I live alone so this means I can do what I want at home without having to ask my spouse for permission. When I bought a house, I wanted my living room to be my woodworking studio. My studio/living room is about the size of a garage – 10.5' x 23.5' with 10' ceilings throughout the house. Dust control is critical to keeping the rest of my house clean. I had to make a choice, shop vac or dust collector to reduce dust.
My bedroom, study and kitchen doors lead to the studio. Two of the rooms didn't even have doors, which I could close to keep dust out if I wanted to. Did I mention I'm a woodworker with a wood dust allergy! I'm basically at war with wood chips.
Table of contents
- What is a dust collector?
- Use a dust collector on individual tools with small particles
- What is a vacuum cleaner?
- Auto power on (tool start)
- Using the Shop Vac as a (Small) Dust Collector
- Shop Vacs & Miter Saw Dusters
- Ductwork Dusting Kit for Shop Vacuums (Hamster Habitat)
- Make Your Shop Vacuum More Efficient With Cyclone Filters
- Shopping for Vacuums and Dust Collectors – Time to Grow?
- the bottom line
What is a dust collector?
There are two ways to control dust. The first happens at the source, with a shop vacuum or dust collector. The second uses an air filter/purifier to filter an entire space or room. I find it more efficient to use a dust collector to capture the dust at the source. Once it's in the air, on your stuff, and in your lungs, it's too late.
When it comes to removing dust at source, most people choose either a shop vac or a dust collector. However, there is a third option – a dust collector. The dust collector is the most efficient and the air is the cleanest. Hospitals, museums and clean rooms use them for their HEPA filters and the highest level of air purification performance. Because the dust is carcinogenic, use a dust collector on the job site to remove concrete dust at source. In the woodworking trade, they do the best job of filtering out ultrafine dust particles that can escape from a shop vac or regular vacuum.
Use a dust collector on individual tools with small particles
Festool, Bosch and Makita make excellent dust collectors. Makita's duster even runs on two 18V batteries, so it can go anywhere. With the appropriate attachment or guard, these dust extractors can be inserted directly into tools such as grinders, miter saws, circular saws or sanders. Attaching one to my Festool track saw significantly reduces the amount of dust generated from cutting.
Dust extractors work very well with hand-held power tools that have built-in dust collection ports. They are not a good solution for tools with large 2-1/2" dust ports, such as many miter saws, table saws, band saws, or other stationary equipment. While you can technically find Frankenstein adapters and hoses together to make the duster work on stationary power tools, I couldn't find one. I choose to see it as a flag that shouldn't be used in this way! A better solution is a shop vacuum or dust collector.
If there's anything else wrong with the dust collector, it's the price. It typically costs 3 to 4 times as much as a shop vacuum. You can pay anywhere from $400 to $600. They have a lot of technology built in, such as HEPA filters, self-cleaning filters, and auto-start features, which makes them more expensive.
What is a vacuum cleaner?
In my limited space, I have a duster for the track saw near the workbench. However, I use a dedicated shop vac for my miter saw. When I was rewiring my house, the electrician installed a dedicated circuit for my miter saw that draws 15 amps. My shop vac (located below my miter saw) runs on a separate circuit so it doesn't trip the breaker when I use them at the same time. Whenever I move my shop vac and miter saw to the job site, I always use two extension cords and connect to two different circuits to avoid tripping the breaker.
A shop vacuum with a stationary tool works fairly well. You will have to empty the vacuum more often than you would with a dust collector. A 16-gallon shop vac can be filled with a few planks at a time. Dust collectors have a large collection bag, sometimes a 55 gallon bucket or even a trash can at a big box store. Even the best shop vacuums don't have as much filtering power as a small dust collector. Dust collectors are capable of sucking in air and dust at greater CFM (cubic feet per minute). However, shop vacuums are strong enough to pick up most dust.
A great accessory for a shop vacuum is a device that automatically turns the vacuum on when you turn on a corded power tool. These work fine – just don't overload your circuit breaker. And, of course, they won't work with cordless tools unless you have a system compatible with proprietary Bluetooth modules.
Most dust collectors have this AC outlet built into them. Because it can take longer to start, it's common to simply leave the larger pipe collector open while you work. Some of them have remote controls that you can keep in your pocket or shop apron. I tend to lose things like this while I'm at work, so I'll soon install a switch on the wall near the tool to turn the duster on and off.
Using the Shop Vac as a (Small) Dust Collector
Even in large workshops with built-in dust extractors, workshop vacuums still have their place. Hardwiring every tool in the shop with all the ductwork required for a large dust collector is usually not cost-effective. Sometimes it may be easier to buy a dedicated shop vac for a separate tool in the corner that is difficult to attach to the dust collector. In this way, you can finally use the shop vac as a small vacuum.
Shop Vacs & Miter Saw Dusters
The miter saw is completely dusty. The problem isn't the shop vacuum; it's the miter saw. They blow dust everywhere, even with the best dust collectors. If you're in an environment like my studio or a client's home and need to keep dust to a minimum, there are solutions like the Fastcap Saw Hood, which I reviewed. It keeps the dust in a tent that surrounds the back of the saw. When combined with a shop vac or dust collector, it removes even more dust. It also works with a tile saw to keep messes at bay.
Ductwork Dusting Kit for Shop Vacuums (Hamster Habitat)
There are kits, such as those made by Powertec, that have clear tubes, elbows, fittings and blast doors that can turn your shop vac into a miniature dust collector. The shop vacuum is in a fixed position, while the pipe is connected to the wall and ceiling, connecting all fixed tools. The key to using these systems successfully is to have a straight main line with no bends. Then use shorter hoses from the main line directly to each tool. Finally, it looks like you have a pet hamster living in your store with a giant railing!
Make Your Shop Vacuum More Efficient With Cyclone Filters
One worthwhile upgrade you can make to your vacuum cleaner is a cyclone attachment. Perhaps the most popular is Dust Offhand. The cyclone filter attaches to a 5 gallon bucket and sits between your tools and the shop vac. Dust and debris go to the cyclone filter first, all the heavy particles fall into the 5 gallon bucket, and then the rest goes to the shop vacuum. The result is a cyclone filter that captures approximately 98% of the dust in a 5 gallon bucket, allowing the filter to stay on and run more efficiently on your shop vac.
Shopping for Vacuums and Dust Collectors – Time to Grow?
Once your shop gets big enough and you have a certain number of fixtures, it's time to consider switching to a vacuum. You can get a mobile duster, but that kind of defeats the purpose of having one. The dust collector is designed to be installed in an out-of-the-way location, possibly even in another room or outside, so you don't have to listen to the noise.
Most dust collectors are placed on the floor, but some are wall mounted. Before buying, make sure you can still buy replacement filters for it. You also want something that makes it easy to empty the bag. Also, check the noise output (dB level) to make sure it's not too loud. I wouldn't go above 70 dB for something that will run continuously.
Dust collectors can include features like sweepers if they move enough air (with enough CFM). These allow you to sweep dust and debris to vents on the floor where it automatically sucks everything up. No more bending over, no more using a dustpan!
the bottom line
When it comes to shopping for vacuum cleaners vs. vacuum cleaners, choose a vacuum cleaner if your shop is small. If you have a large shop, buy a duster and maybe a vacuum or two. When you're ready to make the financial leap, attach the dust collector to your track saw, hand sander, cookie cutter, and more. Dust collectors are also helpful if you're working on-site at a client's home or anytime you're specific.