Dust Free Refinishing. What is it?
While doing research on refinishing your wood floors, you may have come across the words "Dust Free" or "Dustless. So what is it, and why should you take it seriously? Traditional sanding and refinishing of hardwood floors date back to the 1920's when sanding machines first came into the market. Modern traditional sanding at its basic level uses a Belt Sander, Edger, and Rotary Sander.
The Belt Sander, or "Big Machine" sands the largest portion of the hardwood floor. Its primary objective is to remove the existing coatings, imperfections, and flatten the floor. It is a 220-volt machine, that uses sanding belts in various grits from 24 grit - 150 grit. Belt sanders come with cloth dust bags that attach to the dust stack, which collects the dust that is created by the machine. The machine has an onboard fan that creates a suction to pull the dust off the drum and into the dust bag. Using a dust bag alone to capture the dust is not considered dust free. An external vacuum that evacuates the dust is truly the dust free way of sanding.
My belt machine utilizes a vortex that mounts to the machine. This displaces the air that is created from the onboard fan, and then all of the wood sanding dust is evacuated to the HEPA filtered industrial vacuum situated in another room or outside the home. The captures 99% of the fine airborne dust. Any remaining dust is the heavy dust that does not make it into the air. The floor is then vacuumed to keep the floor clean. You can see in the photo the vortex mounted to the machine, with a vacuum hose leading out of the room to a vacuum.
The 2nd machine that is used in floor sanding is the edger. It sands all the other areas that the belt machine cannot reach. This machine is usually the machine that traditionally creates all of the dust from the horror stories you may have heard or even witnessed yourself! Traditionally the edger has a dust bag attached to the machine just as the belt machine. Not very efficient at collecting dust, to say the least. As you can see in the photo, I am edge sanding the floors in this home. Ignore the weird-looking chair I am sitting on. My edger is attached to a HEPA vacuum via a dust hose. This creates a nearly 100% dust-free experience.
The final traditional machine is the rotary sander or "Buffer" as other professionals call it. This machine is used to blend the edges and the field, while removing sanding imperfections. It can create a dust storm if not used with a vacuum. Many floor professionals still use this machine as the main final sanding machine. I choose not to use this machine for my final sanding, as it tends to give the floor a dished out, wavy appearance. I utilize a planetary machine, which creates the ultimate flat surface, all while being dust free! It comes with a dustless certified onboard collection system, but I choose to make it even cleaner and use my HEPA vacuum system connected to it. My machine is called the Lagler Trio, and its the one on the right in the photo.
All of this dust free talk would not be possible without the true workhorse, the industrial vacuum! I utilize a machine called the Oneida Dust Cobra. It has enough suction to accommodate up-to 100 ft of hose, and collects 30 gallons of dust before it needs to be emptied. Frequent filter cleaning, and paying attention to the process is what makes my system superior to others in my area.
Other tools that are used throughout the refinishing process can create dust as well. I like to use small sanders and saws made by Festool. Each one of the tools is connected to its own vacuum. All are HEPA rated, to keep the harmful dust out of your home. The tools are expensive, but It is of utmost importance to ensure no one is exposed to the dust that has plagued our industry. It is a health issue, and just plain miserable to have to clean up.
A lot of dedication, education, and investing in quality tools is what makes a true dust-free refinishing job. When hiring a flooring professional, be sure that they can put their money where their mouth is when it comes to keeping your home clean.