by Steven D. Johnson
(Page 2 of 4)
Tack Cloth Replacement
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
Do you use tack cloths to remove dust before applying a finish? I did until a couple of years ago. In fact, I made my own tack cloths… it's easy, and my Dad would have laughed at the thought of someone buying a "ready-made" tack cloth. Of course Dad was frugal and he could never have imagined a day when time is as valuable as it is today. Neither here nor there… if you use tack cloths you probably don't love them. I used them for forty-plus years, but I never loved using a tack cloth. It was simply one of those things you "have to do" so there was really no reason to think about it much.
Figure 3 - Compare these two photos and it is easy to see
the dust picked up by a light wipe with the microfiber cloth
Then one day I wiped a microfiber cloth across a board and looked at the amount of dust it captured and was stunned. Amazed, actually. And all that dust was removed without imparting a sticky feel to my hands and the possibility of any incompatible chemical residue on my ready-for-finish wood. What the heck? Who kept this secret from me???
It turns out that using a microfiber cloth for dust removal was something many smart woodworkers figured out a long time ago. I suppose I missed the blog post, tip, or article. Shame on me. If you missed it, too, please read on.
Microfiber cloths tenaciously suck up dust without leaving any residue. They can be used and reused virtually indefinitely, are relatively inexpensive, won't scratch your delicate work (see caution below), absorb oil like a sponge, and impart no lint or dust. Microfiber cloths are typically made of polyester or polyester combined with polyamide. The ends of the microfibers are split and it is this presence of millions of microscopically small (3 – 5 micron) filaments that enhance the Van Der Waals attraction force and make dust and dirt cling. In fact, microfiber cloths are very effective at removing even bacteria, up to 99% in some tests, without chemicals.
Figure 4 - This three frame sequence shows the
"rag snap" and the dust that is released
Microfiber cloths are available in a variety of colors, so I have dark and light cloths… the darker ones I use on lighter colored woods to make the dust easier to see, and the lighter cloths work well when sanding walnut, zebrawood, and the like. For wiping away the dust from sanding between coats of finish, the darker colors are perfect. Near the end of a finishing routine, I often use steel wool, and I have a few white microfiber cloths that pick up and easily show any small remnants of steel left behind.
Significant sanding dust can be shaken out of a microfiber cloth. Use a snapping motion, sort of like the action you might use to crack a whip. When done correctly, and with appropriate vigor, the opposite corner of the rag will audibly pop. The pop is caused by the corner of the rag achieving a movement speed exceeding the speed of sound… it is, in effect, a tiny sonic boom. Snap the rag from all four corners, turn the rag around and repeat, and the result is a cleaner (though not totally clean) rag, ready to suck up more dust. I do this outside, positioned so that the prevailing breeze carries the dust away from me… or if it is a totally still day, I wear my
Elipse P-100 Dust Mask.
Since microfiber cloths tenaciously attract and hold dirt, make sure that rags are completely clean before using them on a delicate surface. If some prior wiping chore picked up a hard piece of dirt or a tiny fragment of metal, it could scratch the next surface you clean. I use new or just-washed microfiber cloths to clean camera lenses and computer screens, then they go into the pile I use as "tack cloths."
Microfiber cloths can be washed, but great care must be taken to use detergents free of perfumes, oils, or anything else. A better choice is to simply place the rags in a pot of boiling water and slosh them around a bit. The hot water causes the microfibers in the cloths to straighten a bit and release any dirt and dust that is clinging to the microscopic fibers. Hang them up to dry, it only takes a few minutes. Putting them in the clothes dryer is unnecessary, and there is the possibility they will pick up stray lint and dust from the dryer.
Microfiber cloths vary in quality and efficiency, driven principally by the weave and the size of the fibers. The Norton Red Dry Tack Cloth
sold by Highland Woodworking can be counted on to be high quality and very efficient. The bargain microfiber cloths sold at discount retailers and big-box stores are hit-or-miss. Sometimes they can be quite good, other times, not so much. If you run across a bargain, try it out… the worst that can happen is that you will relegate those less efficient microfiber cloths to other cleaning chores. They will likely still be very good for dusting machinery or cleaning windows.
(Page 2 of 4)