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    Advantages of CBN Grinding Wheels

    Updated: February 19, 2024 Published: December 11, 2023

    In the realm of industrial grinding and toolmaking, the choice of abrasive material is crucial. While diamond has long been celebrated for its extreme hardness, Cubic Boron Nitride (CBN) has risen as the more effective abrasive for grinding steel materials. This article delves into the reasons behind CBN's growing preference over diamond in steel applications and explores its advantages, addressing common questions related to these superabrasives.Wheel pack Stock image edit

    Understanding the Nature of CBN and Diamond

    Before diving into why CBN is more suitable for steel, it's essential to understand the nature of these two superabrasives. Diamond, the hardest naturally occurring material, is composed of carbon atoms arranged in a crystal lattice. Although it’s renowned for its hardness and is widely used in various carbide cutting and grinding applications, its effectiveness is reduced when it comes to grinding steel.

    CBN, on the other hand, is a man-made material. Second only to diamond in hardness, CBN stands out for its remarkable properties, particularly when dealing with ferrous materials with an HRc of around 40.

    Reason 1: Superior Thermal Stability of CBN

    CBN's dominance in steel grinding primarily stems from its exceptional thermal stability. Here's why this property is crucial:

    1. High-Temperature Resistance: Unlike diamond, CBN particles can withstand high temperatures without undergoing structural changes. While diamond starts to lose its hardness at around 800°C, transforming into graphite, CBN remains stable at temperatures up to about 1,400°C. This characteristic makes CBN the preferred choice for high-speed and high-temperature grinding processes.
    2. Consistency in Hardness: This stability ensures that CBN retains its hardness and abrasiveness even under the intense heat generated during steel grinding, leading to consistent performance and longer tool life.
    3. Efficiency in High-Speed Applications: In high-speed steel (HSS) applications, the ability of CBN to maintain its hardness at elevated temperatures translates to more efficient and faster grinding, with reduced tool wear and better surface finishes.

    Reason 2: No Chemical Reaction with Ferrous Materials

    The chemical non-reactivity of CBN towards ferrous materials is another factor that sets it apart from diamond. Here's how this property benefits grinding:

    1. No Carbon-Iron Reaction: When diamond tools are used to grind a steel workpiece with high pressure, a chemical reaction can occur between the carbon in the diamond and the iron in the steel. This reaction significantly reduces the diamond's effectiveness and leads to rapid tool degradation. CBN, devoid of carbon, does not suffer from this drawback.
    2. Enhanced Durability: The lack of a chemical reaction means that CBN tools retain their cutting edges for longer periods, providing more consistent results and reducing the need for frequent tool changes.
    3. Versatility with Ferrous Materials: CBN’s compatibility with various ferrous materials, including high-hardness alloys, tool steels, and cast irons, makes it a versatile abrasive for a broad range of industrial applications.

    Reason 3: Durability in Grinding Iron

    The resilience of CBN in grinding iron and steel surfaces is a key advantage over diamond:

    1. Stable Grinding Performance: CBN's robust nature allows it to grind iron-based materials without significant wear or breakdown. This stability is crucial for maintaining the precision and quality of the grinding process.
    2. Longer Tool Life: Tools made from CBN tend to have a longer lifespan when used on steel and iron. This not only improves the efficiency of the grinding process but also contributes to lower tooling costs in the long run.
    3. Reduced Risk of Tool Failure: The strength and durability of CBN reduce the likelihood of tool failure, which is particularly important in high-stakes industrial settings where tool failure can result in costly downtime.

    Answering Key Questions on CBN and Diamond in Grinding Steel

    Why is CBN Preferred Over Diamond on Steel? 
    CBN's preference over diamond in grinding steel is primarily due to its superior thermal stability and chemical inertness when dealing with ferrous materials. Unlike diamond, CBN does not react with iron at high temperatures, maintaining its hardness and cutting efficiency, making it ideal for grinding a wide range of steel materials, from tool steel to hardened alloys.
    What are the Advantages of Cubic Boron Nitride?

    The advantages of CBN include its ability to maintain hardness at high temperatures, its resistance to wear and abrasion, and its suitability for grinding ferrous and hard materials. Additionally, CBN offers a longer tool life and consistent performance, which are crucial in high-precision and high-speed grinding applications.

