My Woodworking Background
Look at My Woodworking Background if you want to learn more about my woodworking background. The short version is my father was a master woodworker and pilot who trained me and added to my training with expert teachers from all over the world. I learned to make fine furniture, do fine cabinet making, and just about every aspect of home construction. These skills helped me build and run a successful furniture business and construction firm. Our construction firm built new homes and refurbished old buildings. We built the first Spaghetti Factory and started what became a very successful bar restaurant along with a very popular radio station.
Although you might think that my parents wanted me to become a home builder from my upbringing, the reality is far different. My parents were very highly motivated exceptionally bright people who strongly valued a full and not just academic education. My father earned four degrees on top of becoming one of the senior pilot instructor examiners and commanders in the Air Force and my mother became a university professor and one of the top clothing designer illustrators in the world. Although a complete idiot in many areas, I inherited lots and my parents were very enabling. They helped me develop some amazing mechanical talents, learn to speak multiple languages fluently, play two different musical instruments well, earn varsity letters in seven different sports, and become a national finalist in mathematics and science. I was not only expected to earn my own spending money, my parents helped me start four successful businesses before I finished high school, plus taught me lots about investing. Although they had great plans for me and probably some disappointment, I chose to leave home as a junior in high school and earn my own way through college.
I started college at the University of California at Davis (UCD) while still in high school. I was fascinated with computers and after learning FORTRAN taught myself assembly level programming. Still, my dream was to become an astronaut. Some of my model airplanes and rockets set records. One of the professors in my modeling club drafted me with a fellowship to help do solid rocket fuel design. My computer program used calculus to optimize solid rocket fuel casting to create programmed burn rates. This work ensured planes no longer flew into their own missiles and still got maximum flight times and speed. After successfully competing Congress awarded me four military academy appointments landing me at the Air Force Academy. Soon after starting their summer orientation program my vision slipped just enough that they bumped me out of the pilot's program killing my chances to become an astronaut. That left me returning to UCD just in time to start the fall semester with no break.
Needing money I went back to work as a carpenter mostly doing fine finish work, but we were in a recession with little available work, so also worked at a gas station and got a job running the campus weather station that was one of the first to worry about air quality and helping with a solar project at the UCD Agricultural Engineering lab. My roommate and I built a successful furniture business but it barely made enough to keep him going. We along with another of my friends had to fill in doing construction work. We restored a number of old buildings including building the first Spaghetti Factory. Soon there was not even time to continue playing tennis on our team that I helped to win the small school nationals.
Still struggling financially as work was intermittent, I helped a graduate student and his Japanese wife who spoke no English. I was one of the few people she could speak with and they were desperate for a little more money. I set her up with a sewing machine and suddenly owned a business making big artificial fur pillows. They were far too popular and in what seemed like overnight I had twelve graduate student wives sewing up a storm part time and needed at least twelve more. They were great highly motivated workers and all really bright. None spoke fluent English and I needed a translator to talk to all but two. This made that business a lot like trying to herd cats. Worse, on paper this business was making me rich, but in reality I was having to work ever more hours at my other jobs just to keep up. The problem was these pillows sold faster than I could get paid so I kept having to add more and more to just buy materials and pay salaries. The banks laughed at me as a eighteen year old looking for a business loan, so I was nearing letting it all go. Just to keep up I had increased my hours adding sweeping up at night at the UCD Agricultural Engineering lab to earn more but it was still not enough.
During cleanup late one evening this graduate student was sitting by a strange contraption almost in tears. I asked what was going on and he said it did not work. I asked him to explain what it was supposed to do and how it functioned. He blew me off as a young ignorant kid, so I asked again saying this might help him figure out what was going on. He shared that it was an automated grape harvester, but was not working. As he went through the design I figured out why it was not working and suggested making a couple of linkages longer. The next morning my sponsoring professor woke me up and told me to get to the dean's office immediately. There this graduate student turned out to be a very unhappy young full professor who wanted me fired for disrupting him as he tried to work and make a deadline. Great, already near bankrupt from the pillow business, I was about to lose my job. My sponsor stepped in and totally changed my world. He was prior department chair and managed to save my job with my having to apologize. Having worked with me on my model airplanes and a couple of projects that went well, my sponsor gave me a set of plans and told me I had to draw up my changes on that grape harvester immediately. I drew up my suggested changes and he got that unit modified. The unit worked perfectly.
