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Newsletter Article: Small Shop Dust Collection Solutions

Small Shop Dust Collection Solutions

Sawdust, especially fine sawdust, is extremely hazardous to your lungs.  Even short-term exposure can have seriously negative effects on your health.  Not to mention, that the sawdust from some species of wood are known carcinogens or have high toxicity levels.  This makes dust collection in your small workshop essential to your health, plus it keeps your shop clean.

Many woodworkers, like me, have tiny workshops that do not have room for large dust collection systems, or you cannot afford a robust collection system with ducting, blast gates, and a centralized dust collector.  This article is all about small and low-cost dust collection solutions.

The design principles for a small shop dust collection are the same as for a large shop, that being you want to capture the dust at its source and not let it get airborne.  The big difference with small shop and low-cost systems is that instead of installing a ducting system that brings the dust to a powerful collector, you can significantly reduce space and cost requirements by bringing the dust collector to the tool producing the dust.  The simple answer is to buy a quality shop vacuum and accessorize it to capture the dust from all your tools. The trick is to make it mobile and able to connect to all your dust producing tools.

The Shop Vacuum.  A robust shop vacuum is essential.  I recommend at least a peak 5 hp shop vacuum (more powerful is better) with a 2-1/2 inch OD hose.  You should plan on spending $100 to $300 just on the vacuum.  Do not skimp here; this is the heart of your system. It’s also nice to get a quiet vacuum since you’re already in a confined space.  One of the best and quietest shop vacuums is Fein, they are about twice the price of a big box store vacuum but well worth it if you can afford it.



Shop Vacuum Accessories.  Any shop Vacuum you get will need to be “souped-up” to effectively get rid of the dangerous fine dust.  Replace the stock filter with an OSHA rated HEPA filter and add a cyclonic filter bag to your vacuums to keep all the dust from escaping out the exhaust port ($30-$40).


Dust Separator.  Turn your shop vacuum into a two-stage system by adding a dust separator.   This will separate all but the finest dust before it reaches your vacuum, preventing your shop vacuum’s filter from clogging up and helping you get rid of the sawdust easier. There are several tiny dust separators typically made for 5-gallon buckets available on the market.  I use a Clear-Vue cyclone separator on my system but there are several other good systems.  Dust Deputy from Oneida comes to mind, and even Home Depot sells a separator that mates to their 5-gallon Homer Buckets. Expect to pay $50 - $100+ for the separator.


Mobility.  The separator and the shop vacuum must be moved from tool to tool.  The key is to making moving the vacuum and separator around very convenient.  I recommend building a custom cart that will fit these two components plus the hoses, and other attachments you will use with the system.  Below is a picture of my system, and some others that may inspire your creativity.





Good Hose.  I have never been impressed with any of the stock vacuum hoses that comes with a new vacuum.  They are too flimsy and not long enough.  I always replace mine with a heavy duty, long hose that will stand up to me dragging it around the shop all the time.  I personally use Home Depot’s pro-grade hose ($40) and it works very well for me. 



Hose connections.  Finally, your system needs to be able to connect to every dust producing tool you have in the shop.  You don’t want to be messing around with changing hoses and fittings all the time so I recommend outfitting all your tools with a port to fit your vacuum hose.  You can find lots of fittings online to match with whatever tool you have.  For my smaller tools (Hand sander, circular saw) I use Rockler’s Dust Right Flexi adapters.


Good Dust Mask.  Sometimes your system just cannot get all the dust, my benchtop planer comes to mind.  When this is the case, I reach for my Elipse Respirator OV/P100 M/L3M dust respirator (about $50). I prefer a respirator to a mask as a respirator fits the face better and filters out finer dust particles. 



Broom and Dustpan.  And you cannot get away without a good broom and a dustpan.  I love my big 17- inch, aluminum dustpan I got from Home Depot for about $12.

I hope this helped you with either some ideas or products for your small shop or low cost dust system.