What kind of face mask is good for a woodworker with COPD?
May 26, 2013 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Dad Swan was diagnosed with COPD this past week. He's a woodworker. No, COPD and woodworking are not exactly a match made in heaven, but we're hoping that the purchase of a good face mask will make it possible for him to continue working in his workshop for a few hours a day. For those of you who have any medical/woodworking experience, what brand or kind of face mask would you recommend, and do you have any other tips for my father on how to reconcile his hobby with his medical condition?

Some more background info: My father is 74 and has had a fairly severe case of rheumatoid arthritis since circa 1984-85. You can read some background on that in this previous AskMe. He also has some troubles with his eyesight, though hopefully that will be resolved soon as he is scheduled to have his second cataract surgery in July (the first was done on his other eye a few years ago). He is consequently rather restricted in what he can physically do and does not want to give up the woodworking he loves so much and is so very good at.

Requirements for the face mask: The face mask needs to screen out all the wood dust, of course, and to allow for total mobility. It needs to be something that's comfortable to wear. Dad has also told me that the face mask needs to be something he can wear with safety goggles. He currently wears little paper masks, and finds that when he does his breath fogs up the goggles.

So, we need face mask recommendations and possibly other workarounds. Suggestions?
posted by orange swan to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I use a 3M P100 particulate filter respirator for woodworking and welding. It is easily a million times better than the crappy paper masks. It has an outflow valve, so that when you breathe out it just goes directly out of the front, rather than against your face and up towards your eyes where it can fog glasses.

You can definitely wear it with safety goggles; I always put the mask on first, then goggles.

I bought it at a welding supply store for about $15-20 with two P100 filters (you need two filters). They last quite a while if you are just using them with dry dust — you know they're shot when there's more resistance while inhaling — but replacements are only a few bucks so I think it's worth changing them out whenever they start to look visibly dirty.

About the only issue I've heard with them is that they basically don't work if you have a beard. In that case you are almost S.O.L., not even sure if the full-face respirators will work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:43 PM on May 26, 2013

For cheap masks, I use 3m N95 rated ones with their cool-flow valve. For example, these 3m 8511. The key is the valve, it makes a huge difference.

To get higher levels of filtration, as well as a better seal around mouth and nose, I use a 3m half-face mask like this one with p100 filters.

In well setup shops, you only really need to wear the fask mask as you are sanding or cutting. Machines should have vacuum hookups to deal with the majority of the dust and there should be air cleaners that clear the air "promptly" so you can get the mask back off.
posted by fief at 9:52 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

My father is always clean-shaven, Kadin2048, so fortunately that's not an issue.
posted by orange swan at 9:59 PM on May 26, 2013

COPD pro tip: he should buy a pulse oximeter if he doesn't already have one and observe his blood oxygen levels in various situations at home so as to be able to tell when his condition deteriorates. Having one would also be helpful for both him and caretakers like you to determine if, when he's feeling poorly, whether his oxygen level is low or if something else is going on. Home pulse oximeters have become much less expensive in the last few years with the cheapest ones at just twenty or thirty dollars on the shelf at pharmacies.

Another thing that occurred to me is: is he on supplementary oxygen? Normally that's delivered through a nasal cannula on a long tube from a home oxygen concentrator that you keep in another room of your house because it's really noisy, and so it just mixes in with the air you breathe through your nose. But I wonder if there's some other sort of apparatus that delivers the full volume of air and oxygen through a hose, so that he could wear that in his workshop and not even have to worry about filtering out sawdust because he's breathing air piped in from elsewhere in the house.
posted by XMLicious at 10:26 PM on May 26, 2013

He's not on oxygen. Right now he just uses an inhaler.
posted by orange swan at 11:31 PM on May 26, 2013

Seconding the vacuum system for sawdust! My dad is 65, has COPD and makes his living as a professional woodworker. You may want to look into having two separate respirators - one for fine particulate (sanding, cutting) and one for organic vapors (staining, varnish, poly). My dad uses the higher-end disposable paper masks with a vent for sanding and such but he does not mess around with vapors AT ALL unless he's wearing his top-of-the-line 3M respirator. As far as fogging is concerned, getting a pair of safety glasses instead of goggles has helped him (plus making sure the masks are vented, of course.)
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:18 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your dad does gorgeous work! The inlaid bowl is beautiful!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:20 AM on May 27, 2013

Try asking on Sawmill Creek or Lumberjocks. I think you'll tap in to a lot more knowledge there.
posted by jewzilla at 2:06 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nothing wrong with a good dust collection setup but unless the dust collector (typically a big inflatable bag) or vacuum lives outside, they tend to release a lot of very fine dust back into the shop. My understanding is that it's the fine stuff that, while less irritating in the short run, is actually more damaging to your lungs... so the net effect of a poor DC setup can be like smoking filtered cigarettes.

There are some big (and sometimes contentious) threads on Sawmill Creek about dust collection, but if you were going to set something up today for a home shop the way to go seems to be to put the actual DC bag / filter outside. And probably not a bad idea to wear a mask anyway, at least when sawing or sanding, and probably when doing anything on engineered wood / MDF.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:18 AM on May 27, 2013

One more thing to add to the good dust mask and dust collection suggestions: dust filtration.
posted by notyou at 8:05 AM on May 27, 2013

Those are some amazing pieces, particularly the rolling pins!

This is his major hobby, and it sounds like it means a great deal to him. If he doesn't have a dust collection system, or if it needs to be upgraded, it would certainly be worth it to spend the money for that. Even if he already has something set up, it might make sense to move it outside.

If he thinks that "it's not worth spending all that money on himself", you might think about anything that could be done there. A mask isn't a good substitute for making the actual air more breathable, although it's certainly a good addition to that. If you have the money you might consider a system and installation as a gift if he's reluctant to buy one, having a beloved hobby can be very important to overall health and longevity.

Instead of a mask, I'd go with a respirator mask (you may be more familiar with the medical type, but there's an entirely different kind you will find at hardware stores near the cheap paper masks). They have different cartridges available for different dusts, he'll need to make sure he gets the right ones, especially for any exotic hardwoods like paduk. The great thing about these that makes them so much more comfortable to use is that the air you breathe out goes through a one way valve with little resistance, rather than having to force your breath through the filter material and have it leak around the outside of the mask. Incoming air is also much more likely to be filtered rather than leaking around the outside.

For fit, different people have different face shapes and preferences, so it's a very much YMMV thing. Respirators are generally made with goggles and safety glasses in mind.

If he has cheap goggles, for a little more money there are some more comfortable ones out there. Those are in a good price range to make a nice gift for dad that shows him you appreciate how important his woodworking hobby is. I've personally found my dad wears his safety glasses more often when I give him a special pair, but it sounds like you don't have to push the issue.
posted by yohko at 2:13 PM on May 27, 2013

One of the problems with COPD is reduced breathing function. While not cheap a battery powered face shield respirator will make breathing with the face mask no more difficult than without.
posted by Mitheral at 5:28 PM on May 28, 2013

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