In the Air Filter or the Lungs…Decisions, Decisions.

Air filtration is often the very last machine considered for purchase in the workshop. After all there are so many tools to buy, each adding additional functionality, but air filtering? What does that add where it comes to shaping timber?

Trouble is, all the other machines and tools (even hand tools) generate dust (and that often includes the dust extractor – those big units often leak a fine dust into the air, even those with pleated filters), and that dust will drift, and drift, and drift, and unless you are actively filtering the shop air, your lungs become that filter.

You breathe (very roughly) 100 litres of air per hour. Given that your lungs are moist, and have significant surface area, any dust in that air that enters the lungs is very likely to remain there.

So at some stage in your shop life, you hopefully will consider the air quality in your workshop as being worth tackling. I took a long time to get to that point myself, a disappointingly long time to be honest. Clean air in the workshop makes a huge difference, not only from a safety point of view, but also from your overall shop experience. Of all the hazards in the workshop, the one most likely to kill you in the end is dust.

Let’s say that again- blades can cut, shards can blind, noise can deafen, dust can kill. So why are we so complacent about it? Because you don’t immediately feel the effects? But you do – having a bit of a cough, or snoring a bit louder that night, but we ignore those symptoms, and ignore them and ignore them.

So how do you get clean air? An air filter (duh!)

Most air filtration units on the market are expected to be fitted in place, and work by setting up air currents to draw the air in the shop through the filter, resulting in (a minimum of) 10 air changes/hour. This is fine for the whole shop, but why not start that air filtration at the source of the dust? And that is where the MC760 from Microclene comes into its own. It is so new, it isn’t even listed on their website yet.

Microclene MC760

It is a small, thin unit that sits right on your workbench, and can easily be moved from job to job, and location to location. At 300x300x130mm it still punches through 760 cu m/hr, which isn’t too far behind the 1000 cu m/hr of the MC1000, or the Carbatec air filter, yet it collects right at the source of the dust.

I found it a wee bit noisy, but considering I would typically be making a lot of noise when generating the dust, the noise of the unit pales in comparison, and really, there is quite a bit of noise associated with moving that much air at the best of times. The noise factor is significantly tempered by the convenience of having a unit that can be moved from place-to-place – having air filtration right where you need it.

Side on

With the standard filter provided, it filters particles out of the air to a mean size of 0.4µm

Air Filters

(The carbon filter remains wrapped in the above photo – being activated carbon I don’t want the filter working before I want it to!)

There is also a carbon filter for filtering the air of other contaminates and smells, and a closed cell polyester foam for filtering airborne contaminates from spraying operations.

So if you don’t already have air filtration, or looking for an improvement to the current system, the MC760 is certainly a hard unit to pass by. An air filtration unit that can be placed wherever you need it is ideal, and complements any existing air filtration units.

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While researching this topic, I came across this article from WorkSafe, which I thought too good not to include here. Remember this has been taken from its original context, so refer back to the original location rather than basing any legal decisions on what is here, given this will not reflect any future changes.

Wood Dust – Health Hazards and Control from BACKGROUND

The manufacture of wood products such as architrave and skirting mouldings, furniture, doors and windows often results in the generation of fine airborne wood particles and dust. Typical wood-working activities that produce dust are machining operations (e.g. sawing, routing, turning) and sanding (hand or machine).

Other sources of breathable wood dust are the bagging of dust from dust extraction systems, using compressed air to blow dust off articles and dry sweeping of factory floors, etc.

MDF VS OTHER FORMS OF WOOD

This guidance note makes no distinction between dust generated from wood and fibreboard or particleboard such as MDF. This decision is based on a comprehensive study conducted in the United Kingdom by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It concluded that the ill-health effects associated with dust exposure arising from the machining of MDF are no different from those effects arising from machining other forms of wood (see Further Information for details of this report).

It is also important to note that when working with particleboard and fibreboard, there is a low risk of exposure to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is used in the production of manufactured wood, such as MDF. When first made the unsealed surface of the boards may release some formaldehyde gas, but this quickly dissipates during initial storage.

Information provided by Australian manufacturers of the boards indicates that the release of formaldehyde gas from unsealed boards supplied to workplaces is well below the accepted exposure limits (see Further Information for a reference to National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) Exposure Standards).

WHAT ARE THE HEALTH HAZARDS?

Reported health effects associated with exposure to dust from wood products include:
skin disorders such as allergic dermatitis. Certain timbers are known to produce adverse health effects and sensitisation (see Further Information for a reference to a HSE information sheet on toxic woods)
asthma and impairment of lung function
irritation of the nose, rhinitis (runny nose), violent sneezing, blocked nose and nose bleeds
throat irritation, and sore and watering eyes.

A rare type of nasal cancer has also been reported in people who have worked in very dusty wood-working environments with little or no dust control in place.

MANAGING THE RISKS

Controlling the build up of wood dust
The nature of wood-working is such that total elimination of wood dust from the work environment is not usually practicable. However, the health risk associated with exposure to dust from wood products can be minimised through:
using a process or method of work that reduces the generation of dust to a minimum; e.g. using a plane instead of a sander to shape the wood
providing dust capturing equipment to all dust-producing processes; e.g. local exhaust ventilation at wood working machines and dust bags on tools
maintaining plant and equipment in good condition; e.g. inspect local exhaust ventilation systems regularly to ensure they are working efficiently and check for holes and leakages in duct work.

