Sunday, April 28, 2019

Cleaning up shops and dust pick up

My BP is back under control, but I have thrown my back out.  My right hip is not a happy camper, and likewise.  Sometimes you just can't seems to win, but battles are fought in small increments.

Soooo, slowly, very slowly, making some sorts of progress in my Spring clean up, and no doubts the source of my back problems.  Getting old sucks but it still beat the alternative :-)

Getting there, slowly

In recent discussions I have been having with Ralph about his Dust Deputy woes, he pointed out, I should do a post on some of the stuff we discussed, so here it is.

Why dust collection?
Unless you work mostly outside or in a breezy walkway, you definitively could use some sort of dust collection. Yes, even in a hand tool shop!
Granted hand tools WW is a lot cleaner than power tools WW, but there is still a need to clean up and reach in places were a vacuum source or blowing air is the best way to go.

Of course, not generating volume of dust from your primarily hand tools work, wont required the same solutions ( NO dust mask required) In this blog we will look at what has been working for me, and what did not.   Your actual results may vary.

In my earlier power tools days, I made a ceiling dust scrubber that I mounted over the table saw, roughly in the middle of my shop (20X24 ft)

The intake side.  Pre filter is simply held in place by two tight cleats (1/4 round)

I made it using a surplus squirrel cage 220V blower ($50) and added three layer of filters: A metallic one to collect the coarsest, followed by a furnace filter type then a 6 pocket filter (the most expensive part of this build)

I loosely based my design on the commercial ones at the time
It worked great, but that blower sure could move air!!  It was a great way to cleaned up my bench if I forgot.  I wired it to a wall timer,  and ran it whenever I used the table saw or each time as I walked away from the shop.  It worked pretty good to clean up the air.

The exhaust end with the exhaust filter removed
I used a simple furnace filter 

I have since learned that a better location for the air scrubber would had been along the wall rather than in the center (above the table saw).  The idea being to create a circular air current around the shop.

By setting the scrubbers along the side wall we created a circular flow to scrubbed the whole space more efficiently. One is sufficient for most shops, but two would be more effective in a larger shop.

But an air scrubber is not enough, you need to collect the fine dust generated at the source along with the chips produced.  Being on the move often (was Military) I never had the inclination to set up a dedicated dust collection system.  Instead I relied on my trusty Sears Shop Vac (made by Emerson Electric, and same as the Ridgid brand sold at Home Depot).
It worked but quickly became full when attached to the planer, too much chips volume.

Solution was to make some sort of cyclone to separate the chips from the dust.  Again, since I moved around, my cyclone solution had to be portable and cheap.
What I came up with was using a large plastic barrel (aircraft soap container) with the Lee Valley cyclone lid.  In prevision of recycling it later into a proper dust collection system down the road, I used the one with the 4 in port and two 4 to 2-1/2 in adapters for my shop vac hoses.

Oh that dust on it? 
That's what happened if you don't run the air scrubber

Put the whole thing on a wheeled platform, and we have portability, I just wheel it by the machine I intend to use along with the shop vac.  Works great,  the barrel size  capture all the chips and the shop vac filter only see fine dust.  I can plane a lot of  wood before I have to empty the barrel and the shop vac is still pretty well empty.  Easier on your lungs and the shop vac filter, highly recommended.

Have wheel, will travel.
Yes, my Shop Vac has plenty of power to make that work.
I usually empty the barrel when it reached the upper "strapping" mark, meaning 2/3 full.  
As it get fuller you loose efficiency and some of the chips start making their way to the shop vac  

There are other similar arrangements you can buy such as cyclone covers in smaller sizes for smaller containers (Woodstock International, Lee Valley), the Dust deputy (Oneida) and similar clones.
With all these you supply a suitable container to use.

The vaccuum
Any good wet/dry Shop vac will do. Why wet/dry? Because it would be handier around the shop and house, just take my word on it :-)

SHOP VAC is of course a trade name, but in this case it is used in a generic way.  Here in North America, genuine shop vacs and the ones made by Emerson Electric (Sears, Ridgid) seems to be the dominant models you will find in most shops. They are relatively inexpensive and reliable.  Their Achille heel  seems to be the power switch and the motor sometimes die because they seen too much dust due to the inadequate filtration to protect it.  Easy fix, upgrade to a decent HEPA filter.  The ones I've been using are made of Goretex and are washable.  They are really long lasting.  I'm on my second one in 24 years...

The ShopVac one has a cheap slide switch

The Sears one has a better toggle switch

Such an upgrade is a must in my book, easier on your lungs and the poor shop vac motor.
How good are they?  You can vacuum drywall dust and see nothing escaping the vac, try that with your regular paper filter.... or better not, take my word.

