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The shape of a grain and how it fractures has a big effect on scratch pattern. That's why it's so important to pick the right grain type for what you want to do.
Ceramic alumina is engineered from sub-micron crystals of aluminum oxide. They're the sharpest and longest lasting of the grains. They are very consistent in shape and size.
Use for: sanding exotic woods, sanding off hard coatings like aluminum oxide finishes, and sport floors
Norton products: Red Heat, Blaze, Blaze Plus
Zirconia alumina is a micro-fracturing grain, so it lasts longer than silicon carbide. It's engineered, so it's more consistent in size and scratch too.
Use for: sanding tougher coatings and harder woods
Norton products: Blue Fire
Silicon carbide works great for sanding raw wood and removing old coatings. But it wears down quickly and can fracture inconsistently. It also sheds more during its initial use.
Use for: intial sanding passes, low grits
Norton products: Durite, Silicon Carbide
Aluminum oxide is a blocky grain that wears down quickly. However, it leaves a fine, consistent scratch pattern.
Use for: intercoat abrasion, low pressure finishing applications
Norton products: Sand Dollars