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Turning Cast Iron question - Health & Cleaning Up

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Blue Heeler06/05/2019 02:04:17
217 forum posts

Hi All

I've made a lot of things now (literally hundreds of items) in the years of owning my Sieg C6 lathe, all steam related items but I have until yesterday never turned cast iron.

I turned 2x flywheels from a Bengs kit, the cast iron was a pleasure to machine and the finish I got on the flywheels was superb.

The amount of black dust in my workshop was immense to say the least, I was black as well, my nostrils were black, I could taste it in my mouth all night and the next morning I had stained, much to my wife's displeasure the sink where I washed up my hands as the minute cast iron particles had rusted.

My question is - How do you guys that turn a lot of cast iron deal with the amount of dust and grit it creates and what do you do for your health and safety? Do you wear a mask? How do you clean up afterwards?

Hopper06/05/2019 03:03:36
4804 forum posts
105 photos

I've never heard of any particular health concerns about working with cast iron so don't use a mask etc.

But the blackness is ubiquitous, thanks to the graphite in the iron. So I wear a dustcoat over my usual work clothes and the dustcoat stays in the workshop. Boots stay outside the back door.. Also I keep a plastic bucket of soapy water in the workshop for initial hand washing before going into the house to do final wash up in the laundry sink.

Of more concern to me is the nasty gritty particles that get all over the lathe and necessitate a very thorough clean down to stop them working in between gib surfaces etc. I have a vinyl "bib" attached to the front of the carriage to keep the bed clear of such particles. It extends over the bed about four inches in front of the carriage and does a wonderful job of keeping the carriage/bed interface free of nasties.

Thor06/05/2019 04:41:13
1275 forum posts
39 photos

Hi Jim,

I have turned (and milled) a few cast iron items and I try to cover the slideways of the lathe and I wear a dust mask. After I have finished turning I use the old Hoover.


Paul Lousick06/05/2019 07:25:30
1541 forum posts
578 photos

I have a machinist friend who hates turning cast iron as he is alergic to the dust. Care must also be taken if using a vacuum clenber (AKA Hoover) as the dust is electrically conductive and can short out the motor.


Blue Heeler06/05/2019 07:36:52
217 forum posts

Hi All,

Much appreciate the replies. I am going to have to do something as its taken me quite a time to clean up and I don't want to go through this again.

I can still taste it!

JasonB06/05/2019 07:42:11
18871 forum posts
2069 photos
1 articles

It can depend on the iron and your cutting methods, I do a fair bit with the IC engines and don't get much of an issue but does depend on how it cuts, if you are getting a lot of fine dust rather than chips it will fly about as the chuck jaws act like centrifugal fan blades.

Hopper06/05/2019 08:32:40
4804 forum posts
105 photos

Further to Jason's comment, it works best if you make the first cut a good deep one to get in underneath the hard outer "skin" and peel it off in one go. I imagine if you were to try to take the skin off in fine cuts the dusty mess would be even more 'orrible than usual.

Mick B106/05/2019 09:00:18
1726 forum posts
91 photos

I've found that a deep cut at slow speed with a sharp tool can produce a sort of soft flaky chip, with a much lower percentage of fines, and this is a lot easier to clean up after. But I also think CI can vary, sometimes well below the skin and even within the same casting, so you can't always achieve that.

Simon Collier06/05/2019 09:12:32
364 forum posts
56 photos

I have a pump pack of sorbolene cream in the workshop and roll of quality paper towel. I do a preliminary hand wash with this. Then inside in the bathroom I have a dedicated workshop hand towel for the initial soap and water wash. I love cast iron and don't share the common objection to machining it, although it does get in your nose and lungs to some extent.

Pero06/05/2019 09:20:30
115 forum posts

When machining messy materials like cast iron I place a sheet or sheets of computer paper ( or similar) on the ways and then spray it liberally with INOX or WD40 or similar which a) keeps it in place and b) the fine swarf sticks to the paper.

At the end of the job it is an easy matter to pick up the paper with the swarf attached and dispose of it making machine cleaning a much easier task.


Rik Shaw06/05/2019 09:55:44
1364 forum posts
373 photos

I always wipe down the lathe to get rid of oil before starting with CI. I use an industrial vac afterwards and relube the ways. What fine dust that gets under the ways will mix with the oil and form a nice graphited lubrication medium. I use face masks of the surgical type - 50 for a fiver or so from ebay.

The bit that gets blackest though is the soles of my feet because my workshop foot ware of choice is a pair of old and thick crocs worn with no socks (I suffer from hot feet). Many is the time that lumps of heavy metal have bounced of these ugly old things and saved my tootsies.

