Small-scale Dust Collection
Dust collection is essential to keeping your shop and lungs clean, but not every shop has the space, nor every craftsman the budget, for a large dust collector. Most shop vacuums can be had for under $150, substantially less than many dust collectors.
Although a shop vacuum can't substitute for a whole-shop dust collector (it's limited by its capacity, power, and filtration), it excels at capturing dust from a single tool. In fact, for portable power tools requiring a small-diameter hose, a shop vacuum might be your only dust-collection option. Plus, it's highly mobile, so it scoots easily around a small shop.
When selecting a vacuum, consider the size you'll need. You can find models in sizes as large as 22 gallons or as small as 11⁄2 gallons. Although larger, more powerful vacuums work with even the smallest tools, they may prove unwieldy in some situations—such as when sanding a panel with a random-orbit sander—whereas a smaller vacuum can be easily carried or placed atop a workbench. Here, we show how to use a vac in three different dust-collection situations, plus some of our favorite accessories.
For chip-making machines
A large-volume vac (top photo) can service a router table or portable planer. One with a 21⁄2 " hose reduces clogs, works well for general cleanup, hooks to benchtop and stationary machines, and can handle large wood chips.
Recommended accessory: Chip separator
A separator traps heavier dust and chips in a secondary container, allowing only the finest dust to reach the vacuum. This means your filters stay cleaner for a longer time, ensuring maximum air flow, and reduces the frequency of vacuum-bag changes (saving money). Place a separator in line with a tool that generates lots of chips, such as a router table or portable planer.
Capture coarse sawdust
Connect tools generating dust of smaller size than that of a planer or router table to a smaller vacuum and smaller-diameter hose. However, a long run of flexible vacuum hose creates more air resistance your vacuum must overcome to draw air through it. Corrugated hose is already more likely to become plugged up by chips and shavings than straight-walled pipe, or 6" hoses found on larger dust collectors. Short runs of corrugated hose offer their own advantages, though: They can be coiled up tightly, and their flexibility makes them ideally suited for mobile tools.
Recommended accessory: Auto-switch
To make turning the vac on and off completely automatic, consider a tool-triggered switch. The vacuum fires up when you turn on the connected tool, then runs a few extra seconds after the tool is turned off to clear the hose of dust and chips.
Recommended accessory: Port adapters
With no industry standard for hose diameters (you'll find 21⁄2 ", 17⁄8 ", 11⁄2 ", and 11⁄4 " diameters), it's no surprise that there are no universal standards for dust-collection ports on small tools, either. An adapter, such as this one, connects mismatched hoses and ports.
Best for fine dust
Tiny dust, such as that generated by sanders, moves easily through hoses and requires little airflow. A small vacuum with a 11⁄4 " hose will do the job, cost less, and take less space.
Recommended accessory: Finer filter
To improve the dust collection of your shop vacuum, replace the factory air filter with a HEPA filter. These use a superfine mesh to trap even the smallest airborne particulates. Many manufacturers carry HEPA filter replacements on their websites.
A disposable collection/filtration bag mounts to the vacuum's intake port and wraps around the filter to trap most of the debris. Using one, or a cloth filter bag, in tandem with a fine filter greatly reduces the amount of dust particles returned to the air.