To provide our body with maximum oxygen, we must ensure that our lungs function optimally.
Therefore, we woodworkers must take action to reduce the amount of dust that can end up in the lungs as much as possible.
When you start with woodworking, dust control is not exactly the highest-ranked on your priority list.
That was no different for me, and I dare to admit it.
However, now, so many years later, I think differently.
I know dust control is not cheap, but I do realize the consequences are much more serious.
So with dust control, you invest in your health, which is priceless, isn’t it?
With this blog, I want to make both starting woodworkers and more experienced woodworkers aware of the dangers of the small particles hanging around in your workshop.
Through the 5 preventive actions or forms of dust control that I describe below, I want to help you to reduce the risk of these fine particles settling in your lungs.
But before we go over these 5 tips, I will go deeper into a few interesting facts about dust, which help us to understand dust better and therefore better adapt and protect ourselves.
Interesting facts about dust
Where does the dust come from?
You might think, what a strange question, everyone knows that.
By wondering where the dust comes from, you immediately have a list of the operations or machines in your workshop that cause fine particles.
Thanks to this list, you can now start looking for solutions that can tackle dust specific to the source.
Where can dust come from in a woodworking workshop?
Sawing: table saw, circular saw, band saw, but also manual saws cause fine particles.
Sanding: orbital sander, palm sander, manual sanding block, …
Planing: thicknesser, planer, hand plane
Other: router, drill press, …
Take a sheet of paper and write down any devices or operations that cause fine particles in your workshop.
This will give you a good overview and will give you insights into how to build out a dust control plan for your workshop.
How long does wood dust stay in the air?
Dust particles come in different sizes.
To know how long they stay in the air, you have to divide them into groups based on their size.
The dimensions of these particles are measured in microns. Micron (or mu) is another name for micrometer.
A micrometer is one-millionth of a meter or one-thousandth of a millimeter.
So when you talk about a micrometer or micron you mean 0.001 mm.
The symbol used to indicate micrometer or micron is μm.
The larger the particle, the heavier it will be, and the heavier it is, the faster it will descend.
Larger dust particles, and we’re talking about particles larger than 100 microns, are heavy enough to fall to the ground in a short period of time. Mostly this kind of particles will hit the floor in under 2 minutes.
If you look at dust particles of 10 microns, the size that poses a major health risk to the respiratory tract, then you will see these will fall a lot slower. For example, a 10-micron dust particle can take an average of 5 minutes before it hits the ground.
When you look at a wood dust particle of 5 microns, this will be even slower. These dust particles can float in the air for up to 30 minutes.
The smallest particles or particles with a size of 1 micron can take 4 hours or more to hit the ground.
Of course, this all depends on the air movement in your workshop.
Micrometer, or micron, or mu.
1 Micron = 0.000 001 meter OR 0.001 mm
What does dust do to your lungs?
The most harmful element released after a workshop operation is not the large chips or visible sawdust, it is the invisible fine particles that we have to worry about.
The small particles, from 1 to 10 microns, get pushed in the air, and depending on their size they will float in the air for a while.
As you could read above, they can float even a long time after the tool has stopped working.
These invisible particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs where they cause small wounds and scars.
If this happens only sporadically, the lung can recover, but as a woodworker, you come into contact with dust very often, which can cause irreversible damage.
You will not immediately notice an adverse effect, but in the long term, it can lead to decreased lung capacity and a number of other serious health problems.
How do you clean wood dust out of your lungs?
The mucus in the lungs will bind with the inhaled particles. When you can remove the mucus from the lungs, you will also be able to remove a certain amount of the small particles from the lungs.
Below I show you a few options for clearing your lungs.
When you start coughing in a controlled manner, the mucus in the lungs will be loosened and can be carried out through the airways.
It is recommended to regularly clean the lungs of excess mucus by following the steps below:
- Sit in a chair with your shoulders relaxed and keep both feet flat on the floor.
- Fold the arms over the stomach.
- Slowly inhale through the nose.
- Slowly exhale while leaning forward, pressing the arms against the stomach.
- Cough 2 or 3 times on the exhalation, with your mouth slightly open
- Slowly inhale through the nose.
- Rest and repeat as needed.
Another effective way to remove excess mucus from the lungs is percussion.
However, you cannot apply this yourself and let yourself be treated better by a second person.
Tapping the chest wall rhythmically with a cup-shaped hand will loosen the mucus in the lungs.
With steam therapy you inhale water vapor, which opens the airways. This allows mucus to be removed from the lungs.
5 effective ways to deal with dust in a woodworking workshop
By gaining a better understanding of dust from the information and facts you can read above, you can look for ways to prevent dust from being inhaled.
Below I will discuss 5 ways that you can apply in your workplace in which you can effectively control dust and protect yourself.
