Quite frankly, it is almost right to say that woodworking is not for everyone because it comes with many risks. You may accidentally cut your finger, for example, if you are not using safety gloves or you tend to be absentminded. You may also injure other people if you do not follow the safety precautions when doing woodworking.
Yet, the biggest risk may not come from bodily injury due to the use of power tools, but from micro wood dust that may lodge into your lungs. Forget about the large sawdust that billows out of the rear end of the planer. The most dangerous thing is the non-visible fine dust that lingers in the air even after you have turned off the tool.
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Health Risks From Wood Dust
Woodworking entails processes like sawing, cutting, routing, turning, sanding, dry sweeping of dust, and bagging dust from the extraction systems. All these processes expose you to many dust particles, which bring about many health problems.
The most prominent health risk due to wood dust is the risk to the lungs. The human lungs are sensitive organs of the body that are susceptible to many diseases. If you always engage in woodworking, you may get exposed continuously to fine dust and large wood chunks that can lodge into your lungs. The lungs, of course, are designed to filter larger particles.
Yet, the smaller particles may lodge deeply into the lungs and eventually cause scarring and irreversible damages to the organ. Once the lungs become weak due to constant exposure to dust particulates, lung diseases may set in.
Resins, glues, and other harmful chemicals used in woodworking can further aggravate the presence of particulates. So, if you care for your health, it will help if you use any of the equipment mentioned below to minimize your health risks.
Equipment to Minimize Health Risks Due to Wood Dust
Potential health problems resulting from fine dust inhalation include allergic respiratory symptoms, emphysema, non-allergic respiratory issues, and even lung cancer. It will help if you know the effective equipment you can use to reduce or minimize the risks due to dust inhalation. Here is a list of the most useful equipment you can use to reduce health risks due to dust particulates:
1) Dust Mask
One of your best protections against fine dust is the dust mask. Dust masks come in various designs and sizes, and you can buy them in the hardware stores. In the hardware store, you can buy a simple dust mask. This dust mask features a disposable cloth with an elastic band for putting it on. You can also find there better ones with an exhalation valve.
Since most of the health problems caused by dust start with the fine dust lodging into the lungs, the best thing to prevent the onset of these diseases is by wearing a dust mask. This dust mask can prevent and limit dust inhalation. It will help if you choose a dust mask that can filter fine dust ranging from 2-10 microns.
2) Air Filter
Aside from having a dust mask, you will also need an all-around air filter in your shop to filter the air inside. A ceiling-mounted air filter unit that can run while you work inside your shop is one of your best choices. This ceiling-mounted air filter can collect the airborne dust particulates without causing any problem or intruding into your work.
These air filters usually come with furnace filters as their pre-filters, aside from the unit’s array of filters. You can also buy HEPA furnace filters as pre-filters. One caveat you should take heed of is that you can’t completely rely on this air filter to save you from dust particulates. This filter is more of a backup device. Nevertheless, it can reduce the risks of inhaling fine dust.
Another level-up alternative to the dust mask is the respirator. The respirator can filter particles with a higher level of efficiency than the dust mask. They come with replaceable filter pads in case the filters get clogged. Hence, you do not need to purchase a new respirator every time your respirator clogs.
Another advantage of the respirators over the simple dust masks is that they come with better design and made. They are wrought in flexible rubber materials for better sealing than those of the dust masks.
Hence, you should select the respirator you will buy and opt for something with filter pads that come with a charcoal filter for filtering foul odors and chemicals. You can use this type of respirators when doing the finishing touch on your workpiece.
4) Powered Respirators
Another excellent protection from fine dust is the powered respirator. It is a step further towards ensuring that you will never inhale the dust. This power respirator encloses your whole head and pumps a fresh whiff of air into and out of your mask. Yet, you may look like a Martian when you are wearing this thing. Nevertheless, it offers the ultimate protection from fine dust and is perfect for use if you have an allergic reaction.
5) Dust Collector
You must have a dust collector inside your woodworking shop for this one is a must-have equipment. It usually comes with a four-inch dust collection hose and can filter dust and large chips produced by different woodworking machines.
These powerful pieces of equipment are capable of great suction. They differ from small vacuums because they come with a giant bag. Moreover, they are efficient and never lose suction power even with continuous usage. You can likewise outfit this equipment with a felt bag for increased dust collection efficiency. You can install the dust collection system on the wall and connecting the vacuum pipe to all your woodworking machines in the workshop.
6) Air Exhaust
Another tool that can help you reduce the air particulates in your shop is the air exhaust. The air exhaust can complement the use of the equipment mentioned above. The good thing about using an air exhaust is that it blows the dust particulates out of the shop.
You may think that there is no airborne dust inside your shop because you can’t see them. They may be invisible to your naked eyes, but they are there if you don’t do anything about them. However, with the help of air exhaust, you can lessen and even eradicate these airborne particulates from your workshop. Your shop should have two of them, one that lets the air come in and one that blows the air out of your shop.
7) Cyclone Separator
If you’re producing lots of wood shavings and wood chips, you can consider using a cyclone separator to complement your dust collector. The cyclone separator features a giant vortex-like pre-filter piece that lets larger wood chunks to fall into a large container or trash can.
Its use can prolong the dust collector’s bag’s life. It can also reduce the times you would empty the dust collector’s bag. If you want a great defense against wood dust, you might as well consider the use of a cyclone separator.
8) Vacuum and Direct Dust Extraction
If you are mindful of not risking your health when doing woodworking, you better consider connecting a vacuum to your specific power tool. You can do this using a hose adapter that you attach to the vacuum and the device—and the vacuum switches on when the tool is running. You can find vacuums that work well with other tools like a sander, and you can plug these vacuums directly into these tools.
A direct dust extraction mechanism lets you precisely cut the amount of particulates produced when woodworking. Since the vacuum connects to the tool, it can then start suctioning the dust without a hitch. You can use this type of vacuum with sanders, miter saws, and other handheld tools that come with dust ports.
You can also use a smart iSocket that features two plug-in sockets. You can use these iSockets if your vacuum doesn’t come with an auto-start vacuum.
Furthermore, you can plug in the tool to one socket and the vacuum into the other socket. Since this socket is smart, it can sense if you are using the device or not. Thus, the vacuum can automatically turn on the vacuum when you use your power tool. It also lets the vacuum works for a few seconds after you have turned off the tool.
9) Downdraft Table
If you are wary of dust particulates, you can also use a downdraft table. But what is this downdraft table? A downdraft table is a table that comes with holes or slots to which you can attach a dust collector or vacuum.
With the help of gravity and the vacuum’s suctioning power, you can eliminate the dust from your table. Some downdraft tables also come with a built-in motor. This motor can suck in the dust on the table. The downdraft woodworking setups make use of this type of table.
The first step in minimizing woodworking risks is to be aware of these risks. Once you have identified these risks, you can then take the necessary steps to mitigate these risks. The primary risk to your health that you should be wary of comes from the invisible airborne dust. As mentioned above, constant exposure to this invisible dust may weaken your lungs and eventually lead to lung diseases.
However, if you take heed of the precautions mentioned above and make use of the safety equipment mentioned above, you can minimize these risks or eradicate them. With fewer health risks, you can go on with your passion for woodworking without worrying much about health risks.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker and carpenter who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.