Back to News The two types of waterjet cutting, abrasive and water-only, have several key differences that set them apart.

4 Differences Between Abrasive and Water-Only Waterjet Cutting

Both abrasive and water-only cutting heads on a waterjet's gantry.

4 Differences Between Abrasive & Water-Only Waterjet Cutting

There are two types of waterjet cutting systems – abrasive and water-only. While both of these systems use the same method of accelerated erosion to cut materials, there are a few key differences between the two that should be considered when determining which is best for your application.

1. Abrasive Usage

Perhaps the most substantial difference between the two types of waterjet cutting is the fact that water-only systems do not utilize an abrasive medium to cut materials. Water-only machines, as the name suggests, create a thin cutting stream consisting of strictly water. Abrasive machines on the other hand utilize an abrasive, typically garnet, that is added to the cutting stream, strengthening and accelerating the erosion process. Whether or not abrasive is used will have an effect on the type of material that is able to be cut.

2. Materials

Water-only waterjets are the perfect solution for processing thin, flexible materials such as foam, rubber, plastic, and even certain food items. In order to effectively process harder, thicker materials, the cutting stream will most likely require the addition of an abrasive medium. Abrasive waterjets are used to cut through all types of metal including steel, aluminum, and titanium, as well as a slew of other hard materials including stone, composites, and even glass.

3. Cost

On average, abrasive waterjets use about 1 pound of garnet per minute while cutting, making abrasive the largest contributor to consumable costs. By using a water-only system, these costs are eliminated completely. Due to the destructive nature of abrasive waterjets, the machine’s nozzles will also need to be replaced regularly, a situation that is avoided by cutting with water-only. Lastly, spent abrasive must be properly disposed of, a process that also comes with a price. By eliminating these costs, water-only systems can be substantially cheaper to operate.

4. Kerf

Kerf is defined as the width of the cut made by the waterjet cutting stream. Kerf is determined by the size of the orifice used, as a larger orifice will produce a larger cutting stream. Generally an abrasive waterjet will produce a cutting stream around .03 - .04 inches wide, while a water-only cutting stream can be as thin as .003 inches. Due to the smaller kerf created by the water-only stream, it is possible to produce sharper corners while minimizing material waste.

The choice between using a water-only or abrasive waterjet system depends completely on the application at hand. Luckily, making the switch from abrasive to water-only cutting is usually as simple as swapping out the cutting head. However, if your application does not require the processing of any hard, thick materials, investing in a waterjet that has been tailored for water-only applications is recommended. Call WARDJet at 330-677-9100 or contact us at to learn about what type of waterjet cutting system is best for your business.

For further processing of parts coming off of a waterjet, take a look at some of the CNC routers that AXYZ has to offer. Capable of pocketing, slotting, and profiling, AXYZ routers offer flexible and efficient manufacturing for virtually any application. Visit for more information.

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