Dangerous Workshop Dust
Is my dust collector a fire hazard?
I installed a dust collector with 4-inch-diameter plastic duct to keep my basement woodshop clean. But I've heard that dust collectors generate static electricity that can catch fire. Could you explain the danger and tell me how to avoid it?
— Mark Pazour, Chamberlain, S.D.
Norm Abram replies: What you've heard is correct: Static electricity certainly can build up in a collection system made with plastic ducts, and that static charge can easily ignite the dust and debris swirling inside the collection bag. Sanding dust is particularly dangerous because it's so fine. You can buy a grounding kit to bleed off the static, but Curt Corum, who works for the company that installed the dust collection system at the New Yankee Workshop, where I often build furniture, recommends that you switch to galvanized metal ductwork. These 26- or 24-gauge round ducts don't build up a static charge or clog up with debris, and they're cheap and easy to install.
That said, you are doing the right thing by capturing sawdust. Not only is it a danger to lungs and nasal passages, if there's enough of it in the air, it can be ignited by an electric spark, the pilot light on a gas water heater, or the burners on a boiler or furnace.