When I was a kid my father was desperate for work, so we loaded up the truck and we moved to Beverly… Kentucky that is. There is, of course, no Beverly, Kentucky. I just got caught up in the Beverly Hillbillies theme because that’s exactly what we looked like. A big 1970’s pickup truck loaded to the brim, and two trailers behind it made us look right at home when we rolled into town. We rented a little shack with no indoor plumbing and my father went off to the coal mines. On his first day he asked one of the soot faced miners if there was anything to that “black lung” thing. Between hacking coughs he was assured that it was all nonsense.
That true story parallels the situation a lot of woodworkers find themselves in. It’s called denial, and it’s not just a river somewhere in Asia. We tell ourselves that the dust won’t hurt us. Or we think that we can breath it for a little while more, but we should fix that problem some day…
When I started woodworking I used a big shop vac and a series of pipes and blast gates to create what I thought was a top notch dust collection system. I really hit the big time when I added two more vacuums to the setup! But trying to collect chips from wood hungry machines like a planer and jointer with 2 1/2” ducts is like trying to drink a delicious milkshake through one of those little coffee stir straws; you can suck until your eyeballs pop out and you won’t get half of it.
So I splurged on a dust collector and a truck load of 4” PVC pipe. That’s when I discovered that the creators of duct collection accessories are part of an evil cartel bent on milking every last dime out of me. I refused to buy their over-priced plastic and set to making my own blast gates. Refusing to be deterred when I found out that the short lengths of flex hose I needed for the connection on each machine is intentionally designed to be too small to go inside PVC pipe, and too big to go over it; I bought some duct tape and started wrapping. Of course, duct tape and dust don’t mix, and I had leaks within a month. So I upgraded to high adhesive aluminum tape. That works a bit better, as long as the joint doesn’t move too much during use, which is what flex hose is supposed to allow. So it wasn’t long before my shop was a symphony of whistles and hisses from leaky joints.
Do you know why they make those nice slip fittings and hose clamps for dust collection? Because they know that you are going to move your stuff around a thousand times, and you’ll need to make changes to the ductwork. Can’t do that with taped joints, and I have a pile of empty tape rolls to prove it. I move stuff around constantly, never satisfied with the current layout, always certain that I can make it more efficient. I am disassembling my system so much I have a standing order for aluminum tape at the local hardware store.
My dust collection system was carefully thought out. I went to great lengths to minimize bends and turns, reduce the amount of ribbed flex hose, and eliminating the need to unhook from one machine and hook up another. I mean, if I have to swap a hose to make a couple of cuts, and swap it back to do something else, I’m simply not going to use it as often as I should.
But the fact is, I have to spend so much time fixing leaks, cobbling together connections to machines with pipe and hose that don’t fit together, that my system is down more often that it’s working. Something has to give! I ether need to figure out a way to make PVC more compatible with 4” flex hose, or I need to break down and spend a wad of cash on true dust collection ducts. I bet if you added up the money I’ve spent trying to do it cheaper you’d find that it would have been cheaper to have hired the neighbor kids to come surround me in the shop and breath in all the dust before it gets to me while I work.
I WILL solve this problem, even if it kills me, because I am sure that this dust is about to kill me anyway! Look for an episode all about new ideas for dust collection this summer on Blue Collar Woodworking!
And check out the new plans for our innovative dovetail machine, box joint machine, biscuit joint machine and clamp rack in the Stumpy Store!
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