A comfortable, safe working environment leads to greater efficiency. If temperature and humidity are right, timber is more likely to remain stable and you will be able to concentrate on producing quality work. Machines and power tools produce a lot of waste, so make sure extraction is effective so dust is kept to a minimum.
Power tools and machines can create an extremely uncomfortable and potentially harmful level of dust. Make it a priority to install adequate extraction equipment that collects dust before it has a chance to get into the air and empty extractor bags or containers outside the workshop, so that fine dust does not become airborne again. Not only is dust harmful, it will interfere with your work when applying a finish to a project. Consider a separate finishing room if space permits.
Power tools that produce dust or chippings — sanders, saws, routers and planers — have an outlet for attaching the flexible hose of a compact portable vacuum extractor, which contains a replaceable paper cartridge to filter fine dust particles. Such a unit can easily be moved around the workshop, and is quick to swap between tools. Many extractors have a mains socket allowing you to plug in a power tool directly, automatically activating the unit at the same time. The unit remains running for several seconds after switch-off, to collect residual dust.
Larger extractor units, suitable for machines such as planers and table saws, use disposable plastic sacks for collecting the waste — some designed specifically for fine dust and others for coarse dust and chippings. These extractors may be either mobile units with a flexible hose or part of a built-in system with duct pipes that remove the waste from individual machines. Ducting may be either galvanized steel or plastic, and is designed to attach permanently to walls and ceilings. Lengths are simply clipped together, with various bends and adaptors for changing the pipe direction or reducing its diameter. Common diameters are 63, 100 and 150 mm (approximately 2½, 4 and 6 in).
Filtration units hang from the ceiling and absorb airborne particles that escape collection by the above methods. They are typically used with a timer and can operate for several minutes after you have left the workshop, switching off automatically.
Face and Ear Protection
Power tools and machines not only produce a lot of fine sawdust and coarser chippings, they can cause chips to fly off at any moment. They are also noisy, although hearing loss is gradual and may not seem a problem initially. It is essential to protect yourself from these potentially serious health hazards, especially if exposed to them for extended periods of time.
Your eyes are at considerable risk when using power tools or machines that can create flying debris. Clear, rigid plastic visors or toughened safety glasses are comfortable to wear, even over spectacles. A powered respirator combines a fine dust mask and visor, giving full facial protection. These are particularly good for woodturning and routing, where your face can be close to the work piece. A built-in fan provides a constant stream of filtered air across your face and ensures the visor does not fog up. A rechargeable battery enables you to wear the device for several hours at a time.
Hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to machinery noise used to be common in the woodworking industry. Tighter health-and-safety regulations mean this is now less of a problem, but there is still a danger in the home workshop. Avoid this by always wearing ear protection, either in the form of ear defenders or disposable foam earplugs, when using any power tool or machine. Keep a pair of ear defenders next to a machine so there is no excuse not to wear them.
It is always wise to wear a face mask, even if using a dust extractor. The dust created when machining some sheet materials and certain hardwoods can cause severe throat irritation and discomfort. In Europe, disposable masks are identified by a dust-rating system, with a `P2′ protection level suitable for woodworking (MDF in particular). If the code is not displayed on a mask it probably does not reach the required standard, so avoid using it. Better-quality respirator masks feature disposable filters, which last longer than disposable versions and give better protection. For spray finishes, a dual-cartridge respirator mask will give protection against lacquers, paints and toxic dust.
You can cause damage by dropping a length of timber on unprotected toes. Wear boots with steel toe caps, or at least wear a sturdy pair of leather shoes, even if you change into them at the workshop door on hotter days.
Plastic (PVC) ducting is cheaper than its steel equivalent but tends to accumulate static electricity, with the potential for sawdust becoming ignited by sparks. It is essential that such systems are correctly earthed.
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COSHH Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
Ducting Pipework through which sawdust or chippings pass on their way to an extractor unit.