Let’s get the dust out

Today we’re gonna talk about dust! In fact we’re going to look at the different ways available as woodworkers to get rid of the dust in our shops. But why is it so important to get rid of it? It’s not only because dust sticks to our tools and work surfaces but also because it threatens our safety and our health.

air-filtration-system-pm1200-powermatic-1791330The dust that settles down on the floor can make it excessively slippery depending on the material of the floor. In my shop, it’s bare concrete so when a fine coat of dust gets on it, I feel like I’m on a skating rink! Dust is also a fire hazard. It is volatile and catches on fire easily. So it is important to avoid dust piles everywhere but it is just as important to capture the dust that is suspended in the air, whether it is visible or not. This is the one that causes the greater risk: if dust is suspended in the air it is present in the air that we breathe and it will eventually end up in our lungs. The dust related to woodworking is known to cause several health diseases such as lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema and many others. It is especially for that last reason that dust control measures in the shop are as important as any tool such as a good tablesaw.

There is one last reason I didn’t talk about yet and that’s finishing. In fact, suspended dust in the air has a nasty habit of settling down on this nice freshly finished or varnished surface that you left on the workbench in order to dry ruining altogether your nice work as well as valuable finishing product. And if you are using a spray system as the Earlex the air stream at the tip of the gun will be enough to make airborne the slightest dust pile forgotten close to your finishing area. Of course if you have a dedicated separate room in your shop for finishing this is not a problem but health risks still remains.

Let see the available options to fight this devilish enemy. Of course, the simplest and more efficient one is to catch it right at the source where it is produced, thus the machine itself. All my stationary tools such as tablesaw, jointer, bandsaw, planer, router table, miter saw or the oscillating sanding table gives me this possibility. I outfitted my shop several years ago with a small General International 10-005 dust collector that I can hook up to all my major tools using a flexible hose. It is in charge of catching large debris, chips and dust as well. Actually I still use the filtration bag that came with the dust collector but this bag only catches dust particles bigger or equal to a size of 2 microns. I have to admit that a small amount of dust gets through it. I’m thinking about replacing the bag by a 1 micron canister filter someday. The canister has the big advantage to be equipped with an integrated cleaning system that shakes off any caked dust off from the filter down to the collection bag at the bottom. The canister also offers a larger surface by its design for the air to escape which helps for the performances. Your dust collector won’t get a better suction capacity but the capacity you’ll really get will be much closer to its theoretical maximum capacity due to the reduced restriction on the air flow. In an ideal world you would try to get the best capacity for your dust collector that your budget, space and electricity in your shop can get you. Some dust collectors, especially those having a 2hp or more engine, run on 220 volts current. Since my shop is restricted on space and I don’t have that kind of electric alimentation I ended up buying a smaller model fitted with a 1hp engine and a 650 cubic feet per minute (CFM) capacity. This number represents the air volume that the dust collector will be enough to move. The greater the number, the better the suction will be because this equipment is designed to move a large volume of air at a low speed as opposed to a vacuum cleaner that will move a small volume of air with a big velocity. On my dust collector I also installed the Rockler DustRight Expandable Hose. This hose is awesome. It stretches up to 7 times its original length. Mine is 3 feet when retracted but can go up to 21 feet. It’s really useful in my small shop since I can reach nearly any spot and it takes up only a small space when stored. This product is available in several lengths. I also outfitted all my main machines with the DustRight ToolPort and the DustRight Handle at the end of my hose. This way, I can quickly hook up the hose on each machine. The handle fits on perfectly on the Tool Port without needing any tool.4-dia-dust-right-hose-3-ft-compressed-extends-to-21-ft-long-1

On small portable tools such as sander, miter saw, jigsaw, plate joiner, tracksaw and others I use my shop vacuum cleaner. But I tweaked it a little bit. Normally shop vacuum cleaners require you to use disposable bags in order to not have any dust reject in the air and those bags end up costing you a lot. So I paired my shop vacuum with an Onieda DustDeputy cyclone. This product gets installed between the shop vacuum and the hose connected to the tool. It’s like a 5 gallons bucket fitted with a special lid on which hooks up a hose that goes to the vacuum and one that goes to the tool. The lid is shaped in such way that the air stream must follow a spiral path inside and that movement works such that dust and debris fall down in the bucket while clean air moves on the vacuum. While the bucket is not full my shop vacuum tank is pretty empty. No sign of dust in there, even when working with my random orbit sander which is quite a fine dust generator on its own! Another advantage of the DustDeputy is that I can take it off in matter of seconds if I need to use only the vacuum cleaner.

My last weapon against dust is located right above my head on the shop’s ceiling. I purchased about 5 years ago a Powermatic PM1200 air filter. This apparel is able to filter up to 99% of 5 microns particles in the air of the shop and 85% of 1 micron particles. It has 3 speeds that allows you to adjust its power according to the task being performed. It is also equipped with a remote control so you can control it without having to step up on a ladder for smaller persons. It’s not my case but I use the remote control at times when I’m not close to the machine the air filter is hanging from the ceiling close to the center of the shop in order to have the best possible air circulation and increase the efficiency. I also use it while doing finishing with my Earlex in order to prevent dust made by some finishing products while they get airborne so it doesn’t settle down everywhere in the shop.

As you can see there are many ways to get rid of the dust. Unfortunately you cannot rely on a single one. While each one is efficient to some point, it’s the combination of all those various ways that will yield the best results. As we say, unity is strength!

Links toward products:

General International 10-005M1 dust collector

Rockler DustRight 21 feet Expandable hose

Rockler DustRight Quick Release Starter Kit

Oneida DustDeputy cyclone system

Powermatic PM1200 air filter

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