Q: I’ve been woodworking for a few years, but I’m finally starting to put together a full shop. Do I need a complete dust collection system, or will my trusty shop-vac be enough?
A: The truth is that you need a more complete system. because there are really three components to maintaining a clean, healthy shop. Your shop vacuum’s portability and relatively large waste container will get you by for a while. But you’ll soon run into poor-performing machines one way or another. That goes for the shop-vac and any stationary power tools you may have hooked it up to. For example, a planer’s motor could burn up if you don’t clear out the chips routinely. It comes down to what each machine is designed to do. Shop vacuums have higher static pressure and low CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute), the amount of air per minute that can be moved from a space. Shop-vacs are designed to move tiny dust particles through small hoses. That makes them perfect for general shop clean-up and attaching to your small power tools such as random orbit sanders, biscuit joiners, miter saws—just about anything that comes with a dust bag. But a shop-vac won’t do a good job removing big shavings and chips. That’s where dust collectors come in.
Dust collectors have low static pressure and high CFM, making them efficient at moving large materials through big openings over long distances. A dust collector with its low pressure won’t do well with small dust particle producers like random orbit sanders. But they’re perfect for stationary power tools that produce big chips, such as jointers, planers, and table saws. The good news is even if you don’t have the room or the budget for a big stationary dust collector with dedicated ductwork throughout the shop, a portable dust collector for under $400 will serve you well. And since most home shops don’t typically run more than one big machine at a time, you can move the hose from one tool to another as needed.
The final component of good dust control is cleaning the ambient air. For this you’ll need an air filtration unit. So keep the shop-vac for shop clean-up and small hand power tools. Pick up a dust collector to handle the big chips from stationary machines. And add a filter to scrub the air. Between all that and a good dust mask, you’ll have made great strides towards creating a clean, safe workspace.