How to Set Up a Woodworking Dust Collection System

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Dust collection for your wood shop isn’t always the sexiest woodworking topic to discuss. But ignoring it can lead to long term impacts to your health, the performance of your tools, and the cleanliness of your shop. Woodworking dust collection systems can range from a simple shop vac to a combination of cyclone dust collectors and overhead air filters.

When I first set up my shop I was working with nothing more than a small shop vac. This was great for cleaning up after the fact but it was pretty much worthless for controlling dust from the table saw. Luckily, I was working in a garage so I was able to open up the doors and turn on a fan. That, combined with a dust mask, made for a more tolerable working environment.

Adding A Dust Collection System

As my shop grew I knew that I had to invest in a dust collection system. Running the table saw, lathe, or, what might be the worst tool in the shop without dust collection, the miter saw, was just getting to be too much.

As I was working in a fairly large shop at the time I decided to go with a 1.5hp Jet dust collector. This unit has a decently sized footprint but the size wasn’t a huge concern at the time. It was easy to roll around the shop to my various tools and had plenty of power when hooked up to any single tool at a time.

Dust Collection for My Small Shop

Once we moved to a new house and shop my woodworking space was reduced significantly. Now I am in a fairly enclosed space where I have very little extra room for tools. While I have kept the same dust collector for the time being I will need to make a change at some point. The footprint of the jet and rolling it around the shop are no longer feasible.

The new, smaller shop space has also led to a lot of dust buildup in the air. Because of this, I have recently added a ceiling-mounted Jet air filtration system to the shop as well. Running this filtration along with the dust collector regularly has led to a noticeable difference in the amount of dust in the air.

Using the Shop Vac for Dust Collection

A few tools that create a disproportionate amount of dust, like the random orbit sander, are the last dust issues that I will need to address. My current sander, the Makita 5-inch ROS (which I love!), has a dust collection bag but isn’t set up to connect to a dust collector.

Upgrading the sander to either one that can connect to a shop vac or one (*cough* Festool *cough*) that hooks up to a dedicated sanding vacuum should cut down on dust in the shop even more.

Woodworking Dust Collection Systems for Your Shop

Let’s take a look at some of the dust collection systems available now and talk about which shop types they will work best in.

First off, the primary dust collectors which can be hooked up directly to your large woodworking tools.

Wall Mounted Dust Collection

Wall-mounted dust collectors are great for small shops or for those who want a dedicated collector for one or two tools. This is the direction I will eventually go for the shop as a wall-mounted unit will clear up some valuable floor space.

Most wall-mounted units pull between 500 – 600 CFM of air which isn’t a huge amount. If you are only using the collector on one tool at a time though it will usually be sufficient.

Most stationary tools need between 350 – 500 CFM of airflow for adequate dust collection. The one exception usually being the drum sander which, due to its large size and amount of dust produced, can often exceed the output of a smaller dust collector.

Rockler actually sells one wall-mounted unit that pulls 1250 CFM. This puts it on par with a lot of the rolling dust collection units. Their dust collectors can also be fitted with a filter rather than the collection bag that is capable of filtering dust down to 1 micron. Most collector bags only filter dust down to 30 microns so this makes a huge difference.

Floor Standing Canister Dust Collectors

Floor standing dust collectors, like the Jet model that I use, are perfect for small to medium sized shops. Most units of this size move around 1250 CFM which makes them powerful enough to built into dust collection ducting systems.

Running metal or PVC ducting around the shop is a great way to avoid having to drag a hose to each individual tool as you use them. Setting the system up with blast gates will allow you to direct the airflow right where you need it.

These floor standing units are available with either a 30-micron collection bag or a 1-micron canister filter. If you can afford to upgrade to the canister filter then I would highly recommend it. It makes a huge difference in the amount of fine dust in the air after running it.

Cyclone Dust Collector

Cyclone style dust collectors are going to be your most expensive and powerful systems.

They feature cyclone systems that collect 99% of the chips and dust in a drum before it reaches the filter. This keeps the filter cleaner and provides a better and more constant airflow. Another benefit of a cyclone style system is that, since large debris is collected before it reaches the filter, metal objects like screws won’t be sucked through the collector’s impellers which can cause a spark or damage the unit.

These systems are also equipped with canister filters which will filter dust down to 1 or 2 microns.

Cyclone dust collectors will also be your largest option so they are best suited to medium to large shops where the system can stay stationary and be hooked up to ducting.

Adding a Cyclone to an Existing Dust Collector

One way to get some of the benefits of a cyclone system without having to pay a $1,000+ price tag is to add a cyclone separator to your existing dust collector or shop vac.

Oneida sells these DIY or plug and play kits that simply plug into your dust collection hose and will remove almost all of the chips and dust before it reaches your dust collector filters. They claim these systems will increase your airflow by 20%!

Running Dust Collection Piping

Setting up a dust collection ducting system in your shop is a great way to keep all of your major tools hooked up to the dust collector all the time. I currently have to drag a flexible hose around the shop whenever I want to use different tools. This leads me to often making quick cuts on the bandsaw without hooking it up to the collector which, in the end, just makes everything messy with dust.

There are a lot of debates in woodworking forums about whether PVC or metal piping should be used. Some argue that PVC can build up a static charge which can then ignite your dust and cause the collector to catch fire or explode.

I’m not quite sure I buy that argument in a DIY shop setting but if you’re nervous about such an event PVC piping can always be grounded to eliminate the static buildup.

Oneida sells some great starter packages to get you going integrating ducting into your shop. Even if you can’t run a dedicated line to every tool; just having a drop near 2 or 3 tools where the final flexible hose can be moved between them will make life so much easier.

Floor sweeps, dust hoods and blast gates are all little add-ons that will make your system a breeze to use.

Other Dust Collection System Components

In addition to the primary dust collector you can also add on air filtration and dedicated dust collection for sanding.

Woodworking Air Filtration Systems

Ceiling mounted air filtration units are a great way to remove dust that just tends to linger in the air and eventually settle on everything.

I use this unit from Jet which can be mounted directly to the ceiling, hung from chains or just set on a high shelf. The unit comes with a remote control and can run on a timer which is perfect as I can set it for 2 hours after I’m done in the shop so it can continue to clean the air.

Shop Vac Dust Collection Systems

Shop vacs can easily be used to add portable dust collection to specialty tools like the random orbit sander or CNC machines.

Like I discussed earlier, not all sanders are compatible for connection to dust collection so keep that in mind when choosing one if it is important to you.

Festool also offers a portable HEPA filter dust extractor which is designed to work well with hand sanders. While I have not used one of their extractors I have heard nothing but good things about them. As is usually the case with Festool products.

Final Thoughts On Woodworking Dust Collection

I hope that this gives you a base to start with in figuring out your own dust collection needs for the shop. Making these upgrades can be expensive but in the long run, it will make a huge difference in the air quality of your workspace.

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