I've received a lot of comments over the years about how clean my shop is. I'm not a neat freak by any means but I know how much more efficiently I can work in a clean shop. Wood dust is definitely a health concern and we are becoming more aware of that in recent years. In addition to being bad for your health, wood dust is also time consuming to clean up. The more dust you can capture at the source, the better off you are. Less time cleaning up means more time woodworking and doing what you love. As a professional, in my case and in many others it also means more production time which means more profit.
At 19'x23' my shop is a relatively small space, basically a double car garage. In a space this size, I haven't found it to be worth while to install a central dust collection system. What I use is a combination of stationary and portable collection machines that provide some very effective dust collection without breaking the bank. In this article I will cover all of the systems that I use and how I use them to keep my shop clean. You can also watch the accompanying DP Shop Talk episode at the bottom of the article to learn more.
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For my stationary dust collector I use a basic 1 HP unit that is connected to an Onieda Super Dust Deputy. This setup gets used with any machines that have a 4" collection port such as the table saw or thickness planer. There is nothing special about the collector itself but what I have done to maximize air flow is replace the typical plastic bag on the bottom with a felt filter bag. By having the canister filter on top and the filter bag on the bottom it maximizes the filter area which maximizes the air flow. This is a cost effective way to get the most out of your basic 1 HP dust collector. Sort of like turbo charging it for maximum performance. Just don't be surprised if you find that small animals or household pets disappear from the sheer power of your supercharged dust collector...
Now the reason I can get away with having essentially two filters on the dust collector is that almost all of the dust (both coarse and fine), gets separated out by the Super Dust Deputy cyclone. The dust gets separated by the cyclonic action and drops into the steel drum below. By separating out the dust like this before it reaches the dust collector, it keeps the filters clean which keeps the suction power at it's maximum. I used to use the dust collector by itself but got frustrated with always cleaning out the filter, so I added the cyclone which made a world of difference. I line the inside of the metal drum with a clear plastic contractors bag to make dust disposal quick and easy. If you're going to use a bag under a cyclone separator though, you need something inside of the bag to keep its form otherwise the bag will just be sucked up inside the cyclone. I use a simple round frame made out of plastic coated wire inside of mine. I just pull out the frame before I put the bag in the garbage. The cyclone itself is just mounted to a simple shop made lid which sits on top of the bin. I use a foam seal made from a couple pieces of pipe insulation for the lid to sit on to get a tighter seal.
How the Stationary Setup is Used
So now that you know what powers the 4" dust collection hose I'll explain how I use it. Like I mentioned earlier I haven't found the need to set up a central system in my smaller shop spaces, although I have in the past for larger shops I've worked for. The key to making this work is to set up the machines that require 4" dust collection close to the dust collector or at least make them easily portable. So in my case, the table saw is set up next to the dust collector which gets by far the most use out of my machines that require 4" collection. The flex hose that comes from the Super Dust Deputy simply plugs into the bottom of the table saw. If I need to use my portable thickness planer I can easily move it behind the table saw and plug the hose into it. I haven't set up my 8" jointer yet in this shop since I haven't had much need for it lately, but when I do it's on a mobile base so it can be easily moved to within reach of the dust collector hose.
For the rest of my tools that have smaller dust collection ports on them, I use a combination of two portable collectors. One is the Bosch VAC090S dust extractor and the other is a regular Shop Vac with a Dust Deputy cyclone kit. Both of these collectors can be easily moved around the shop to wherever they are needed. In general, you get much better dust collection performance with vacuum-type collectors like these on tools with smaller dust ports. When you step down to a smaller hose or port from a bigger dust collection line (4" or bigger), you lose velocity in that smaller line and some dust collection efficiency is lost. I won't go into the physics of dust collection air movement in this article, but the takeaway is that in general it's better to use a vacuum-type collector for smaller tools. The other vacuum that I use around the shop and is worth mentioning is the Bosch VAC120 12v cordless vacuum. It's very handy for cleaning up smaller amounts of dust and excels at hardware installation. You can watch my full video review here to learn more about the 12V vac.
The Bosch dust extractor is what I use on all of my smaller portable power tools like sanders, routers, saws etc. I also use it for some of my bigger tools like the miter saw or band saw since they have smaller dust ports on them. If you're interested in the Bosch VAC090S dust extractor you can watch my full video review here. Whenever I'm using hand-held power tools with the dust extractor, I use them at my Multi Purpose Table (MPT) along with the dust hose arm accessory which takes the weight off the hose and allows for unrestricted movement. Learn more about the MPT and how you can build your own here.
