The Air in the Shop

The Air in the Shop

In the last issue, Rob wondered what you are doing for dust collection and air quality control in your shop, and whether you’re looking for a change. Several people said they had become more concerned with dust collection; unfortunately, it was often as a result of health issues. – Editor

“I’m definitely being more tuned in to air quality in the shop. In the past, I would go into the shop for ‘a few minutes’ or ‘just to do one thing’ and I wouldn’t turn on the air filtration or dust collectors. Now I’m making a habit of turning them on as soon as I walk in.” – Bill Sheridan

“I worked with wood off and on for many years, but was not concerned with dust collection. I moved my saws outside and just swept up when done. Now, as a retiree, I have a real, dedicated, woodshop. And suddenly, I also developed some allergy symptoms. I did install (from the outset) a chip collection unit, but it just wasn’t enough. So, after doing some research, I bought a large (~2000 CFM) 1 micron ambient air filter. Huge difference! Cherry dust is still not my friend, but the wood is once again. Oh, and suddenly my small pellet stove is a heating powerhouse. So, while I’m uncertain of the ‘new technology’ you mention, the existing technology is certainly working well for me.” – Steve Kendall

“I have a new shop that is in the finishing stages of construction. Worked on it for the past year. My breathing issues are important to me. I have an old Craftsman shop vac I have used for years. Cleaned (or replaced) the filter more times than I have fingers and toes to count. When my new shop got to the stage of actually making something, I bought a Dust Deputy and mounted it on a 20-gallon plastic barrel powered by my old Craftsman shop vac.  This thing works absolutely wonderful. I have emptied the plastic dust barrel numerous times and the shop vac has only a handful of debris and the filter is essentially clean. I built a mobile base for the vac and barrel combination that is cumbersome at times, but with the collection I get, I always hook it to my machines and value the clear air.  Now, to go further, I have acquired a downdraft motor and squirrel cage fan from an old furnace from an HVAC technician friend that I intend to use to construct a shop air cleaner.  I have gleaned design ideas from You Tube that are great.  I hope to be breathing better in my shop and keep learning the craft.” – Tony Newman

“I lost most of my hearing to woodworking noise (that and a 7mm magnum rifle) without adequate protection. I determined many years ago to not let that happen to my lungs. That is much more the focus of my dust collection than keeping a clean shop, although a clean shop is a nice bonus. Without wood dust everywhere I also have less fear of fire from a grinder spark or other ignition source; I’ve seen shops that were so thick with dust in the air and layered on everything I’m amazed they haven’t had a fire or even an explosion from a spark. I’ve never smoked, so that was also a good start.

“It starts with an Oneida cyclone dust collector with an HEPA grade filter on its output. I can collect about 90 percent of what’s generated with that without putting the fine stuff (which is what will kill you) back out into the shop. Too often, woodworkers don’t think about the filter size on the output of dust collectors and put the deadly stuff right back out into the air. It continues with two Powermatic air cleaners hung two feet from the ceiling, five feet from the sides, and 12 feet from the ends of my 20×46 shop. They create a racetrack pattern of air movement that carries the suspended particles (again, the stuff that will kill you) to their filters. Since they use a standard 12×24 furnace filter, I use MERV 15 filters (did I mention it’s the small stuff that will kill you?) and never have to worry about cleaning the bag filter in the back. I change them out about once a month, depending on how much time I have in the shop, because that’s how short a time it takes for them to go from white to dark brown even with 90 percent collection at the source. Not cheap, but much less expensive than COPD or lung cancer. I also leave them running for a minimum of two hours after I leave the shop.

“Finally, when sanding on the lathe, hand sanding (the worst, of course, for fine particle creation; did I mention that’s the stuff that will kill you?), or sanding anything where I’m not going to have good dust collection, I wear my 3M hard hat/faceshield/PAPR with .3 micron filters. Since I have a beard, a typical dust mask is useless (can’t count how many videos I’ve seen with guys with beards wearing dust masks; do they think they’re doing any good?). So that’s how I take care of the dust in my shop (which also lets me spend less time ‘dusting’ and more time working). Not anxious to upgrade what I’m doing, but always good to see what may be coming to improve on that.” – Del Morisette

“Backstory:  As I neared retirement age, I began to acquire various pieces of gently used and new woodworking equipment.  In 2013, my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and just completed treatment 82 or 83. In 2014, I went in for hernia surgery and they took out the majority of my left lung. Lung cancer due to Agent Orange! Being a non-smoking, healthy, farm guy, that is the last thing I expected.  I thought I had overcome the demons from serving in Vietnam. The decision was made to take out the lung and leave the hernia. At that time, air quality became a serious issue to me.  I am very aware of humid, dust-filled air. What had been a minor irritant before surgery now stops me in my tracks. If someone lights  a match or a cigarette – my lungs know it! My shop is roughly 12-feet wide x 30-feet long with a 10-foot ceiling and an 8-foot x 10-foot overhead insulated door.  My woodworking equipment is sitting in the shop and surrounding area.

