Workshop Dust Control Part 1
An introduction to the methods and strategies for effective dust control.
Whether you’re working in a commercial woodworking shop, or on the first project in your garage, dust control is an important issue. With repercussion ranging from dust in your finish to potential health issues, dust control tools and measures have become more prominent in woodworking over the last decade. The good news is that most of the dust can be controlled with a few simple steps.
Reasons to Control Dust:
The health effects of long-term exposure to wood dust are the primary reason to control dust in your workshop. When I was in high school, I worked in a lumberyard cutting wood for customers. I never wore any hearing or dust protection equipment. I discovered that after about four years I was more sensitive to the dust and would become congested and tight in my chest.
Now I wear a respirator whenever I work with wood. I discovered later that my experience is not unique. I’ve heard many stories from professional woodworkers who have had to retire due to severe allergies stemming from decades of working without any form of dust control. Beyond simple allergic reactions other health effects include: Eye & Skin Irritation, Respiratory Effects, Nasal Cancer and increased sensitivity.
Sawdust poses a serious fire hazard in a workshop. Wood is flammable and the light powdery dust form it can burn very quickly and with explosive force. If wood dust is concentrated heavily in the air, and then exposed to a spark, it can cause an explosion. The fire jumps from particle to particle in a similar manner as a grain silo explosion. Fortunately, this is not very common. Sawdust lying around your shop is more likely to catch fire and burn from a stray spark or flame.
Sawdust on a smooth floor can become slippery and cause accidents.
Dust in Finishes
If your trying to achieve a smooth “piano like” finish it will not be possible with dust in the workshop. The dust will settle on your finish and leave imperfections.
Dust collected in power tools can reduce their lifespan. The dust can block air ports and get into the internal parts thus shortening their life. The best way to control this is to draw the dust away from the tool with a vacuum during use. (More on this later) You should also use compressed air (or a vacuum) to blow dust out of the inside of the tool.
If you run a commercial woodworking shop, dust control is the law. There are various regulations covering employee’s exposure to dust in the workplace. Effective dust control is required to comply with these laws and avoid heavy OSHA fines.
Checking for Dust in the Shop
Still not convinced that you need to control the dust in your workshop? Then try this simple test. After a day of working in your shop turn off the lights and use a bright flashlight or a laser pointer. You will see all the particles in the path of the light beam. Keep in mind that this is the same air that you’re breathing! You either need to remove the dust from air or your lungs will do it for you! Note: This simple test is useful for determining if your shop is clean enough for applying a finish to your project.
Types of Dust
There are three types of “dust” that you will encounter in your workshop. Each of these requires a slightly different control strategy.
Wood shavings are typically created by planeing wood by hand. These shavings are long and curly. Shavings don’t affect your lungs, but they do require special collection considerations. They may tend to clog dust hoses and are best collected with a dustpan.
Chips are smaller than shavings and are typically generated by routers, shapers, and planers. Electric planers can produce a lot of shavings and require a good shop vac or collection system to run smoothly. Check your vacuum frequently as these savings can fill up a system quickly. Sawdust is often created at the same time as chips.
Sawdust in the workshop is a serious safety issue and requires proper control. The fine dust can be difficult to control and requires special precautions. Dust is most frequently created as a by-product to cutting operations such as with a table or band saw or from sanding. The best way to control sawdust is at the source, as we will discuss in the next post.