Health, A Part of Art
Here I am again. I am or have gone full circle. I am back to dimensional hand carving and engraving, sort of... that is.
Some purists may believe art is in the hand and not the machine. I lean that direction but to me that doesn’t mean I can’t use a machine that I control. For that reason I have rekindled my interest in rotary high speed carving with hand-held power tools.
That doesn’t mean that I have excluded my enjoyment of CNC carving and routing, far from that. I think there is still a lot I can do in that total computer machine-controlled area, but it is not the same personal control and one-of-a-kind things that can be done with hands-on carving and engraving. I still make a lot of Lithophanes with CNC that I can’t make by hand carving.
I enjoy pure hand powered tool work too. Up to the point where my nerve and muscle limitations literally cramp my style. Power tools greatly extend the enjoyment period.
What has held me back from my first and pleasingly successful attempts at rotary high speed hand carving is the dust control issue. High speed rotary carving produces an enormous amount of very fine dust, whether it is wood or any material that can be carved or engraved. I found it so annoying that it forced me to stay away from the process. This is because I was not properly controlling the dust.
This time I am starting out putting dust controls in place first. My lungs cannot withstand dust and no one else’s should either. I think it is as bad if not worse than smoking. I have seen a lot of good effort toward the education of proper air quality. But I still see a lot dust producing work shown without regard to safe air. To me it seems like blade guards on table saws. We know it is for safety but it is almost never shown in use.
Chips and fallout dust is not the issue. The problem is the very finest of dust particles that can float in the shop air for minutes to hours. We can’t count on our built in human air filtration systems to handle that kind of material overload. Especially the older we become. I’m not a smoker so my personal filter system still works, but in my opinion, I know it’s not working as good as when I was younger.
I am attacking the problem in three steps.
First I don’t consider chip carving a dust hazard. Cutting visible chunks with an axe, a blade or a hand plane (not a planer) is not a dust issue. It may make a mess, but I am not going to inhale those particles. Now there may be a fume allergy issue (the smell) of certain woods and materials that contains spalting or fungus. That is a different horse feather.
So whittling and blade carving can be done most anywhere without need for dust control. This does NOT include sanding of such carved objects. Sanding is squarely within the air quality control issue. Any particle that can float in air (rather than just fly through it like a chip) is a dust.
Second step is the use of a dust capture station to gather and control the dust while and where it is being created. This is mostly a filter box with a fan to draw the dust away from the operator or the person creating the dust and then deposit it in an air filtration media. The quality of this system can range from marginally acceptable to awful.
Stage three is management of the discharge air of the capture station with either secondary filtration or all the way to external (outdoor) discharge. I know of no affordable totally closed short loop system that will remove the finest and most dangerous dust. The best solution is to transfer it to a harmless location.
Mixed in with any of these steps should be personal breathing filtration.
OK, so maybe I will start looking like Darth Vader at a power carving station, but my breathing health is that important. I have spent my life in the HVAC industry breathing some very nasty dirt, including asbestos, so at my age I think I have already inhaled more than my fair share.
With that decided and implementation already started, I take another look at the hazards.
I have seen a lot of beautiful engraving of glass being shown as a profitable sideline. Again I seldom see the safe dust control part of the process. Glass dust (silica) is one of the worst things to get into lungs. I have tried my hand at the rotary glass engraving process and it is rather easy and fun. It is very difficult for me to determine where and how the glass dust was being dispersed. Yes, there was a dust around the carving area on the glass surface, but how much if any was now floating in the air? What could it do to my eyes and air passages? With no answers, I didn’t experiment too long.
Sand blasting is closely associated with glass and rock engraving. In every indoor application a sealed blasting cabinet is considered an essential part of the process. Special clothing, hoods and shields are a part of the outdoor process. Dust control is not optional. It shouldn't be optional for HS rotary carving.
I have done some personal research on how the pros handle dust problems. By pros I mean industrial processes and places like dental labs where there is a lot of OSHA regulated dust control. There are a lot of very high class and expensive systems that are a part of the process. Some processes recycle the dust because it contains precious or hazardous material. No “get along without dust control” is tolerated. As artists, hobbyists and semi-pros, we all have to be thinking the same about our health safety. No shortcuts!
In future blog posts I will likely continue discussing health and safety issues as they apply to my work. Dimensional Art Studio is not intended to be only a training or instructional How-To blog. My purpose for this blog is to be a place of display for what I enjoy doing and an encouragement to others to follow their creative interests.
My point is safety is always a part of the plan... and the art.