Heating is a necessity for most shops in North America. Some woodworking tasks demand it; gluing and finishing in particular require steady temperatures. Heating your shop also makes it more comfortable and safe; numb fingers invite accidents.
If your shop is some distance from your home's furnace, a separate heating system will be needed. Many woodworkers swear by wood heat; it has the added benefit of consuming scrap pieces. Yet this means frequently feeding the stove and cleaning the chimney; insuring your shop against fire can also be a problem. Electric baseboard units are more convenient, but can contribute to high utility bills and frequently are clogged with sawdust.
Portable kerosene and propane burners should be avoided in the shop, since they use an open flame and emit toxic exhaust. Coil-type electric heaters are also a fire hazard.
Whichever heating system you choose, keep the area around it free of sawdust and place it away from the finishing and wood storage areas. And remember, any system will be improved by good ventilation.
Consider your need to control humidity. In shops in humid climates, too much moisture means an investment in a dehumidifier to keep wood dry and tools from rusting. Shops in more arid climates face the opposite dilemma and may require a humidifier.
Finally, every shop requires adequate ventilation. Airborne sawdust and toxic finishing vapors may not be as visible a danger as kickback on a table saw but the threat they pose is just as real. While fire or explosions due to high concentrations of sawdust or finishing vapors are rare, they can be devastating. A good ventilation system changes the air often enough to maintain safe levels of airborne dust and fumes. It should include dust collection equipment at each stationary power tool that produces sawdust (page 78), and a general exhaust setup (below) to remove the dust and fumes that remain.
While window fans or bathroom-type vent models are fine for general exhaust purposes, a finishing booth or spray room requires something different: An explosion-proof tube-axial fan is recommended. Fans are rated by the amount of air that they move, measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm). Divide the cubic volume of your shop (its length times its width times its height) by 6 to find the rating needed to change the air 10 times per hour—the minimum level for safe ventilation.
Installing a general exhaust setup
If your shop does not have windows or doors to provide proper cross-ventilation, install an exhaust setup to clean the air. The system shown at left is a simple one, consisting of an air intake at one end of the shop connected to the outdoors or your home's air ducts, and an explosion-proof fan mounted in the wall at the opposite end. The intake is covered with a furnace or air-conditioning filter to clean the incoming air. The exhaust fan is placed higher than the intake, causing the air that rises to be drawn out of the shop. For best results, orient the exhaust setup along the longest axis of your shop.
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