Dust in the wind

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Woodworking is a constant learning experience. This week, I learned what “MDF” stands for, and it’s not medium-density fiberboard.

I’ve never worked much with MDF, but have used it on a few occasions. Each time all I’ve needed to do was cut it to size. But a recent project required a good bit of routing.

My wife bought a semicircular leaded stained-glass panel a while back, and has wanted to find a way to mount it in front of the semicircular window above the large Palladian windows in our living room. Almost all the ways we came up with involved using short lengths of chain to hang it properly in respect to the muntins in the existing window, and none looked good. My thought was to create a new semicircular frame with muntins exactly matching the existing window, place her stained glass panel in the smaller semicircle and surround it with five pieces of glass the same size as the divisions in the existing window. Once in place, the window frame I’d make would line up perfectly with the existing muntins, hiding them.

I laid out and made the frame of MDF, then cut out the openings – one large semicircular one for the stained glass panel, plus the five surrounding it for the new glass. When it came time to rout out the rabbets for the glass is when the learning experience occurred. Routing MDF creates more dust than any other woodshop procedure I’ve ever done. I wish I could say that more emphatically, but I can’t. I’m talking clouds of dust here; huge, rolling, billowing clouds.

I’ve never bothered with dust collection when free-hand routing, as it’s not really so much dust as it is chips that are easily swept up later. When routing MDF, though, there are no chips. It’s nothing but flour-fine dust that goes everywhere. I had to stop every few seconds to clean my glasses just so I could see what I was doing. And even with the shop air cleaner running, that stuff went everywhere. There’s even a fine coat of MDF dust on the ceiling.

There are ways to attach a dust hose to a handheld router, and the next time I rout MDF I’ll buy what I need to do so. But for now I’ll just chock this up as a learning experience.

Oh, what was it I discovered that MDF stands for? Well, let’s just say it stands for “Maximum Dust Force,” which isn’t the first thing I thought of for the acronym.

I can’t print that here.

Till next time,

A.J.

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