as individual bristles have a tendency to break off during normal use. These disengaged rouge bristles become airborne wire missiles embedding themselves into their target. The problem is made worse when the brushes are used at high revolution levels with excessive pressure, a common practice when using these abrasive wire instruments. This activity causes the bristles to fan out and increase in diameter and, subsequently, in velocity. Ultimately the pressure causes over bending of the filaments and heat build-up resulting in excessive filament breakage flying off the wheel with considerable force.
Picture the following scenario:
A metal worker nears the end of his shift, finishing the surface of a tank with a steel wire brush attached to his high-speed angle grinder. After deburring and smoothing the surface, he steps back and meticulously begins removing loose wires now embedded far into his clothing, as well as the occasional projectile that made it through his armour, piercing his legs and arms with a sting that he has now become accustomed to. He is all too aware of the risks and injuries these wire filaments pose away from the work area and in the home, should any stray wires end up where they could cause harm to his family, by making their way into the wash basket or food. Luckily, he was wearing the appropriate safety attire: safety goggles, full face shield, gloves, respirator, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, boots and leather apron; and the damage was all in a day’s work. His colleague, however, although working 15 metres away, was not so lucky. He presented to the emergency room with a metal fragment embedded in his eye. A steel filament from the wire brush his co-worker was using dislodged with such great force that it flew through the air, like a dart in full flight at the local pub’s games night, hitting the bullseye and lodging itself into his pupil. Even though he was wearing a face shield, the metal flew in from the side and hit the target.
“All the tools, techniques and technology in the world are
nothing without the head, heart and hands to use them wisely,
kindly and mindfully”
- - Rasheed Ogunlaru --
Rotating wire brushes combined with power tools are a dangerous and potentially deadly combination. Medical journals are full of case reports on penetrating eye injuries caused by rotating wire brushes, which can require surgical procedures such as traumatic cataract removal and lens implants to rectify. The signs and symptoms of injury are often initially minimal, in many cases it presents only as blurred vision, leading the injured party to defer or entirely forgo medical treatment, running the risk of more serious and permanent damage. However, eye injuries are not the only concern. Often kickback occurs when using these power tools, getting hit with a rotating wire wheel can be quite violent. Not only are they are flesh-eating monsters if they make contact with your skin, but they can also latch onto clothing, gloves, hair and pull them straight into the rotating wire along with their respective body parts. There have been cases where operators have lost fingers and suffered severe bodily damage. In 2017, an operator using a wire cup brush on a portable grinder to remove paint, a task he performed weekly, remembers waking up in an ambulance on his way to the emergency room. According to the police report, his hair, which was below his shoulders, became tangled in the tool. The grinder pulled with enough tension to split the skin on his scalp. The grinder was missing its guard, but there is no guard required when using a wire cup brush. The operator does not remember if his hair was tied back at the time, but he generally does tie his hair. He was wearing his combat gloves and goggles at the time of the incident and had received one-on-one training on the use of the tool. Nonetheless, he received a depressed skull fracture, which required stitches and 18 staples1.
Beyond the potential for significant injury, the use of wire brushes also contributes to operator fatigue, as the user is required to exert a constant, even pressure to achieve the desired finish result. Wire brushes limit productivity as they contain no abrasive minerals, which typically makes it harder to achieve a suitable outcome; finishes are not easily repeatable, so it takes longer to complete the task. Wire brushes also make it difficult to determine which brush will deliver the best results, requiring unproductive labour time to test and evaluate.
Advances in technology have allowed the development of bristle discs and brushes as an alternative to the wire brush that can keep workers safe from common wire brush related injuries. They significantly reduce safety risks, while simultaneously improving performance. The nylon bristle construction offers many benefits:
While the physical properties of bristle brush systems make them suited to a broader range of applications and material substrates than wire brush counterparts, the benefits don’t end there. Safety managers, despite their best intentions, must occasionally contend with PPE policy non-compliance. In opting to utilise a nylon bristle brush solution, even unprotected workers are unlikely to be seriously injured, adding a further level of safeguard against harm.
Tired of the injuries and piercing stings caused by flying wires? Eliminate the dangers of flying metal wires posed by traditional wire brushes. Whether you’re cleaning, finishing or deburring in industries like metal fabrication, transportation and aerospace, you can benefit from replacing your wire brushes with a safer solution. If you are concerned about operator safety, then don’t risk wire brushes and wheels where potential injuries could occur.
Scotch-Brite™ Bristle discs and brushes provide a safer and more productive alternative. Containing 3M’s patented long-lasting Cubitron™ ceramic abrasive grain technology, they provide a higher cut rate than wire brushes for a faster, more uniform finish. This means that as the disc wears, fresh mineral is always exposed, delivering improved productivity and value.
|Scotch-Brite™ Bristle Discs and Brushes - Benefits at a glance|
|Safe – Easy to use. No flying wires or fibres.|
|Conformable – Very conformable, less manipulation for operator on parts.|
|Long Life – Patented 3M™ Cubitron™ Abrasive Grain filled bristles apply a continuous fresh supply of mineral for consistent finish and long lasting quality throughout the life of the product.|
|Non-Loading – Bristles do not load up from debris, rubber or plastic residues from metal surfaces, which does not cause cross contamination.|
|Cool Running – Resists heat build-up to help reduce potential for tempering or damaging the work surface. Doesn’t cause distortion to the part.|
|Easy to Use – Brushes are balanced, run smoothly and do not require dressing.|
Scotch-Brite Bristle discs and brushes offer the cleaning and corrosion removal of a wire brush without the threat of injury. The discs and brushes have abrasive-filled bristles that apply a continuous, fresh supply of mineral - without damage to the underlying surfaces. The work-piece brushes away the inert material to expose abrasive that is harder and more conformable than a wire brush. It slashes away at paint or corrosion. When one grain of abrasive is used up, another is there to take its place. Durable yet flexible, Scotch-Brite Bristle brushes can clean rust from the inner edges of a screw or housing, while leaving the surrounding metal undisturbed. While they conform to contours, they work equally well on flat surfaces. In performance tests, Scotch-Brite Bristle radial brushes cut faster and more efficiently than wire brushes. On materials such as mild carbon steel, they outperformed .014 mm wire brushes as much 10 to 1 in cut-rate testing2. Scotch-Brite Bristle discs and brushes are available in an assortment of styles, grades and sizes for use on a variety of tools in every application, including:
1. United States Department of Labor, Accident Report Detail, accessed on 28/08/2019, <https://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/accidentsearch.accident_detail?id=95561.015>.
2. 3M Bristle Brushes Safely Out-perform Wire Brushes, accessed 28/08/2019, <http://www.sculpt.com/technotes/3m_no_more_wire_brushes.htm>.