Shown above is a typical angle grinder. Well, it’s not really typical, as it’s a Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel cordless brushless grinder with fast braking action, but it has all the semblances of most angle grinders and cut-off tools.
Angle grinders usually have similar basic handle, gearbox, and spindle geometries, a repositionable auxiliary handle, and an adjustable wheel guard.
The wheel guard, which is going to be different depending on whether you’re using a cut-off wheel or grinding wheel, is an essential safety attachment. On a commercial jobsite, a safety compliance officer is going to do their best to make sure you keep the wheel guard on your grinder.
Wheel guards serve to deflect sparks and debris away from users, and to shield and protect them from abrasive cutting and grinding wheels, which can cause serious damage if (when) they fail and fly off. Personal protective gear, such as safety glasses and a face shield, and other PPE are often required as well.
OSHA regulations require the use of guarding on angle grinders.
Angle grinder wheel guards are often adjustable, with newer styles, such as the new Dewalt wheel guard shown here (at that bottom of that 2015 power tool preview), aiming to be more featured and user-friendly. Most simply provide 180° of coverage, but that new Dewalt guard offers even more.
A lot of users remove the wheel guards off their angle grinders, with the most frequent reason I’ve heard being that the guards get in the way of the work. Wheel guards are adjustable, so that you can angle them differently as needed, but I’ve been told that constant adjustment really slows things down. And when you’re on the clock and expected to finish a project in certain time, slowdowns are to avoided at all costs.
I don’t use my angle grinder as often as a professional user might. In fact, a welder, commercial contractor, or other daily user might use their angle grinder more in a day than I might use mine in a month or longer. So although I have never felt the need to remove the guard of my angle grinder to make a cutting or grinding task go faster, I’m not in the position to argue with those that do.
Do you remove the wheel guard of your angle grinder? Why? What do you do to protect yourself from sparks, debris, or exploding abrasive wheels?
In my opinion, using such a tool without the safety guards in place, and willfully, is too big of a risk. Nothing might happen the first time you do so. Or the second. Or the 50th. But that doesn’t diminish the risk. It just takes one bad wheel or bad luck for there to be a mishap.
I’m of the belief that the first time I use my angle grinder without its guard, that’s when the wheel will decide to explode catastrophically, and I just won’t risk that. Cut-off wheels and grinding wheels do break, and they do so spectacularly, sending shrapnel flying off in all directions. Even with safety glasses or goggles, and a face shield, and body protection when appropriate, I won’t use an angle grinder without its wheel guard properly attached.