The Angle Grinder Wheels You Need for Fabrication

Getting started in fabrication? One of your most useful tools will be your handy angle grinder. You can clean rust and paint, whisk off welding slag, remove metal, and cut stuff. So what wheels should you have in your arsenal and what do they do? We picked out the four best angle grinder wheels for fabrication and take a look at what they do to a piece of steel.

Deals! (Some Cyber Monday Deals Extended)

Table of Contents

If you're doing fabrication, you need four types of wheels for your angle grinder. They are the standard grinding wheel, the flap disc, the cutoff wheel, and the wire wheel. If you scroll to the bottom of the article, you can see what each of these wheels does to a piece of rusty metal.

Angle grinder wheels are consumables: they last for a certain amount of time and then they need to be replaced. We've experimented with super cheap versions of angle grinder wheels and find that they don't last as long and don't hold together as well as versions that cost a little bit more. Here are a few that we've tried and liked:

We also like products from Norton, Gemini, and Milwaukee.

The Grinding Wheel

Angle grinder standard grinding wheel bottom with smooth arbor
Grinding wheel with 7/8" arbor hole
You can grind with this grinding wheel anywhere on the face or the edge of the grinding wheel.

The Angle Grinder Wheel for Fast Material Removal

The standard grinding wheel is all about fast metal removal. Use the grinding wheel if you want to grind out welds, clean up cuts, and prep metal for welding (since you need bare shiny metal to weld). Of the four wheels, this removes material the fastest. It also produces hot, large sparks. Be sure that the sparks are not hitting anything you care about. Sparks will melt and embed into glass, burn holes in some clothing, and can be a little painful on your skin.

Grinding wheels come in different grits. Just like sandpaper, lower numbers (like 40 grit) are coarse and remove material faster. We will caution that the lower the grit, the larger, hotter, and more painful the sparks are. While this is fine if you're working at a workbench, grinding under a 4x4 in an awkward position can become very uncomfortable with low grit wheels. Even with typical safety gear, it's harder to protect your body, your ears, and your eyes from bouncing sparks when you're jammed under your vehicle, so we suggest a higher grit wheel for that type of work. Stray sparks can easily ricochet and bounce behind a face shield/goggle combination. A higher grit wheel will take a little longer, but it's safer and more comfortable.


Norton 1/4" thick standard angle grinder grinding wheel
Angle grinder standard grinding wheel for metal grinding
1/4" Thick Grinding Wheel for Fast Material Removal
Standard grinding wheels are ideal for quick metal removal using your angle grinder. 1/4" thick is pretty standard for most grinding wheels.
Angle grinder standard grinding wheel
Pay attention to the wheel diameter when buying grinding wheels. Make sure the wheels you get fit inside your grinder's guard.

We buy angle grinder grinding wheels 5-10 at a time and that quantity can do most of the typical fabrication projects on a single truck.

Low grit grinding wheels can leave "scratches" in your metal. Really coarse grinding wheels can also leave slight burrs on the edge of your workpiece. We usually clean up these scratches by using a flap disc (below) on the affected areas until the metal is smooth and shiny.

The Best Angle Grinder Wheel for Sharpening Mower Blades and Other Tools

This is also the angle grinder wheel you should use for sharpening mower blades, shovels, and other "blunt" garden tools. It's easy to remove your mower blade, put it in a bench vise, and sharpen it with your angle grinder. We often finish a blade with a flap disc to make sure it's smooth.

The Flap Disc is for Finishing

Angle grinder sanding wheel flap disc
Flap wheel for finer metal sanding
Flap discs are ideal when you want to sand metal with your angle grinder. They can lightly chamfer edges, remove burrs, and take the sharp edges off corners.

The Best Sanding Wheels for Angle Grinders

The grinding wheels above tend to gouge the material you're working on, but a flap disc smooths it out. While the grinding wheel is a hard composite material, the flap disc is basically just overlapping rectangles of sand paper. If you were to run your grinding wheel over an edge on a piece of steel, then you ran your fingernail over that spot, it would catch, since the grinding wheel will push out material at it’s leading edge. This is a burr. Burrs look bad, and can be sharp - they'll easily cut unprotected hands. The flap disc works great to clean up burrs and shine up gouged metal.

