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Shop Project: Air Filtration for Dust Control

Dust — It's everywhere!

Despite our best efforts in recent years to control the dust and chips that our woodworking tools produce, we still end up breathing in more than we should.

Breathing in the fine dust particles produced from sanding, routing, and sawing is not only annoying, it is a health hazard.

Over the years, the combination of wanting to save a buck and never wanting throw anything away has produced some pretty ingenious air filtration devices in our shops. We always looked at manufactured wood shop air filtration systems as big, expensive monsters — way beyond the means of the average woodworker.

"It is possible, with these newer units to have a cleaner, more healthy shop without the headache giving up a lot of shop space or breaking the bank."
Times have changed. These units are not only affordable, they are downright convenient. There is no excuse to take it on the chin (or in the lungs). The weekend woodworker or full time craftsman doesn't have to breath in dust and run the risk of contracting cancer or severe respiratory problems.

This is probably the easiest shop upgrade ever. It simply boils down to purchasing a unit sized for your shop or workspace, hanging it from the ceiling and turning it on. The powerful fan and filters will clear the room of those fine dust particles that seem to go everywhere, including our nostrils, eyes and lungs.

What to look for when buying

In the past some cheaper air cleaners were not much more than a box with a fan and a furnace filter. That has changed as well. The standard in the industry now is remote control, timer and three speeds.

There are dozens of air filtration or air cleaners out there. Do your homework – look carefully at the technical specs. Buy based on your needs not what the unit looks like – a candy-apple paint job and and pin-striping won't do much for you.

When comparing units, here are a few things to look for:
  • Air flow: CFM ratings are not visual. How fast and how many times will it filter the entire volume of air in your shop?

  • Noise level: For comparison, a vacuum cleaner is about 70db and 60db is considered quiet.

  • Electrical requirements: Do you have the circuitry to run it?

  • Mounting hardware: Does it come with everything you need?

  • Does it have both outer and inner filters?

  • Does it use an electrostatic filter to increase efficiency?

  • Does the unit use common-sized filters?

  • Are filters easily replaceable, no tools required?

  • Do filters capture really fine dust (1 micron) particles?

  • Warranty and Replacement parts
How much air filtration does your shop need?

At a minimum, your filtration system should be able to recycle the entire volume of air in your shop 6 to 8 times/hr. The standard shop size for comparison shopping is 20' x 20' x 8'. But this is the real world. To figure out what you need, use this simple formula.

To compute the total volume of air in your shop (cubic feet): volume = length x width x height

Multiply the air volume by the number of times per hour that you want the air in the shop to get 'turned over.' This will be 6 if you don't make a ton of dust and 8 if you do a lot of sanding. Now divide that number by 60. Systems are rated in CFM (cubic feet per minute; dividing by 60 converts keeps our formula using mintues instead of hours).

Air circulation capacity (measured as cfm) = volume x cycles / 60


So, as an example: Your shop is 10' x 20' with 8' ceilings (10 x 20 x 8) and that equals 1600 cubic feet. We multiply by 8 (cycles) because we like to sand stuff. We get 12,800. Then, we divide by 60 (to get capacity in minutes vs hours) which comes out to 213. Which simply means you'll need to get a unit that, at a minimum, moves air at 213 cfm.

What's on the Market

To get you started, we assembled a list of affordable, quality air filtration units. Whether used on the job site, in a garage or in a dedicated woodworking shop, these units will handle the task.

( NOTE: Commercial woodworking shops have a whole different set of requirements than that of a home shop and require industrial dust collection/filtration systems. )

Portable / Small Shop Air Cleaners
Shop-Vac Air Cleaner
235CFM: 20' x 20' x 8' room up to 4 times/hr
Filters dust as small as 5 microns and weighs only 15 pounds.

Medium Shop Air Filtration
WEN 3410 Air Filtration System
300-400CFM: 20' x 20' x 8' room up to 6 times/hr
Effectively filters 5-micron and 1-micron particles
Noise rating: 50 dB on low speed & 60 dB on high.

Medium/Large Shop Air Filtration
JET 1000CFM Air Filtration System
1044CFM: 20' x 20' x 8' room up to 12 times/hr
Effectively filters 5-micron and 1-micron particles
Noise rating: 62 dB on low speed & 69 dB on high.

Large Shop Air Filtration
Jet AFS-2000 Air Filtration System
1700CFM: 20' x 20' x 8' room up to 31 times/hr
Effectively filters 5-micron and 1-micron particles
Noise rating: 59.1 dB on low speed & 73.8 dB on high.
Laguna 1400 Circulator - Shop Air Filter
1385CFM: 20' x 20' x 8' room up to 26 times/hr
Effectively filters 5-micron and 1-micron particles
Noise rating: 61.1 dB on low speed & 63.4 dB on high.


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