Up until recently, I’ve never really given much thought to sandpaper…where it comes from, how it’s made or what tidbits of interesting history might be behind it. Sandpaper has always been one of those “means-to-an-end” products for me. And, well, it’s associated with sanding. I try not to spend more time than I really need to thinking about sanding…
But, the nitty gritty details about grits became a lot more interesting earlier this spring when I had the opportunity to tour Ali Industries, a sandpaper manufacturing plant just a couple hours west of my home.
Little did I know, but Ali Industries has been making consumer sandpaper and sanding products for 40 years—and the company’s ties to other abrasives go back even farther than that. The company’s founder, Frank Ali, got into the business back in 1961 during NASA’s space race heyday. Frank saw a need for specialized abrasives in the aerospace industry, and he began to make abrasive cartridge rolls for deburring spacecraft and jets. Yep, rockets and fast airplanes—the stuff I loved to dream about as a kid. Seems that, if you don’t polish a rocket to near perfection, it can burn up when it enters or leaves the atmosphere. Clearly, not good. Thanks in some part to Frank’s efforts, his industrial abrasives helped to put astronauts on the moon and enabled military and experimental planes to slip more smoothly through the wild blue yonder. Frank even met fellow Ohioan, astronaut and former senator John Glenn back in the glory days.