Angle Grinder flap discs for metal sanding
Flap Discs Debur Metal and Take Off Rough edges
Use flap discs for finer metal sanding.

Like the standard grinding wheel, these come in different grits. Like sandpaper, the higher grits are for fine work and the coarse grits are for rougher work. We use flap discs all the time for finishing heavy grinding. Flap discs make a huge difference in what your finished piece looks like by removing burrs and scratches, allowing you to put slight chamfers on edges, and also making it easy to take the hard edge off corners.

If the metal part that you're working on is going to be handled by people we recommend using a flap disc on the exposed edges and corners at the very least to prevent unprotected hands from cutting snagged and cut on burrs and sharp edges.

The Cutoff Wheel is for Metal Cutting

Norton thin cutoff wheel for angle grinder
The thin profile of a cutoff wheel
The thinness of a cutoff wheel is what makes it cut so easily through metal. This one is .045" thick.

The Best Angle Grinder Wheel for Cutting Metal

Angle grinder cutoff wheel with 7/8" arbor
Cutoff wheel with 7/8" arbor
Cutoff wheels with a 7/8" arbor fit a special shoulder on angle grinders that have a 5/8"-11 threaded arbor.

The cutoff wheel is used for cutting metal. You can use it for cutting out welds, cutting small parts out of sheet or plate metal, or shortening bolts. You only use the edge of the wheel, not the back or front face. In fact, using either face will weaken a cuttoff wheel since they are so thin and the fibers that hold the wheel together are so exposed.

Cutting wheels are considerably thinner than standard grinding wheels. Typically, you'll use something that's either 1/8" or 0.045" thick. This is 1/2 to 1/4 as thick as a 1/4" grinding wheel. Because of their thinness and the fact that they only cut at the edge, they can cut metal extremely quickly.

The best angle grinder cutting wheels for metal are also the thinnest. However, the thinner the wheel, the more dangerous they are. Thin cutting wheels flex more easily and thus shatter more easily. If you're working at a work bench in a comfortable position with a well-positioned workpiece, a thin cutoff wheel is fine. If you plan to work under a vehicle in an awkward position, we recommend using a 1/8" cutoff wheel that is a little more rigid and will resist shattering if you lose your balance or position.

Also the Most Dangerous Angle Grinder Wheel...

Dewalt angle grinder cutoff wheel for fabrication
Cutoff wheels are great for fabrication
When you need to cut metal, a cutoff wheel on your angle grinder gets the job done quickly.

While the cutoff wheel is very, very handy, it is an extremely dangerous wheel because it’s thin. If you twitch, lose your balance, or otherwise accidentally twist the grinder while using this wheel, it will shatter. The projectiles that fly off could break your nose, damage your hands, hurt bystanders, etc. Keep your face away from this and out of the plane of the spinning wheel.

We have shattered perhaps one or two standard 1/4" grinding wheels in several years of fab work, but we've shattered many cutoff wheels. Lots of fabricators have injuries from not wearing proper safety gear or using cutoff wheels unsafely. One of us even has a nice scar and some grinding material permanently embedded under a fingernail after a shattered cutoff wheel impacted his hand and shattered his fingernail. It's tough to get everything set up perfectly for using a cutoff wheel on an angle grinder, so do the best you can and wear lots of safety gear.

Safety glasses, face mask, grinder guard, heavy gloves, and no bystanders are essential when you spin up this wheel. We recommend not using a cutoff wheel unless both ends of your material are properly supported. Otherwise, the hanging piece may to pinch the spinning wheel and shatter it. A chop saw should instead be used for some types of work, like shortening lengths of tubing or angle iron.


The Wire Wheel is for Cleaning

Angle grinder wire wheel with 5/8"-11 arbor
Wire back wheel with 5/8" arbor
We like threaded arbors for wire wheels since they make it easy to take the wheel on and off.

The Best Angle Grinder Wheel for Cleaning Paint and Rust

Wire wheels are excellent for removing surface rust and paint. The most abrasive wire wheels have thick, twisted bristles. Straight and thin bristles are much less abrasive, but aren’t aggressive enough if you need to do fast paint and rust removal. In fact, all of the wire wheels we use for our angle grinders are twisted. We only use straight bristle wire wheels on drill attachments and die grinders, and they are all small diameter.