Using a screaming universal motor they sure are noisy, but there are a few things you can do to tame them.
Years ago they came up with some sort of noise silencer filter.  They work good on guns, should work on the vac exhaust?? Ive seen plans in magazines to built such a baffle design, but Emerson came out with their own silencer gizmo, so I bought it.

The Ridgid Noise muffler.
But does it really "muffle" ?

Does it works? Not really, or if it does, I did not noticed much of a change in the noise levels.  Maybe a slight drop in the higher pitch frequencies??  But that is from a guy who spent his adult life around aircraft engines so...

I've seen all kinds of way to isolate the vac inside a insulated or baffled box in a bid to quiet it down, but if you go this route ensure there is sufficient make up air or you will shorten the life of your vac...

 A better upgrade with a readily noticeable improvement is to ditch the stiff black plastic hose that comes with them and invest in a better quality hose.  For the past 10 years I've been using the orange ones from Lee Valley  much, much more flexible and limber. No more pulling the vac when moving the hose.

Now, I dont actually throw out the stiff black hoses, I simply cut them off to length and use plastic repair connectors (from Home Depot) to make up the short connections between the shop vac, chip barrel and machinery.  These are static connections, good enough for the stiffer black hoses.

The orange cuffs are the repair connectors sold at Home Depot. They just screw on. 
I found that using some sort of garden hose holder
 is about the better way to handle those stiff hoses.
I stored my air hose at the bottom, in my previous shop

The bigger challenge is to hook up properly your machinery for adequate collection.  The older machinery I am using was never designed with proper dust collection in mind.

When I bought my planer in 1995, they did not had a dust collection cover, so I made my own.
A half ABS pipe of suitable diameter with a wooden plug at one end and adaptor for my 2-1/2 in hose at the other. Work great when hooked up to the barrel and the shop vac is turned on. 
 It will quickly plugged if you forget the vacuum, Oups! 

Suffice to say the closest to the blade, the better the chip and dust collection.  Think over the blade dust pick up with an overhead arm on a table saw, that collect more of the dust being spouted from the blade in addition to the usual  port from inside the cabinet.  Similarly, collection under the bandsaw blade and inside the bottom wheel cover work best for a bandsaw.

Over blade dust pickup.
To my mind, this is the better way to capture dust spewed by the blade.
You still need to hook up collection to the cabinet.
Pic from Busy Bee Tools

There is a large selection of various wands and other collection fittings.  You should have a look at them, they can greatly make your life easier in certain situation.  Some sort of magnetic floor sweeper comes in handy when looking for that elusive small part lost to the shavings... :-)

The holder I made to hold my wands. Most stand over  a piece of dowel, 
the last one (RHS) fit inside a hole.  The board in the back with the modified fitting was for my bandsaw dust pickup under the table.

I don't remember were or when I found this kit, but it has proven very useful at time.

Could not find it the other day so I went out and found this kit.
Not bad, but it lack the small hose provision
LV has a similar tube extension called Vacu Flex
Oh, and I did found the other kit.

Of course, if you used both system, like I do, 
you need adapters to go back and forth between 2-1/2 and 1-1/4, 
the two standard hose sizes.

I had to come up with custom solution for my machines, 
so having a large selection of various adapters is a boon.
This fitting is for a future project :-)

And finally you can set up a small dedicated piping system for your Shop vac.  I often thought about it, but never got around to do it.

Pic from Shop Vac site.
Such system sold in kit, retails from around Cdn $99 to $300 depending on number of components

If you do, such a system would benefit from the uses of blast gates at various dedicated location.  The only problem with using gates is that they only work if you closed/open the right ones.  Technology to the rescue, there are a few system that allow you to simply  turn on/off your vacuum remotely, other will start the vacuum when it detect the attached power tool turning on.   And others more sophisticated system can also control your blast gates.  Or if you are so inclined, you can cobbled up a solution using Arduino...

As for me, I simply wheel around my smaller Shop vac in my dedicated hand tool shop.
The garage, AKA the power tool shop, uses the bigger Sears vac tricked out as explained above.

That and using a good dust pan and brush to clear my bench and etc...

A good dust pan and bench brush helps keep your bench top clear...
Well, if only I could see the top :-)

Bob, the dust collector :-)


  1. The next to last pic is what Rockler used to sell but doesn't anymore (at least I couldn't find it). $167 for the kit at Shopvac. I searched for individual pieces for sale but no luck.
    LV doesn't sell the hose separately but I didn't know about the HD fittings. I'll check them out when I go there again to see if they have my shop vac filter back in stock.