After the jobs done its a shower and clean clobber. Wife has installed one of those plastic shower mats that is covered in plastic bristles which makes short work of purifying the soles of the unclean.


Thor06/05/2019 10:05:06
1275 forum posts
39 photos
Posted by Paul Lousick on 06/05/2019 07:25:30:

I have a machinist friend who hates turning cast iron as he is alergic to the dust. Care must also be taken if using a vacuum clenber (AKA Hoover) as the dust is electrically conductive and can short out the motor.


Forgot to mention that the dust end up in the water at the bottom of my old vacuum cleaner, so I have never had any short-circuit problems.


mechman4806/05/2019 10:13:59
2749 forum posts
423 photos

I've not had any major problems with machining CI; I tend to start with dry ways as best as possible as per Rick's comment. I have also got a vinyl apron attached to the saddle plus a smaller apron attached to the compound slide which helps deflect dust & chippings away from the bed ways, I also have a couple of neodymium magnets in small resealable plastic bags stuck on the cross slide, these then collect any extra particles & when I'm done I simply remove the magnets from the plastic bags & the chippings fall off into the bin I have next to the lathe.


Brian Oldford06/05/2019 10:36:23
684 forum posts
18 photos

If you have a lathe without a screw-on chuck try using an inverted tool and run the machine backwards. Or if it has a screw-on chuck use the tool in a rear tool post. The chips tend to be directed downwards and far less carbon/iron dust gets into the air.

Michael Gilligan06/05/2019 10:48:43
16363 forum posts
712 photos


... only five pages


Phil Whitley06/05/2019 17:35:11
1257 forum posts
147 photos

Whilst I think that it is very unlikely that even the most avid model engineer will suffer from what is commonly known as turners lung, I have a good friend who was working as a precision engineer (and loving it) till his employers got a contract to turn a large number of iron castings, and after suffering the black dust, cough etc for a few months, he quit! It always makes sense to wear a dust mask whenever there is dust of any sort in the atmoshphere. Indeed, sweeping up in my workshop (one of my favourite jobs) will set off my sinuses for a couple of days, so I tend to use a vacuum ( double filtered Dyson that my neighbour chucked out). When I am turning cast, I sheet the bed down with dust sheets and magnets, and use a strategically placed vac nozzle to take the dust away before it gets chance to settle. Did a rush job the other day, two discs for a Mazda, 10 minutes work, followed by an hour of cleaning down!

Howard Lewis06/05/2019 18:16:52
3605 forum posts
2 photos

When machining cast iron, I put a strong magnet under the point where the cut will take place, and cover it with newspaper. ( Ensure that it is kept clear of the chuck, or cutter ) The ferrous swarf is attracted by the magnet, and seems to take a lot of the graphite with it.

Afterwards, the paper is carefully folded, to contain the debris, before being removed, and disposed off. (My swarf goes into clean ex Soup/ Baked Bean tins. When nearly full, the lid is put back in place and the walls hammered down, a bit at time. Any escapees are dumped back into the chip tray, ready for the next clean up. The refilled tins go in the recycling.


I.M. OUTAHERE06/05/2019 18:25:09
1468 forum posts
3 photos

I jam the nozzle of my shop vac up on the cutting tool and it sucks 90% of the cast iron chips and dust away before it can make a mess , i cover the lathe bed with nappa leather held in place with magnets ( i put these in little plastic ziplock bags to make cleaning them easier ) . I also remove any oil off the slide ways so it doesn’t trap any dust and turn it into grinding paste !

I wear a mask , they are cheap insurance against respiratory issues .

Chris Evans 606/05/2019 20:00:33
1745 forum posts

Biggest problem I have with cast iron or any ferrous metal is the fine bits falling from clothing into the toilet. These seem to settle and rust/stain the limescale in the pan. No amount of brushing or bleaches seem to have any effect.

Any known remedy ?

Mike Poole06/05/2019 21:28:45
2743 forum posts
64 photos

I worked in a tool room that made dies for car body pressing, I was a sparky but the filth ignored that, the whole shop was thick with cast iron dust in all the places not easily reached except by us maintenance people. Oil and cast iron dust are a filthy combination. Apart from needing a shower and blowing your nose I don’t think anyone had any problems other than getting dirty. I don’t think any of the toolmakers had any unusual health problems but probably not to be recommended for anyone with respiratory problems. The guys on the spotting presses usually wore a basic dust mask but not a cartridge type just the simple throwaway ones.


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