“I have a Harbor Freight dust collector that is still in the box!  I plan to set this unit outside the shop area and hook it up to a 5-in. metal exhaust pipe with 4-in. gates that I plan to attach to the major chip/dust producers inside.  I am debating what type of secondary filtration to build for use in the shop.  I plan to filter all incoming air (when the doors are closed). Having bored you to tears, I hope I have explained my interest in shop filtration systems.” – Rich Hodupp

Some are satisfied with their current setup – but that doesn’t mean everyone is opposed to upgrades. – Editor

“I’m pretty satisfied with my current dust collection. All of my machines are connected to a two-bag dust collector. I’ve replaced the bag filter with a pleated filter and placed the collector outside of my shop space. I have three air filters that I run when sanding or finishing. I would love a cyclone to add to my dust collector but haven’t seen anything that looked like it would match well with my system.” – Tom Hinman

“My shop has a 5hp Oneida central system, two of the JET filters that hang from my ceiling and three homemade squirrel cage filters. I use a Trend Air Shield Pro and several 3M type filters. Still, dust accumulates in the shop…but hopefully not in my lungs. Anything that can update and improve air filtration has my attention.” – Greg Little

“My woodworking shop is about half the size of a two-car garage. I use dust masks, shop vacuum, old box fan, dust collector and a small hanging air filtration unit. I do most of my cutting tasks outside the garage in the backyard. Most of the time when I use my circular saw I don’t use a dust mask when I should. I try my best to keep the dust down in the garage. I used to have a cheap Craftsman table saw that I used for only over nine years before the motor died. When I had that table saw, I modified it so I could collect the sawdust from the bottom and over the top of the saw blade with my dust collector. But, no matter how I tried to improve my dust collection, there was still very fine sawdust that would get everywhere in the garage.” – Christopher  Chandler

“When I first started woodworking, as it is now, most of my activity occurred in my driveway.  I began attaching my shop vac to the few power tools that I had.  (For many years, just a radial arm saw.  Then I added a router table.) Picking up a woodworking show ‘bargain,’ I brought home a single-stage dust collector with a five micron bag. I’ve since added more power tools to which I attach the dust collector (mostly in aid of not having to chase sawdust everywhere outside). Since I’m still working in my driveway (weather permitting), my concern over what I’m breathing is reduced, though I’m considering purchasing a separator to place ahead of the collector and maybe replacing the bag with a cartridge filter.  That way I’d be more comfortable (dust-wise) working indoors.  I’ve been looking at videos online where there seems to be little difference between a cone-type separator and one of the types that just fit on top of a garbage can.  I haven’t investigated, but my guess is the real money is in the cartridge. Anyway, that’s where I am right now.  I kind of position the dust collector centrally and run a hose to whichever tool is in use.  The router table and table saw take 2 and one-half inch connections; the jointer, planer and spindle sander take four-inch connections, while the RAS is a little hybrid.” – Ralph Lombardo

“I live in [southern California] and can use an open shop most of the year. When it rains, the roof shuttles the water over the equipment and into a gutter system. Because the shop is open, much of the particulate matter that would accumulate in a closed shop gets blown out one end or the other. The power tools that create large chunks exhaust on the floor, and I sweep them into a dustpan and pitch the waste into the trash can. The finish sanders, belt sanders, and disk sanders are a real problem.  I don’t like the noise of vacuum cleaners, so I devised a different system. A small, plastic storage box with a lid is fitted with a fan from scrapped PC’s. A labyrinth is inside the plastic box, which is partially filled with water.  A flexible hose is fitted between the tool and the plastic box. The fan turns on the same time the tool does and gently sucks the contaminated air into the primary surface filter.  For dust size particles, it works really well.  To clean the system, I use a garden hose and nozzle to wash the ‘muck’ out of the filter. It disappears into the rear lawn without a trace. That’s how I do it. Beats my friend’s really expensive filter system.” – Bruce Adams

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