You may have seen someone in protective gear from head to toe holding what looks like a fire hose and spraying material on a building — or, if you live near a harbor, a ship. Sandblasting is also used in auto body shops on a smaller scale. Some items are sandblasted to remove dirt and grit, and some items, like cars in auto body shops, have to be sandblasted before new paint can be applied.

What Is Sandblasting?

Sandblasting uses compressed air to shoot abrasive materials against an object that you want to smooth out or sometimes rough up. Sandblasting is also called grit blasting. It’s used to eliminate imperfections and to remove rust, paint and other material. It can make something old look new again and can prepare it for repainting or refinishing.

Sandblasting is a lot quicker than scraping off old surfaces or using paint and rust removers to do it. Even though the process is still often called sandblasting, sand isn’t used anymore. Depending on what’s being blasted and the effect you want to achieve, any one or more of the following materials might be used:

  • Acrylic
  • Aluminum oxide
  • Corncob grit
  • Crushed walnut shells
  • Dry ice
  • Glass beads or crushed glass
  • Pumice
  • Silicon carbide grit
  • Steel grit
  • Water, sometimes with additives like detergent

Sandblasting is used on everything from old wrought-iron patio furniture and swimming pools to ships and entire buildings. Unless you have significant startup funding, you’ll have to start small and work up to hiring people and buying more sophisticated equipment so you can handle bigger jobs.

How Much Can You Make?

What you can charge for sandblasting varies based on what you’re blasting and its size and location. The kind of blasting material you use for any given job will also have a bearing on what you charge.

Most sandblaster companies charge by the hour at rates ranging from $40 to $65. If more expensive materials have to be used or the job is particularly difficult because of its location or other factors, that hourly rate can go up to $75 and more. These rates usually include preparation and materials.

Preparation may involve picking up the item and bringing it to your shop or prepping the surface that’s going to be blasted. On larger jobs, it may involve putting barriers and sheeting in place so other workers and pedestrians remain safe. While the costs of blasting materials vary, you can figure an average cost of $50 for a 50-pound bag.

What You’ll Need

Blasting equipment prices run the gamut. Before you start shopping, get your business plan in place because how much funding you have will dictate what kind of equipment you can afford to buy and how big or small you need to start. The real money is in the big jobs.

Say you have a local market for blasting small parts, like a machine shop that doesn’t have its own blasting equipment. In this case, you can start with bench-top blasting equipment. These blasters have compartments where you put batches of small objects and then shut the door and hit a start button.

Commercial-grade equipment that will allow you to handle big jobs can cost many thousands of dollars. Some vendors sell used equipment, so you might save some money there. You’ll also need a variety of blasting materials and — very important — protective clothing. Blasting anything that’s too big to fit in a bench-top blasting machine requires special clothing, gloves and headgear.

What It Will Cost

To get off to a good start, plan on a minimum of $10,000 in startup costs. This is a bare minimum and will allow you to do small jobs. It includes the cost of equipment, gear and advertising. It will also cover the costs of any permits and other licenses required by the state, city and town where you’re setting up shop.

If you want to start big and compete with the market leaders in your area, then the more startup funding you have, the better. Upward of $500,000 would be best. You’ll be able to buy the materials needed and a variety of equipment to handle different jobs. For example, using dry ice requires a special dry-ice blaster.

You’ll also be able to buy multiples of the most commonly used equipment so that you can put more than one person on a big job. You should try to leave some money in reserve to buy things that wear out, like protective clothing and face masks.

Setting Up a New Business

Many of the steps in starting a sandblasting business are the same as starting any business. You’ll want to:

  1. Do your market research and your occupational safety and health research. (Go to the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA site.)

  2. Prepare a business plan.

  3. Get federal and state tax identification numbers.

  4. Decide on how your business will be structured: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or LLC.

  5. Secure your startup money and open a business bank account.

  6. Choose your name and decide how you’ll brand your business.

  7. Register your business and obtain any necessary licenses or permits.

  8. Network like crazy. Network with builders and contractors and your state, city and county governments.

The importance of networking in the blasting business cannot be overstated. In most areas, several very large companies handle the big jobs and bid for government jobs. You’re not going to be able to do that right out of the starting gate, but you can work toward it as you establish yourself and grow. Try to find any vulnerabilities the big companies have and differentiate your company accordingly.

Alternatives to Business Ownership

If all of this is making you think twice about going into the sandblasting business yourself, you can always get a job at a sandblasting company.

Sandblaster salaries range from around $20,000 to over $50,000 a year. Entry-level sandblasters make an average of $12.50 to $15 an hour. The more experience you have and the wider your range of knowledge about using different materials, the higher your pay will be. Experienced sand blasters can make $20.00 an hour or more depending on where you live.

The best places to be a sandblaster are Norfolk, Virginia, Seattle, Washington and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sandblasters in these cities make 30% to 50% more than the national average sandblaster pay.

How to Learn Sandblasting

While many sandblasters learn the skill from on-the-job training, certification programs are offered by the Society of Protective Coatings. The certification is called “C7”. It costs $850 to $1,050 depending on whether or not you’re a member. It’s two days long, includes hands-on instruction and is offered in 11 different states.

However, if this certification is your only blasting experience, you’ll still be considered inexperienced by most hiring companies, so you’ll have to start at or near the bottom of the pay scale.

This certification combined with on-the-job training is an excellent way to gain the know-how necessary to eventually start your own company. Blasting companies aren’t likely to ask you to sign a noncompete document. So, you can take what you’ve learned and move on to entrepreneurship.

Sandblasting Job Satisfaction

Blasting can be very satisfying work. Unlike many paper-pushing jobs, projects have distinct beginnings, middles and ends, which give you a sense of accomplishment.

If you’re physically strong and have a fine sense of detail with a little perfectionism thrown in, this could be the work for you. Add a C7 certification and on-the-job experience to the heart of an entrepreneur, and you’ll be on your way.