Whether you have a dedicated shop building or a corner of the garage, whether you make ornate custom furniture or just the occasional birdhouse, there is one common thread – dust. It’s a fact of life that woodworking and carpentry tools create dust, and the more you cut, drill and sand, the more dust you’ll create.
In recent years, wood dust – especially fine dust created by such woodworking operations as sanding and fine cutting – has come to be recognized as more than just a nuisance. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) for different types of woods and wood byproducts often list wood dust as a potential skin, eye and respiratory irritant, and fine airborne dust in sufficient quantities can also be an explosion hazard.
Recognizing this, the tool industry has responded by making a wide variety of dust collection and filtration systems available that are very affordable for the home handyperson and small woodshop owner.
For the serious woodworker who has a number of dust-making tools in a shop or garage, a central dust-collection system is the way to go. Once seen only in large commercial shops, home shop systems are powerful, efficient and flexible, allowing you to connect several tools to a single collection and bagging point. They are also surprisingly affordable, ranging from around $275 for a 1,250-cubic-feet-per-minute (CFM) 110-volt collector up to around $475 for a big, double-bag 2,300 CFM 220-volt model.
Individual tools are connected to the system using 1 1/2-inch to 4-inch plastic or sheet metal hard pipe, or flexible plastic or PVC pipe. Systems are easily designed and constructed to fit any number of tools and any shop layout, and can be altered and rearranged as needed.
For individual tools, you have a number of dust-collection options. One simple solution is to connect your tool directly to a standard shop vacuum – adaptors are readily available that allow connection between tools and hoses of different diameters. To make this even easier, look for a shop vacuum with an auto-on feature, which will activate the vacuum every time you turn the tool on.
For more power and even less dust, there are portable dust collectors available that are actually a smaller version of the central collectors. Portable dust collectors have large internal impellers that create quite a bit of suction, and an inlet that is sized to accept any standard 4-inch flexible hose. The collector is mounted on wheels to make it easy to move between tools and work areas, and the large cloth collection bag rounds up a lot of sawdust and chips. For even greater removal of airborne dust, both the central and the individual dust collectors are available with bags that will trap dust down to 1 micron and even one-half micron in size.
For those tools like hand sanders that are difficult or inconvenient to connect to a dust collector or vacuum cleaner, you might consider a table-mounted or floor-mounted suction head. Suction heads look something like an enclosed dustpan, with an elongated opening at one end and a 4-inch round opening at the other. The round opening connects to the dust collector with a flex hose, and the oblong opening is placed near your work area where it can suck in dusty air before it has a chance to circulate through the shop.
Air Filters and Masks
There are also a number of products available that are designed to help keep you from inhaling airborne dust. Delta, for example, offers an air cleaner with an internal 400 CFM fan and a set of reusable filters for trapping and removing dust from the air. The air cleaner, which retails for around $190, hangs from the ceiling over your workspace, and even includes a work light. Other manufacturers also offer ceiling-mounted air cleaners, and there are also portable ones that can be moved between work sites.
For more direct inhalation protection, there are a number of respirators and dust masks available. The least expensive is the disposable cloth mask, which filters out larger dust particles from the air you breathe. A step up are the half-face and full-face respirators, which have replaceable cartridges for dust and also airborne vapors of the type generated by spraying paints and finishes.
Dust collection and filtrations equipment is available through many tool retailers and some larger home centers. You can also check out a good selection of these items online at such outlets as Woodcraft (http://www.woodcraft.com/), Tool Crib (www.amazon.com/toolcrib), and Penn State Industries (http://www.pennstateind.com/).
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