Emery is a naturally occurring dark mineral (or rock) comprising impure crystalline aluminum oxide mixed with iron, silicon, and other elements. It also includes small amounts of clay and other silicate materials, such as kaolinite, that are utilized in powder or grain form to polish and grind.
Emery cloth used to be made from milled emery rock and was bonded to paper with animal-based glues. Nowadays, synthetic adhesives and silicon carbide are used instead of emery, as these materials are harder and longer-lasting.
Emery Cloth Uses
Though machine grinding is more popular nowadays, sheets of emery cloth are typically sold in widths of 25mm to 50mm, which is commonly used for polishing and smoothing metal surfaces.
It’s typically used on steel, brass, copper, aluminum, and zinc to remove rust or corrosion as well as clean them up prior to painting or welding.
Emery cloth with finer grit is also known for being helpful in fitting work and final adjustment of steel parts. It is also used for deburring and honing wood surfaces, mostly with hand-held tools such as files and scrapers.
However, because the cloth contains small iron particles that can be harmful, it should not be used on expensive wood surfaces and furniture.
Emery Cloth Grades
Emery cloth is a type of abrasive material that has synthetic or metallic particles attached to a dense fabric using adhesives. You may have heard it described as “emery tape” because the cloth backing is stronger than sandpaper, but you can still tear the sheets to the desired size.
The average size of the grit is what grades emery cloth. This means you will find grades ranging from coarse to fine and listed as numbers.
The lower the number, the coarser the grade, while the higher the number, the finer the grade.
This is like how sandpaper is graded. So, numbers that range from 40 up to 54 represent the coarsest grades. While numbers 220 up to 320 are the finest, giving a smooth polish.
Emery Cloth vs. Sandpaper – Which is Better?
Emery cloth is typically made from a cloth backing coated with abrasive particles of emery or aluminum oxide. On the other hand, sandpaper is commonly made from a backing of paper coated with sand.
While both options are effective at smoothing rough surfaces, emery cloth is often preferred for metalwork, and sandpaper is the go-to choice for woodworking and other related tasks.
In general, emery cloth is best suited for metal such as steel or iron, bronze, stainless steel, aluminum, and most alloys. You can even use emery cloth on some solid hardwoods. In contrast, sandpaper is best used on wood products and materials unsuitable for emery cloth.
What is the Difference between Crocus Cloth and Emery Cloth?
Sheets of emery have block-shaped grit particles that will cut slowly as a result. Crocus sheets, on the other hand, consist of a soft abrasive that ranges from 1500 to 2000 on the grit scale, making it well-suited for polishing nonferrous metals.
Like sandpaper or emery cloth, crocus cloth includes a layer of loose iron oxide particles that are very fine in nature. But for final metals and gemstones, crocus cloth does exceptional finishing with grade or particle sizes that you can select.
You can use a crocus cloth, either wet or dry; it will depend on the application that you are performing. When folded, it can wrap around bends and curves relatively quickly, allowing you to finish areas that otherwise would be hard to reach.
The Bottom Line
While emery cloth and sandpaper both use natural materials to smooth surfaces and are available in different levels of coarseness, ranging from very coarse to very fine, they are not interchangeable.
Emery cloth is better for surfaces that sandpaper can’t easily smooth (like for polishing and smoothening metals), but it should not be used on natural wood surfaces as it can cause damage.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.