How Does a Bead Blaster Work?

Occasionally, people use the terms bead blaster and sandblaster interchangeably. This is probably because both do the exact same thing, but with different materials and slightly different results. While sandblasting uses a sand substance, bead blasting uses tiny glass beads to condition, smooth, or refinish a surface. Here’s what else you need to know.

What is bead blasting?

Just like sandblasting, bead blasting is the “process of smoothing and cleaning a hard surface by forcing solid particle across it at high speeds using compressed air.” But, as stated before, the difference is that bead blasting uses beads, usually made of tiny spheres of glass, whereas sandblasting uses silica sand.

How does bead blasting work?

The way bead blasting works is that the air source causes the blasting media to pelt the object being blasted. The tiny beads act like a sandpaper, sloughing away anything that is on the object, such as grease or paint. The air source that a bead blaster or sandblaster generally uses is an air compressor or bottled gas. The machine also typically consists of a cabinet that the object goes into while it is being blasted and a collector that collects the dust or residue caused by the process.

What is bead blasting used for?

Both sandblasting and bead blasting are used to clean, strip, or smooth out a surface, usually before a paint job. It can remove layers of paint, residue, grease, grime, rust, and other materials that cling to a surface. But unlike sandblasting, bead blasting can even be used as a finisher or sort of sander to smooth out a coated surface, giving it a “light burnish.” It can also be used to take the grease and grime off a dirty surface that you want to make sure doesn’t get blemished in the process. This might be a thin metal surface, like aluminum, that might get dented by regular sandblasting. Or it might be a semi-fragile object, such as a small toy or figurine. But the most common use for sand or bead blasting is in automobile bodywork. Someone restoring an old car might use bead blasting to remove all the old paint and rust and then to burnish the surface between coats.

Which method is safer?

Bead blasting is by far the safest method in comparison to sandblasting. Sandblasting uses a sand made from crystalline silica. The silica dust that permeates the air after sandblasting is then breathed in by the workers who use it. This silica dust exposure has been known to cause serious respiratory illness in people who inhale it. These illnesses have often even led to death in some cases. Beads, on the other hand, are non-toxic, both for people and the environment. The CDC recommends several precautions to prevent the types of respiratory illness silica dust can cause. They recommend the use of alternative methods, such as beads, wearing respiratory protection, and using proper ventilation.  

Which method is best?

Whether to use sandblasting or bead blasting usually depends on the type of project you’re doing and how well ventilated the area is in which you’ll be using it. Sandblasting is much faster and much more abrasive than bead blasting, so it can remove thicker layers of paint and rust much more quickly. But it is a more toxic method that requires some serious safety precautions. Most commonly, you might find people who do auto body work still use sandblasting. However, because it is so abrasive, it has the ability to damage the underlying surface or sand too deep if you’re not careful. Bead blasting, on the other hand, does not usually harm the surface underneath. It’s smooth beads methodically and uniformly pelt a surface without reshaping it.  

Next time you’re taking on a project, keep this guide in mind to choose the appropriate tool to get the best results.