Angle grinder twisted strand wire wheel
Wire Wheel Front
These are thick, twisted bristles, so this will be an aggressive wheel. This is the best type of wire wheel for heavy paint and rust removal.

Like the other wheels, stuff can fly off this wheel at high speeds - the wires occasionally break loose hard enough to stick in your skin. This isn’t so bad, but that should encourage you to wear eye protection. Don't buy cheap wire wheels for your angle grinder. We've tried wire wheels from Harbor Freight, and besides not lasting very long, they will spray you with wire filaments for as long as the wire wheel lasts. Besides being intolerably annoying, this is also dangerous for you and anyone around you since the filaments can so easily pierce skin (and certainly eyeballs).

Real World Tests: What These Grinding Wheels Do

Angle Grinder Wire Wheel Sample

The wire wheel easily took off the rust scale. If you were going to stick weld an emergency repair with 6010/6011 rod, this would probably be clean enough for the weld process. However, you’d want bare, shiny, clean metal for MIG or TIG. A wire wheel with steel bristles won’t gouge steel (although it might “soften” the appearance), but it can gouge softer metals like aluminum or brass.

Angle grinder wire wheel effect on rusty metal
Wire wheel effect on rusty metal
We prefer to have shiny metal for welding, but for a lot of projects a wire wheel will take off enough rust to later do a reasonable paint job.

Angle Grinder Flap Disc Sample

The flap disc is basically worthless for rust removal unless it’s just flash rusting. Scale comes off slowly and we never get to clean bare metal, so this is a pretty pointless use.

Angle grinder flap disc sanding wheel effect on rusty metal
Flap wheel effect on rusty metal
A flap wheel isn't sufficient for removing heavy rust. It's more suited for finer metal sanding and finishing.

Angle Grinder Grinding Wheel Sample

We get right down to bare, shiny metal quickly. This wheel left some pretty heavy gouges in the metal. It won’t look good, but for a functional piece this doesn’t matter. Note that we’ve ground out the pitting caused by the corrosion process. This means that we’ve also reduced the overall thickness of the workpiece in those spots. You generally should not be grinding out 1/8” deep pits on 1/4” material, since you’re reducing the strength of that area to 1/8”. The regular grinding wheel is also great for grinding off mill scale, which is the dull gray “coating” that comes on a lot of commonly available metal.

Angle grinder grinding wheel effect on rusty metal
Grinding wheel effect on rusty metal
The grinding wheel is very effective at cleaning rust down to bare metal, but it tends to leave a rough surface and can result in a lot of material removal if you aren't careful.

Grinding Wheel then Flap Disc Sample

First we used a regular grinding wheel, then ran over it with a flap disc. The workpiece still has a little gouging, but most of the shallow ones were “buffed” out. The finish is much smoother to the touch than the grinding wheel alone. Unlike the grinding-wheel-only sample, this would look pretty good with a coat of paint on it. A production piece with a totally smooth finish (think of a welded plate-style bumper with smooth corners) would likely use a less aggressive grinding wheel (shallower gouging) followed up by a flap wheel.

Angle grinder grinding wheel then flap disc effect on metal
Using a grinding wheel then sanding flap disc on metal
Using the flap disc after the coarser grinding wheel makes the steel much smoother.

Angle Grinder Cutoff Wheel Sample

This is just a straight cut with a cutoff wheel. When through-cutting, you must beware of how the cut piece moves so that it does not pinch the cutoff wheel or kick into the wheel when it falls. For pieces of this size and larger, it is safer to use a chopsaw, bandsaw, or hacksaw (it ain’t so bad!). This wheel is 0.045” thick, so it makes a slightly faster, thinner cut than thicker 1/8” (0.125”) wheels. It’ll also shatter more easily.

Angle Grinder Cutoff Wheel Effect on Metal
Cutoff wheels should only be used for cutting. Don't use the front or back face of the wheel for cutting, or you run the risk of weakening the wheel and causing it to shatter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tyler Branham

Tyler came out of the womb with a Birfield in one hand and a stick of 6010 in the other, ready to weld any piece of trail-busted steel back together. He has wheeled, broken, and modified a variety of rigs, from Toyotas to Jeeps to Fords to Chevies. He likes doing long distance overland travel and would happily spend every night in the bed of a pickup under the stars.

Last updated: June 3, 2019