Woodworking safety during a pandemic
May 30, 2020 12:41 AM   Subscribe

I want to do a woodworking project. A lot of fine sanding with a random orbital sander will be involved. Apparently breathing sawdust is dangerous. I don't own a respirator. It seems like woodworking respirators are all N95-rated or higher. Can I keep my lungs safe without using up supplies that healthcare workers need?

I think I'll be working outdoors most of the time. Should I even worry about the sawdust?
posted by henuani to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Courtesy of my woodworking bestie:

"The valved n-95 dust masks that they sell are generally unsuitable for medical use because the just have a little flappy hole that lets your droplets out. A company called RZ Mask makes nicer reusable ones with replaceable filters that haven’t been certified on the N/P scale yet, but do perfectly fine for woodworking dust. Honestly though, if they’re working outside, a bandana around the face is fine unless they’re working with something nasty (see https://www.wood-database.com/ wood-articles/ wood-allergies-and-toxicity/ for a nice scary list of potential allergic reactions by wood species)."
posted by Mizu at 1:17 AM on May 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

If you do the sanding outdoors, brush off dust before bringing parts inside, and make an effort to stand upwind of the sanding tools or dusting brush, there’s not much to worry about unless you’ve got an atypical medical condition.
posted by jon1270 at 1:19 AM on May 30, 2020

If your random orbital sander has a vacuum outlet, a significant amount of sawdust can be reduced by adding in a shop vac (or if you really want to get fancy, a dust separator too). Makes clean up a lot easier and reduces risk of not using a proper mask.
posted by Karaage at 4:46 AM on May 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Getting a nicer random orbital that you can attach to a vacuum will make a huge difference in amount of dust that ever makes it into the air in the first place. I am partial to nicer Bosch tools for this kind of thing.
posted by rockindata at 4:46 AM on May 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Agreed that a tool with a vacuum attachment is best, and that being outdoors is good. But a search for "dust mask" on the Ace Hardware site suggests getting the regular thing is possible. I know our local Ace does curbside pickup.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:06 AM on May 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’d try a bandana or improvised face covering and a fan to blow the sawdust away from you. You are right to be concerned about inhaling a crapload of sawdust.
posted by gnutron at 5:07 AM on May 30, 2020

Some woods are worse than others. Cedar is particularly bad and can cause allergic reactions. I think if you're outside you'll be fine, just wear whatever cloth mask you have.
posted by mareli at 5:55 AM on May 30, 2020

Adam Savage's Favorite Tools: Glass-Cutting Rotary Bit

Get something like that and don't worry that you're taking supplies away from front-line responders. Plenty of people also need a decent mask as PPE. Crawling around in an attic laying fiberglass insulation, painting, waste disposal. Get something that's not disposable and vents outflow and you have almost zero chance of having something that health workers would use. They want sterile and disposable one use things. A one time investment in a respirator that will last you years is perfectly fine.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2020

Reusable respirators currently available for purchase. Work outside, wear eye protection, and shower after your woodworking session. If you can cover your head with a bandanna or cap, that helps too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:49 AM on May 30, 2020

Agreed you should just get one of the flap-valved n95s. They’re useless in medical settings.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2020

While a vacuum on your source of dust is a good idea be aware that the most dangerous dust is the hardest to capture that way. Also you need good filters on your vacuum otherwise all you are doing is taking the dust from the work piece and spraying it in a fine cloud into the air.
I don't know how actually effective they are but if you have a shop vac they sell hepa filter bags for them that aren't terribly expensive.
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 AM on May 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for the great advice! Let me just add that I don't have a shop vac (this will be the first time I've done any woodworking as an adult; I might investigate that option if I get to a third or fourth project). I'm planning to rent tools from my local hardware store if I can.
posted by henuani at 12:33 PM on May 30, 2020

If your interests could possibly include hand tool woodworking, planing and scraping produce excellent finishes and the byproduct is shavings, not dust and noise. Have a look at Paul Sellers or the myriad of other hand tool woodworkers out there to get a feeling for what's possible.
posted by Harald74 at 12:47 AM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

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