Breathe Easy

I’ve been talking recently with Microclene, and particularly Carrolls Woodcraft who supply their air-filtration systems.   There is no question that the Microclene air filters are a quality unit – anyone who has been to a woodshow is likely to have seen one hanging over the high dust generating (but rather dust-absent!) stand of Arbortech, and recently I happened to be using one on the Torque Workcentre stand.  Let alone seeing them on the Microclene stand itself.  I have a couple in my shed – one for overall air filtration, and one to be placed next to where you are working for high dust (or particularly obnoxious dust) generating procedures.

However, when you boil it down, cost is very much a driving factor in shop purchases, particularly when it comes to safety.  It shouldn’t be, obviously, but who doesn’t consider another plane, or jointer, router etc before putting their hand in the pocket for safety.  And where it comes to safety, eye protection is pretty easy to justify – if it goes wrong, the pain is immediate, the consequences obvious.  Foot protection – pretty much the same, but how many occasionally head out to the shed in thongs (no, not a thong….thongs!!) on occasion, as convenience gets before sensibility?  Hearing protection is even more scarce – and that comes down to the immediacy of the consequence.  Having the ears ringing a bit after working next to a router or saw that goes away isn’t often enough of a motivator for many to actually put on some hearing protection.

Dust I would hesitate to say is the most ignored hazard (note, I didn’t say risk).  How many do a cut, holding their breath and feel that is good enough?  And the consequences seem even less tangible at the time.  If smokers are hard to convince to give up for the obvious impacts on their health, what hope to convince a woodworker to buy an air filtration system?

But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored by complacency.  I did, for a long time, but when I finally capitulated and bought an air filter, I really noticed the difference, especially during the night after a day in the shed – talk about breathing easier.  You can wear a dust mask (and that is still important, even if you do have an air filtration system), but that doesn’t stop the fine dust coating surfaces, ready to lift off again and be breathed in when you take the mask off again, this shed visit, or the next, or the next…. (let alone wrecking finishes etc)

So when you do decide that it really is important to have air filtration, there are a few choices out there, and Microclene is no doubt one of the more desirable systems for its effectiveness, quality, and even the torus-shaped airflow that it produces, but cost? They sure do…or should I say did?  With some serious navel-gazing and evaluation of pricing, Microclene have managed to slash a good 25% or so off their retail price, such as the $660 MC1200 with 1200 m³/hr, 0.4µm filtration.  That is not by changing to a Chinese manufacturer, outsourcing, dropping quality or other typical methods for getting the price down.  They are still the same machines, but by changing shipping quantities, cutting margins etc they have achieved a much lower, more competitive price.  And still filter down to a mean size of 0.4µm.  It might look effective for machines to filter the big stuff.  It’s the small stuff that will get you in the end.

There are some new products in their lineup to – some of the cost reduction is by rationalising the range.  In recent discussions with Microclene, it sounds like Stu’s Shed will have a chance to review some of the new offerings in the near future.  However if your lungs can’t wait any longer, have a chat to Jim or Irene from Carrolls Woodcraft and do yourself a favour.  Seriously.

Where there’s a Walko, there’s a way

One of the jobs I had on the list was to progress creating a new work area in the shed. Wall space is an absolute premium – everything is better with a wall behind it, it seems.  So when the Walko showed up, the option of wall mounting it had significant appeal, but that caused an issue given that there was no wall to fit it on.  Looking around the workshop, and the shelving unit at one end caught my eye.  I’ve often thought that where it was would make a good workbench location, and after all, what is a Walko but a portable workbench?

Now loosing the shelving unit would be a problem, so relocating it is much preferred.  Cutting it down might have lost a couple of shelves, but I had a couple under-utilised.  The other two fitted nicely under the Torque Workcentre, making much higher density use of that space.  I do have to relocate the sanders, but I have an idea for them as well.

Under workbench storage

Now with a large chunk of wall exposed, it was time for the Walko to move in.

Wall Mounted Walko

Because it is the Walko 3, I was fortunate to have a bit of space space either side – perfect for a stack of Festool power tools on one side, and the Festool shop vac (the Cleantex 36) on the other.  Makes for an excellent work area.

The next thing I’m planning for this area is to make my own top for another set of table supports, and this top will be specifically suitable for some vices to be fitted.

Wall Mounting Set

The Walko wall-mounting kit is both simple, and very effective.  It is also very easy to detach the Walko and use it in another orientation (A frame, flat on the floor for  breaking down boards etc).

Work area

The benches can be repositioned to any desired height, and for some operations work well together (such as working on a board edge).  Either that, or the lower surface can hold the tools etc ready for the next step.  It would also be excellent for dovetail jigs, such as the Leigh, or pockethole jigs such as the Kreg.

One use for the Workstruts

There are also Workstruts available (and they can also be positioned (and repositioned) wherever required, or folded away when not needed.  They can be used low to support the workpiece, or higher for supplies, temporary wood rack, whatever.  I don’t know their maximum load capacity, but it is significant – they feel rather solid.

Repositioned Microclene Air Filtration

Finally, in addition to the dust extraction, I’ve repositioned the Microclene air filtration unit closer to being as overhead as possible.

Looking forward to making use of my new working area!

Filter Changing

A couple of questions were raised about the MC760 from Microclene about how to tell when a filter needs to be changed, and how easy is it to do so (especially when there are 3 types of filters for different jobs and it would be good to be able to switch between them)

Firstly to knowing when a filter needs changing.  There is no point looking at these filters and thinking it looks clean, or dirty – the ol’ eyechrometer is not a particularly good tool for that job.