Sometimes when it rains it does pour. My friend with the Japanese wife surprised me, he got a large loan from his parents and bought the pillow business paying a big lump sum payment with ongoing royalties. I actually had my time back and enough money to enjoy life a little. That did not last. My money was soon gone invested in a little bit of junk, but mostly invested in friends I liked and trusted. Learning from my father, I helped start and ended up owning half interests in four automotive garages, an upholstery shop and a furniture making shop. I also became quarter owner helping to start a bar-restaurant and a bandit radio station. All at first struggled barely paying bills leaving me insanely busy helping and adding what little free money I could. I had little time for school and remained broke still needing more income. Meanwhile my harvester experience proved to be far too good of a story and it rapidly spread all over campus, mostly through faculty cocktail parties. Suddenly I was offered and accepted a real job as a computer programmer that paid very well, plus people from all over campus wanted to help on projects.
Magically that job took care of my financial problems and successes rapidly built my reputation as the one to go to if you needed help with a stalled or overly complex project. My work helped the university earn twenty one patents, publish many different papers and let me do fundamental research on improved automated food harvesters, better food processing and canning equipment, optimized solar building design, molecular shapes detection in crystal formations, biofeedback equipment, generalized statistical computer programs, artificial intelligence, and critical care hospital patient monitoring. This work also gave me lots more free time as I was able to trade help for units. The digital equipment I built got me drafted to teach digital engineering as an undergraduate. My computer programs got me drafted to teach computer programming to students and faculty. My hospital critical care patient monitor and biofeedback equipment earned me a full medical school scholarship.
My world was happy and I fully expected to continue to teach, do research, and keep taking classes through my PhD in biomedical engineering and MD in medicine, then go on faculty at one of the better universities where I hoped to do more of the same for the rest of my life. Instead, I was drafted before completing my dual degrees in biomedical engineering and pre-medicine. Not wanting to flee the country or get killed in Vietnam as happened to one of my closest friends, I joined an Air Force Reserve unit, scored too well on their entrance exam so was made flight crew, and ended up being one of the few activated and sent to the Vietnam War. I served in the Vietnam War as an aircraft tail gunner then returned to find myself unwelcome at the University of California campuses. I had so many units they agreed to grant me a general education degree with seven science minors.
In 20-20 hindsight they were probably right to prevent Vietnam Vets from returning to school as too many who came back from that conflict had serious problems. The life expectancy of a tail gunner there was about six weeks. Six of the ten who started with me were dead in six weeks and two more were in hospitals, so I drank far too much. When I got home I spent a year working a graveyard shift as a computer operator for the Claremont Colleges to put myself back together. I learned there that in spite of being very bright, my education was terrible compared to the really smart and those who had been afforded top private schooling all their lives. Unfortunately, in spite of them treating me better than any employer before or after, that job was in the worst of the Southern California smog. The smog was so bad I could not even play tennis.
I moved to Sacramento and took a job at California State University at Sacramento to help them with their computer labs and help finish up projects. In trade they agreed to cover my tuition expenses and provide me the time off to finish up my master degrees in both computer hardware and software engineering. The Engineering School did big projects for private industry in trade for the equipment and money to operate. Soon I was getting their stalled and long bogged projects completed one after another and was quickly again drafted to teach both digital electronics and computer systems programming. Much of my work was testing new designs for complex logic circuits before they were made in silicon. In self defense I wrote some computer programs that did the testing and debugging of very large scale integrated logic (VLSI) circuits, particularly complex microprocessors to help IBM build their new System 3 business computer. To complete that project I added more software that did circuit design. Soon nearly every mini computer maker in the country started using my programs and expertise.
Concurrently, I purchased what was once one of Sacramento's most expensive mansions built by D.O. Mills who was the banker who financed much of the 49er gold rush. That home was in horrid shape and very affordable. My fiance and I rebuilt it and then married expecting to have a large family. Instead a worried mother rushing home to a sick child ran a red light and put my new wife in a care facility with irreparable heart damage her doctors did not expect her to survive. I ended up getting blamed even though I was clear across town at my job, so was not allowed to even go visit. I kept myself way too busy to avoid the frustration I could not change. I ran a major medical project that identified what things we could do to live happier and healthier lives, plus get an old drug certified for alternative treatments. With no budget to do this medical work, I was forced to invented much of the hardware and software to build our own data entry and editing machine. The resulting system landed me in the history museums as being the first to get a microprocessor based computer not only working, but equipped with a color monitor, high speed printer and large hard disc drive years before the first kit computers. We freely shared both my hardware designs and software which resulted in just about every personal computer using variations of my operating system, video editor, BASIC interpreter, spreadsheet and data base software.
