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!

Triton Workcentre Dust Bag Modification

Dust collection in the workshop is critical for having a healthy, and an enjoyable work environment. In Australia, all wood dust is classified as carcinogenic, which should be encouragement enough to have a good dust collection system, but it tends to be when every tool that you are looking for has disappeared beneath layers of wood shavings that a decent collection system is considered!

One of the things that first impressed me about Triton was that they consider dust collection as being an integral part of their systems, rather than just an afterthought. Each item in the Triton range has provision for a dust bag and/or vacuum collection.

Before the advent of the Triton Dust Bucket, the original dust bag for the Workcentre had a vacuum offtake. The original dust bag then evolved into the current passive system where a bag beneath the table collects the dust and shavings.

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Photo 1 – The current dust collection system (sourced from http://www.triton.com.au)

Funnily enough, the current dust bag lends itself very well to being adapted to active dust collection. Particularly the rigid ring that the lower bag connects to is excellent for supporting a funnel. You can choose to fit a ready-made funnel, or make one of your own. One of the best ideas I have heard recently was to cut the top of a commercial spring water bottle for a water cooler- it makes a great funnel.
You can collect the dust using the standard Triton Dust Bucket, but this results in a very narrow end to the funnel, which is prone to blocking. The alternative, is to use a full 4” collection system, where the high volume, low velocity suction and wide tubing copes a lot better with larger debris.

Since acquiring a 750W Dust Extractor from Triton’s new parent company (GMC), I have fitted out the workshop with 4” tubes for dust collection from all my major workshop tools (blast gates are used to prevent suction from tools not in use- see Photo 6 which includes inline blast gates). This provides a superb dust collection system. For the Workcentre, I adapted the dust bag with a funnel that reduces the diameter down to the 4” tubing. (Note, in future, I will be going for a much more powerful extractor – 2HP is preferrable!)

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Photo 2 – GMC 750W Dust Extractor

Now, instead of collecting the sawdust in the lower bag which requires frequent emptying, the 4” tube feeds all the sawdust and scrap wood directly to the Dust Extractor.
For the funnel, I chose to go the hard way, and make my own.
Starting with a single piece of MDF, a circle is cut with a 50cm diameter. This can be done on a bandsaw or the Triton Jigsaw Table. Next, a number of concentric circles are cut. However, these are cut with the work set at 35 degrees to the blade, producing cones.
Three additional rings are cut with straight sides. These are to produce the cylinder that the dust extraction hose will fit on. This cone is being made for a 4″ dust collection system, however there is no reason that the normal Triton hose could not be used if the cone is made to come to a smaller diameter.

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Photo 3 – The cut rings and cones

The cones are then inverted, and placed on top of each other, producing a funnel. The first ring is quite a bit larger than the next, creating a lip that will locate on the hard ring in the upper section of the dust bag.

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Photo 4 – The funnel, ready to be glued

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Photo 5 – The funnel in position, ready to be attached to the 4” tubing

I have had some questions in the past about whether the bag will collapse in, restricting the funnel, when suction is applied. I am happy to say that I have had no problems with that, and in fact the dust collection is even better than before (and not just more convenient), as air is drawn into the bag through all the gaps, preventing dust escaping. It will also be beneficial for the saw itself, as the positive suction draws clean air in through, and around the motor, and discourages dust getting into the circular saw’s housing.

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Photos 6 & 7  4” Hose connected, leading to a Blast Gate and Y section

Timber Health Hazards

To quote the experts “In Australia all wood dust is now classified as carcinogenic (liable to cause cancer) This list has been compiled to give woodworkers a little bit of an insight into the potential health hazards posed by some of the timbers that are used.”

This site & list has been put together by U-Beaut Enterprises and is an excellent reference for (Australian) Woodworkers in particular.

While you are there, check out the range of finishing products and related accessories at http://www.ubeaut.com.au Have no doubt- you will hear more from me about their products (there is hardly a job I do that doesn’t include finishing with one of their superb range.) I believe their products are starting to be seen on shelves in the US, UK and Canada, and they are definitely worth seeking out.

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