Some are cheaper and simple solutions, others require a little more investment, but as I wrote before, health is priceless.
Let this list be an inspiration to work out the best dust control system for your workshop and start investing in your health today.
PPE or personal protective equipment
Dust floats through your workplace, and as you could read before, longer than you might think. Up to 4 hours after the last operation, dust can hang in the air, ready to be inhaled.
A small investment that can prevent dust from settling in your body through the mouth and nose is to purchase a mouth mask.
Ok I know, it is not pleasant to wear a mouth mask all the time, but if you choose a good model that fits well on your face, this is actually quite tolerable.
I am very satisfied with the mouth mask that I personally use and recommend it to you.
You can easily put it on and off by means of a Velcro that you can tighten in the neck.
There is a replaceable filter on the inside of the mouth mask and the mouth mask itself can go into the washing machine if it has become too dirty.
I’ll leave you a link below where you can find this mouth mask.
An absolute must!
Tidy up regularly and remove dust as soon as possible
Ok, before I start with this tip I want to tell you that when you perform this action you will blow up some dust, and it will float in the air again.
Don’t give dust a chance to be present in your workplace. Remove it ASAP!
After every project, and sometimes even in between, I tidy up my workplace.
Any particles that has been cleaned up no longer has a chance to get into my lungs.
This is how I do it:
To start, I put on my mouth mask and open my door completely.
This increases the airflow and suspended dust is partly sucked out.
The first step in cleaning up is to sweep up any dust on the floor.
I do this calmly to create as little dust as possible.
Once the dust is swept, I then put the collected dust in closed bags. When the dust is in that closed bag, it can no longer redistribute itself over my workshop.
When all dust has been cleared up as much as possible, I blow out my entire workshop with compressed air.
To do this, I start at the back of the workshop and blow towards the door.
I repeat this step at least 3 times, each time starting over at the back of the workshop.
After blowing away all particles, I let my workshop air out for at least an hour.
Do this at the end of a working day. This way, the particles that are still present in the air has time to settle to the ground at night.
Always wear a mouth mask when removing dust!
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Buy a dust collecting system
Dust collection systems come in all sizes and for every workshop, from small to large.
You can choose between vacuum cleaners that are made for industrial use or dust collectors.
Your choice will depend on what you will use the system for.
If you have a smaller workshop, or you only need 1 or 2 power tools with an extraction hose that only cause small particles, then it is better to choose a vacuum cleaner or perhaps the smallest model of the dust collectors.
However, if you want to provide larger tools with dust removal that create more dust and chips, as a table saw or a planer, then it is better to choose a dust collector.
Some recommended vacuum cleaners:
To relieve the filters of vacuum cleaners or dust collectors, cyclones are often used that are placed just before the extractor. These cyclones ensure that the particles reaches the filter up to 90% less. As a result, the filters not only last longer, and you can save money, you will also achieve a higher CFM (cubic feet per minute) for a longer period of time.
Some recommended cyclones:
I personally often use my Festool vacuum cleaner, but soon I will switch to a larger system. The vacuum cleaner was good for starting woodworking, but now so much time later I know I should have invested in a dust collector.
Some recommended dust collectors for small workshops (1 HP):
Some recommended dust collectors for bigger workshops (2 HP):
Install an air filtration unit
It is not always possible to ventilate your workplace while you are working. In many cases, opening a door or gate would increase the airflow and agitate the dust even more.
That is why it is better to choose an air filtration unit.
An air filtration unit is nothing more than a box with a motorized fan. The fan sucks the air through a series of filters that remove the particles.
This air filtration unit is best placed as close as possible to the tools that produce the most dust in your workshop.
Remember at the beginning of this article that I made you think about where the dust comes from, this list will come in handy now.
To save space, you can hang this air filtration unit in the ceiling.
Let the air filtration unit run as long as you are in the workshop. If you connect a timer to it, you can continue to filter this unit after leaving the workshop. Do you remember particles floating for a while after your last edits? Well, this unit will take these particles out of the air for you.
Keep in mind that you will need to clean the filters regularly and these units are not a substitute for primary collection units that connect directly to your woodworking power tools.
It’s a good idea to buy two air filtration units and place them at the opposite ends of your workshop.
This allows the air to circulate better so that the air is filtered even better.
Some recommended air filtration units:
But what about particles that are released during operations to which you cannot connect a vacuum cleaner hose? You can’t attach a hose to that manual sanding block, can you?
For activities such as manual sanding, you can opt for a downdraft table.
The downdraft table is a box with a lid with small holes. For example, if you sand a piece of wood on the downdraft table, the particles will be sucked down through the holes.
You can make this downdraft table easily yourself and connect it to the vacuum cleaner that you already have in your workshop.
Check out my downdraft table blog here and download the free plans to make your own downdraft table for your workshop.
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