Once you start woodworking, you will soon realize that sawdust gets everywhere and a broom alone is probably not enough of a solution. Not only is having a system in place to deal with dust important for the air quality of your shop and what you are breathing, but I actually feel more productive in a clean shop without sawdust all over everything.
Large workshops will have large, stationary dust extractors with custom duct work running to each power tool. This is the best way to keep your shop and air clean.
Why this system like that might not be the best solution for your shop.
It’s expensive. You can spend thousands of dollars installing and outfitting a complete dust extraction system. Second, you really need a dedicated shop space and stationary tools to make it work. If you work in a small garage like I do, having tools that are mobile is a necessity. I move around my tablesaw and router table all the time. This is even more of an issue for those of you who have to share space with a car. For hobbyists and weekend builders, there is another, more affordable solution.
- Rigid 4 Gallon Shop-Vac Mine is slightly different, purchased at Home Depot. Don’t get anything less than 5 horsepower.
- Mini Cyclone Dust Collector This is the Dust Deputy, much more affordable than my Clear Vue. I’ve used both and there isn’t any real difference in quality.
Start with a Shop Vac
For years, the heart of my dust collection has been this large, 16 gallon shop vac. If you do nothing else about dust collection, I recommend at least using a shop vac. It will make woodworking a far more pleasant experience.
All power tools will have some sort of dust extraction port and it’s a simple matter to attach a vacuum hose. You’ll be surprised how much sawdust a shop vac removes. Plus a shop vac is great for cleaning up all over the shop. And you can use it for lots of other handy purposes such as cleaning the interior of your car or switch the hose around and it becomes a blower.
A few years ago I added a mini cyclone to my shop vac. Over time, the plastic lid and seals deteriorated, so I just added a new one. The way a cyclone works is simple: you hook it up to your shop vac and collect the sawdust in a bucket rather than in the shop vac.
The dust goes in horizontally, spins around, and about 99% of it drops into the bucket rather than into your shop vac.
Why add a stage before a shop vac?
There are a lot of advantages to collecting the sawdust before it goes into the vacuum. The most important part of a shop vac is its filter which collects the dust particles and lets clean air blow out. These filters get clogged very quickly under normal use, which reduces the vacuum’s suction power.
By adding a stage before the vacuum, the filter stays clean and the vacuum retains its power.
Another benefit is being about to see how much sawdust you have collected and easily dump the bucket. When I used just the vac, it was amazing how often I would experience no suction power only to realize that the container was completely full of sawdust. I’m surprised I didn’t burn the motor out.
A cyclone is cumbersome
One problem with using the mini cyclone is that it can be cumbersome and difficult to move around. My old cyclone bolted into the side of the shop vac and it was always awkward to maneuver.
Another problem with this setup is my 16 gallon shop vac. Since I am not collecting sawdust in it, it’s a lot of wasted space. So, mine was showing signs of aging, I decided to upgrade to a much smaller unit. I bought this 4 gallon vac, but still has the same horsepower.
Building a roll-around dust collection cart
To make the shop vac and cyclone easy to move around my shop, I built a simple cart: just a basic box, really. I started by removing all the wheels from the shop vac.
The key to making this work was taking careful measurements of my the two components so they would fit tightly together without wobbling, sliding, or tipping.
I made everything with 3/4″ plywood and used glue and screws to hold it together. I cut a hole in one end to accommodate the hose.
I attached the casters that came with the cyclone bucket to the bottom of the cart.
My measurements worked out well and the two pieces fit nicely. However, the bucket is smaller than the width of the shop vac and slides side to side.
To create a snug fit, I added some cleats to the floor of the cart that the bottom of the bucket can drop into.
Since the cyclone is top-heavy, I added some cleats on the top of the cart to prevent it from tipping when I pulled it from the hose. The cross brace will need to be removed whenever I need to change the filter in the vacuum. That won’t be very often since most of the dust will be stopped before getting to it.
Finally, I drilled a small hole in the side for the power cord to thread through.
There is not really much to these plans, and you will most likely need to modify them to fit whatever size bucket and shop vac you have.