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Controling Dust in a Small Workshop

Wood Dust Safety

Many woodworkers start out in a small room or basement as they grow tools and skills to continue their hobby.  Beyond hobbyists, finish carpenters also work indoors a can be susceptible to harmful sawdust.  This might sound odd because most people seem to believe that the most dangerous part of woodworking is the power tools.  While we also need to note hearing damage, eye injuries and other items, but the dust can be one of the most dangerous and long term item that causes issues.  It is also important to note that the sawdust we are worried about is not the big chips or the piles on the floor.  It is the particles in the air that are less than 10 micron that are the most dangerous.  This really comes into play when you are woodworking in your home or basement as these particles can move throughout you home.

Woodworking Dust Issues

Beyond the issues we can think of from inhaling the small dust particles, there are also other issues.  Listed below are all of the issues people can have with sawdust.

  • Long-Term Lung Damage – As we spoke above, the invisible fine dust, smaller than 10 micron, that float around the air and linger even after the tools have stopped running. The invisible incredibly small pieces of wood are inhaled and cause tiny wounds and scarring in the lungs.  This damage is very small each time it happens, but the damage is irreversible. The immediate effect is unnoticeable, but over long periods of time, this can result in significantly decreased lung capacity, and a number of other health issues.
  • Irritants – One of the most common ways that wood dust affects people is by being an irritant to our skin, eyes and lungs. The reactions to people are all different, but include itching, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, rashes, and asthma-like breathing problems.  It is hard to imagine, but most woods are an irritant and will cause many to have some sort of reaction when they sand their pieces.
  • Sensitizers – Sensitizers are one step above irritating.  Over time and through repeated exposure, we can become more sensitive to the wood.  Over time, the eventual reaction can be quite strong, resulting in rashes or boils, severe sinus or respiratory pain/inflammation, or a number of other conditions depending on the wood species and the person.
  • Toxins – Toxins are not as common as they used to be, but they are out there in species of wood and also in the treatments of wood.  Lumber that is treated can have poisons in it that stop it from rotting when it is in contact with the ground.  Many of the woods we deal with on a daily basis are not toxins, but some can have them.
  • Carcinogens – There are woods and sawdust that is known to cause cancer.  This could be nasal or lung cancer where the dust can be bad for those areas.

Protect Yourself

If you are working with wood, please use some sort of protection so you do not breathe in the sawdust.  In many cases a good dust collection and filtration system that works down to 2 micron will help.  In many cases, people will use a HEPA rated vacuum along with breathing protection.  Many wet/dry vacs are able to accept a HEPA filter that will allow you to collect the dust from a sander, saw or other tool and filter it down to a safe level.  If you are not using a filter of this grade, you are helping these small particles to be pushed around faster in the air.  It is important that you know your filters capabilities and that you change them as recommended.

There are many options out there on the market and none of them are very cheap.  To keep the performance up on HEPA filters, the vacs have to have an auto-cleaning system.  Some of the systems can reduce performance of the machine while cleaning and some work the same while cleaning.  Below is a review of the DEWALT DWV012 10-Gallon Dust Extractor with Automatic Filter Cleaning.  This unit has been out for a while but is an excellent performer.


PRICINGDEWALT DWV012 10-Gallon Dust Extractor with Automatic Filter Cleaning



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