There’s no way around it: wood dust is a health hazard. Multiple health agencies have classified wood dust as a carcinogen. As a woodworker, whether professionally or as a hobbyist, safety should be the top priority — even ahead of creating a quality product. This is where dust collection systems come in – the name is pretty straightforward for their purpose: they collect the dust that can harm your lungs and cause health problems later down the road.
Picking a Dust Collection System
There’s no one correct dust collection system for every woodworker. You need to examine your space, your needs, and your budget. For example, a band saw requires a dust collection system with an airflow of 375 Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) while a 10-inch table saw requires a dust collection system with an airflow of 550 CFM or above — when in doubt, go with more CFM than you think you’ll need. It can’t hurt and can only help your lungs.
Keep it short and simple – your duct work, that is. Every foot of duct work means that much more work for the dust collector to do, and the goal is to keep the machine working as efficiently as it can. When installing a dust collection system, keep the duct work as close to that “shortest distance between two points” as possible. If you have to make a curve, aim for a curve of 45 degrees or below, rather than a right (90 degree) angle. Again, it’s all about letting the air flow as easily as possible.
Is Less More?
There are two options for dust collection — one giant dust collection unit or several smaller units. Larger units are more thorough and vent outside, leaving your work space relatively dust-particle free. Smaller units “scrub” the air before venting it back into the work space, but leave fine particles lingering in the air. Remember, though, even a small collection unit is better than no unit at all. If you do a lot of sanding or run a shop with multiple people working at the same time, opt for one large unit. If you’re more of a hobbyist, or don’t do a lot of sanding in your shop, you can get away with one or more smaller units.
The Danger of Static
Have you ever taken a shirt out of the dryer only to find yourself subject to an electrical shock? Or read about those granaries that seem to suddenly blow up? The same thing can happen with a dust collection system. A small spark of static electricity in your system can lead to a large fire. If the fire builds up fast enough in the collection bin, you could even have an explosion on your hands. That’s not good by any standards! Guard against this by choosing non-conductive material for ductwork, and installing a simple ground around your ductwork. An 18- or 20- gauge copper wire wrapped around the pipe should suffice.
Location, Location, Location
It may sound obvious, but you need to put your dust collection system where there’s going to be a lot of dust. If you have a dedicated sanding area, that’s where your collection system needs to go. If you don’t have a dedicated sanding area (and if you don’t, you should really consider creating one!), observe where you work the most and put the collection system there. The goal, again, is to filter out as many dust particles as possible. Clearly, your collection system can’t do that if it’s far away from the source of the hazard.
As a woodworker, you should already be well aware that fire is a huge hazard. It can destroy your work, your workshop and YOU in a matter of minutes. We’ve already touched on the dangers of static electricity buildup in your duct work, but fire can happen in other ways. Place your collection system in a spot away from open flames, away from your wood burning area (if you have one), and away from electrical outlets that could spark a flame. Keep in mind that wood dust ignites easily — so if you’re a smoker, keep those butts out of the work zone and as far away from your collection system or dust outlet as possible.
The Bottom Line
There’s no one correct dust collection system for everyone and there’s neither one correct way nor one correct place to install it. It all depends on your needs, your work space, and how you work. Simple tips can help you make your life easier and your work safer, but when in doubt, consult a professional installer.