One of my good friends talked the Governor into drafting me to work as a trouble shooter because the State had lots of serious computer problems. That job paid more than double my CSUS job, plus gave me time off to keep teaching. Soon UC Davis asked me to return and teach there as well. I filled six pretty empty years earning two more degrees, teaching university engineering more than full time, working a full time job with the State of California fixing many problems. I also took lots of interesting classes ranging from cooking to water color painting. I did so much a little searching on the Internet rapidly gets embarrassing.
My dual income coupled with too much free time and tool rebuilding hobby let me build up a nice home shop which helped restore that Victorian mansion. I shared how I modified an older ShopSmith with one of my professor friends. He liked what I did so much he insisted on buying my modified unit for far more than it was worth, then shared my changes with ShopSmith. They incorporated many of my design enhancements in their Mark V systems they still sell. Ever since I've continued to share design changes and things I invent with different vendors in trade for payments and more tools for my own shop. The bottom line is I have helped improve and evaluate new tools since the 1960s. I have worked with cyclones since 1994 and most small shop vendors today now sell their own variations of my early cyclone design that addressed cone plugging and poor airflow problems. Some of my designs became very popular such as my ShopSmith upgrades, dust collector cartridge filter (pictured on the right), and significant dust collection innovations.
A bad allergic reaction to fine dust in early 2000 gave me severe pneumonia leaving lung damage that forced me to retire from teaching in 2000 and worsening related problems forced me to retire completely in 2004. This inspired me to figure out what went wrong and make repair. The peer reviewed medical research shows every fine dust exposure causes a measurable loss in air capacity, some of this loss becomes permanent, and the greater and longer the exposure the worse the loss. Fine invisible dust particles are so small they slip right by our bodies' protections. These deeply lodged particles damage and scar our tissues. This is why the EPA sets such tough indoor air quality standards. Wood dusts are particularly bad. Wood dust particles are covered with razor sharp edges and sharp often barbed points that cause them to get stuck deep in our respiratory tissues where we have a very difficult time getting rid of them. Wood dusts also carry and contain many toxic chemicals that can cause irritation, rashes, nerve damage, poisoning, increase cancer risks, and cause sensitization meaning worsening allergic reactions. Air quality testing in my very clean looking shop showed it was badly contaminated. My air quality inspector explained woodworking creates huge amounts of fine invisible dust compared to how little it takes to harm our health and wood dust particles last nearly forever unless they get wet. So, in shops like mine that vent inside the fine invisible dust builds to dangerously high levels. His test equipment showed my clean looking shop had built up so much fine invisible dust just walking around without doing any woodworking stirred enough fine dust airborne to fail an EPA air quality test.
This same fine dust that harms our lungs also destroys fine filters. Woodworking makes so much of this fine dust it constantly clogs our filters to the point they will barely pass air, so we have to clean constantly. Cleaning forces the razor sharp edges and sharp often barbed points on airborne wood dust particles to cut and tear their way through the fine filter strands creating such big openings our filters no longer filter. This damage destroys fine filters forcing their replacement in most commercial shops roughly every three months. Almost all commercial shops vent outside to avoid the high expense of constant replacement of fine filters. Airborne dust when vented outside vanishes with no visible trace and rapidly breaks down as soon as it gets damp.
To get good protection in my shop I either needed to accept the regular replacement of expensive fine filters or come up with a better solution. After years of working with cyclone separators I knew traditional cyclone designs pass 100% of the airborne dust right through. This airborne dust is what harms our health and destroys filters which is why we should vent outside as do most commercial firms. Using a pre-filter just created a clogging and constant cleaning problem, so I came up with a much better fine dust separating cyclone. My design is independent medical school tested to separate airborne dust over six times better that its closest competitor which is my prior design that most small shop vendors now sell. This improved separation keeps our filters clean for better airflow and means we have to clean and replace our expensive fine filters far less often. It works so well over 10,000 people worldwide now use my cyclone design that you can build from my free plans on these pages or purchase from Clear Vue Cyclones.
In summary I taught college engineering for over thirty years, have multiple degrees, and many patents, papers, books, projects and inventions including some woodworking tools. Since my forced retirement I have focused on this not for profit effort to help others protect themselves from fine dust so they are not blindsided like I was. The risks from fine wood dust are real and can be easily verified from the peer reviewed medical research. Likewise, my suggested solutions for good protection are the best current industry practices from those top firms that make the dust collection equipment installed in facilities that monitor and must pass air quality standards. I've written many articles on dust collection and these pages have won awards from industry leaders as one of the best and most positive influences for good fine dust collection today.