A History of Sandblasting, 1870 – Present
The idea behind sandblasting is to use mechanics to expedite nature’s process of erosion. Rather than waiting for winds to toss sand around until smooth rocks and mountains begin to take shape from the materials deposited from one surface to another, Benjamin Tilghman developed his own machine in 1870 to remove painted and rusted surfaces from materials before making further practical use of them. In 1904, Thomas Pangborn expanded on Tilghman’s creation to include compressed air in combination with the sand for abrasive blasting to clean metal. Sandblasters are typically composed of the chosen abrasive particle, an air compressor, and a blaster nozzle – and are commonly used for either cleaning a surface of any clinging materials before usage or decoration, or etching words or textured designs into a given material to personalize its appearance.
The term sandblasting refers to setting fine pieces of material in motion at high speeds in order to clean or chisel at a surface. Originally, the process had literally involved the use of sand, but this method was put to an end once it came to light that the inhalation of sand particles frequently resulted in a serious respiratory condition that led to a debilitating lung disease called silicosis. In 1893, the air processor rendered the sandblasting technique employable for industrial usage on a wider scale. In 1918, the first enclosure was built, with a clear viewing screen for use in the sandblasting process to surround the workplace, which shielded sandblaster users from the particle inhalation that had rendered the process unsafe in the past, and which also blew dust away from workers’ faces with an exhaust fan. Since 1939, various small, uniform particles from mediums ranging from quartz, aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, glass beads, plastic abrasives, powdered abrasives, steel grit, copper slag, and even walnut shells, coconut shells, and fruit stones have been tested for their effectiveness in the adapting sandblasting technique. Now managed carefully by employing an alternate air supply, proper ventilation, and protective gear, the process has been rendered safer in moderation and mindfulness of the appropriate safety constraints. However, the process can still render safety risks and pose possible exposure to silicosis.
Initially, sandblasting was intended for practical industrial purposes such as removing rust or polishing metal before painting it to avoid trapping extraneous particles, cleaning boats, and smoothing works of brick, stone or concrete. Now, the technique also has decorative purposes, such as carving or texturizing. Among the earliest sandblasted items to hit the market was Alfred Dunhill’s sandblasted tobacco pipes which he found sold for more money than his smooth ones. In his day, however, sandblasting would result in varied and sometimes unpredictable patterns and/or warped shapes. Today, artisans are able to be more deliberate and particular about the finish and effect they intend to bring about.