The Axe is a Japanese inspired cloth face mask which can come in handy if you are chopping charcoal, playing ninja-and-seek, traveling, or appear to be navigating a worldwide crisis at the end-of-days. As well as gaining you entrance to the grocery store, a well made cotton mask can be surprisingly effective at filtering out many unwanted materials in the air from pollen to charcoal dust.
The name comes from the similarity of the pattern shape to an axe (ono in Japanese). Aside from a cool style, three important interconnected aspects of an effective mask are a proper fit, filtering ability, and breath-ability.
- A proper shape, size, and fit ensures that air goes through the mask rather than leaking around the edges.
- A material or combination of materials that have the ability to block more particles decreases exposure for the wearer.
- A less restricted airflow allows the wearer to breath easier and wear the mask comfortably for longer.
Other materials used for the mask are hair elastics or rubber bands for the ear straps and a short piece of malleable aluminum wire to form over the nose area. Note that two straps that go around the head work much better to create a seal, especially at the chin. The design has an internal pocket which can optionally hold an additional layer of material such as a poly-fiber hvac allergen/dust/pollen filter.
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Accurate fit is very important in order to get the maximum dust filtration value of the cloth in a mask. A pattern template is a starting point but making a prototype from scrap cloth or even paper is a good way to dial in the proper fit and size before making a mask. In terms of fit testing and seal, this pattern compares more to a surgical mask than a respirator design. This pattern uses a half template for the outside and a half template for the inside, two halves are cut from each to make one mask.
Pins should not be used to hold the fabric together in order to keep the fabric weave as tight as possible. Halves are joined together first, seams are ironed and topstitched down, then the edges of the inside (lining) fabric are folded and seamed.
Good side of the fabric should face inwards for the inside work stages. The front (self) and back (lining) are carefully aligned and joined together before turning right-side-out.
The mask is turned right-side-out by pulling it through one of the openings in the side of the pocket. A chopstick is used to ensure the fabric is fully opened around the edges. Ironing the edges flat prepares them for the next step of stitching around the outside edge. The width of the seam across the top must be large enough to fit the nose contour wire inside later.
Without a nose contour wire the mask will not seal very effectively. There are many options that could work, tin ties (from coffee bags), copper wire, pipe cleaner, heavy twist ties (but no paper for the wash), floral wire, folded strips of aluminum cans. Soft aluminum will not rust or poke through the cloth and is light and easy to bend. The wire shown below is 1.5-2.5mm (16-14awg) dead soft aluminum, edges filed or sanded round to remove sharp edges. Each time it is bent it will get harder by the process of work-hardening so it should be left as-is until the wearer is ready to fit it to their face.
At this stage the careful testing of a prototype will pay off. The finished mask should end just before the ears so that a small elastic loop can provide enough tension for proper fit. Note that though ear elastics are easy to wear, two tight straps that go around the head work much better to create a seal, especially at the chin.
Several materials may be useful for the straps as long as they are not too wide and not too tight on the ears. Hair elastics or rubber bands should be about the right length to go through the folded clean finished seams at the ends of the mask. Head straps work better when they have some stretch, particularly the lower of the two.
It won’t help coping with the tyranny of everyday life in the last-days, but for extra performance when charcoal chopping an appropriate filter material can be cut and placed inside the pocket of the mask. Some vacuum and hepa filters may contain glass fiber so careful research should be done before using a filter material for something other than the original intended purpose. There is a type of hvac ultra allergen furnace filter made from poly-fiber, of which some types are rated to capture very small particles (perhaps mpr 1500 or higher would be in the range of n80-n90).