The Importance of Base Material

The Importance of Base Material

An often overlooked factor in buffing wheels is the base material used in its construction - but the cotton quality, thread count, weave pattern, weight, and yarn size all play significant roles in how effectively a given buff performs its role. The big takeaway I want to hammer home is: Hilzinger's materials will save you time -and therefore - money.

North American Standards

  • Most aggressive: 86/80 is the North American standard cut & colour thread count - the vast majority of commonly available buffs (treated and untreated) are made with this textile.
  • Less aggressive: 60/60 is a middling thread count that is sometimes considered a general purpose cut and colour (in stitched and loose buffs), but more often than not is used primarily for colouring (in airway buffs)
  • Least aggressive: 42/40 is commonly used in light Domet Flannel, and meant for fine colouring/finishing only.

Here's a broad rule of thumb: higher thread count tends to make a buffing wheel both harder wearing (longer lasting), heavier, and more aggressive (although there are plenty of examples that don't follow this generalization). In other words, higher thread counts tend to remove material more quickly but also leave more buffing lines.

What makes Hilzinger's buffing textiles worth the extra expense?

Hilzinger has been making buffing and grinding tools for over 120 years, and over that time they have developed a selection of specialized base textiles for various purposes. Unlike the most North American buffing wheel manufacturers (who simply purchase the cheapest materials a handful of brokers happen to import in a given month), Hilzinger-Thum and Hilzinger America source their materials directly a small selection of textile mills, and have the material made to their specifications. Many producers here can't even ensure they get the same material from batch to batch!

Bob, our friend at Hilzinger America, draws from his own several decades of expertise in the buffing industry to have his own special textiles made, while also retaining access to Hilzinger-Thum's standard materials.

What Hilzinger base textiles does Spectrum utilize?

Now, first, I ask that you take the basic thread counts with a grain of salt - they are frequently shorthand for the precise specifications of a textile (e.g., 86/80 is comparable to 86/82 and 86/93) for ease of applying the right material to the right purpose (cutting, colouring, finishing). For example, Hilzinger America's 86/82 doesn't sound very different from 86/80, but it's a number that Bob associates with higher quality textiles rarely found in North America today.

Currently, we offer:

  • 86/82 Grey Mill Treat (Heavy Cut)
  • 86/82 Yellow Mill Treat (Primary Cut)
  • 60/60 Heavy Weight Clear Mill Treat (Secondary Cut)*
  • 86/82 Untreated (Mirror Finishing)
  • 60/60 Untreated (Mirror Finishing)
  • Heavy Weight Molton Flannel*

*Heavy Weight buffs tend to perform significantly better than otherwise equivalent (same thread count) textiles. If you've ever tried to throw a scrunched up ball of paper really hard, you'll know what I mean - it just doesn't have the mass to move through the air like a baseball. And light textiles don't have the mass to apply compound to a surface efficiently!

The 86/82 is a more dense, heavy material used for cutting and colouring. We utilize a couple of treatments to enhance firmness, abrasiveness, heat resistance, and lifespan. Compared to typical North American 86/80, it boasts superior compound retention, durability, and finish quality. Ultimately, I'd say the same goes for all of their textiles: better results in less time - and time is money! Yellow mill treat adds about 10% to its weight, and untreated 86/82 is about 15% heavier than untreated 60/60, or almost 28% heavier than Domet flannel.

The heavy weight 60/60 is a specialty textile that combines the weight and efficient buffing action of a heavier textile with the especially clean finish of a 60/60 fabric. The clear mill treat adds to the cutting action without drastically affecting finish quality. There is no common North American equivalent. Technically, it's a little heavier than our yellow mill treat 86/82 textile (and - mill treat included - almost 40% heavier than standard 60/60 untreated).

Untreated 60/60 is a fine finishing buff material, albeit again made to Bob's particular specifications. It is lighter in weight than 86/82 - but more flexible - producing an especially fine finish. It also retains and generates heat much more efficiently than Domet flannel, which has grown thinner, lighter, and cheaper (less effective, given the cost of brushing the material) over the years. Overall it's over 10% heavier than Domet flannel.

Molton Flannel is another specialty textile with proprietary specifications; it weighs about 30% more than Domet flannel (a bit more than untreated 86/82, in fact!), giving it significantly more efficient buffing action. The brushing process it undergoes (like other flannels) gives it additional body and softness that produce some of the finest finishes possible. Sample #2, 24 ply buffs we evaluated had a buffing face of almost 2"! Here's one compared against our old Osborn, #4, 20 ply Domet flannels (Molton has about 2.8% more cloth):

Overall, from most to least heavy they go:

86/82 (Yellow) Mill Treat / 60/60 Heavy Clear Mill Treat > 86/82 Untreated / Molton Flannel >  60/60 Untreated > Domet Flannel 

Customers often report that the 60/60 Heavy and Molton flannels  produce fine finishes more efficiently than 86/82 untreated and 60/60 untreated respectively, although they may wear a little faster due to their comparatively reduced thread counts (that said: thicker, heavier yarns can reduce wear rate compared to standard textiles).

In addition, we have some miniature buffing wheels sourced from the European Union that are made with what Hilzinger considers "their" 86/82 equivalent. It is, however, significantly heavier than the material Hilzinger America uses in Ohio, much like the 60/60 heavy weight material is significantly heavier than the standard 60/60 material. As a result, despite their small form factor, our heavy 86/82 yellow mill and untreated miniature airways produce buffing action and results beyond their stature.

Beyond all this - why is base material important?

It's common for lower cost producers to compensate for cheaper material by adding chemical (mill or dip) treatments. Regardless of the cloth used - cotton, sisal, wool, polyester/cotton blends - a buffing wheel acts primarily as a carrier of abrasive compound to the part's surface. Poorly designed treatments can reduce the carrying capacity of a textile, resulting in poor compound retention. Adding treatments to light textiles can also result in something like paper-maché - an initially firm and efficient buff that quickly falls limp and fails to perform.

Overall, lower quality material will carry compound less effectively, wear faster, produce poorer quality finishes, and take longer to do so. As a result, cheaply priced buffing wheels frequently cost more (in both time and material) in the long run! Rather than focusing on the cost of your buffs, focus on the cost per finished piece and you'll end up further ahead.

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