Closing a different kind of box

Since moving to this house/shop, I have been on a (slow paced) mission to improve my working situation. The first thing was to lower the bench height and put in a temporary bench top. Then, about 20 months ago, my dad and brother helped me remodel the workshop (which you can see on my old blog here). All the while, I have been purchasing and acquiring tools that better suit my needs as a builder. My current project is to better deal with the dust issue that comes along with woodworking. I have always known that this was a problem, but it was reinforced when a technician came by to look at our ducts and furnace with the plans to install air conditioning. Let’s just say that my basic use of a shop vac and dust collector weren’t quite doing the job well enough. As a result of this, we are having our ducts cleaned out this week, and I am hoping to not put too much sawdust back in them too quickly.

The first project towards this goal was to start to deal with the dust from hand sanding more effectively. After a bit of Googling, I came across this video about a portable downdraft sanding box and a few other posts similar to it, and thought, “that seems like a good idea.” But then I looked at my shop and thought, “but I don’t have any room for a workmate, and I don’t want to have to stand on a stool to sand because of the added height of a box on top of the bench.” So I figured that the obvious solution was to build a downdraft sanding box into my bench top.

So I went to Home Depot and bought myself a jigsaw (seemed like a good excuse for a new “toy” and I know that it will come in handy for many other things including guitar moulds) and a piece of 1/4 inch pegboard, and got to work, making a large amount of dust in the process.

The first step was to cut a big hole in my bench top. I have a bench top that is nearly 3 feet deep, so I decided to make a 24 inch square sanding area, which will accommodate soundboard and backs and most of the things that I need to sand in the workshop. I cut the hole 23 inches square, leaving room for a 1/2 inch lip to support the pegboard around the edge. (I say square, but it was actually not a perfect square as my piece of pegboard was ever so slightly wonky. I used the pegboard as a template and traced it onto the bench, and then used those lines to guide my work.) For this hole, I used my newly acquired jigsaw as well as a little bit of hand sawing to get through the 2×4 that was in the way.

Then I pulled out my small router/laminate trimmer and used a 1/2 inch bit to rout a lip around the outside of the hole.

The ledges are exactly the right depth to accommodate the thickness of the pegboard, which was about 190 thousandths of an inch.

Then it was time to start building the box. I spent a night thinking about it, and then decided to build the box in place using the plywood that I had cut out from the bench top for most of the box. The box is 8 inches deep at the left end where the dust collector port connects, and tapers to nothing at the right side end. The back and front pieces are identical triangles that taper from the 8 inches at one end to a point at the other. The 8 inch box depth was just what it needed to be to accommodate the structural underpinnings of my bench and the dust port that I was installing.

Before attaching the left end piece, I drilled a 2 1/2 inch hole in it to accommodate the dust port. I happened to have a 2 1/2 inch saw-tooth drill bit from another project a few years ago, so this worked out well!

For the bottom of the box, I used a piece of 1/8 inch thick hardboard. I had lots of it in my shop as I had just bought a hole lot of it to cover my ceiling (the next project in the whole “deal with the dust” goal). The sides of the box are secured to the underside of the bench with screws into the 2x4s that support the top of the bench. The hardboard bottom of the box is secured with several finishing nails to the sides. Once all of the pieces were put together, I used quite a bit of caulking to fill any small gaps and to seal the joints.

View from the top
View from the bottom (kind of) (don’t mind the mess under my bench… sometimes I wipe my glue-covered fingers there. It’s a bad/messy habit really, but I figure that it adds character?)

Then I braced the top pegboard with a couple of long scrap pieces of plywood—the 1/4 inch pegboard had some give to it, and I wanted it to stay fairly flat.

For the actual collection of dust, I needed a way to connect my dust collector to the box, so I bought a few pieces of Lee Valley’s dust collection network. First, a 2 1/2 inch blast gate, which fits into the 2 1/2 inch hole that I drilled in the end of the box.

Then a 3 foot piece of sturdy 2 1/2 inch piping, which would take the dust along the length of my bench (I didn’t want to have the dust collector at the same end of the bench as where I would be working—it seemed like that might be something that would annoy future me). To connect this to the blast gate, I needed a piece of pipe coupling (I bought 4, and used 3 in the end).

At the other end of the pipe where the dust collector would attach, I wanted to have a 90 degree angle that would bring the connector to the front of the bench, so I bought one of these. To attach the angle to the main pipe and to receive the dust collector itself, I used two more of those connectors. Finally, I bought a couple of these Ohm shaped clamps to hold the assembly to the underside of the bench. In the end, I only used one of these clamps, but I might end up building more of a dust collection network one day, so I’ll hold onto the extra bits.

View of the underside of the bench
The connection point for my portable dust collector

The final step was to attach the pegboard to the top of the bench. I used a bit of caulking and more finishing nails to hold it down.

And that’s it. I haven’t really given it a good try yet, but it will get a good workout in the next couple of months. I have a few more projects lined up for the shop (the ceiling being one of those, as previously mentioned), so I will keep you posted on my progress in the tackling of dust.

Thanks for reading, and hope that you are staying well. Guitar updates coming soon!

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