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    Why CBN is the Superior Choice for Grinding Steel

    Updated: February 26, 2024 Published: November 27, 2023

    In the world of machining and toolmaking, the choice of the right abrasive material is crucial. When it comes to machining steel, a common question arises: which is better – diamond or cubic boron nitride (CBN)? This article explores why CBN is often the preferred choice for steel over diamond, delving into the thermal properties, applications, and effectiveness of CBN in machining hard materials.

    Wheels 1Why is CBN Better for Machining Steel than Diamond?

    CBN's superiority in steel machining stems primarily from its strong thermal properties. Unlike diamond, which can lose its hardness and suffer from a chemical reaction when exposed to the high temperatures generated during the machining of steel, CBN retains its hardness. This thermal stability makes CBN ideal for cutting tough materials like tool steel and high-speed steel (HSS), especially under high machining temperatures.

    Diamond vs. Cubic Boron Nitride Grinding Wheel

    When comparing diamond and CBN grinding wheels, the key difference lies in their suitability for different materials. Diamond, being the hardest material, is excellent for grinding a wide range of materials but falls short when it comes to steel due to its lower thermal tolerance. CBN wheels, on the other hand, are specifically designed for high-temperature applications, making them better suited for grinding steel and other hard alloys.

    Can You Use a Diamond Grinding Wheel on Steel?

    Using a diamond grinding wheel on steel is not recommended. The high temperatures generated when grinding steel can cause the diamond to react with the carbon in the steel, leading to the deterioration of the diamond grit. This reaction not only reduces the effectiveness of the diamond wheel but also shortens its lifespan.

    CBN vs. Diamond Sharpening Stones

    In the context of sharpening tools, particularly those made of steel, CBN stones offer distinct advantages. While diamond stones can sharpen steel tools, CBN stones offer greater durability and thermal stability, making them more effective and longer-lasting, especially for heavy-duty or industrial sharpening applications involving high-speed steel and other hard alloys.

    Why Diamond is Not Used for Grinding Steel

    Diamond's unsuitability for grinding steel lies in its carbon structure. When diamond, a form of carbon, is used to grind steel, especially at high speeds, it encounters high temperatures. This environment can lead to a chemical reaction where the carbon from the diamond bonds with the iron in the steel, effectively dulling the abrasive and reducing its grinding efficiency. This reaction reduces the diamond wheel’s lifespan and compromises its grinding performance on steel.

    What is CBN Used For?

    1. Grinding Tool Steel and HSS: CBN is particularly effective for grinding high-speed steel and tool steel, materials commonly used in cutting tools and dies.
    2. Precision Machining: The hardness and thermal stability of CBN make it ideal for precision machining applications where tight tolerances and fine finishes are required.
    3. Automotive and Aerospace: In industries where high-strength alloys and hardened steels are common, CBN is used for grinding camshafts, crankshafts, and other critical components.

    Pros and Cons of a CBN Grinding Wheel


    1. Thermal Stability: CBN’s superior thermal conductivity and stability allow it to maintain its effectiveness at high temperatures, making it ideal for grinding steel.
    2. Longevity: The hardness and wear resistance of CBN result in a longer lifespan compared to other abrasive materials.
    3. Precision: CBN wheels offer a high degree of precision, crucial for applications requiring tight tolerances.
    4. Versatility: Suitable for both wet and dry grinding, CBN wheels can be used in a variety of machining operations.


    1. Cost: CBN grinding wheels typically have a higher initial cost than conventional abrasives.
    2. Limited Application: While excellent for hard materials, CBN may not be the best choice for softer materials, where conventional abrasives might suffice.

    The Difference Between CBN and Diamond

    The primary difference between CBN and diamond lies in their chemical composition and thermal properties. Diamond is composed of carbon, whereas CBN is made up of boron and nitrogen. This difference gives CBN a higher thermal stability, making it more suitable for machining ferrous materials like steel. Diamond, while harder than CBN, suffers from a carbon-iron reaction at high temperatures, limiting its effectiveness on steel.

    Is CBN Better than Diamond for Grinding Steel?

    In the context of grinding steel and other ferrous materials, CBN is indeed the better choice. Its ability to withstand high temperatures without undergoing a chemical reaction with steel, combined with its hardness and durability, make it more effective and longer-lasting than diamond in steel machining applications.

    Additional Considerations in Using CBN Wheels

    1. Coolant Use: While CBN can be used for both dry and wet grinding, the use of a coolant can enhance its performance, especially in high-speed applications, by reducing heat and extending wheel life.
    2. Fine Grit Options: For achieving high-quality finishes on steel, fine-grit CBN wheels can be used, offering a balance between material removal rates and surface finish quality.
    3. Resin and Vitrified Bonds: The choice between resin and vitrified bonds in CBN wheels depends on the specific application. Vitrified bonds offer rigidity and precision, while resin bonds provide more flexibility.
    4. Grinding Pressure and Speed: Optimizing grinding pressure and speed can enhance the performance of CBN wheels, ensuring efficient material removal while maintaining the integrity of the workpiece.
    5. Wheel Life and Maintenance: Regular truing and dressing of CBN wheels can extend their life and maintain grinding accuracy.


    CBN grinding wheels represent a significant advancement in the machining of steel and other hard materials. Their thermal stability, hardness, and resistance to wear make them superior to diamond wheels for steel applications. By understanding the properties of CBN and the factors that affect its performance, manufacturers can optimize their grinding processes, achieving high-quality results with greater efficiency and precision. As machining technologies continue to advance, the role of CBN in industrial applications is set to grow, further solidifying its status as a critical tool in modern manufacturing.