In this article I want to talk about dust collection. Dust collection is an important part of workshop safety and yet, it is often overlooked by woodworking hobbyists. Why? Well, for one, it is another outlay of money. Two, it can be difficult to retrofit a basement or garage workshop. And three, frankly we woodworkers too often just want to get to our project and worry about sweeping up later.
All of those reasons considered, there are a number of good reasons why woodworkers should think about dust collection now, rather than later.
Shop readiness: We want to get on to that new dresser but we enter the woodshop and find piles of sawdust and woodchips cluttering the floors and work surfaces. We have to spend the first hour or two sweeping up. That's no fun!
oWorkShop safety: Sawdust can be slippery on a concrete floor, not to mention that small piece of round doweling that's hiding under it. Worse, there are nails and screws just waiting to punch a hole in those nice new tennis shoes you've got on, ouch!
oYour eyes and lungs: We like to overlook the possibility of long time harm from our woodworking hobby but this is all too real. Fine dust particles can affect your breathing. Some products like plywood, MDF and melamine can produce harmful chemicals. Some natural woods like oak and walnut can also be harmful to our lungs. The dust and flying woodchips can cause real, immediate damage to your eyes. Even with dust collection you should consider a face mask when using these materials!
What can we do about it?
oBuy a dust collector: You can buy a decent 1.5 HP dust collector for under $300. Equip it with some T-fittings and branch it off to all of your stationary power tools. If you work alone you only run one piece of equipment at a time, 1.5HP is more than adequate.
oUse your shop vac: Invest in a couple of fittings and use the shop vac for your smaller tools like routers, drill press and sanders. It's on wheels, move it around.
oConsider Air Filtration: If your workshop is enclosed in a basement or building where the doors are usually closed an air filtration system can help significantly with the fine dust particles that will otherwise be using your lungs for filtration. I don't know how effective these systems are in a garage with the door open. It can't hurt but it might not improve the air quality in a significant way.
Air filtration systems run from around $200 up to $500 or more for a larger area. You can also build your own system out of plywood using a box fan and ordinary filters. A recent issue of Shop Notes magazine had a simple plan for building this type of system. Shop Notes, by the way, is an excellent resource for any woodworker.
There is any number of resources on finessing dust collection. You can go from simple: the dust collector and a bunch of hoses; to elaborate with hoses moving your woodchips and dust to an outside collection point. All that really matters is that you reduce the hazard of wood dust and wood chips from your work space. Start simple, work your way up. If you are designing a new workshop, plan it in now! Walking in to a shop that is ready for you to start your woodworking project is a real joy.