Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 7/27/03

The New Woodworker and Dust
By Gregory Lawhorn

Since buying our new home in November, I have been rapidly gaining interest in woodworking, and doing projects around the house. I've learned a few things about woodworking that I thought would be helpful to others. Let's begin with dust.

One, all wood is made of dust. It is properly not sawdust, but wooddust. If you happen to find that most of your dust is, in fact, sawdust, then your technique may need some improvement. On the other hand, the whole point of woodworking is, obviously, the dust. The end results of woodworking ­ the Queen Anne chair, the Mission-style cabinet, etc. ­ is merely a ruse to get LOML looking in the other direction while I free some imprisoned dust.

If the point of woodworking was furniture, we would simply buy it, as most people do. But the reverse is actually true; the point of the planter box is the dust. As I look at that ugly thing that I first made it is remarkable how many details I remember about the process. I could have purchased a much prettier planter, but that wasn't the point.

Two, wooddust is released when the wood is cut, routed, chiseled, sanded, handled, stored, or read about in a magazine. It's hard to believe that forests can stand the gentlest breeze, given the amount of dust released in my workshop through the slightest effort on my part. I suspect that the Sahara forest was not cut down (as the joke goes) but finally gave in to the wind. That isn't really sand at all, which is why a) it so easily piles up in dunes, and b) no matter how much of it is hauled away there's plenty left. There is a limited amount of sand on the planet, but wooddust expands to fill the available space (or floor).

Three, wooddust is also released when tools are turned upside down, especially when the shop has JUST been vacuumed, and it's time to move the miter saw from the table to the floor. I'm not sure what laws of physics come into play here, but I can move my miter saw a dozen times in order to vacuum every speck of wooddust beneath it, but the final pile (approximately the size of a medium steak with cottage fries and peach pie) will not be revealed until the ShopVac is unplugged and put away.

Four, a 12-inch 2x4 has a volume of 63 cubic inches, but contains 302 cubic inches of wooddust. Allow me to explain this to you.

According to the Greek philosopher Zeno, an arrow fired at a soldier would never actually hit the soldier, since the arrow must travel through an infinite number of points in order to arrive at the soldier's original position, only to find that the soldier has (wisely) increased the distance between himself and the arrow, so the arrow has to cover an infinite number of points all over again.

The same principle is true of wooddust. There are an infinite number of specks between your bandsaw blade and the air on the opposite side of the wood, and thus the physical volume of the wood has no bearing on the volume of wooddust contained therein. I suspect that Zeno was a woodworker. Take a look at the symbol for infinity ­ - and you'll see that it is two pieces of wooddust stubbornly refusing to be separated (they'll come apart later, after you've vacuumed).

This is why the more efficient tools ­ chisels, hammers, wedges, and so on ­ do not attempt to free trapped wooddust, but merely shove it to one side or another in order to get to the opposite side as quickly as possible.

Finally, there is a purity, a magnificence, a perfection to wooddust. There is truth in it. Your finger presses the switch and your ears are filled with the sound of carbide teeth in oak. The blade eases through the wood, dust fills the air, the noise of the saw dies away, and truth is revealed. You may have thought you cut straight, but the truth lies before you. You may have measured a dozen times, but the size of the cut piece is neither theoretical nor abstract. To apply a tool to a piece of wood, whether the choicest Zebra wood or scrap pine, is an act of courage and resolve, a decision to test yourself in three-dimensions and face the truth of whether you are found wanting. That dust filling the air following the cut, softly floating and coating the floor and table and tool and board and yourself, is a sign of the audacity of man to change his world to suit his needs.

Talk to you later. I'm going to make some dust.

Gregory Lawhorn

Back to the Gazette

Contact Us | Homepage
We encourage all our visitors to send us
their thoughts, suggestions and complaints.