  2. What's dust? Smiles and winks.

    Great advise, and I'll keep it all in mind. The dust pan, I have, they're great and indestructible if you don't back over them with tractor.

    Dust is a killer of anything electrical. And fine dust and electrical fixtures; deadly. It's the real fine stuff that accumulates unseen in hidden places that I worry about. I don't do enough woodworking to make a big cash layout, but the new more powerful Shopvacs are pretty darn good. I use compressed air all the time to blow the motor on the vac out, all my tools with electric motors for that matter. It does make them run noticeably cooler. Twice a year or more, I open everything up and using the gas powered leaf blower, blow the the heck out of my shop/garage.

  3. I have seen somewhere somebody making hose adapters and blast gates with a 3D printer.

  4. I'm a big fan of filter bags in vacuums. I don't believe that washing filters, especially HEPA, really cleans them. If working with lead, silica or asbestos, definitely not. The bags have a huge surface area and shield the filter from fine particles. Makes emptying easier too - you don't need to vacuum after emptying the vacuum.

    How does the cyclone top seal to the soap barrel?

    The photo of a shop vac pulling the dust away from a contractor saw is wildly optimistic.

  5. I Steve, indeed a contractor saw was never designed with sawdust collection in mind :-)
    The cyclone lid just rest on top the barrel, no seal required. In operation it is quite secure...
    And work very well. There are a lot of cyclone lids designs out there but this one works very well, barely anything makes it to the shop vac, just very fine dust which get trapped in the filter for the most part. I go a long way before having to "empty" the shop vac.
    I get the surface idea of the bag, but as important if not more is the material used. Traditionally bags were Meh... but they now make HEPA rated bags and lifetime bags about US$200. At this price point a cyclone is very economical. The filter i use is rated at 0.3 micron filtration


    1. The bags I buy for my shop-vac and tiny ridgid are paper and can be delicate when extricating from vacuums that aren't really designed with bags in mind. The euro type vacuums use a fleecy fabric and are much more rugged to remove. Some even have closure flaps to keep the cloud inside when handling.

      As an example, the bag in a Festool vac works so well that the inside surfaces inside the vac don't have any dust on them. After a year the 1% of stuff that gets past the cyclone starts clogging the bag and I toss it. There is also stuff in there from when the cyclone tips over and pulls stuff out the outlet :(

      i think the most expensive ones I use are maybe $8 each but the cyclone really stretches that out.

      I would never want a reusable bag because of the mess to empty one, regardless of cost.

      If you have a HEPA vac that is also OK for wet, make sure you have a foam filter on hand for the dreaded basement flood. I just realized that the bag is a way to rapidly clear a vacuum out when the window wells turn into waterfalls. Grab it, store it and reinstall when the vac dries out.

      The reason I don't buy into filter washing is that fine particles (.3 micron for HEPA) aren't just sitting on the surface waiting to be washed away. They would be largely embedded in the filter media and only the johnny come lately dust is on the outside ready for washing. Once a super fine filter gets loaded up it will never restore to it's original capacity.

      I suppose it depends what you do with it but hazmat, sheetrock, cement and fine sawdust would render a filter throwaway for me. Plane shavings and coarse dust would be different.

    2. Good points Steve
      Agree with you that emptying a bag (as long as well made and sturdy) is a lot cleaner and hassle free than dumping a container. I only empty the "bag less" Dyson vacs in the garage, its dusty...Not in the kitchen

      My shop vacs have seen mostly woodworking detritus but the big one (my second) has seen its share of reno work around the country. My first one got killed by drywall dust, that's was the main reason I upgraded to a HEPA filter from LV when I bought this one. It has survived very well countless sheets of drywalls and cement boards, NO asbestos. If when I ever come across it, that is a job for the pros. Fein and Festool, both German made, have damn good filtration but are a tad pricey for my budget... But teamed up with their sanders they make a pretty efficient dust extraction system. My only experience was playing with them at LV :-)

      Bob, collecting dust for almost 63 years :-)

  6. Hi Sylvain
    Indeed i see more and more videos on youtube were they simply 3d printed parts like cuff, adapters, wands,and even linkage to activate blast gate via a servo motor. That technology is rapidly evolving

    Bob, who still prints in 2d with his pencil

  7. Hi Calvin, yeah what is that dust I spoke about? :-)
    Good point about the real risk of electrical fires due to fine dust accumulation. Using a leaf blower to clean the shop however, i would never recommend. Why best told over a few beers :-)


  8. Ralph, i was looking online at the adapters etc selection avail at HD, not as big like i saw in store when I bought those, years ago. But those repair cuffs which simply screw on the hose shows up on Amazon.


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