Woodworking is an activity that is full of inherent risks, especially when working on the table saw. While the primary safety focus is typically ensuring that no fingers end up in a spinning blade or stomaches take the brunt of a kickback event the risk factors from the dust produced by the tablesaw should not be overlooked either! Upgrading your table saw dust collection can greatly improve your long term health and enjoyment in the shop.
I have talked in the past about how long it took me to finally invest in a proper dust collection system. In my old shop I would typically just put on a dust mask and open up the garage door to take care of things. While this may have worked ok for my health by wearing the mask it certainly made a mess in the shop.
I just grew accustomed to walking around the shop with the air compressor to spray the accumulated dust off of everything.
I knew, though, that this was not a viable long-term solution, especially as my Etsy shop began to ramp up and my time in the shop was increasing quickly.
Since then I have added a Jet dust collector and overhead air filtration unit to the shop. These have made a big difference but there are still unique dust collection challenges to each woodworking machine.
Managing Table Saw Dust Collection
Every tool is going to have their own unique challenges when it comes to dust collection.
The wood lathe tends to throw larger dust and shavings all over the shop. Disc sanders put out a cloud of dust that their built in dust collection has no chance at capturing. Miter Saw’s dust collection ports are typically comically undersized for the amount of dust being produced with each cut.
When it comes to table saw dust collection the problem is no different.
If you’re running a cabinet or hybrid table saw then you’re hooking up a dust collection hose near the bottom of the cabinet. The idea is it will create suction that pulls air through the throat plate and captures the dust created during a cut.
Why This Doesn’t Work as Well as it Should!
Power tool manufacturers have been getting progressively smarter about improving the dust collection capabilities on table saws. But…they still are nowhere near perfect.
This is a picture of the underside of my Grizzly table saw.
These arrows point to the gaps between the table and cabinet. There are also some pretty significant gaps in the cabinet where the blade height and angle are adjusted.
These gaps mean lower airflow at the throat plate and overall lower dust collection effectiveness on the table saw.
If your tablesaw is anything like mine then, after running it for a while, the bottom of the cabinet will quickly fill up with dust. Despite the dust collector hose being right there, most of the heavy dust simply falls to the bottom of the saw rather than being directed into the dust collector. This is another sign that airflow isn’t being directed in any kind of linear path from the blade to the collection port.
Dust Collectors are also to Blame
If you Google “how much CFM does a table saw need for dust collection,” you’ll find answers that range anywhere from 350 – 400 CFM.
I run a dust collector in my shop that advertises 1,100 CFM, which should be more than enough for amazing dust collection, even with the gaps in the table saw.
Unfortunately, the advertised CFM and what you actually get at the machine are often wildly different. There are a ton of folks who have run tests and posted their results online.
These variances can be due to manufactures fudging their numbers, dirty filters on the dust collector, the length of run from the dust collector to the table saw, the type of piping, etc.
The bottom line is that most home shop level dust collectors aren’t powerful enough to capture a lot of the fine particulate matter created while using the table saw.
How to Maximize Your Table Saw Dust Collection
Here are a few ways to maximize your table saw dust collection. These range from some basic DIY fixes to some somewhat more expensive upgrades which, if you’re in more of a production type environment, can really pay off in the long run.
Seal up the Table Saw
If you’re running a hybrid or cabinet style table saw then sealing up the gaps between the cabinet and table can significantly improve your dust collection performance. Sealing these gaps can be done with any number of products including blue painters tape, silver ducting tape, expanding foam, cut down pool noodles, etc.
I would personally opt for a less permanent approach than expanding foam but to each their own.
There will also typically be large gaps behind the blade tilt and blade height adjustment wheels. These gaps are easy to cover with magnetic sheets. The sheets can either be moved when adjusting the saw, or you can cut a slit down the middle so the saw adjustments can move freely between them while still keeping most of the gap sealed up.
If your table saw doesn’t have a closed cabinet, dust collection can be trickier. One option would be to enclose the area under the blade and motor with a simple box made from plywood or even cardboard. You can add an inexpensive dust collection port to attached your dust collector to it.
There are also pre-made dust collection enclosures that attach to the bottom of the saw that work just as well.
Add Overarm Dust Collection to the Table Saw
Despite not owning a Sawstop (yet), I have sung their praises plenty already on this site. Their quality and safety features are top of the line, and their dust collection is there as well with their overarm blade guide/dust collection options.
Adding an overarm dust collection port to your table saw can really improve capturing the fine particulate dust that escapes from the top of most table saws. And you don’t necessarily have to own a Sawstop to add this feature as there are some universal options available as well.
Direct Your Airflow
This point may sound simple but it is often overlooked in shops with multiple runs of dust collection hose. Keep your airflow directed at just one machine a time. Either through the use of blast gates if you have piped your shop for dust collection to keep all the other arms closed or just hooking up one machine at a time to the collector.
My Jet dust collector has a Y port coming off of the machine. I keep one branch of the Y permanently closed off as I don’t use two machines at once and don’t want to sacrifice half of my airflow to an unused hose.
Another tip to maximize your airflow is to keep your dust collection hoses short, especially if they are the ribbed flexible type, as that style can quickly reduce airflow.
Can You Use A Shop Vac for Table Saw Dust Collection?
You can! Although there are a few caveats with this answer.
Most mid-level shop vacs offer, at most, around 150 – 160 CFM of airflow. If you remember from earlier, the recommended airflow for dust collection on a table saw is 350 – 400 CFM. That’s a pretty big gap!
That recommended CFM for a table saw also considers the extra airflow needed to account for all the gaps in your saw.
With a properly sealed table saw and a step-down port to account for the smaller diameter hose on the shop vac, you can greatly reduce the amount of dust produced from the table saw with a shop vac.
Adding a dust deputy to your shop vac setup will also help to improve airflow by keeping your air filter on the shop vac cleaner.
Will this setup be as good as using a dedicated dust collector? Most likely not. But it will be better than nothing, and that is always a start.
Adding an Air Filtration Unit to the Shop
This last tip isn’t specific to table saw dust collection, but it can really help improve the overall air quality in your shop.
Several air filtration units available, both overhead or standing, will actively move and filter the air in your shop.
Even the best dust collector will never remove 100% of the dust you create while woodworking. Most of this fine particulate dust can stay suspended in the air for hours and will slowly coat everything in your garage or shop.
I can personally attest to that! Last year I picked up a used Jet air filtration unit and hung it above the shop’s center. My favorite part about it, aside from cleaning the air, is that it can be operated by remote control and runs on a timer.
This means I can easily switch it on when I head out to the shop and leave it running for an hour or two after I’m finished. It has really improved the overall air quality in the shop and has led to a noticeable reduction in the dust on surfaces around the garage.
Final Thoughts on Improving Your Table Saw Dust Collection
Dust collection for your table saw and in your shop isn’t something that should be ignored. But it also doesn’t have to be expensive either! Adding a DIY air filter and shop vac dust collector will make for a noticeable improvement in air quality.
Making some tweaks to your table saw and dust collection setup will take this to the next level and create a working environment that you can enjoy spending time in.