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A wise investment

Woodworkers are innately hands-on individuals who prefer to build everything themselves. Installing dust collection equipment, however, requires more than common knowledge. And all too often, woodworkers learn the hard way that the system they set up has insufficient air flow and other problems, costing them more money in the long run. The old adage stands: You buy cheap, you buy twice.

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Trusting the experts is the key to designing, purchasing and installing an effective dust collection system in a professional woodworking shop, according to shop owners who say their systems enhance the quality of their shops and end products. Likewise, industry experts who specialize in dust collection products were glad to speak about the troubles shop owners go through before contacting them.

They stressed that shop owners should understand the need for a proper system, even in the current economy when everyone wants to save money. Quality, professionally installed dust collection systems provide for a healthier work environment and can improve the performance of your machinery.

Getting help from the beginning
Paul Passolino of Trenton, N.J., opened his new 2,200-sq.-ft. woodworking dream shop in January with a business partner after having worked in a smaller furniture-making shop for 35 years. He put his faith in the experts at Penn State Industries, a woodturning and dust collection source in Philadelphia.

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“I didn’t want to risk the investment,” says Passolino. “I had spent an awful lot of money developing and setting up the shop with high-end equipment and state-of-the-art everything. I just felt that the last thing I needed to do was to try to do something that was not my forte. Those guys took all of the worry out of it.”

Passolino told Penn State his goal was to have the most dust-free work environment possible. The process started with Passolino providing drawings and photographs of his shop, along with a list of all of the specifications of his machinery, to the engineers at Penn State. They went to work, using a CAD program, and designing a custom dust collection system for Passolino.

“The way they extended their professional courtesy was great. They were quick to respond, the pricing was all in line. Could I have done it myself? Possibly. But would it have come out anywhere near what it looks like now? Absolutely not,” says Passolino. His system includes two 3-1/2-hp Tempest S Series cyclone dust collectors and two AC1000 air cleaners, capable of exchanging the air in a 10,000-cu.-ft. shop up to six times per hour, according to the company.

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“Our goal with Mr. Passolino’s shop was enough cfm for growth and great air quality. With the combination of our cyclone filtration at 1,400 square feet at 1/5 micron and the air cleaners, we were able to meet our customer’s expectations,” says Penn State’s Bill Whitaker.

Passolino says he has worked in other shops where the owners were less than diligent at keeping dust under control.

“It’s just awful when you have to wear a dusk mask all day long because you’re worried about the guy next to you who’s doing something with a lot of dust.”

The learning process
John Langley, owner of John Langley Cabinets in Baldwin City, Kan., purchased two different dust collection units from the JDS Company for his three-employee, 3,600-sq.-ft. shop: the 3-hp cyclone model 3100 and the 1-1/2-hp Dust Force. Langley says the process helped him realize how his former dust collection setup, which he installed himself, was so inefficient.

“I learned that I had too much run on my other system, which was junk, and I had a sharp 90-degree [turn] in the run,” says Langley.

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The engineers from JDS came along and helped Langley. He says the first thing that sold him on the cyclone was its compactness, and the second thing was the ease of getting the dust collection barrel out. The system works well, and his employees love it, he says.

“We kept the piping from the old system. I zoned the shop and took two pieces of equipment off the cyclone that were too far away and bought the 1.5-hp Dust Force bag unit for the other two pieces of equipment,” says Langley.

“My suggestion for woodworkers purchasing a system would be to sit down with whoever you purchase your dust collection system from and get the proper layout for the piping. If the company doesn’t offer that service, then you don’t want to deal with them.”

John McConnegly, owner of JDS, acknowledges that dust collection is a confusing topic for some individuals. He says companies like his, which are dedicated to the field of dust collection systems, are familiar with how air moves and can successfully create a proper system for those uninitiated to the engineering behind it all.

JDS offers a range of systems from small portable machines to other products that can be incorporated into a central system. The central systems, ideal for furniture makers and cabinetmakers wanting connections to several machines, have become increasingly popular for larger cabinet manufacturers, according to McConnegly.

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“With several central collection units in designated zoned work stations, a.k.a. ‘cells’, within a manufacturing facility, the shops can avoid running an enormous machine on the roof all day long when half of the machines in the shop aren’t even running,” says McConnegly.