Using alternative woods
The supplier of wood and specialty timbers can provide information, e.g. a material safety data sheet, about any potential health effects of the wood being used. Employers should consider using woods that have similar strength or decorative effects but are less hazardous.

Monitoring dust levels
Even with the use of recommended dust control techniques, it may not be practicable to prevent exposure to wood dust. If there is uncertainty about whether there is a risk to health from exposure to dust from wood products, air monitoring may need to be carried out.

The risk to health needs to be assessed taking into account the nature of the work, duration of exposure and control measures in place. NOHSC occupational exposure standards have been determined for hard woods and soft woods (see also Further Information).
Note: Both the assessment and any subsequent consideration of control options are best carried out in consultation with relevant employees and any health and safety representatives.

Improving housekeeping to minimise dust
Simple changes to work practices can minimise the level of wood dust in the workplace; e.g.
prevent accumulation of dust and wood chips by cleaning/emptying dust collection equipment regularly
use dustless methods for cleaning up such as wet clean up, damping down before sweeping, or using an industrial vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter. Do not use compressed air to clear work benches or to blow dust off wood products.
implement a ‘clean up as you go’ policy.

Providing respiratory protective equipment
When other dust control measures are not practicable, a respiratory protective device (RPD) suitable for particulates should be worn. Australian / New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1715 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices provides comprehensive guidance on how to select the correct type of RPD. When selecting a RPD, ensure that the equipment meets an appropriate standard. Look for Australian Standard markings (see AS/NZS 1716 Respiratory protective devices) or equivalent on the respirator or its container.

OTHER SAFETY MEASURES

Provide information, instruction and training; e.g.
obtain health and safety information from the wood supplier or manufacturer and have this readily accessible
inform employees on the hazards and risks associated with exposure to wood dust
train employees on the correct use of control measures adopted at the workplace
supervise employees to ensure that the adopted control measures are being utilised correctly.

Reduce the chance of dust explosion by keeping ignition sources such as flame and sparks away from locations where dust is being generated.

LEGAL REQUIREMENTS

All employers have a general duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to provide and maintain so far as is reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

Manufacturers, importers and suppliers of wood have an obligation under the OHS Act to ensure information about their products is available so that they can be used safely and without risks to health. Such information may be provided in the form of a material safety data sheet.

Cyclonic Festool

With Safety Week drawing to a close, thought a couple of practical articles would be good to offset all the theory during the rest of the week!

With the arrival of the Festool Cleantex Dust Collection CT36 and coincidentally the Dust Deputy, it seemed ideal to couple the two together, and especially given that Systainers can be locked solidly to the top of the Cleantex, transforming one into a dust bin seemed perfect.

Step one involved removing the lid from the systainer, and that was easily achieved with the lid open, and a screwdriver inserted into the pin/hinge and a gentle rap with a rubber mallet. Rinse and repeat for the other side and the top came straight off.

Next, I took the Dust Deputy cyclone off its original lid, and used that lid as a template to mark out where the holes need to be.

I needed to offset the cyclone so it didn’t impact on the handle, and especially the forms on the inside of the lid.

Marking out the holes

I originally thought that I’d use this Systainer on top of a second, with the base of one cut away, and the top of the next cut away so I could detach the top Systainer completely so the lower one could be emptied.  However, I couldn’t justify sacrificing two Systainers to the experiment, so thought I’d experiment with just the one (at least initially).  I decided to swap this lid with one on a larger Systainer (and if you notice that the lid that got marked out is different to the one that is cut, you’d be right – I initially marked the wrong lid!)

Holes cut, including bolt holes

Underneath there is some reinforcing ribbing, and some of that had to be cut away.  It doesn’t weaken the top, because I am replacing a few light ribs with a chunk of solid steel!

Cutting away underside ribbing

Next it was easy to bolt the cyclone on top of the lid.

Attaching the cyclone

The lid, ready to go – so far a very easy modification, and other than one damaged lid, easily reversed.  I got the Systainer cheaply (second hand), so the mod so far cost $10.

Systainer Lid with Dust Deputy Cyclone

Fitting the whole unit on top of the CT36 is also a no brainer, and the hose that comes with the cyclone is a perfect size for the Festool Cleantex.

CT36 with Cyclone Collector

Nothing left to do, but give it a test, so made a pile of dust…..

Test pile of sawdust

And sucked it up.

Progress

Now at this stage the system is working, but I need to make some immediate additions – the Systainer is not able to resist the strength of the vacuum, and that causes some significant leaks around the lid (and the rear wall of the Systainer gets pulled in).  These leaks mean the separator didn’t work well at all (yet) because the influx of air from the collection bin means the dust was able to progress from the inlet tube to the outlet rather than fall into the Systainer.

I can solve two problems with one solution – I will make a thin-walled box (MDF) to fit inside the Systainer.  This will fully support the walls of the Systainer, as well as collect the dust and it can be lifted out to empty, rather than removing the Systainer from the Cleantex.  Secondly, some of that rubber that goes around windows and doors as a draught stop should significantly help the sealing, resulting in effective use of the cyclone.

As a quick initial modification (30 minutes), I am very happy with how it is looking already, and with a few extra improvements should become a perfect addition to the new shop vac.

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