Dust Collection For Clubmakers

I suspect most who make clubs think about dust control about the same way I
did before getting ill. I had so little time for my woodworking and made so
little dust, plus had a good mask that I wore anytime I made lots of dust or
worked with toxic wood, so figured I was at minimal risk. It turns out I was
wrong and got blindsided not by the dust I was making, but instead by the
invisible dust that missed capture and kept building in my shop. Depending
on how much dust you make and how well you get rid of it, you could have
similar problems.

To give a brief overview, the medical risks from fine dust are pretty well
known and studied. Airborne dust is defined as dust that does not normally
quickly settle in normal room air currents. Most of the airborne dust is
sized smaller than 30-microns. A 30-micron particle is roughly one third the
thickness of a human hair. Although we get all clogged up and feel miserable
our bodies do a pretty good job getting rid of the 10 to 30-micron sized
dust particles. Dust sized 10-micron and below is not visible without
magnification. Moreover, dust smaller than 10-microns gets right past our
first layers of protection and gets trapped in our nasal and throat tissues
where we have a very difficult time getting rid of it. Dust particles sized
5-microns and smaller are known as respirable dust because these sized
particles go right into and lodge deep in our lungs. The 10-micron and
smaller particles often take a very long time to settle even in air that has
minimal movement. Particles sized 2.5-microns and smaller have long been
studied because many of these are associated with asbestosis and silicosis,
the illnesses that come from inhaling fine particles of glass and asbestos.
These don't settle in anything but almost completely dead air not being
stirred at all. Graphite has not been studied as much but both glass and
asbestos particles cut and poke holes in cells killing them until the
particle can be surrounded in mucus, a cyst or other tissue. Over time these
are bad news and known to lead to many medical problems. This stuff is so
bad and well studied it has its own name, PM 2.5. Do a Google search on "PM
2.5 health risks" to see over 8 million references that say we don't want to
inhale this stuff. Particles sized 1-micron and below are even worse news.
Instead of just getting trapped in the respiratory system, they go from the
lungs directly into the blood and can deposit anywhere in our bodies. In
short there is no end of evidence that says breathing fine particles is

Like any risk analysis we need to know the probability of being affected as
well as the consequences. Nearly forty years of insurance data on commercial
woodworkers show all develop some dust related problems with about 1 in 14
now forced by those problems into an early medical retirement or worse. That
is pretty bad news for hobbyist woodworkers because to meet national fire
protection association codes almost all commercial dust collection systems
have been placed outside for more than four decades where the finest
particles just blow away into the outside air. Typical small shop
woodworkers vent their dust collection inside. Because the worst particles
are invisible and these particles last six months or longer, even in shops
that make minimal dust we can build up dangerously high fine dust levels.
Almost any air movement can launch the dust that escaped collection airborne
again and again. Cal-OSHA tests air quality in small woodshops in California
who apply for commercial licenses. In spite of only doing little
woodworking, almost all shops that vent indoors fail their air quality tests
with two to five times more than the OSHA maximum and average particle
counts over 10,000 times higher than recommended by medical experts. That is
really bad news as the medical folks are pushing hard to make the OSHA
standard fifty times tougher just like the European community has already
done. At these levels of exposure the research and insurance statistics show
100% develop some chronic health problems with 1 in 8 developing
debilitation medical problems.

Now for club makers you need to know that about 3 ounces of airborne dust in
an 8x10 foot room will give just about double the maximum allowed by OSHA,
yet only one quarter ounce in that same room busts the medical standards. In
short, it takes almost no dust to get in trouble with excessive exposure.

So should everyone who works on golf clubs immediately panic and go build
the 5 hp cyclone dust collection system I invented and share plans with on
my web pages? No, but there are some simple things you can do that will make
a huge difference. First, make sure that you either collect the dust as it
is being made or work somewhere other than inside your home, preferably a
garage or workshop that you can regularly open up and use a leaf blower to
blow all out. For those looking for an excuse for a new tool, a big
compressor works well too. When you are making the fine dust, slip on a good
fitting 3M model 7500 mask. It will provide excellent protection while you
work and blowing out that area regularly will minimize any problems from a
build up.

If you can't work in an area that can be regularly blown out, you still
should wear the dust mask when making the dust, plus need to figure out a
way to capture that fine dust as it is made. Study after study shows trying
to get rid of the fine dust with an exhaust fan, air filter, or air cleaner
after it has escaped into our shop air takes four to six hours during which
time we get a dangerously high exposure. Collecting the fine dust as it is
made of a challenge, yet we do not want this dust trapped inside. Many
become sensitized to the resins used in epoxy and fiberglass over time, and
breathing this stuff with no break is not a good idea. In terms of
controlling the fine dust, the best thing to do is not spread it all over. A
wet tile saw that traps the dust in the water stream is also a good idea if
you get one that does not spray all over. Although many think putting a
vacuum hose right next to what we are cutting will help, that generally
works poorly. Because air pulled by a vacuum drops off in speed where it
won't even pickup sawdust just 2" from the nozzle, you need not only a good
vacuum, but also a pretty good hood that contains and controls whatever dust
you make. The trick is to use the slowest speed cutter you can because the
slower and less aggressive your cutting the less you will throw the dust and
smaller your hood needs to be. With a low speed cutter, say a diamond blade
in a saber saw or scroll saw, you only need to build a jig with a small hood
that traps the fine dust and leads it right into your vacuum hose. The
faster and more aggressive your cutting action, the bigger the hood you need
to keep that dust from escaping. If you do like me and use a big air powered
cut-off abrasive wheel, you need a hood like power wood carvers use which is
a clear box with hand holes coupled to a big fan and filter. With just a
little more patience and slower tool, we can get by with a good vacuum and
still get fairly quick cuts. The best vacuum I've found is the Fein 18
gallon stainless which you can sometimes get from Fein from their scratch
and dent sales to keep it only being outrageously expensive. You then need a
Sears HEPA "red-line" filter to convert that over to a really fine dust
collection system. Its internal bag filter does a good job on the larger
particles and HEPA gets almost all the rest. Plus this two layered filtering
approach works wonders in terms of making the expensive HEPA filters last
for a very long time. The only other one close that I found was the Festool
which was equally expensive, plus required frequent expensive filter
replacements. My old big Sears and big ShopVac neither generated more than
40" w.c. of suction. W.C. means how many inches up a water column that
vacuum will suck. The Fein and Festool both pull over 90" but cost more than
twice as much.

Bill Pentz
Cyclone and Dust Collection Research:
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