Eyes, Ears, Mouth and Nose. Just because those words are at the end of the head and shoulder’s song, definitely doesn’t put them at the end of the list when it comes to working safely and dealing with fine wood dust. In fact, they should be the first! Eyes, Ears, Mouth and Nose. Mouth and Nose. Mouth and Nose.
As a relative newbie woodworker, I overlooked the importance of personal protective equipment. Sure, I always protected my eyes with safety glasses (because other than telling me not to cut my fingers off, this was the main concern that came from my mom) but I figured that I didn’t do enough woodworking for it to affect my hearing or lungs.
Well, I was wrong. Earlier this year I was building a fairly large sideboard buffet for our dining room in the shop and it was the dead of winter. It was so cold and I was spending late nights with all doors and windows closed, cutting, sanding, drilling. I didn’t have any sort of dust collection system to draw the fine sawdust out of the area. I didn’t really think that one project could affect my health, but it did.
As I was working on this sideboard, I wasn’t wearing respiratory protection. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but as I was finishing the project I started having this strange sensation when I would take a deep breath in. I thought maybe I was getting a cold, but this continued for quite some time, and a cold never materialized.
Then I came across this stat about dust inhalation in a shop setting from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They recommend that the average amount of fine dust in wood shop air be no more than 1 mg/m3 over a 10-hour shop session. For a small shop, like one in a garage, 1 mg/m3 is less than the size of a 1″ screw of dust for the entire volume of air in the shop! Say what??? And it can cause nasal or lung cancer according to the CDC!
Ok, you’ve got my attention CDC.
You know how slivers get caught in your skin? Well, to a certain extent, the same thing happens to your lungs. These microscopic dust fibers are sharp, not soft and round, and they work their way into the deepest depths of your lungs. Every time you breathe in fine wood dust it causes some measurable loss in your lung capacity…some of it permanent. Ok, I really don’t like the sound of that.
Protecting the point of entry (your mouth and nose) should be your LAST line of defense. Why did I say last? Well, you should ALWAYS be wearing a mask, but you want to make sure you do everything you can to minimize the fine dust in the air before it even reaches that point.
Here are five ways to help protect yourself from fine dust:
1. AIR FILTRATION MASK
We’ve all used the basic disposable masks before and they are terrible! They don’t fit well and make my safety glasses fog up. They are for people who don’t sand and work with wood very often.
I had seen several guys and gals on IG wearing these RZ Air Filtration Masks that look comfortable and stylish (face it, we all want to look kinda cool when we’re building), so I wanted to give them a try for myself. RZ was kind enough to provide me with one of these. I would have bought one for myself, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.
This M2.5 mask is even better than the original. It’s got adjustable straps to fit around any head comfortably which is awesome. I like to think I don’t have a big head, but I do have a hard time finding hats that fit well…so maybe it is a bit bigger than normal.
The lightweight, breathable mesh is great to allow some of the hot air you’re expelling from fogging up your safety glasses. I found that if I put my glasses a bit further out from my face they didn’t fog up at all! It also comes with a handy storage case and you can always order some additional replaceable filters and exhalation valves.
Whether your doing woodworking, spray painting, suffer from allergies while doing outdoor work, this should be your go-to mask.
And did you know that once you stir up a 5-micron spec of dust, it can stay airborne in your shop for up to 30 minutes before it settles again? That’s a lot of time for it to find your lungs. Sometimes take my mask off between processes, and now I know that this is a no-no as well! You should be wearing it all the time in the shop.
2. DUST COLLECTION WHILE WORKING
We all know what a mess woodworking makes in a space. When that blade hits the wood it’s like a small explosion of tiny particles that fly into the air and float around for a while before settling down.
To cut down on that, you can go with an expensive system that will take a big bite out of your wallet, or you could just hook up your shop vac directly to your tools. BUT what if you could find a happy medium?
Using a shop vac on its own is not ideal, and here’s why. Think of the vacuum as your lungs. You don’t really want the fine dust to reach the inside of the vacuum and rely on the filter to catch the particles. After a short amount of time, the filter will quickly clog up and you will lose suction power. You can always buy a new filter, but that can get expensive over time.
The other reason it’s not ideal is that the filters won’t necessarily catch ALL of the particles. Even the best HEPA filters will still allow some fine dust to blow out the back of the vacuum and circulate throughout your shop, throwing it back into the air.
Consider teaming your shop vac with an inexpensive and effective cyclonic system like the Oneida Dust Deputy to harness the power of gravity and centrifugal force…and its name sounds cool. This system is awesome and I have personally used it for almost a year now. It prevents all of the sawdust and debris from entering the shop vac at all. The Dust Deputy allows the shop vac to perform at its peak at all times. It also saves on filters. I still haven’t seen any dust or debris make it inside the shop vac.
3. PORTABLE AIR CLEANER
I really hope my wife is reading this…because this is on my wishlist! Birthday list, Christmas list, Anniversary list…or maybe I just need to start coughing more around the house and blame it on the dust in the shop air!
This is perfect for a smaller shop or garage because it’s portable, small and the right price! The Shop-Air Portable Air Cleaner (made by Shop-Vac) is a great starting point and doesn’t require much investment to keep your the air a little cleaner in your shop. It can capture particles as small as 0.5 microns. Most shop dust is around 2-5 microns, so this will definitely help.
4. WORK IN AN OPEN AREA
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, and many of us don’t have the luxury of living in a climate that lends itself to working outside all year round, but if you have the opportunity, work outside whenever possible when you’re creating any kind of dust.
Even when it’s raining, I move my saws as close to the edge of the garage as possible and open the door. A lot of the sawdust and fine particles will shoot outside instead of being trapped inside! You should still be using a mask, but at least there won’t be quite as many particles floating up in the air and getting stirred up again later.
Another handy tip: if you have a large fan, point it from the back of your shop toward the open garage/shop door to keep the dust from wanting to fly back in!
5. KEEP A CLEAN SHOP
I have to admit that I spend a lot of time cleaning the shop. I don’t know if this is just an OCD thing, or what, but it gives me such a satisfaction to clean up every night before I go in, and then at the end of the project I do a big cleanup before I start the next one.
Remember how I mentioned that a 5-micron particle can float around for 30 minutes once it’s been stirred up? Well, this is why you keep your shop as clean as you can. Every time you pick something up, use a new tool, move a piece of wood, you are sending old dust particles into the air and potentially into the depths of your lungs!
Keeping a clean shop really does help, and what’s better than working in an organized and clean shop when you’re starting a new project!?!
Vacuum with your Dust Deputy/Shop-Vac combo, use a wet cloth to wipe down tools and surfaces. I know what you’re thinking…I don’t have time for that! Oh yeah, well tell your lungs that…they might disagree!
Protecting your lungs is just as important as your eyes and ears. Make sure you keep that a priority from now on if you aren’t already!
Got any more tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!
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Original source: https://www.thediyhubs.com/2017/11/protect-wood-dust/