Help for the small shop
Thomas MacDonald, of Thomas MacDonald Fine Furniture in Canton, Mass., works alone, but still needs proper dust collection in order to work on his period-style pieces.

Prior to getting his 3-hp Pro dust collection system from Onieda Air Systems, MacDonald had a portable system with two bags that he dragged around from machine to machine. He says the process was frustrating and that the collector didn’t work well. His health and work quality were his primary concerns.

“I found myself cleaning all of the time. Dust gets everywhere. I contacted Oneida to better manage the dust in my shop,” says MacDonald, “Now, instead of me having to clean my shop as often, this picks up most of the dust.”

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Oneida gave MacDonald a schematic about how the new system would work, as it is now hooked up to his two joiners, table saw, thickness planer and band saw. The process eliminated the guesswork for MacDonald.

“I’m sure I could have done something on my own, but it wouldn’t have been as efficient as what I have now. These guys do it for a living,” says MacDonald, who would definitely recommend other woodworkers take the same route.

“Guys like us, we think we can do everything, but I’m glad that I went to the experts — there are all sorts of direction changes on this piping, and the portals range from 4" to 8" in diameter assuring there is proper air flow from each machine. That’s something I wouldn’t really have considered.”

Oneida’s president Robert Witter says industry trends show that woodworkers are moving toward more sophisticated dust collection equipment, rather than standard bag collectors.

Portable systems have been selling successfully, as well as stand-alone systems, says Witter. These products include the company’s portable Mini-Gorilla and Cobra systems, and the Gorilla and Pro central-style systems.

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Witter attributes the popularity of these cyclone products to new technology making its way into the woodworking industry. Before the portable and central cyclonic systems emerged, the only types of dust collection products available were the single bag-style systems. Now, woodworkers have a range of options to best suit their shop.

A cyclone-style collector is categorized as a two-stage system with a cyclone separator, blower and filter for the fine dust. A single-stage system is strictly a blower that sucks up all of the dust and debris into a series of filter bags. With a cyclone, the debris goes into the cyclone — a tapered cone-type vessel — spins around, loses its momentum and falls into a container, while the very fine dust is captured by filters.

Budgetary concerns
Curt Corum, of Air Handling Systems, says he’s seen all different kinds of dust collection purchase scenarios from clients during this slumping economy. One example is a client who recently installed a CNC router in his shop. Instead of getting a new 10-hp dust collection system for the entire shop, the client settled for a 5-hp machine to connect solely to the CNC router and keep the cost down. The minor drawback is that the extra machine is taking up a little more floor space.

“We’re seeing a lot more of that sort of thing now,” says Corum. “Usually when times are good and customers want to increase production and upgrade, instead of adding more unitary collectors, they would generally go for a more full-blown central system with expansion capability down the road. But that’s not the case in this economy.”

Customers are still buying, however, says Corum. They still understand the need for dust collection from a health standpoint, for producing a good quality product and for retaining good employees.

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Know your shop
To eliminate some of the confusion when it comes to purchasing a system, Corum gave a few suggestions about what’s important and what’s not.

First of all, the size of the shop doesn’t matter and has little to do with the dust collection setup. But existing machinery does matter, as well as any machinery that might be purchased in the future.

“The whole key to proper dust and fume control is to sit back and get an overview of the shop and pinpoint the requirements of all of the different pieces of equipment,” says Corum.

The number of employees will be representative of the magnitude of the facility, and may affect the dust collection products needed.

“You have to thoroughly assess what you have, take notes and make sure that you isolate the conventional dust collector requirements — which are your table saws, your general floor machines, sanders and so forth — and then you analyze the high velocity vacuum dust collector requirements.”

Corum says in many cases, to properly equip a shop, a woodworker needs two types of systems — a regular dust collector to provide for floor machines, with pipe sizes of 4" and larger, and then all of the setups for small vacuum requirements.

“Many times, woodworkers don’t realize this fact. Many times they take the 2" hoses from the panel saw, the 1" hoses from their belt sanders, and they run all this into their conventional dust collection system. They spend all the money to do this not having the knowledge that a regular dust collector trying to pull through a small hose requirement is like trying to drink a milkshake with a cocktail straw.”

For information on the products listed in this article, and for other dust collection and accessory sources, contact:

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.

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