The Bosch extractor also gets used at the table saw to power the overarm dust collector that I built. By using both the stationary dust collector and the Bosch extractor together, I can get maximum collection efficiency. The stationary collector gets hooked up to the bottom of the saw for the main collection and the Bosch extractor gets hooked up to the overarm for the over-table collection. The same principle applies here where the smaller diameter of the overarm pipe and hose benefits from the higher velocity suction of the vacuum-style extractor. For additional table saw dust collection upgrades you can read my article '4 Table Saw Dust Collection Upgrades'.
Shop Vac & Cyclone
The second portable setup that I use is a regular Shop Vac along with a Dust Deputy kit. I had this setup before I bought the Bosch extractor and it still has its place in the shop. I added a canister type HEPA filter to the Shop Vac but other than that the vac is just standard issue. I made a couple wooden blocks that have the curve of the vac and the curve of the Dust Deputy bucket in them to register them together. The blocks are screwed on to the outer Dust Deputy bucket and then the Shop Vac and Dust Deputy are held together with a ratcheting tie down strap. This setup makes it quick and easy to separate the two units.
The Shop Vac and Dust Deputy setup gets used mainly with my router table and portable table saw since they have larger 2 1/4" diameter ports and generally create larger volumes of dust. The Dust Deputy works well dealing with larger volumes since it separates the dust out into the bucket and it's quick and easy to dump the bucket out. Just like the Super Dust Deputy that I use with my stationary dust collector, this smaller Dust Deputy separates out the coarse and fine dust before it reaches the vac which keeps the filter clean. A clean filter is key to getting good dust collection since it keeps the suction power at it's maximum. I also use the vac and cyclone setup on site sometimes for dirty cleanup jobs such as drywall dust. Make sure you watch the accompanying DP Shop Talk episode at the bottom to see the cyclone in action.
Portable Systems Compared
Out of the two portable systems that I use, the Bosch gets used the most. The reason for that is the Bosch is quieter, more powerful and is less cumbersome to move around since it's smaller. The size difference is especially important when I'm traveling to a job site. I also like the fact that I can dock my L-Boxxes on top of the Bosch extractor. Now you might be wondering why I don't use the Dust Deputy with the Bosch vac seeing as it separates the dust so well. That is for several reasons. First, the cyclone adds extra bulk which I don't want most of the time, second, I use a reusable fleece bag in the Bosch which pre-filters the dust and keeps the main filter clean, and third, cyclones create static which can damage higher end dust extractors with electronics in them like the Bosch. Having said that, I still like having the Shop Vac and Dust Deputy setup for the applications that I mentioned above. If I didn't have the Bosch extractor and only had the Shop Vac though, I would never use the Shop Vac without the Dust Deputy. The cyclone makes a huge difference with a standard Shop Vac.
The final component to my small shop dust collection system is an ambient air cleaner that hangs from the ceiling. This helps capture any airborne dust that the primary collectors didn't get. It has three speed settings as well as a timer which is handy since I can set it to run for a period of time after I leave the shop to get any dust that is left in the air. It has a two stage filter system inside so the dusty air is drawn in one end and clean air is exhausted out of the other end. I hung the air cleaner close to one wall of the shop so that it creates a circular air movement around the shop which makes for efficient filtration. Using an ambient air cleaner like this helps keep dust from settling on surfaces around the shop which contributes to a cleaner shop space.
The Other Half of the Equation
Having great dust collection machines that run at peak efficiency is only half of the equation. You need to have good dust collection ports and shrouds on the tools that you use in order to get the best possible dust collection. A lot of the newer power tools that have come out have great dust collection ports built into them, but some are also a little lacking. Then you also have some older power tools that don't have dust collection ports at all. That's why I've designed and built several dust collection focused jigs like the dustless jigsaw table, circular saw cross cut jig and the table saw overarm dust collector. These shop-made devices help get the maximum dust collection performance from the tools they are used with. I've also made upgrades to the dust collection on my miter saws and trim router which will be featured in upcoming episodes of DP Shop Talk. If you're not already, make sure you subscribe to the DP Shop Talk YouTube channel and sign up for my free email newsletter to be kept up-to-date with all of the latest content including dust collection upgrades.
With a little bit of creativity and ingenuity, the dust collection on most tools can be upgraded fairly easily. The benefits of great dust collection are well worth the time invested in setting up and upgrading your collection capability. Your shop will become a healthier and more productive space.
Here are the related DP Shop Talk episodes that focus on dust collection including the episode that goes along with this article (first video in the list). Below the videos you can find links to related products that I use and recommend for dust collection. Also make sure you leave your comments, ideas and questions in the comments box at the bottom, let's get some shop talk going about dust collection!
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