I have the freedom to do whatever I want in my home since I live alone. When I purchased my house, I decided to turn my living room into a woodworking studio. This studio/living room is roughly the same size as a garage, measuring 10.5′ x 23.5′ with 10′ ceilings throughout the house. Maintaining dust control is crucial to keep the rest of my house clean. So, I faced the decision of choosing between a shop vac and a dust collector to minimize dust.
The studio is connected to my bedroom, study, and kitchen, with two of the rooms lacking doors that could block dust if needed. Moreover, as a woodworker with a wood dust allergy, I’m in a constant battle against wood chips.
What is a Dust Collector?
To control dust, there are two primary methods. The first involves using a shop vac or dust collector directly at the source, while the second employs an air filter/purifier to clean the entire space or room. I find that using a dust collector to capture dust at the source is more effective. Once dust is floating in the air, settling on your belongings, and entering your lungs, it’s already too late.
When it comes to removing dust at the source, most people choose between a shop vac and a dust collector. However, there is a third option: a dust collector. Dust collectors are the most efficient and provide the cleanest air. They are commonly used in hospitals, museums, and clean rooms due to their HEPA filters and exceptional air purification capabilities. Since dust can be carcinogenic, using a dust collector on construction sites is crucial to remove concrete dust at the source. In the woodworking industry, dust collectors excel at filtering out ultrafine dust particles that may escape a shop vac or regular vacuum.
Use a Dust Collector on Individual Tools with Small Particles
Festool, Bosch, and Makita manufacture excellent dust collectors. Makita even offers a cordless duster that operates on two 18V batteries, providing versatility. These dust extractors can be directly attached to tools like grinders, miter saws, circular saws, or sanders using the appropriate attachments or guards. Connecting my Festool track saw to a dust extractor significantly reduces the dust generated during cutting.
Dust extractors work exceptionally well with handheld power tools that have built-in dust collection ports. However, they are not suitable for tools with large 2-1/2″ dust ports, such as many miter saws, table saws, band saws, and other stationary equipment. Though you can find adapters and hoses to connect the dust extractor to stationary power tools, I prefer not to use such makeshift setups. In this scenario, a shop vac or dust collector is a better solution.
The price of a dust collector can be a drawback. Typically, it costs three to four times more than a shop vac, ranging from $400 to $600. However, the additional cost is justified by the built-in technology, including HEPA filters, self-cleaning filters, and auto-start features, which enhance their performance.
What is a Shop Vac?
In my limited workspace, I have a dust extractor for my track saw near the workbench. However, I rely on a dedicated shop vac for my miter saw. During the electrical rewiring of my house, the electrician installed a separate circuit for my 15-amp miter saw. To avoid tripping the breaker, I run my shop vac (positioned below the miter saw) on a separate circuit. When moving my shop vac and miter saw to job sites, I connect them to different circuits using two extension cords to prevent breaker trips.
A shop vacuum works well in conjunction with stationary tools. However, you’ll need to empty the vacuum more frequently compared to a dust collector. A 16-gallon shop vac can fill up quickly when handling a few planks at a time. Dust collectors, on the other hand, typically have a large collection bag, such as a 55-gallon bucket or even a trash can, which can be purchased at a big box store. While even the best shop vacuums may not possess the same level of filtering power as small dust collectors, they are still capable of effectively picking up most dust.
A useful accessory for a shop vac is an automatic power-on device that activates the vacuum when you turn on a corded power tool. These devices work well but be cautious not to overload your circuit breaker. Keep in mind that they don’t function with cordless tools unless you have a system compatible with proprietary Bluetooth modules.
Using the Shop Vac as a (Small) Dust Collector
Even in large workshops equipped with built-in dust extractors, shop vacuums still serve a purpose. Installing ductwork and dust collectors for each tool can become costly, making it more practical to purchase a dedicated shop vac for a specific tool in a hard-to-reach corner. In this way, you can essentially use the shop vac as a miniature dust collector.
Shop Vacs & Miter Saw Dusters
Miter saws tend to create a significant amount of dust. The issue lies not with the shop vacuum but with the miter saw itself. Even with the best dust collectors, they tend to scatter dust everywhere. If minimal dust is necessary in environments like my studio or a client’s home, additional solutions, such as the Fastcap Saw Hood, can be employed. I have personally reviewed this product, and it effectively contains sawdust within a tent-like structure placed behind the saw. When combined with a shop vac or dust collector, it further reduces dust. The Fastcap Saw Hood also works well with tile saws to prevent messy work areas.
Ductwork Dusting Kit for Shop Vacuums (Hamster Habitat)
Kits, like those offered by Powertec, enable you to transform your shop vac into a miniature dust collector using clear tubes, elbows, fittings, and blast doors. While the shop vacuum remains stationary, the pipes are connected to the walls and ceiling, linking all the fixed tools. To ensure successful operation, it’s essential to have a straight main line without bends. From the main line, shorter hoses can be connected directly to each tool. This setup might make it seem like there’s a giant hamster habitat in your workshop!
Make Your Shop Vacuum More Efficient With Cyclone Filters
One worthwhile upgrade for your shop vacuum is a cyclone attachment. Dust Deputy is particularly popular in this regard. The cyclone filter attaches to a 5-gallon bucket and sits between your tools and the shop vac. Dust and debris first pass through the cyclone filter, with heavier particles falling into the bucket, while the remaining particles proceed to the shop vacuum. Consequently, the cyclone filter captures approximately 98% of the dust in the 5-gallon bucket, extending the operating efficiency of your shop vac.
Shopping for Vacuums and Dust Collectors – Time to Grow?
Once your workshop expands and you add a sufficient number of tools, it may be time to consider transitioning to a dust collector. While mobile dust collectors are available, they somewhat defeat the purpose. Dust collectors are designed to be installed in inconspicuous locations, possibly even in separate rooms or outside, to minimize noise disruption.
Most dust collectors are positioned on the floor, but there are also wall-mounted options. Before making a purchase, ensure that replacement filters are readily available. Additionally, consider how easy it is to empty the collection bag. Noise output (measured in dB) is another critical factor to consider. For continuous operation, it’s best not to exceed 70 dB.
Dust collectors may include features like sweepers if they possess sufficient airflow (measured in CFM). These sweepers enable you to sweep dust and debris towards floor vents, where they are automatically sucked up. No more bending over or using a dustpan!
The Bottom Line
When deciding between vacuum cleaners and dust collectors, opt for a shop vacuum if your workshop is small. If you have a larger workshop, consider investing in a dust collector and perhaps a shop vacuum or two. When you’re ready to take the leap financially, connect the dust collector to your track saw, hand sander, biscuit joiner, and more. Dust collectors are also invaluable when working on-site at a client’s home or in any situation where precision is required.