There are several types of discs available now days that all have a specific purpose and while they all fit the grinder, they have very different ways of removing the wood as they work. These discs can be sorted into a few simple categories that we list below.
- Cutting discs
- Planing discs
- Rotating rasps
- Burred wheels
- Sanding discs
Every one of these discs has an optimum technique that allows the disc to do its thing and this is where many wood workers come to grief, because they either select the wrong disc for the job, or the required experience with using that tool has not been gained as yet.
These are some of the early tools that surfaced in the late 1990’s I think and have a set of chainsaw cutters on the outer rim of a disc. These discs created quite a scene because they allowed for the fast removal of excess wood and were reasonably cheap at the time.
They are also among the most dangerous of the tools for power carving.
There are also discs that resemble carbide saw blades that are just 4 inch versions of the same saw blades we fit to table saws and circular saws. They are just as dangerous as the chainsaw discs with the only difference being the type of wound that they can inflict on the operator.
The chainsaw disc will hack at the flesh where the carbide tooth will tear and cut. Neither are desirable. These discs will cut you up badly as they can pull themselves into you while doing the damage.
This is a disc that is far safer that the ones above, and they can be used effectively for fast wood removal. They can leave a reasonable surface if controlled effectively as you use them and are far less likely to cut deeply. It can still happen, but the wound is more likely to be limited to a smaller area.
There are several types of these discs with some having longer carbide blades that are aligned from the center of the disc outwards, and there are others that have smaller round cutters on the perimeter of the disc. These are usually carbide as well, and are replaceable. This type of disc is good for burls.
These discs are quite safe, and reasonably effective for removing wood. They do create quite a lot of dust due to the many small cutters on the surface. All of the discs that have been mentioned above are less likely to create lots of dust but do make plenty of chips. There is still dust though.
The rotating rasps leave the surface quite rough and there will be sanding to be done after using these tools. The dangers with using these discs is more of a burn or heavy graze than any cutting and hacking. They will be slower to remove the wood, but this is countered with the safety factor.
These discs are similar to the rasp. many of these types of discs have carbide spikes that protrude from the disc surface and these are good for a safe method to remove the wood, but they do make dust. A very well ventilated area should be used and a good dust mask should be worn, but this is the case for any power carving with grinders.
These are the types of tools that can be used to finish the carving process, and they usually have the ability to change out the grits as you sand away. Rubber backing pads are commonly used with this method and they allow the sandpaper to be supported as you work.
These discs are more likely to do harm to your project that they are to you, and the typical wound suffered from these is similar to gravel rash or a gravel burn. It still hurts, but is not likely to be life threatening.
Bowl carving heads.
This is a late entry into the article and needs a mention. There is little risk to using this tool however we have found it to be of little use in the way we approach wood work. It might be just right for you.
When should a grinder be used for wood carving?
Power carving with a grinder should be used as a last resort for any particular task, but this is directly related to the type of wood carving disc that is on hand. There are some discs that are more of a rotating rasp than a cutting tool and these are safer than the ultra aggressive varieties that resemble round chainsaws.
There are a few reasons why people grab the grinder and start carving with it, and one of the primary ones is for perceived speed and time saving. Another reason is that the wood may be very hard, or the grain is interlocked and is always changing direction.
As wood workers, we are well aware of the types of woods that are difficult to handle knowing they often come with such attractive figure and color, and so the wood worker now needs to decide if angle grinder wood carving is the appropriate method to achieve the desired result.
What are the dangers with using wood carving discs?
The primary danger when using these tools is to have the disc grab and cause a kick-back of the spinning disc towards you. The potential kick-backs are dependent on the disc type and will vary from extreme risk to mild.
Any disc that has the ability to bite aggressively into the wood is prone to coming back at you if it grabs, and they will do this, have no doubt. We have a dedicated article titled “Is it safe to carve wood with a grinder?” that goes into detail on this issue.
What size carving tool is safe with a grinder?
There are two regular sizes of discs and they are 4 and 5 inch (100mm and 125mm). The larger the disc, the more wood can be removed, however the risks mentioned above also rise with the larger sized wood carving discs.
The burred discs are where a larger size can be effective with a good measure of safety still there, but any aggressive disc should be carefully considered as a high risk item.
How long will a carving disc last?
The type of material you use the tool on will determine the life span of the disc. Some of the hard burls from eucalyptus trees will dull any tool, so the small round carbide cutter type discs are good for a long life, and the cutters can be changed.
If you are working with soft woods the life span of a carving disc can be quite long.
If you approach power wood carving with grinders with your safety in mind, there is a place for all of the various types of carving but with one caveat. Under no circumstances will we personally be using the chainsaw variety ever, they are just that wild. You can make up your own mind.