Finishing - Mirka in India

Not too many people in India would have heard of Mirka but that brand is recognised the world over as the leader in sanding and polishing solutions. Mirka manufactures all its products only in Finland where it is based but has 15 subsidiaries worldwide for sales. Since 2010 it has been operating a subsidiary in India with headquarters based in New Delhi.
Mirka "Gold" Sanding Roll

This means that Mirka's large range of sanding and polishing products is available to woodworkers and hobbyists in India. I was not aware of Mirka's India presence until my friend Zain Abedin and I came across Mirka sanding rolls at a Chandigarh paint store last month. We liked the yellow or "Gold" sanding rolls because of its soft backing and were happy to find that they lasted significantly longer than regular sanding rolls because they clogged less. The Mirka rolls were only marginal more expensive than its competitors.

I tracked down Mirka's main marketing partners, Dhiraj Sehgal, who was more than happy to talk about the company's extensive product range. According to him, Mirka has sanding and polishing solutions for every kind of substrate from hard wood to plywood, MDF and metal. Of particular interest to woodworkers would be its sanding disks, rolls and sheets.

"We have different products for each of the three steps of finishing, that is, for stock removal, sanding and polishing", explained Sehgal. To get best results, Sehgal emphasised the need to proceed step by step without omitting grits in the three stage process. For stock removal, which flattens wood or metal, abrasives of 40, 60 and 80 grits are recommended, followed by surface preparation with grits from 120 to 400. Polishing is the last stage and different levels can be achieved by using polishing material with grits ranging from 600 to 1,500. For even higher gloss, Mirka has specialised products of grits up to 4,000 grit.

Mirka also sells a variety of sanding and polishing tools both powered and manual. Perhaps its most famous product is the random orbital sander, which is the lightest, smallest and finest in the world, and costs Rs 45,000 a piece - about five times the price of a regular random orbital sander. But then the Mirka electric sanders are the Rolls Royce of sanders!

I was particularly interested in their range of sanding disks, which could be used in a regular random orbit sander, and in sanding strips that could be used for manual sanding.

Sehgal said that among sanding disks four of their most popular products are the patented Abranet disks, the Q Silver or high quality conventional paper backed disks, the Abralon sponge backed disks and the regular sanding disks ("Gold" and Jepuflex). All of these products can be attached to conventional random orbit sanders.

Abranet

The Abranet disks have in recent years gained much respect for their superior abrading and surfacing qualities. Unlike conventional paper backed disks, the Abranet disks are made of a net like material with abrasives on one side. I had read much about their performance and wished to see some in action.

Sehgal was kind enough to offer a sample of three grits - 120, 400 and 800.


Abranet Disks

To get an idea about what kind of result one could get with the Abranet sanding disks I decided to try out one of three samples provided. The lowest grit was 120 and I decided to pitch it against a regular disk of 60 grit. Ideally the comparison should have been with the same grits but since I did not have a low grit Abranet disk I went ahead with the comparison.

The test piece was an old bookshelf from which I was trying to strip the original finish. I first used the regular paper backed disk and then the Abranet disk. With both I used dust extraction.

This is the original piece with the old finish on
This is after 30 seconds with a regular 60 grit paper backed disk

This is after 30 seconds with a 120 grit Abranet disk

The difference in results is quite apparent: the Abranet is more aggressive and removed more material despite a finer grit being used; and the material removal was much more uniform with Abranet.

The regular disk after sanding

The Abranet disk after sanding


It was also clear that the Abranet disk retains far less dust and this would clearly facilitate sanding as dust interferes with the process.

The feel of the surface sanded by the Abranet disc was distinctly smoother and it was clear to me why professional woodworkers in the West and expert finishers prefer Mirka's Abranet disks.A super finish is achievable with Abranet disks which come in a wide range of grits, from 60 to 1500. The results with the higher grits would be interesting to see.

Mirka has another range called Abralon, which is meant for wet sanding and polishing. I have not used this product but apparently they come in grits up to 4000, starting from 180. This could be one way to go for obtaining a mirror finish on some woodworking projects.

Potential Problem

One potential problem I noticed when using the Abranet disc with my regular six inch sander was the amount of dust that collected on the rubber sanding base of the sander. The problem is the mesh structure of the Abranet disc which allows dust particles to go through easily. Much of the dust is sucked out but quite a bit nevertheless remains, which settles on the base of the sander. This could be a problem in situations where a lot of stock needs to be removed. This could ruin the sander's base over time.

The rubber base of regular random orbit sanders has six holes that allow dust to be sucked out leaving some of the dust on the centre of the sanding disc. The sanding discs too have six holes that align with the holes on the sander base. Most dust accumulates at the centre of the regular discs because there is no hole at the centre. However, in the case of regular paper backed discs the dust does not pass through and settle on the sander's rubber base.

This is one reason perhaps why Mirka also sells what it calls "Pad Savers" and "Net Backing Pad with Multiholes", which the company claims will reduce if not eliminate dust accumulation at the sander base. These, as their website explains, are also "designed to protect the backing pad from wear and tear, when sanding aggressively and continuously with net products. These cost effective pad savers, placed between the backing pad and the sanding disc, should be changed regularly. The pad savers prolong the life of the backing pad."

However, using the pad savers (price Rs 376 each) and a net backing pad (price Rs 3212 each) will set you back quite a bit. With that kind of money you could buy a brand new regular sander! Clearly not a very "cost effective" solution.

I need to get hold of these pad savers and check them out before I continue to use the Abranet discs again with my random orbital sander.

Pricing

Mirka speciality products such as Abranet, which is patented, costs far more than regular disks - Rs 65 per sheet compared to Rs 25 for the regular paper backed disks. The Abralon disks cost Rs 175 each. Mirka however maintains that their more expensive disks pay for themselves as they last longer and do the job quicker thus saving time and money.

Mirka has, however, competitively priced its regular products such as paper backed disks, sanding rolls, sand paper and so. The Q Silver disks cost Rs 45 each while the "Gold" and Jepuflex disks cost Rs 25.

Clearly, Mirka's speciality products are expensive but professional woodworkers and those planning to make fine furniture will think twice before giving them a pass.

Indranil Banerjie
28 December 2013

Comments

  1. Indranil, do they also carry adhesive backed sanding rolls? I had to import a couple of the them from the US Porter Cable company. These are useful for sharpening your plane blades with a honing guide

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