Bead Blasting Engine Parts: Sand's Power

sand bead blasting engine parts

Sand bead blasting is a process used to clean and refinish engine parts. It involves directing a stream of hard or soft media against the surface of the part to remove dirt, grease, oil, carbon, rust, and other contaminants. Glass beads are a common type of media used in sand bead blasting, known for their ability to clean without etching or damaging the surface of the metal. However, it is crucial to thoroughly clean engine parts after glass bead blasting to prevent premature engine failure.


Soda blasting engine parts

Soda blasting is an effective method for cleaning engine parts. It involves using compressed air to push a stream of sodium bicarbonate (or baking soda) against the surface of an object to remove contaminants. This process is often used on engine parts such as cylinder heads, carburetors, pistons, connecting rods, and other components made from materials like aluminium.

Soda blasting is a milder and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional sandblasting. It is less abrasive and less likely to damage the outer layer of the object being cleaned. This makes it ideal for preserving the surface of objects, especially those made of softer metals like aluminium. Additionally, soda blasting does not produce any harmful chemicals or dangerous fumes, making it safer for the user.

One of the key advantages of soda blasting is its ability to remove grease, oil, burnt carbon, paint, and other contaminants from engine parts without causing damage. The sodium bicarbonate crystals shatter upon impact, turning into a fine powder that can be easily rinsed away with water. This process ensures that no residue is left behind, reducing the risk of engine damage caused by retained media.

However, it is important to note that soda blasting should not be used on a fully assembled engine. The highly pressurised water and air used in the process can push small particles through seals and into the engine, potentially causing damage to gears, bearings, and oil galleries. Therefore, it is recommended to disassemble the engine and manually clean the interior after blasting.

Soda blasting equipment typically includes an air supply, a blasting pot, a moisture separator, a nozzle, and blast media. While it may be more expensive due to specialised equipment and non-recyclable media, soda blasting offers a user-friendly, environmentally safe, and effective way to clean engine parts.

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Glass bead blasting and its risks

Abrasive blasting, commonly known as sandblasting, is a useful and common industrial technique for preparing surfaces for a variety of purposes. Small glass beads are one type of loose abrasive used with blasting equipment for surface preparation, including cleaning, finishing, deburring, and peening. The process is often done in the open, within special containment facilities, or within blasting cabinets.


The use of glass beads for sandblasting does come with certain risks. Firstly, the glass beads can vary in composition, and some have been found to contain toxic metals like lead and arsenic. This is a significant concern as the beads are typically pulverized during the blasting process, generating toxic dust that can be inhaled or ingested by those performing the sandblasting as well as people in the surrounding area. This dust can also contaminate the environment, causing harm to people, wildlife, and ecosystems.

The health risks associated with exposure to lead and arsenic are well-documented. Arsenic exposure can increase the risk of skin, lung, and possibly lymphatic cancers, peripheral neuropathy, and vascular disease. Lead exposure, on the other hand, can cause peripheral neuropathy, anemia, kidney damage, increased blood pressure, male sterility, and an increased risk of cancer.

To mitigate these risks, proper safety measures must be implemented. This includes the use of personal protective equipment, such as respirators, to prevent inhalation of toxic dust. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that the glass beads used in blasting comply with relevant regulations, such as California's Health and Safety Code, which prohibits the use of glass beads with high levels of arsenic and lead in blasting applications.


Due to the risks associated with glass bead blasting, alternative methods and media have been developed. One popular alternative is soda blasting, which uses sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as the blasting media. Soda blasting is effective at removing dirt, grease, oil, and even paint. It is also environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and non-flammable. Other alternatives include the use of steel shot, aluminum oxide, and silicon carbide blast media, each with its own advantages and applications.


Sandblasting and cleaning aluminium parts

Sandblasting is a great way to clean aluminium parts and remove defects, paint, grease, and dirt. It is also used as a pre-treatment for anodizing.

Sandblasting Media

When sandblasting aluminium, it is important to choose the right media. Avoid steel-based media as this will impregnate the aluminium surface and cause corrosion. Instead, opt for media such as glass beads, baking soda, crushed glass, or aluminium oxide. These media are effective at stripping coatings without causing harm to the surface. If you need to leave a profile for repainting, consider crushed glass or aluminium oxide. For a polished look, glass beads are the best option, but this may require some additional polishing.

Sandblasting Pressure

Aluminium panels tend to be thin and can be susceptible to warping when blasted. To avoid this, start with a low pressure and gradually increase. Typically, you will end up with a blasting pressure of around 50-60 PSI.

Test a Small Area First

Before blasting the entire surface, test a small area to ensure you get the desired results. This will also help you determine how long the blasting will take, which is important for properly bidding your work.

Advantages of Sandblasting Aluminium

Sandblasting aluminium has several advantages. It can smoothen or roughen surfaces, improve surface features, and remove paint, grease, and dirt. It is a time-saving process that requires minimal equipment and leaves a clean, aesthetically pleasing finish.

Limitations of Sandblasting Aluminium

One of the limitations of sandblasting aluminium is the cost of the equipment, such as blast pots and containers. Additionally, adequate space and ventilation may be required, which can be expensive.

