Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dust Collection - Wood Carving Article

We have started exploring power carving. Last time we discussed the basic things you would need to get started. Today we discuss what I think is the most important part of power carving, dust collection.

Dust collection is all about your safety. This is an important topic so please don’t mistake any humor as me taking the subject lightly.

How Good Wood Turns Bad

Almost everything about wood is a pleasure. I love walking in the forest in the midst of God’s creation, sitting by a cozy fire, the feel of a nice piece of basswood. How could something that brings so much pleasure have the potential to do so much harm? When power carving we create a lot of dust. Some of these dust particles are heavy and fall to the ground but many of them stay airborne and can get into our lungs and eyes.

Not all dust is created equal. Some woods create very fine dust that is small enough to get through masks. Some woods have mold in them and this mold gets airborne with the dust. Some woods contain toxic chemicals when we come in contact with the dust we also come in contact with these chemicals. Some of the effects can be minor irritation of the skin, nasal passages, and eyes. Extended exposure to dust has been linked to serious lung ailments and nasal cancer.

What Albert Einstein Says About Dust

Albert Einstein was a brilliant scientist. Between his more practical pursuits proving that time is relative and that the fabric of space is warped I assumed he must have figured out some of the basics of dust collection. I was mistaken. That leaves it to little ol’ me to point out some of the basics.

Good dust collection starts with moving air. If you aren’t moving a large volume of air then you are wasting time. If you want to waste time don’t do it breathing dust. Next is speed. How quickly are you moving the air? When you add all of this together (Actually you probably multiply but since multiplication is just lots of adding done at once I think it’s ok to say add. But I digress.) you get something called CFM or cubic feet per minute. This tells you how much air you are moving every minute.

The size of your piping (or ducting) also affects how much air you can move. You can’t move a high volume of air through a little pipe without having issues. You can’t bail out a ship with a thimble. You need to have duct work that matches the volume of air you are moving.

How much do you need? That’s a question I can’t answer here. Depending on the size of your operation you may need to do some calculations. If you are just doing small projects you can probably get by with a simple collector. The larger the projects the bigger your need. If you do woodworking then you need a highly efficient system.

I recommend you do some more research if your needs go beyond a simple solution. One site I have found that has a lot of good information is

Options For The Simple Man

I don’t have a big workshop and I don’t have big woodworking tools so I don’t have a need for a major system. Dust collectors that meet the needs of almost all woodcarvers fall into two types: portable and bench systems.

Portable Systems

If you like to power carve outside or take your equipment with you to club meetings and such then you’ll want a system that is portable. The systems typically blow the dust into a collection bag that you can empty later on. They don’t pull a huge volume of air but they are ok for smaller projects that are worked on in well ventilated areas.

Most of these work with a lapboard. A lapboard is like a tray that sits in your lap. The lapboard will have a hole in the middle (hopefully covered with a screen). The dust gets pulled through the hole and into the collection bag.

Bench Systems

Bench systems are for a more permanent type of setup. These are generally mounted into a bench (thus the name!). You sit at the bench and the dust is pulled into an opening in the bench and is either blown into a collection bag or outside. A lapboard can also be used with a bench setup.

Rolling Your Own

I decided to build my own dust collector. Part of the reason was funding but mostly I wanted to do it myself for the fun of it. While I built my system it is very similar to other bench systems. I have a squirrel-cage fan that moves a lot of air. This fan is from an old mobile home heating unit. The suction side of the fan is connected by a flexible pipe to a hole in my bench. The other side of the fan is connected by a flexible pipe to a board. This board fits into the window next to my bench. When I am carving I open the window and slide in the board (it is tight fitting so the dust doesn’t come back in around the edges). This sends the dust from my carving outside. This works very well if you have a convenient place outside to send the dust.

I will admit that I’m not 100% satisfied with my system. I’m paranoid about dust and I’m not sure I’ve built the perfect system. Again, you should do a lot of research and decide the best option for you.

In Case You Missed It

The best way to control dust inhalation is by the use of properly designed and maintained dust collection systems and your work area should be well ventilated. If you don’t have a dust collection system then a properly designed dust mask should be used. Do not use paper masks. They will not protect you.

A good book on the subject of dust collection is Woodshop Dust Control. It is more for the woodshop but does cover a lot of important information.

The 'Power Carving Series' encompasses the following articles:

This article originally appeared in Carving Magazine.


  1. [...] Collection Post Online I have a new post online about dust collection. You can find it here. Enjoy! __________________ ----------------------- John Call Free articles about Woodcarving and [...]

  2. thats very clever. i've always wanted to know of a dust collecter that sucks in one end and blows out the other. very clever mait

  3. [...] Dust collectors I did an article on this a while back - Woodcarving, Beekeeping, and Country Life Dust Collection – Wood Carving Article I built my own system out of an old squirrel-cage fan. Fan was $25.00 and the rest was scrap. Fits [...]

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