What is this?

Published on July 6th, 2012
What is this?

And what does it have to do with DIY?

Believe it or not, the picture on the right is an extremely close-up view of shark skin. Sharks may look smooth and slippery, but their skin is actually covered in tiny scales called dermal teeth, which disrupt turbulence and reduce the drag on the shark as it glides through the water.

In fact, shark skin is so rough that it was used as sandpaper before actual sandpaper existed! Don’t believe us? Check out this awesome video of shark skin being tested for its sandpapering skills…

Speaking of sandpaper…
Shark skin may be rough enough to use as a type of sandpaper, but nothing beats the real stuff you buy in the average hardware store. And even though modern sandpaper has nothing to do with sharks anymore, water still plays an important role how sandpaper is used. Why? Well, that’s an interesting story…

It began in the 1920’s, when the vice president of an American company called 3M got a letter from a guy named Francis Okie in Philadelphia. Mr Okie wanted samples of 3M’s abrasives (rough materials like sandpaper), because he was working in a building where glass was ground down, and the owner of the glass-grinding business was worried about the health risks of breathing in the glass dust.

At that stage, sandpaper created lots of dust when it was used to grind down a surface – and when that surface was glass, the dust could be really bad for a person’s health. “I began to wonder why a person couldn’t make a waterproof abrasive,” said Okie, “a sandpaper that could be used with water. That would eliminate dust from abrading. I decided to experiment.”

The invention of waterproof sandpaper
Okie joined 3M and fiddled around with different abrasives until, in 1921, the company released 3M Wetordry™ Waterproof Sandpaper – the world’s first water-resistant coated abrasive.

Car manufacturers were the first to use the new product. The furniture industry soon followed, and by the mid-1920s, the Wetordry brand was the clear market leader in coated abrasives. And it didn’t just make a lot of money for 3M – it also improved health conditions for workers in manufacturing plants all over the world. Now that’s what we call a smooth operator…