3M Abrasives – The Construction of Fine Art

16 August 2010

3M’s product range is generally known under the brands Scotch, Post-it, Scotchgard, Thinsulate and Scotch-Brite. Their products manufactured in the UK include coated abrasives, industrial microbiology products and high-performance coatings amongst many others.

They are perhaps less known for their application in the art world. However, London-based AB Fine Art who manufacture pieces for well know sculptor designers such as Marc Quinn, now rely on 3M’s Abrasive product range for the ultimate finish.

AB Fine Art uses a variety of metals and alloys as the founding materials for their sculptures. These materials, most commonly bronze and stainless steel all require abrading after the casting process before painting or to be finished. The art company uses Elmdale Welding, the UK distributor of 3M products and various abrasives, welding and engineering supplies, to source their abrasive tools.

The products that AB Fine Art use to refine their pieces include the 3M Fibre Disc 985C for applications such as weld grinding and stock removal and Scotch-Brite Clean & Strip XT Purple Discs for pre-weld and post-weld cleaning, and removal of rust and other coatings. 3M Hookit Discs 245 are used for initial and intermediate sanding, while 3M’s Roloc Quick Release System, which allows for fast changeover of coated abrasive discs, Scotch-Brite discs, wheels and flap brushes, provides portable solution.

AB Fine Art put a great deal of trust in the 3M, as their often large-scale sculptures are often expensive and valuable projects. Jerry Hughes, Foundry Manager at AB Fine Art said, “We are frequently dealing with very high value, individual pieces, and by the time we reach the abrasive stage, significant time and money have already been invested into each casting. We simply cannot afford, therefore, to take risks using abrasive products, which are inconsistent in performance or may damage the product through excess heat, for example. We are completely confident in the performance consistency and speed of 3M abrasive products on all of our castings irrespective of size and the material.”

3M’s products are advantageous in the respect that they offer reduced heat in the grinding process. 3M Fibre Discs 985C feature a grinding aid, which reduces heat build-up. This product also features the 3M Cubitron Abrasive Grain, which re-sharpens as it wears for faster and consistent cutting. This reduces the time in which the abrasive is in contact with the material being abraded, thus reducing heat build up and preventing metal discolouration and leading to a longer service life.

Image 1. Shows a bronze sculpture produced by AB Fine Art, designed by Marc Quinn and finished with 3M products. The piece is 3.5 metres tall and weighs around 2.5 tonnes.

To create this sculpture a mould is made out of silicon rubber and plaster and then painted with hot wax to create texture. Fused silica and a ceramic slurry is then poured over the mould and used as an ‘investment’ or rather to make the mould strong enough to withstand great heat. Then the mould is placed in a kiln where the wax is removed at 750C before it is further hardened at 950C, removed and cooled to around 350C. Then the casting process can go ahead, the bronze is heated to 1200C in a furnace and poured into the mould. If the sculpture was made with a series of moulds then the pieces will have to be welded together using an angle grinder and various other tools to hide any signs of a weld. Finally a range of 3M’s abrasive tools were used to create the finish, taking many hundreds of hours. This sculpture is not intended for painting as some of AB Fine Arts’ pieces are, but instead an interesting and varied surface has been created using different abrasive products from 3M’s range to create a range of finishes.

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Elaine McClarence

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