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The science of cut-resistant gloves

How is glass and steel engineered into cut-resistant gloves?

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Responding is Corenne Taylor, content marketing specialist, Superior Glove, Cheektowaga, NY.

When you hear the words “cut-resistant gloves,” what comes to mind? If you picture thick, chainmail gloves, you’re not alone.

However, many of today’s most cut-resistant gloves are just the opposite – thin, form-fitting and very comfortable. Yet, they can still repel blades. How is that possible?

Cut resistance meets Geometry 101

To understand the science behind cut resistance, picture a triangle with each point representing one element of cut-resistant technology: strength, hardness and rolling action. These three elements form the basis of cut-resistant technology.

On their own, each provides a base level of cut resistance, but once you start combining them, that’s when the cut resistance truly starts to add up.

To combine cut-resistant elements, you have to start at the very beginning – the yarn. Looking closely at a cut-resistant string-knit glove, it will appear to be made with only one yarn, but it’s actually a three-ply yarn that has been engineered to combine several elements into one.

Let’s take a look at how each element contributes to the overall cut resistance of the whole glove.

Strength

The strength element refers to the inherent strength of the material used to produce the yarn. In terms of protective gloves, both para-aramid and high-performance poly ethylene (HPPE) are considered very strong fibers.

If those names sound strange, you’re probably more familiar with their brand names, such as Kevlar (para aramid) and Dyneema (HPPE). Although these fibers are extremely strong, on their own they typically produce gloves with an ANSI Cut Level 2, which is not very cut resistant; however, when combined with other elements from the cut-resistance triangle, they can produce yarn that offers the highest levels of cut resistance.

Hardness

If you’ve ever heard of cut-resistant gloves containing glass or steel, the hardness corner of the triangle explains how that works. Hardness refers to the material’s ability to dull a blade and is achieved by engineering very hard substances into the yarn itself. If the thought of glass in your gloves makes you itchy – don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing!

Rolling action

Looking closely at a three-ply yarn, you may be able to spot the three different pieces that make up the yarn, but what you won’t see are the hundreds of filament fibers that make up each piece of yarn. It is how these filament fibers move together that helps determine the level of cut resistance.

In cut-resistant fibers there is “rolling action,” which means that the filament fibers can move loosely and the motion absorbs some of the impact from the blade. If this is hard to imagine, picture a rope tied taut between two points and trying to cut through it with an axe – cuts pretty easily, right? Now, imagine that same rope tied to the same two points but instead of being taut, it’s hanging loosely. Can the axe still cut through easily? Probably not – you’ll need to take a couple of whacks to cut it now.

Some yarns inherently contribute more than others to the rolling action, or “slipperiness,” of the fiber. For instance, there is much debate over which is stronger, Kevlar or Dyneema, but there is no question that Dyneema (or HPPE) is more slippery than Kevlar. This inherent slipperiness helps blades glide over the fiber rather than cutting through it. In fact, HPPE is so slippery that when it’s extruded as a sheet, it can be used as an artificial skating rink, allowing the skate blades to glide along without cutting through.

Putting it all together

On their own, none of these elements is highly cut resistant – that’s why they need to work together. The most highly cut-resistant materials typically combine all three in an engineering feat that allows for top-notch cut protection in a form-fitting, comfortable glove.

*ANSI cut levels refer to testing performed to the standards outlined in ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 and rates cut resistance on a scale of A1 to A9, with A1 providing the lowest level of cut protection and A9 providing the highest.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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