There is a much better one – a sheet of paper.

Place the sheet of paper so it covers the intake (don’t worry if it isn’t a perfect match in size – an A4 sheet (“Letter” for you USians) is perfectly fine.  Do this the first time you install a new filter to get a reference point.  Turn off the air filter, and time how long it takes for the paper to fall away from the filter.  Write this number on a piece of cellotape or similar and stick it to the side of the machine (so you don’t forget it!)

Repeat this test at regular intervals (time between intervals depends on how dusty you typically make the air in your workshop!).  When it only takes 1/2 as long as the original test for the paper to detach, it is time for the filter to be replaced.  You’ll be surprised how dirty the filter has to be before it reaches this state.

To replace the filter on the MC760, it is simply a matter of loosening 2 screws – one on either side of the front panel, and switch out the filter material.  Takes literally seconds.

Filter Changing on the MC760

Simple huh!

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.

Episode 54 Dust

Episode 54 Dust

Talking about protecting yourself from dust. The cloud gets generated by taking the Festool Termite to a piece of MDF.

Sorry about the pelting rain in the background – for a country in a 10 year drought, it seems to rain at very inopportune times!

This video features the Dust-Bee-Gone and Microclene MC1000 air filter.  The work is done on top of the Walko Workbench.

Dust? Be Gone!

One of the less pleasant side-products of woodworking, particularly with power tools, is the generation of sawdust. Some of these particles get down to rather nasty sizes, and can remain airborne for surprisingly long periods of time.

There are three sources of dust control for the workshop.  The first is obvious (well they are all obvious really): controlling dust at the point of creation.  Using dust collection equipment, whether it is a vacuum connected to the machine, or a 4″ hose to a dust extractor, a down-draught table, whatever.  Collect and extract as much dust as possible.

The second is dealing with the finer particles that have escaped, and become fully airborne.  This is where some form of air filtration comes in.  It could be something like the MC1000 that pumps 1000 cubic metres through a 0.6 micron filter every hour, or even a simple extraction fan that pumps ‘dirty’ air outside, allowing clean air to be drawn in.

Finally, stage three is the “when all else fails” – the final backstop – PPE (RPE).  Personal protection equipment (respiratory protection equipment).

Let’s face it – we are talking about face masks.

Now that is a pleasant thought isn’t it?  Damned uncomfortable, hot, and you can’t wait to get it off as soon as the dusty job is over (despite the air still being laden with fine dust particles you can still see).  On top of that, so many times you find your vision being compromised as your safety glasses fog, and there is enough reasons mounting why you’d feel justified in abandoning any thought of continuing to use one.  In hot weather, I’ve had to regularly pour out my normal P2 filtered mask – boy that really makes using one fun.

So what do you do? Get a better mask, that’s what.

Medical / surgical staff have to wear masks for long periods of time, and they certainly can’t afford to have their vision impaired by fogging, so it is quite fortunate that one happens to have a passion for woodturning, and has come up with a dust mask that is based on the surgical mask design.

Called the Dust Bee Gone (DBG), it is designed to be particularly comfortable, is guaranteed not to fog your glasses, and will save you a lot of money on decent disposable masks because this one is washable.  If used 6 to 8 hours a day, it should last 3-5 years.  Based on that, the one I have will last the rest of my life!

It is not designed for toxic dusts, so I’d still use a P2 filter when working with MDF.  The DBG filters down to 3 micron. It works well with beards too (although I don’t have a full length woodworkers one (yet!)

Dust Bee Gone

Dust Bee Gone

35129-01-500 35129-02-500

The Australian importer is Microclene (suppliers of the Microclene air filters), and can be purchased through Carrolls Woodcraft Supplies.  In the US, you can get them through Rockler.

So the next time you are in your workshop, creating clouds of fine dust and pretending it doesn’t exist, and choosing not to use a mask because of all the excuses (and I know – I’ve used a lot of them!), consider trying a different type of mask.

MC1000 Microclene Extension

The MC1000 is designed as a room air filtration unit, but sometimes a more local collection is useful.  Rather than having to relocate the dust collector itself, Microclene have an optional extension tube for the inlet.

The tube requires (minimal) assembly – you have to stick it together.  To keep the tube from falling off, it has polyurethane stick-on buffers around the top edge that catch on the edge of the lower filter.  Once it is assembled, to remove and replace the extension tube, you need to unscrew the filter.

Now as much as the extension tube would be useful, having to remove the filter each time to install it and again to remove it would become a pain.  So I upgraded it.  Didn’t take much – just a small length of velcro.  I’ve initially replaced the glueline used to stick the tube together, so now I can open up a short amount at the top so the extension tube is easily removed.

Velcro Upgrade

Velcro Upgrade

If the stick-on buffers fall off over time, I will simply replace them with some more velcro – might even do it sooner, so I don’t have to keep opening the tube up to remove it. Either way, it sure beats removing and replacing the filter.

MC1000 in "Room Air Filtration" mode

MC1000 in "Room Air Filtration" mode

MC1000 in "Localised Collection" mode

MC1000 in "Localised Collection" mode

The MC1000 will be seen in a video shortly (currently still inside the video camera!) as I talk about primary, secondary and tertiary protection from airborne dust. For the video I used the Festool Termite, and you should see its dust production capabilities!!

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