Dust collection

by: Jo Craemer



Some months ago I wrote a little about dust collection, but with so many new subscribers, it is good to cover the subject again.

If you are working in a big shop, of course, then commercial vacuums with ducting to each tool - saw, jointer, sanders, etc. - is the way to go.

But, if you work in your house on carvings you can hold in your hand, and if you are using power grinders like the Fordom, Gesswein, NSK, etc.- or especially - one of the ultra-high-speed air turbine handpieces, then dust collection is handled in a different manner.

Collection of sawdust is both a health issue and one of keeping the house clean. The fast rotary handpieces create dust that consists of much smaller particles than most shop tools. The 400,000 rpm air-turbine grinders make a sawdust that is more of a suspended mist, which is additionally contaminated by an oil mist coming from the continuous oil lubrication feed to the handpiece.

Very fine dust, when inhaled, goes right down into the deepest part of the lungs, unlike the coarse sawdust which is collected by sticky mucus in the upper airway. No inhaled dust is good for you, but some species of wood are more toxic than others, and may also contain fungus, bacteria and mold spores.

Some, like Tupelo, are highly allergenic (which means it doesn't take much exposure for your body to develop an allergy to it.) If the health issues weren't enough, fine sawdust also has a way of getting on and into everything in the carving area. I spend a lot of time in my carving room, so have all my expensive sound equipment there, and don't want dirty air being drawn into the CD player and amplifier, etc.

So . . what do you do?

I've found three basic ways to handle airborne sawdust in a home


Even the cheapest mask is better than nothing. Or you can lay out big money, and invest in one of the pressurized face masks, and look like the carver from Mars.
I find any mask to be annoying and uncomfortable for wearing hours at a time. They beat death by sawdust inhalation, but not by much.


These usually consist of a box, a filter and a fan. You work in front of the air intake area, and the dust gets sucked into the box and is collected by the filter.
(a) Commercial versions are available from most of the catalogs that cater to woodcarvers. Some even include built-in lighting. They are usually darn expensive, and any woodworker worth his/her salt will take one look, and say "I can make one of those."
(b) A CHEAP homemade version can be made by taking a cardboard box and placing one of those blue furnace filters into it, either crosswise or diagonally.

Cut an "intake" hole in the front of the box.

Place a fan in the back of the box, behind the filter, and aim the airflow through a hole in the back of the box.

The effectiveness of the filter can be enhanced greatly by slipping a pair of panty hose over the filter. Really fine dust, which would go right through a regular furnace filter, will get caught on the fine mesh of the panty hose and stick there. When it starts to build up, just give it a tap, and most of it will drop off.

Most of the fans you can purchase won't be "sealed", so you MUST check it frequently to make sure no sawdust is building up in the motor area. That would create a fire hazard, plus cause the fan to overheat. I've used occasional blasts of compressed air to keep it clean.

I've found that table-top collectors are effective, but bulky. You must also do your carving (grinding) close to the intake area where airflow is fast, to effectively collect the airborne dust. This doesn't allow very many comfortable ways to sit and carve.

(Note: Those commercial tabletop dust collectors which DO feature built-in lighting, usually use florescent bulbs. While they provide lots of bright light, it's not ideal for carving, since it gives diffused light. For carving, the best lighting comes from an oblique angle to your work, and is from a single bulb. This throws shadows on your carving, making it much easier to see the contours of the texture as you carve. I prefer a movable - gooseneck type light, so I can cast the shadows where I want them.)


(This is the method I use now.)

I bought a commercially built unit from the folks at (naturally) "In-Lap Dust Collection Systems, Inc." after seeing one demonstrated at the Wildfowl Carving World Championships in Ocean City, Maryland.

Their address is:
3122 Washington Ave.,
Box 081576, Racine, WI
53408 (USA) and
their phone number is 414-633-8899.

They have three models and a choice of 350 Cubic Feet/Minute or 500 CFM air flow. The fan is a "squirrel cage" type, and is ultra quiet. I often forget it is running.

The unit consists of a dust collection bag, a fan, a length of 5-inch or 6-inch flexible tubing, and an attached "lap board". The lap board has a hole in the middle, covered by a very coarse screen (so your dropped tools or carving won't get sucked into the fan.)

The lap board can also be clamped to a workbench.

This In-Lap Dust Collector is extremely effective, allowing the fine dust particles to settle out. The additional "towel bag" does not seem to put an added load on the fan or to slow the CFM rate. The dust bag sits right next to my stereo equipment, which has a lot of the black plexiglass, which seems to attract dust like a magnet. I figure if IT stays clean, then the bag(s) is/are doing a good job of catching even the real fine dust.

I don't know the current price of the commercial In-Lap Dust Collector. I got their best model, which was about $240 some years ago. I know I've been very happy with mine.

If you can get your hands on a good squirrel cage fan, like a new or used furnace blower motor, and it's a quiet one, there is no reason you can't make your own for a fraction of the cost.

Good luck.

Jo Craemer, Wildlife Carvings, Delaware, USA