Wood Dust and Respiratory Protection

When we are working in our workshops, we readily reach for eye and ear protection (well we certainly should be), and I think that I’m pretty good where it comes to being consistent in using these items of PPE (personal protection equipment).

Something that seems to get overlooked often is respiratory protection. Now I am sure that there are a lot of woodworkers who reach for the dust mask as readily as they do the rest of their PPE, but I know that I am a bit slack in that regard, and I’m sure that I am not the only one.

So I am going to try to do better. In part, my ambivalence towards dust masks is that the effect on the body is less easy to see than, say, the immediacy of a wood chip in the eye, or the ringing of the ears after using loud equipment. The bit of a cough, or poor night’s sleep just doesn’t carry the same weight to convince one to change bad habits – even though in the long run, it’s the lungs that will really make life hell if they’ve been abused.

The next couple of videos (which have been shot, but are still in the editing phase) are still the old me, bad habits and all. From then on, I’m going to make an effort to set a better example.

I’ve been doing a bit of research into it, and there are a number of solutions that are acceptable for the woodworking shed. The nuisance masks sold, often in packs of 5 for a couple of bucks are a complete waste of time. Sure, they cut some particulate out of the air, but they are not worth the paper they are made out of, when for just a few dollars more, you can get a properly graded dust mask.

There are (in Australia) 2 ratings for masks that are appropriate for woodworkers. P1 is usable in atmospheres where the particulate level is 4 times the recommended Occupational Exposure Level (OEL). P2 is usable in atmospheres where it is up to 10 times the recommended OEL. This is the level of mask I’ve decided to go with. Sometimes, it gets very dusty, and the cost difference between the two is negligible.

If you are working with finishes, you may also want to consider one that protects against gaseous contaminants.

Next, you need to choose what sort of mask you want – disposable or not, full face of partial. The cheapest are like a paper based mask, disposable, but don’t cope well for wearing over extended periods. They can be improved by getting one with an exhalation valve, which improves wearer comfort.

The next level is a more permanent mask – made of rubber, which then take disposable cartridges. These are definitely worth the money in the long term, and I used to use one for a long time (until one very hot summer when the rivers of perspiration filling the mask caused me to throw it away in disgust). Think I might get another one though – they are very good where it comes to respiratory protection.

The final level (well as far as woodworkers are concerned) is a full shield, such as the Triton Respirator

This provides a full range of protection.  A full face shield, quality ear protection (that can clip out when not needed) coupled with a hard hat.  The hard hat is not really necessary, but provides a good platform to attach all the components to.  For the respiratory protection, there is a shroud around the base of the helmet which restricts air access to the interior of the helmet, and an external air supply that causes a positive pressure inside the helmet.  This air passes through a prefilter which keeps the large bits of wood and dust out of the mechanics of the air pump, and then the standard air filters (typically P2 rating) to provide fully cleaned air to the helmet.

I have used the helmet a lot (to the point that I’ve worn out one of the shrouds, and two of the face shields – each is a consumable), but don’t enjoy wearing it where it is not necessary for the job.  It is a matter of the right tool for the job, and it is nice to have a range.  In the same way that a sledge hammer can be used for nails, and pins, it is better to have 3 different hammers, one for each type of job!

In Australia, all wood dust is considered carcinogenic, and the dust from manufactured board (such as MDF) is especially harmful. So hopefully this provides a bit of info that will help in making the right decision where it comes to respiratory protection, and I will be taking my own advice as well!

Episode 12 Router Sign Writing

Episode 12 Sign Writing with the Router.

It is one of those things that many people want to do when they first buy a set of template guides for their router, and see the picture of router-carved words on the box. Or when you come across a well-made wooden sign, and you look at it wondering – How did they do that?

You don’t have to be an expert with carving chisels, and have the patience of a saint, so long as you have a reasonable kit of sign writing templates, a guide, and a router with a low centre-of-gravity (the small, cheap ones work really well)!

This video covers a few related topics, including templates and template guides, a sign-writing (commercial) jig, modifying a router (ok, I cut the plunge springs down), and of course, demonstrating using the jig.

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