We are replacing our living room floor and it is so cold outside we are resorting to sawing the end pieces indoors. What tricks have you found for keeping the sawdust under control?
Assuming you're talking about sawing with power tools, I find that the best approach is to attack the problem from as many different angles as possible. It's also one of those things where you have to decide how much effort you want to put into it ahead of time. Dust collection can be non-existent for some people, or a bottomless pit of obsession for others. Combining different tactics can be a good way to keep things under control.
- Where possible, use tools that have built-in dust handling. If you're using a miter saw to cut the flooring to length, consider buying or renting a saw that actually has a dust port - some don't. Miter saws are typically fairly poor about dust handling, even with a dust port they tend to throw a lot of material back behind the saw. Consider positioning the saw so it's throwing dust towards a wall versus towards a door. If you're using handheld saws (i.e. a circular saw), observe your saw's behavior to determine where it throws dust. Even if you don't get 100% of the dust, just leaving a shop vac running and pointed close to where the saw throws dust will help. In "extreme" circumstances, I've seen contractors duct tape the end of a shop vac hose to a circular saw. When I am cutting dusty material with a circular saw, I will often keep the vac running as I make cuts, then grab it after each cut and do a quick sweep across the saw's path where it dropped dust. It only adds maybe 3 or 4 seconds to each cut but it can cut way down on dust.
- Create as much air flow as you can with a vac or dust collector connected to the tool. A $50 shop vac is OK at a minimum, but even better is a cheap ($150) portable dust collector. If you're using a shop vac, make sure that the exhaust port is aimed away from your work. There's nothing as frustrating as turning on a shop vac only to have its exhaust port kick up a huge cloud of dust and throw it all over the room. Also, if you're using a shop vac, be sure to keep the filter clean. A clogged filter can drop the flow off to almost nothing, and when you're trying to control dust thrown off a saw, you really need as much air flow as possible. If you have a good high-flow dust collector, you can buy or make a "hood" to go over your miter saw to collect flying debris and direct it towards the hose to the dust collector.
- Consider additional, passive air filters. At the cheap end, you can simply duct tape a 20" square furnace filter over a cheap 20" box fan. Put it on the floor near your saw and leave it on. It'll pick up a frightening amount of fine airborne dust. If you already have a fan kicking around, this can be very cheap and also very effective.
- Tape or tack plastic sheeting across any doors or other openings from the room you're working in. Airborne dust will settle throughout the house if you don't. You can use the cheapest, thinnest, disposable painter's drop cloth plastic for this. Depending on the size/shape of the room, you can combine this with your box fan air filter to control air flow in/out of the room. Ideally, you would have a window cracked with an exhaust fan in it, to keep air flowing from the rest of the house into the work space (versus the other way around, which will carry dust throughout the house). If that's not possible, you can instead place your box fan filter such that it's blowing air from the work site into the rest of the house - ensuring that all air going out of the site is filtered, and keeping positive flow into the site otherwise (through gaps in your plastic, etc). As another alternative involving plastic sheeting, you can create a little "saw bay" by tacking/taping sheeting to the ceiling in one area of the work site, and doing all your sawing inside that area. Just having loosely hung sheeting sectioning off a portion of the room can go a long ways towards keeping dust under control.
- Control dust on your feet/shoes. I like to put an old towel or bath mat under the saw. The texture of the towel will help hold dust and chips that fall to the floor. This keeps them contained versus getting tracked around the site. I put another one near the door or entry into my work space, and I make sure to wipe off my feet any time I leave or enter the work site.
I picked up a 2nd-hand laminate cutter similar to this one:
I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked, and no sawdust whatsoever.
Obviously it depends on the nature of the flooring you're installing as to whether or not this kind of cutter would manage. I've used it for flooring with a hardwood top surface and MDF core.
Of course you'll still need to rip lengths for narrow edges with a saw...
Cut over carpet It may be counter-intuitive, but dust can fly everywhere on a hard floor (and most floors are draughty anyway).
Sawdust will be retained by carpet fibres and can then be vacuumed out or a mat taken outside and shaken. The air outlet from a vacuum cleaner will also waft sawdust around.
I recently installed engineered flooring in our bedroom. They were 96" planks and I didn't want to be carrying them back and forth so I measures and cut a bunch of them at the same time in the bedroom. I had my wife with a shop vac following the saw and sucking up the dust as I cut. It kept the place pretty clean.
You need to change tool types
Right now you're in the worst possible situation: you're using handheld power sawing tools: a circular saw and a Sawzall. They both a) make a ton of sawdust, and b) are impracticable to put dust collection on.
You need to go one of three ways.
- Fixed power saws that lend themselves to dust collection, e.g. a radial arm saw or table saw, and then, use a dust collector. (a vacuum optimized for dust collection service). This will not be perfect, but, one of the best things about a fixed tool is that it's in a fixed location, so the sawdust stays in a radius of that location.
- Hand saws using a mitre box. Still makes sawdust, but doesn't throw it around with such verve.
- Non-sawing cutters, e.g. a shear, if your material lends itself to that.
- Some sort of wet-sawing approach, if material and tech allows (I've been promised a radial-arm waterknife for 30 years now.)
An external power control unit which is suited for motors - f.e. a 2000W IC-based phase control with zero point detection and for inductive loads - can reduce the dust dramatically, since the dust has much lower kinetic energy and the vac(s) can keep up with this reduced dust rate per time. Some tool built - in (if any) controls are not capable to reduce the speed enough to simulate a kind of hand sawing. Although slower sawing, it will save time for the cleaning. Reducing the speed for non-commercial use will also increase accuracy and safety and decrease the stress both to the tool and the user.
3 to 6 or even more vacuum cleaners with extended/long hoses are anyway very useful in most households. This is not meant to promote the vac industry, but vacs distributed in a house and permanently connected to power help reduce the psychological barrier to clean the floor (normally not the cleaning process itself is the problem, but the hassle to move the heavy bulky device, pull and connect the cable and bring it back). F.e., a dedicated stationary vac in the kitchen can be used to pick up any toast or bread crumbs before they spread into other rooms and is as nearly as simply usable as the light. For sawing or grinding or drilling, as many vacs as the circuit can provide are placed near the working space and keep the dust rate very low, if combined with reduced speed of the tool (see 1.).
If the material to be cut resp. the dust is harmful - what is not only the case for laminated/glued/painted but sometimes also for pure natural wood - a simple cheap protection is this method: The bottom of an empty 19 liter plastic light blue transparent water bottle, which is normally used for water dispensers, is cut out to change it into a sort of bell. The other opening is connected via long hose to a hair dryer, fan or output of a vac with clean filters - this fresh air source is placed where only clean air is sucked in and pushed into the bell (Luv side of the house, clean room, roof window etc.).
Putting it over the head looks a little bit like the system used by divers in the old days and could have a certain impact on the reputation if seen by neighbours or friends, but that way eyes, nose and mouth will be protected against any harmful dust during cutting material and cleaning up afterwards. And the thick polycarbonate will also give good eye/face/neck protection against breaking parts of the saw blade or cutter wheel which can have a huge energy/impact. Also recommended when working with suspicious materials like old fabric isolation that could contain Asbestos or old mineral wool.
To cut the bottle, a hand saw would be suitable. Or an old solder iron can melt the bottom out leaving a smooth edge and a stronger protected rim. Cutting or melting the bottle requires already a protection.