    Which is Better: Diamond or CBN Grinding Wheel?

    The choice between diamond and CBN grinding wheels depends on the material being machined. For non-ferrous and softer materials, diamond wheels are preferred due to their extreme hardness. However, for steel and other ferrous materials, CBN wheels are superior due to their thermal stability and resistance to chemical reactions with iron.

    What is the Difference Between Diamond and CBN?

    The primary difference lies in their composition and properties. Diamond is made of carbon and is the hardest known material, but it lacks thermal stability when used on steel. CBN, composed of boron and nitrogen, is the second hardest material and offers superior performance on ferrous materials due to its higher thermal stability and lack of a carbon-iron reaction.

    What are the Disadvantages of Using Diamond for Grinding Steel?

    The disadvantages include rapid tool wear due to the high-temperature reaction with steel, inconsistent performance in steel grinding, and the need for frequent tool replacement, which increases overall grinding costs.

    What are the Disadvantages of Diamond Wheels? 

    Beyond its limitations in steel grinding, diamond's other disadvantages include its cost and the challenges in synthesizing diamond abrasives that meet specific industrial requirements. Additionally, diamond tools may not be the best choice for materials that can cause carbon to destabilize, such as certain high-speed steel alloys.

    Why is CBN Preferred for Steel Grinding?

    CBN is preferred for steel grinding due to its thermal stability, which allows it to retain its hardness at the high temperatures generated during grinding. This property, coupled with its resistance to wear and chemical stability when in contact with iron, makes CBN the more effective and durable choice for steel grinding applications.

    Delving Deeper: The Science Behind CBN’s Superiority in Steel Grinding

    1. High Hardness and Wear Resistance: CBN's hardness is second only to diamond, making it highly resistant to wear and abrasion. This property is essential for maintaining sharp cutting edges and achieving precision in grinding tasks.
    2. Thermal Conductivity and Stability: CBN's thermal conductivity is lower than diamond's, but its stability at high temperatures is significantly superior. This aspect ensures that CBN maintains its structural integrity and cutting capabilities even in the high-temperature environment of steel grinding.
    3. Chemical Inertness with Ferrous Materials: Unlike diamond, CBN does not react with ferrous materials at high temperatures. This feature prevents the deterioration of the abrasive, ensuring consistent performance and longer tool life.
    4. Versatility Across Steel Types: CBN's effectiveness is not limited to a specific type of steel. It performs exceptionally well across various steel types, including high-speed steel (HSS), tool steel, and hardened steel alloys, offering versatility in grinding applications.

    Practical Insights: Maximizing the Use of CBN in Steel Grinding

    To fully leverage the advantages of CBN in steel grinding, consider the following best practices:

    1. Optimizing Cutting Speeds and Feed Rates: Adjusting cutting speeds and feed rates according to the specific steel type and grinding task can enhance CBN tool performance, achieving the desired balance between material removal rates and surface finish quality.
    2. Effective Use of Coolants: Employing coolants can further improve CBN tool performance, especially in high-speed applications. Coolants help in heat dissipation, reduce tool wear, and enhance the surface finish of the machined part.
    3. Regular Tool Maintenance: Maintaining CBN tools, including periodic dressing and inspection for wear, ensures their longevity and consistent performance. Proper maintenance routines can significantly extend the life of CBN grinding wheels and cutting tools.
    4. Understanding Material Properties: Knowledge of the specific properties of the steel being machined is crucial for selecting the appropriate CBN tool. Factors like hardness, tensile strength, and heat treatment can influence the choice of CBN abrasive and the overall grinding strategy.
    5. Investing in Quality CBN Tools: Opting for high-quality CBN tools from reputable manufacturers can make a significant difference in grinding outcomes. High-quality CBN tools offer better consistency, precision, and reliability, essential for demanding steel grinding tasks.


    The superiority of CBN over diamond for steel materials is evident in its thermal stability, chemical inertness, and resilience in high-temperature grinding environments. By understanding the unique properties of CBN and employing it effectively, manufacturers and machinists can significantly improve the efficiency, precision, and cost-effectiveness of their steel grinding processes. As the demand for grinding challenging materials continues to grow, the role of CBN in industrial applications becomes increasingly indispensable, solidifying its status as a key material in modern manufacturing.