Woodworking Dust Collection - Keeping your workplace Clean, Safe and Healthy

Effective woodworking dust collection is essential in any well run wood workshop for four reasons. It's not healthy to breathe in wood dust, some varieties of wood are particularly dangerous.
Some timber dusts can lead to sensitisation to that dust over time.
From a purely practical point of view, any attempts at wood finishing when dust is in the air is doomed to failure.

The fourth reason is that wood dust is a major fire hazard. I've seen piles of wood dust ignited both by sparks and discarded cigarettes. It's not immediately obvious that there's a problem.

What happens is that the dust smoulders away inside the pile, and the burning area spreads until it reaches the surface. When it reaches fresh oxygen, it bursts into flame.

You could leave your shop for the night and find nothing left when you come back.

Toxic Wood

Wood dust can cause skin irritation, sensitisation (also known as allergic contact) dermatitis, nasal problems, lung problems, asthma and eye problems.

Some woods are more likely to cause problems than others. Asian teak, the rosewood family, medium density fibreboard, western red cedar and yew are a few of the most dangerous, but nearly all varieties of timber can be problematic.

Just because you haven't suffered any ill effects yet doesn't mean that you won't. I had no problems at all until I started to work with Pernambuco wood, (violin bows), and ended up using barrier cream and face masks.

For more detailed information about toxic woods and their potential effects, here's a PDF published by the U.S. Department of Labor, originally from the UK Health and Safety Executive.

If you don't have Adobe Reader to view this file, you can get it free here.

Wood Sander Dust Collection

Whether you're using a belt, disc or palm sander, sanding wood is an operation that puts large amounts of the finest, most dangerous wood dust into the air. I know belt and palm sanders usually are fitted with dust collection bags. I also know they're pretty ineffective and fine particles get blown straight through the bag.

A disc sander, either fixed or in an angle grinder will have no bag at all and is the most difficult to deal with.

My strategy when using belt, stationary disc and palm sanders is to tie the nozzle of a shop vac to a spring clamp and position it in the most effective place for the tool.

Normally with belt and palm sanders, this is just behind the machine. With a stationary disc sander, it is just below the sanding table on the 'down' side of the disc.

If you're sanding smallish objects, you could build a downdraft sanding table with a slatted top which connects to your dust extractor or shop vac.

Dust control when using a sanding disc in an angle grinder is nearly impossible. I try to take the work outside.

Table Saw Dust Collection

Table saws distribute dust and chips liberally. Most of the dust is supposed to go through the slot and be collected from underneath the table, but a fair amount gets thrown into the air by the blade.

Older cabinet based machines may not even have a facility to attach a dust extractor, meaning that you have to get inside the cabinet and clean it out manually.

A little ingenuity can solve both these problems by making up a purpose built woodworking dust collection system for your particular machine.

more about table saws

Miter Saw Dust Collection (including Chop Saws and Radial Arm Saws)

Effective miter saw woodworking dust collection is complicated by a number of factors. The blade is not in one fixed position and is capable of being rotated up to 45 degrees left or right.

To make things even more difficult from a woodworking dust collection point of view, the blade on many saws can be tilted and operates on a forwards and backwards slide.

Putting the miter saw in an enclosure makes putting long lengths of timber across the table problematic.

more about miter saws

Drill Press Dust Collection

In normal use, a drill press doesn't generate all that much dust. Things get more interesting when using it to drum sand, with plug cutters or with Forstner bits.

Repetitive drilling operations on one piece of work result in the surface of the work being obscured by the quantity of dust and chips generated.

For the reasons above, it's well worth putting a bit of thought into a woodworking dust collection system for removing dust and chips.

more about the drill press

Router Dust Collection

What springs to mind when you think about getting the router out? I think of noise, dust, mess, quite possibly smoke and poor workpiece visibility. I then try to think of another way to do the job.

It doesn't have to be like that.

If your router is mounted in a router table, the table can be drilled to allow the dust to be extracted from below using a dust collector. With a bit of ingenuity, this system could also serve as a vacuum hold-down.

There are bases made for hand held routers that incorporate vacuum dust extraction.

more about router dust