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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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A Dusty Yuletide Tale

For the past couple of months it seems I have had an obsession with dust, and with very good reason. Currently under way in the Down To Earth Woodworking Shop are two matching coffee tables with book-matched live-edge White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) slabs for tops. Removing the bark was pretty easy, but I also wanted to remove that thin cambium layer between bark and sapwood, the vascular cambium. A combination of angle grinder with wire brush wheel, a flap sander, and a sanding mop is doing the job and leaving a very natural looking edge, but the clouds of dust are monumental – unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced. And whether it is the wood species or the nature of the cambium layer, or a combination thereof, the dust seems particularly noxious.

Figure 10: Dust-making monsters
After a particularly grueling two-hour session, even though I was wearing my best mask, a face shield, and hearing protection, I experienced lung discomfort, throat irritation, and where dust landed on the unprotected areas of my face and hands, some skin irritation. According to the Allergy Advisor, following exposure to ash wood dust, a 42-year-old male test subject experienced dyspnea, a very strong immediate bronchospastic reaction, associated with profuse watery rhinorrhea, conjunctival congestion and lacrimation. If they want to add another test case, I can attest to the difficulties breathing, the coughing, runny nose and tears in my eyes.

It may be early for a New Year’s resolution, but it is never too early, or too late, to seriously address dust and dust remediation in the wood shop.

With a new resolve and some new safety gear I have forged ahead, and next month I will share some experiences from building the two coffee tables, including the construction of the leg/undercarriage assembly, preparation of the slabs, the making and installing of butterfly keys and the final assembly. Fun stuff! Look forward to seeing you!

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at

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