Whether it’s a large commercial operation, or a weekend woodworker’s garage-sized shop, dust collection is more than just a luxury. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of getting a handle on woodshop dust and help you get started designing dust control strategy that really works.
Why is Dust Collection Important?
Research continues into the health consequences of long-term exposure to workshop dust. In the debate over the seriousness of the health risks involved in exposure to wood dust, one thing seems to be universally accepted: the risks are real. A quick search of the internet will bring up hundreds of sources of information on the health consequences associated with woodshop dust exposure, including widely recognized organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Here’s an excerpt from its introduction to the topic of Wood Dust and Health:
“Wood dust becomes a potential health problem when wood particles from processes such as sanding and cutting become airborne. Breathing these particles may cause allergic respiratory symptoms, mucosal and nonallergic respiratory symptoms, and cancer…”
Woodshop dust and debris presents a physical danger as well. In many small shops, “dust collection” means breaking out a broom and dust pan for a few minutes at the end of the day. But during a work session, too many woodworkers routinely climb over piles of shavings kicked out by a thickness planer, or stand on a slippery, quarter-inch carpet of sawdust while they push the last couple of boards in a large stack through their table saw. But it only takes a second to slip or stumble over a pile of debris and end up with an injury that will keep them out of the shop for a long time.
Getting a Handle on Two Kinds of Dust
The dust that a wood shop produces can be divided into two general categories: Large dust particles, chips and shavings, and fine wood dust. These two kinds of “dust” each have their own negative effects on your woodworking operation, and each requires a different strategy for adequate control.
Collecting Large Chips and Shavings
By far, the largest volume of debris created in most wood shops falls under the large-particle dust, chips and shavings category. Most of the mountain of “dust” that collects under your table saw and behind your router table is actually composed of chips, shavings and dust particles that are too large and heavy to stay airborne for long. A dust collector is simply the only too capable of handling this large volume of debris.
A dust collection system works by capturing woodworking dust and debris in a stream of air and transporting it through the system’s ductwork to a collection area. A dust collector uses a large induction motor to drive a special type of fan called an impeller. The dust collector’s 1HP or greater motor and impeller type of fan are necessary in order to generate the large volume of air flow required to move the substantial amounts of dust and debris produced by woodworking equipment.
Choosing a Dust Collector
Choosing the right dust collector is a matter of sizing up you dust collection needs and buying a machine that’s appropriate for the dimensions of your shop, the tools in your shop, and your woodworking habits.
Fortunately, you may not need the most powerful dust collector on the market. A small, portable dust collector is a good option if you work in a compact, solo shop and your priorities are affordability and simplicity. A portable dust collector is moved from machine to machine, and connected to the woodworking tool only when it is in use. This keeps it in close proximity of the tool, improving its ability to draw in large amounts of debris.
A large, powerful dust collector will, of course, move more air with more friction-overcoming force than a small, portable unit, and therefore can be used to service machinery that produces greater volumes of debris. Also, because of their greater capacity for overcoming internal resistance of the system, more powerful dust collectors can be situated farther away from individual machines, making them more advantageous for central dust collection systems.
Dealing with Fine Wood Dust
A dust collector alone is rarely sufficient protection against the dangers of dust. In reality, even the best dust collector can leave clouds of minute airborne dust particles floating through the air. To adequately control both huge volumes of large particle debris and the considerable amount of fine dust particles that woodworking machinery produces, it is almost always necessary to supplement your dust collector with an air filtration system.
An air filtration system really consists of little more than a fan and a set of filters that remove tiny particles of dust from the air in your shop. Many also feature a built-in timer that turns the unit off automatically after a period of time.
Choosing the appropriate system is similar to choosing the right dust collector. You’ll need to consider the dimensions of your shop and pick a unit that’s up to the task. To be effective, an air filtration device should be rated to cycle through the entire volume of air in your shop 6 to 8 times per hour.
Fortunately, air filtration systems are available for almost any size shop. Like dust collectors, the performance of an air filtration system is measured by the volume of air it will move in cubic feet per minute (cfm). Many popular air filtration systems for hobbyist shops are rated in the 1000 cfm range, which means that it will filter entire volume of air in a 20′ X 20′ shop more than 12 times per hour.
Time to Get Started
For many hobbyists and owners of small professional shops, an adequate dust collector falls in the “luxury item” category – with so many other tools to buy, a dust collection system that really handles the dust can stay at the bottom of the priority list for a long time. But as you read in the beginning of the article, there are very good reasons to start taking dust seriously is now.