Two types of shop waste

Any shop dust-control strategy must address two kinds of shop waste:

  • shavings and large sawdust
  • fine wood powder

Getting rid of the big stuff is important because wood chips of various sizes are untidy and a hazard to walk on, they clog shop machines, and perhaps most important, they ignite easily. Gathering the big chips and shavings may be as easy as scooping them up -- if you are a neat person who remembers to clean up the shop often. But installing some kind of dust-collection system is much better because, if/when done right (i.e., well-thought-out, correctly installed, and used) it will gather chips and saw dust as quickly as you generate them a way-better option than brooms and dustpans.

Fig 178-0: A good shop vac is a good investment for any size shop. Some models can even switch on and off automatically when used to collect dust from portable power tools, a time-saving convenience.

Fine dust is a separate problem. The high-speed blades and cutters of modern power tools do much more than just generate sawdust; they also produce a very fine dust. And increasingly more machines are being set up in woodshops that use abrasive belts, discs, flaps, and sheets instead of knives to trim and smooth wood, simultaneously creating huge amounts of fine dust. Sawdust may get in your eyes, but fine powder gets into your nose and then down into your lungs, where it can serve up all kinds of grief, from asthma to allergic reactions to bronchitis and emphysema to cancer.

Unfortunately, controlling this fine dust is much more difficult than just scooping it off the floor. Respirable dust particles are so light they can float for hours, held aloft by the static charge in the air. And they are so small, the biggest particles that you can breathe in are about 100 times smaller than the smallest thing you can see with a well-trained eye. Since what you can’t see can hurt you, working without protection or not implementing dust control properly can put you at serious risk.

Primary and secondary dust collection. The difference between large wood chips and ultra-fine wood dust accounts for the many different means there are for collecting and controlling them.

Table 179 (NA)

Primary collection, via central and portable collectors and shop vacuums, traps chips and dust as close to where they originate as possible. Secondary collection methods, such as air filtration and ventilation, trap or exhaust fine dust that’s floating around in the shop. And protection devices, such as masks and respirators control fine dust by keeping it from entering your respiratory system.

The quantity of chips and dust your shop generates and the extent to which you want to protect your lungs will dictate which one of these collection-and-control strategies—or combination of strategies—is right for your woodshop. The average power-tool-equipped woodshop does best by using a combination of primary- and secondary-control methods. For instance, a central dust-collection system will gather shavings and chips, while an air-filtration device traps fine dust that escapes collection or is generated by hand-sanding.

In a shop with portable power tools and a few benchtop machines, a shop vacuum can handle the sawdust while ventilation exhausts fine dust. In this guide, we will examine each of these methods in greater detail, starting with primary-collection solutions, from least to most complicated.

Fig 180-0: This ill. compares: Shop Vacuums vs. Chip and Central Dust Collectors. (left) Portable shop vacuums are ideal for collecting fine-wood dust and small chips created by portable power tools, small machines, and hand operations and at conveying them for short distances. (right) Chip collectors and central dust-collection systems are capable of capturing large shavings, chips, and sawdust from shop machines and tools and conveying them through long pipes and hoses. High-velocity, low volume air stream. A high-quality filter keeps the finest dust from being blown back into the shop. Lower-velocity, high-volume air stream. Industrially rated filter media keep fine dust from infiltrating the bag.

Prev.: Intro to Dust Collectors
Next: Shop Vacs and Portable Dust Collectors

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