Affordable Dust Extraction for Home Workshops

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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.

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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.

My components

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.

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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.

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Mini Cyclone

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.

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The vacuum connects to the top port and sucks the air through the unit. The hose you use for sucking up sawdust attaches to the side-facing port.

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The dust goes in horizontally, spins around, and about 99% of it drops into the bucket rather than into your shop vac.

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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.

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Shop vac filter filled with sawdust

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I attached the casters that came with the cyclone bucket to the bottom of the cart.

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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.

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To create a snug fit, I added some cleats to the floor of the cart that the bottom of the bucket can drop into.

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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.

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Perfect snug fit

Finally, I drilled a small hole in the side for the power cord to thread through.

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Plans

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.

 

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. First- Thank you! I hate lugging around my huge shop vac! For several years I have cut up old pantyhose and wrapped them around the filter. This cuts down on how often I have to change the filter and I never lose suction.

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  2. Nice post! I’m going to do a similar setup with my shop vac. I do have a suggestion to get around your cleat system for holding in the bucket…how about bolting down a second 5 gallon bucket to the base to hold the cyclone bucket? It should make emptying out both the cyclone and shop vac less a chore.

  3. As another memo with a small garage/shop, I have also done a couple of things for dust. First I purchased the same small shop vac like yours but it is exclusively for the work bench so I always have one there. And I, too, have the cyclone type add on for my other shop vac for the purpose of keeping the filter cleaner longer. I highly recommend getting one of these as they are a great bang for the buck. Another thing I found is if you remove the rubber squeegee part from the wet/dry attachment it picks up a much wider path of dust so you get done sooner. Not useful for larger pieces but effective none the less. The big thing I did, though, was to paint the shop floor with that grey cement floor paint with the black and white flakes in it. This did 2 major things. First, it’s grey and saw dust is brown so you can see where you need to sweep. But the part I like most is all the guys that come over and WOW at my painted floor and tell me how cool I am.

  4. I “plumbed” my shop with overhead 3″ PVC pipe using several home made blast gates and 3″ flexible hose running to each of the major tools. I rigged two old shop vacs together in parallel to apply vacuum to the Dust Deputy mounted on a 5 gal bucket. Works great and was cheap to do. The shop has never been cleaner!

  5. First off great design. I will need to modify because I have a bigger vac but the concept will remain the same. Second, I have been wanting to make my own designs on the computer, along with a program that tells me how much material I will need. Do you have any recommendations?

  6. Just an idea for an upgrade. The upper cross brace, that has to be removed to change the filter, a slot could be cut out of one side of the box an put the other side of the cross brace on a hinge so it can be raised and lowered instead of complete removal. You will probably need a slightly longer cross brace for this.

  7. Wow! How ironic. I was just looking at the similar Shop-Vac vacuums at Lowe’s and was thinking those would make great vacuums for a Dust Deputy. And here you have done the same thing. Glad it worked. Less risk for me. I think I will build mine vertically, as another vlogger, Jay Bates, has done

    • My 12 gallon shop vac and my homemade chip separator work extremely well hooked up to my router table, pretty well with my table saw and miter saw but it’s no match for the larger chunks of wood thrown off by my joiner/planer. The good part is those larger chunks hit the ground pretty fast and don’t travel far.

  8. Being retired and a cheapskate I made my own cyclone chip separator out of two 5 gallon buckets, a square piece of 1/2 ” plywood for a baffle and some plumbing fittings. I’ve dumped many gallons of saw dust out of the lower bucket and the inside of my 12 gallon shop vac is dust free. My set-up is stationary but I do like the idea of mounting the two units on a cart and making them mobile.

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