If there is one thing that raises the ire of everyone in the solid surface industry, it is the nuisance of solid surface dust. It is everywhere, and I don't mean just in the shop. Run your fingers across your desk. What do you see? That gray-white dust. Click your shoes together and puff, there it is again. What is one of the biggest problems you have when working in someone's home? It's keeping the dust off the homeowners' walls, floors, etc. Would you not agree that we need to do something about all this dust?
There are many things we can do to get this dust problem under control and there are several important reasons for doing this. The most important reason is health — our employees' and our own, so let's start there.
We know that the dust generated in our shops is referred to as nuisance dust. Most nuisance dust is potentially reversible.
When we are overexposed to dust many symptoms may appear. Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and general irritation of the breathing passages are all possible. (And you thought you were just out of shape!) Also, if you are already prone to respiratory problems, breathing in dust certainly won't help the matter. To make matters worse, there are medical studies that have suggested a link between inhaled particles and heart disease. It is evident that there are compelling reasons to take proper precautions to protect our employees and ourselves from dust-related injury.
So I am going to explore the issue here, and Grant Garcia, managing director of Sterling Surfaces (where I work), is going to discuss our dust collection operations in the follow-up to this column in the next issue of SSM.
The use of a quality dust mask is the first line of defense against dust-related health problems. The dust mask is as important as any other tool in your shop or road box. Using them should not be optional. PLEASE do not minimize the importance of protecting yourself from dust inhalation. Your employees are your most valuable asset, so it is vital to do all you can to protect their health and well-being.
When sanding, a system with a vacuum is helpful in controlling excessive dust. It captures the dust before it gets into the air. An additional benefit is that you will save money on sand-paper as there will be less dust to clog up the grits. A good way to see how much dust is generated when sanding is to look at the vacuum bag. Without the vacuum that dust would have been floating around your shop, your customer's house or, even worse, your lungs. Please remember though, a good vac system does not eliminate the necessity of wearing a dust mask.
There are things that can be done to protect your tools and shop from an excess of dust. Some may seem basic, but are well worth reviewing. First, set up a program of blowing out your tools once a week, preferably outside. Dust on your tools acts like an insulator on your motors and wires. This can cause them to overheat and shorten the life of your tools by burning out the motors. Cleaning your shop lights is also very important. This should be done with a vacuum, not a blower. If dust is left on the top of the fixtures, you run the risk of overheating your ballasts which could lead to a combustible situation.
When using the router, the sharper the bit, the less dust will fly out. A sharp bit produces bigger flakes that tend to drop down to the floor. There are also products on the market that capture the dust when routing. One that comes to mind is the Dust Raider.