Types of Sandblasting Media for Aluminium

  • Crushed glass: Made from recycled glass, crushed glass is often used to remove aluminium coats. It produces a clearer finish compared to slags or sand and works well with water. It is also non-toxic and fast-acting.
  • Plastic abrasives: Plastic abrasives are available in a variety of properties and are commonly used for mould and paint removal from delicate parts. They are less hazardous compared to chemical stripping and do not leave anchor patterns.
  • Silica sand: While silica sand was once popular due to its low cost and availability, its use is now limited due to the toxic fumes it produces and the respiratory problems it can cause.
  • Walnut shells: Walnut shells are less rigid compared to metals and plastics, making them ideal for cleaning motors, antique surfaces, and polishing jewellery. However, they are non-recyclable and can slow down the sandblasting process.
  • Garnet: Garnet is a natural compound that is effective at removing thin coatings of rust and paint. It produces minimal dust and its sub-angular shape minimises surface profiling.
  • Corn cobs: Corn cobs are natural abrasives that are suitable for sandblasting delicate aluminium parts. They remove grease, coatings, and dirt while protecting the aluminium surface. Corn cobs are non-toxic but result in a slower sandblasting process and are not recyclable.
  • Sodium bicarbonate (soda): Soda is a gentle abrasive that is used to remove paint and clean surfaces without causing deformation. However, it cannot be recycled or reused.
  • Aluminium oxide: Aluminium oxide has excellent angular structure and toughness, making it ideal for liquid painting and powder coating applications.
  • Glass beads: Glass beads result in bright and smooth surfaces and are commonly used for polishing aluminium turbine blades and propellers. They can also be reused.
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Sandblasting and cleaning cast iron parts

Sandblasting is a great way to clean cast iron engine parts. It is an aggressive process that can remove dirt, grease, oil, carbon, rust, and scale. Cast iron is a relatively hard and heat-resistant metal, so it can withstand more intensive cleaning methods.

There are a variety of media that can be used for sandblasting, including baking soda, glass beads, steel shot, and walnut shells. Baking soda is a popular choice for cleaning engine parts because it is environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and rinses off easily. It is also effective at removing carbon deposits and paint. Glass beads are commonly used to clean aluminium parts and can be reused up to 30 times. Steel shot is often used to remove rust, scale, and ash from cast iron and steel parts and can be reused up to 3,000 times. Walnut shells are a less aggressive option and are considered a "green" alternative.

When sandblasting cast iron, it is important to consider the porosity of the material. Sand may leave a rough, pitted surface, so a less aggressive media like glass beads or walnut shells may be a better choice. It is also important to clean the parts thoroughly before sandblasting to remove any grease or oil, as this can cause the blast media to stick to the surface or gum up the equipment.

After sandblasting, cast iron parts should be cured or seasoned by covering them with edible oil and baking them. This creates a fat layer that seals and protects the cast iron during cooking.

Some common issues that may be encountered when sandblasting cast iron include flash rust and oil migration. Flash rust can occur within minutes or hours of sandblasting and is the result of normal oxidation. Oil migration can happen when oil is not completely removed from the pores of the cast iron, causing it to wick up to the surface over time. To prevent this, it is important to thoroughly clean the parts before and after sandblasting.

Sandblasting is a useful technique for cleaning and restoring cast iron engine parts. By choosing the appropriate media and taking the necessary precautions, you can effectively remove contaminants and prepare the parts for reuse or inspection.

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Sandblasting and cleaning steel parts

Sandblasting is a process used to smooth, roughen, shape, or clean a surface by forcibly propelling a stream of abrasive material against it under high pressure. This process is also known as abrasive blasting. Sandblasting is often used to clean engine parts, as it can remove dirt, grease, oil, carbon, rust, scale, and other gunk that could contaminate a newly rebuilt engine or cause problems down the road.

When sandblasting steel engine parts, it is important to consider the specific needs of the builder, as well as the unique properties of the metal. Steel is a relatively hard and heat-resistant metal, so more aggressive cleaning processes can be used. This includes using caustic chemicals and strong detergents, as well as baking the parts at high temperatures to oxidize grease, oil, and carbon. Shot blasting or airless blasting can also be used to remove ash, rust, and scale from steel parts.

One important consideration when sandblasting steel engine parts is the type of abrasive material used. Some common options include steel shot, glass beads, and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Steel shot is often used to remove rust, scale, and ash from steel parts, and it can be reused up to 3,000 times. Glass beads are a milder option that can remove contaminants without etching or damaging the surface of the metal. Baking soda is a relatively soft media that is effective at removing dirt, grease, oil, and paint from steel parts. It is also water-soluble and environmentally friendly, making it a safe and easy-to-use option.

In addition to selecting the appropriate abrasive material, it is crucial to use the correct equipment and safety gear when sandblasting steel engine parts. This includes a blast cabinet or blast room, a blasting system, a dust collection system, and personal protective equipment such as a blast hood, hearing protection, and body protection.

By following these guidelines and selecting the right materials and equipment, sandblasting can be an effective method for cleaning steel engine parts and preparing them for further processing or reuse.

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Frequently asked questions

Sand bead blasting is a process that directs some type of hard or soft media against the surface of the engine part that is being cleaned. When the blast media hits the surface, it knocks loose whatever is on the surface.

Sand bead blasting is a cheap and inexpensive way to clean internal parts. It can also be used to roughen the surface of parts for better paint adhesion if the part requires painting.

Sand bead blasting can destroy the specific surface finish of machined surfaces. It can also leave behind residue that, if not cleaned properly, can destroy an engine.

There are many ways to clean engine parts, including manual or automated jet spray washer cabinets, hot tanks, ultrasonic cleaning tanks, dry blast cabinets, airless shot blasting systems, wet blast cabinets, vibratory cleaning, and thermal cleaning ovens. The best method depends on the unique needs of the engine builder.

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