Shop Upgrades: Dust Collection

Published Monday, March 25, 2024 by Bryan

Have you noticed the large blue hose coming out of the wall near my table saw? That's my dust collection system! I made it through years of woodworking without one - just shop-vac-ing the mess up after I was done. But that doesn't work for some of the tools I use these days. They need constant forced air movement to get the chips and dust out of the machine.

So I added to a small dust collector a few years ago. I hung it inside a small storage room in a corner of my basement and ran that blue flex tubing you've seen in pictures through the wall. With some DustRight quick connectors, I've happily moved the hose from the saw to the jointer, to the planer, and back again.

But the dust collector never really liked the planer. The shavings it produces often get stuck on the grate protecting the input side of the blower. When they didn't get stuck, they filled up the bag fast. And then they weren't particularly easy to get back out of the bag!

A 20 gallon black plastic trash can. The lid on the can has large blue flexible hoses protruding from it.
Version 1: Functional, but limited.

So I built a chip separator. Version one was a small black plastic trash can. It proved the utility, but had its own issues - namely thin walls requiring reinforcement, and no way to check fill level without removing the lid.

A white 55 gallon drum with a wooden lid. The lid has large blue flexible hoses leading from it to things out of frame.
Version 2: Better walls, more capacity.

Version two started with a friend of mine calling to ask if I could use any of the large plastic drums the high school shop was throwing out. These have thicker, more rigid walls ready to withstand the air pressure differential. They're also slightly translucent, so I can see the shadow of the dust pile inside in the right light.

The only thing I had to do was make a lid. Where did I turn but to the small stack of discarded laminate flooring that provided the material for my crosscut sled's runners? Five planks glued together covered the top of the barrel.

A bandsaw has a board clamps to it, through which the blade has cut about halfway. To the right of the blade, the dust collector lid is pinned to the board via a small bit of wire in its middle.
Cutting the lid on my band saw using a quickly-made circle cutting jig.

The corners of a square top would have caught hoses, cords, hips, etc., so I took the opportunity to make a circle-cutting jig for my bandsaw. A small pin passing through the workpiece and the table extension provides a pivot point. A runner on bottom of the extension guides the table and workpiece into place, starting the cut. Then twirling the workpiece around the pivot cuts a perfect circle. I actually used this twice - once for the 12in-radius top, and then again for some 11in-radius battens underneath, that keep the top flat and center it on the drum.

Two black PVC pipes protrude from the bottom of the wooden lid. The near one bends to the right and the far one bends to the left.
The chip separator works by creating a “gap” in the middle of the line. Large heavy debris won't make the jump from the input pipe to the output pipe, but fine dust will.

Getting the elbows through was slightly more challenging. I needed a close fit, to maintain the vaccuum inside the drum, so I wanted a hole exactly the size and shape of the elbow. I got that in three steps. First, I traced the end of the elbow where I wanted the hole in the lid, and used a jigsaw to roughly cut it out. Second, I clamped the elbow to the underside of the lid and used a pattern bit with a follower bearing to run my trim router around the inside of the elbow. These elbows have one end designed to fit over a piece of pipe, and one end designed to fit inside another adapter. That is, the ID of one is the same as the OD of the other. So by routing the inside of the fits-over end, I got a hole perfectly sized for the fits-inside end. The final step was hand-shaping with assorted rasps to match the curve of the inside of the elbow, which started closer to the elbow's collar than the thickness of the lid allowed.

The lid hangs from a metal hook in its center that is connected to another metal hook in a triangular woodend structure jutting out from the wall next to it.
Another french-cleat hanger provides a place to hold the lid while I empty the barrel.

What about that hole I drilled in the top to be the pivot on the circle-cutting jig? Won't that leak air? No, it won't, because that's where I'm installing the final major upgrade over my V1 design: a hook to hold the lid up while I'm emptying the barrel. The V1 lid was light plastic, and thus didn't put too much stress on the flex hose by hanging on it. This lid is not light plastic, but I'd rather not disconnect the hose while I'm emptying. So, a matching hook on a french-cleat hanger allows me to lift the lid and leave it hanging about six inches above its installed position. That's just high enough to slide the barrel out for cleaning.

This V2 model is young - I've only had it going for a couple weeks now. It has twice the capacity of the V1 model, so I'm a little worried that emptying it might be more of a process than I expect. But the effect of both V1 and V2 on cooperation between the planer and the dust collector has been obvious. The only time I had shavings sticking in the grate with V1 was when I didn't notice it had gotten near full. V2 should fix that.

A cylindrical canister filter hangs from the exit shoot of the dust collector blower. Attached to its bottom is a small clear plastic bag.
With most of the debris caught before the blower, there is more room for air filtration after it.

The added bonus of only the fine dust making its way to the dust collector is that I could upgrade the filter there. Instead of the fine-mesh bag it came with, I've installed a large canister filter. The primary reason for upgrading here was to reduce dust in the air - we're all being more careful with our lungs these days, right? But the whole design has provided a second benefit as well: improved airflow. When using the original bag, less and less air could make its way out easily as the bag filled up. The fine dust never fills the small plastic bag below the canister, so the canister's fins remain clear, allowing the full surface area to breathe regardless of how much debris I've collected (as long as I twiddle that bar on the side every now and again, which rattles the filter to knock sticky dust down).

A yellow box with a red switch on it is labeled, “Rockler. Remote Control Transmitter Switch. Works iwth all dust collectors up to 1.5 HP.” Power cords lead out of frame. Nearby, a small black fob with a green button hangs from a small hook.
Remote and receiver that allow me to start and stop the dust collector from anywhere in the shop.

My bonus upgrade doesn't improve the amount of dust collected at all, but does improve my workflow. I didn't think it was any trouble to take the ten or so steps around my power tools to reach into the other room and flip the collector on or off. And then I added this radio control. Now I just push a button on a little fob dangling from my belt loop. It's a small thing, but being able to shut the collector off easily means I'm more likely to do it while I change setups for my next cut. That helps more than expected because I can take off my ear and eye projection to think in the quiet and better see what I'm doing.

Okay, three major shop upgrades complete. What's the first non-shop thing to build?

Categories: Woodworking