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Dust Collector or Sprayer?

pile of saw dust

This is usually what my saw dust looks like.

I’m still fiddling around with my shop remodel. The heavy lifting is done but I still seem to spend time here and there tweaking thing and adding creature comforts. For example I screwed a few magnetic strips to the wall by my post drill to hold miscellaneous drill bits. Boy do I love having 3/4″ plywood walls! However the bulk of the remodel was finished more than a month ago and I have put in some serious time working in the new space. There is lots to love about it, but I have figured out the number 1 improvement and it was surprising. I moved my dust collector from the back corner to the front corner.

My thought was to move it up by the garage door to put it near my one and only power tool but also to make emptying the bag a cleaner process since I wouldn’t have to lug the open topped bag across the shop spilling dust everywhere along the way. This is absolutely true and I put the theory to the test while building a dining table recently and giving my new 20″ planer a workout with 18 and 20″ wide Walnut panels. I had to empty the bag 4 times in 2 days. Usually I empty the bag once a month since I just sweep up my shavings instead of suck them up. So emptying it definitely proved easier. The real improvement came just this last week when I had a horrifying realization.

Let me back up first. (Because suspense should be built in order to frustrate the reader)

new dust collector canister filterWhen I was “breaking down” the shop before I installed the plywood panels and furring strips, I noticed the not so fine layer of dust coating the back corner where the collector had been before. My red colored walls didn’t make it obvious until I ran a finger over the surface. That was disturbing but I chocked it up to the collector having been there for at least 6 years.

Now I have bright white walls and freshly painted ones at that and I was shocked to see this same kind of build up happening in the front corner of the shop even after just a few days of use with the collector. Definitely having the collector up front on the opposite end of the shop from where I do all my work was a relief but that dust had to be getting into the air of my shop regardless. That was alarming!

Then as I was working on one of our unseasonably pleasant mid summer days with the garage door open and the late afternoon sun streaming in through the door, I flipped on the collector to clean up a section of the floor. When I was done I looked up and saw a cloud of dust backlit by the sunshine that made my stomach turn. I turned the collector on again and watched the top felt bag inflate and an enormous cloud of dust poof up and out into the shop air. Yikes! Immediately I turned on the air cleaner and passed a few entertaining minutes watch the air swirl and get sucked into it. It’s kinda like those wind tunnel tests you see in car commercials. The air cleared in just a few minutes, there’s a small shop benefit, and I stopped holding my breath.

It was good to know my air cleaner does its job but I had to do something about the filter on my collector. I immediately decided to upgrade to a canister filter. The felt bag is rated at 1 micron but perhaps those things have a shelf life? Maybe they wear out? I have not found anything to support this assumption but the empirical evidence definitely shows that a lot of crap is getting through and into the air.

Fast forward a few days and my canister arrived from Penn State Industries. It is also rated at 1 micron but the filter surface area is exponentially bigger so I was optimistic. Sure enough after a week of using it, I have no residue on the walls and using the same sunshine back lit test, I get nothing in the air while using it. A nice bonus is the uptick in the suction I’m getting from the collector. I have not done any scientific measurements and I have no data to report, but after using my collector for years I know when I’m getting more suction. I also know that I almost lost my 12″ combo square up the hose when I got within a foot of it on the workbench!

So it took me moving my collector out of the dark recesses of the shop to the back lit, sunny front corner to notice how badly it was spraying fine dust into the air. In hindsight I should have paid more attention to this but seeing as I use it so little it just wasn’t on my radar. Now I’m glad this little discovery came to light (pun intended) and I was able to address it.

shop dog bed

Alex disagrees with me about the most valuable shop improvement

Anybody else out there experienced a filter bag “wearing out”? I can only assume that my canister will do the same. Why not right? I have to replace the filters in my house and my car, it is dumb to think I don’t have to do the same with my dust collector.

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