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How to pick a Respirator for Woodworking

by Lorenz Prem
published on August 21 2011 10:00 pm

Saw dust is one of the hidden dangers of woodworking. Prolonged exposure can cause a number of illnesses. The dust created by cutting some exotic species can even cause immediate harm. Today it is widely accepted that commercial woodworkers should wear a respirator around dust producing machines.

In a residential environment where dust collection systems are often not present or inefficient, this rule is of critical importance. In this environment it is unrealistic to assume the dust is going to be trapped at the source. A shop vac, for instance, will exhaust a lot of the fine dust it pulls in. Only HEPA vacs, something few of us own, actually trap the fine particles. If you work on wood in your garage, you owe it to yourself to wear a respirator.

Most of us dislike respirators. They restrict breathing and don't fit properly. It does not have to be this way. A quality respirator becomes barely noticeable to the user after a while. Chances are, if you dislike your respirator, you probably have on that does not fit. Let's take a look at the options.

Disposable Respirators

Disposable respirators can work just was well as the reusable models. In a pinch one of these is adequate. For regular use, however, the respirators do not offer enough convince features. The thin straps that come with these filters will work for a while, but you'll have to adjust the fit of the filer every now and then. If you wear one of these regularly, you'll end up fighting the respirator.


Reusable half-face respirators are the economical choice. At this level the respirator will fit properly, be comfortable for hours of use, and protect you properly. As the name suggest, the respirator only covers half of the operator's face. This configuration is comfortable for most users. If you wear one of these, you'll be protected properly.

For proper operation it is essential that you use a respirator that fits properly on your face. Unlike the respirators that you are going to find at the home center, the 3M line of respirators come in different sizes. It's the fit that will make the respirator either feel cumbersome or barely there.

3M 7500 Respirator
3M 6500 Respirator
3M 6000 Respirator


Full face respirators combine the functions of a face shield and a respirator. This type of respirator tends to fit better than half-face respirators, since the mask covers the entire face of the operator. The added surface area results in a better fit. Thicker straps that start higher increase the stability of the mask. The respirator function of this mask is on par with that of a half-face respirator. If you plan on wearing your respirator for hours at a time, consider a full-face respirator.

3M 6000 Series Full-Face Respirator

Powered Respirators

Powered respirators use a motor to pump filtered air across the operator's face. This creates a slightly higher pressure in the interior of the helmet. Dust cannot enter. This model of respirator offers the highest convince. The operator can breath as he normally would. The motor and batteries, however, do add weight.

A powered respirator is also the only respirator that can be used by an operator with a beard. Since the respirator does not touch the face of the operator, the beard does not interfere with the seal of the respirator like it does on all other types.

Filter Cartridges

All these model support different types of filter cartridges. The cartridges differ in their ability to filter certain toxins. For woodworking only particulate filtering is needed. Other filters, like organic and chemical filter, only restrict airflow unnecessarily. Cartridges are inexpensive and can be ordered in bulk.


It's imperative that you find yourself a quality respirator as soon as possible. While wood dust is not an instant killer, if you do not take action now you are only putting off a purchase that you will eventually have to make. I am not trying to scare you into purchasing a product that you do need. You notice a difference after the first use. For one, your nose is not going to be dry anymore.

A good half-face respirator will serve you well for years. If you wear it, you can even put off purchasing that dust collection system for little longer.

About the Author
"Lorenz is the founder of Hingmy. When he is not reviewing power tools or improving the site, he is building things in his workshop or playing hockey."