Using a Shop Vacuum for Dust Collection

Fittings, filters and accessories for turning your shop vacuum into a dust collector.

You don’t have to shell out the big bucks for a central dust collection system. We’ll show you how to use a shop vacuum coupled with a few accessories to capture dust. We’ll also show how to assemble a simple, inexpensive dust control system that’ll suck up most sawdust.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Getting rid of sawdust

You don’t have to put up with that irritating layer of sawdust that seems to settle throughout the shop, garage or basement every time you cut and sand a few lengths of trim. Nor do you have to shell out the big bucks for a central dust collection system.

You can capture most nuisance dust with a standard shop vacuum and a few accessories. In this article, we’ll show you how to assemble a simple, inexpensive dust control system that’ll suck up most of that sawdust before it gets all over the house.

Getting rid of sawdust

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Get universal adapters for transitions

If you’re lucky, you can plug the vacuum hose directly into the dust port of your tool. But that won’t happen often, because the size of dust ports on power hand tools varies.

The best strategy is to buy a universal adapter, which is available at home centers and other stores that sell shop vacuum accessories. You simply cut the soft rubber with a utility knife to fit the dust port on the tool and the vacuum hose. (We recommend 1-1/4 in. hose for most hand power tools.) However, keep duct tape handy for odd-size dust ports.

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A smaller 1-1/4 in. hose is great for flexibility

Buy a 6-ft. (or longer) length of 1-1/4 in. hose to connect directly to hand power tools. Then connect the 1-1/4 in. hose to the standard 2-1/2 in. vacuum hose with a plastic friction fit coupling. The smaller hose is light and flexible compared with the larger hose. No drag, no kinks. You’ll barely notice the 1-1/4 in. hose as you move the saw, sander or other tool across the work piece. Most sanders have dust ports, but relatively few circular saws and routers have them.

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Buy bench-top tools with dust ports whenever possible

These days, most bench-top saws and planers have dust ports, and they make a huge difference in controlling dust, even with a shop vacuum. You won’t get it all, but even an 80 percent reduction will help a lot.

The connections are usually easy. In most cases, the ports are a standard 2-1/2 in., so you can simply push the 2-1/2 in. vacuum hose right into the port as we show here. This works best with larger capacity vacuums, because the sawdust and chips from a table saw or planer build up fast!

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Make a permanent adapter for frequently used tools

Ideally, tool manufacturers would standardize dust ports so you could swiftly move your hose from one tool to another. But that’s not yet the case. In the meantime, save time and frustration by installing an adapter permanently on heavily used tools, such as miter saws. Then you can simply plug in the hose.

Note: You’ll find that dust collection on miter saws isn’t as effective as on other tools, but this will definitely help.

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Use remote controls

Higher-priced shop vacuums often come with a special switch that turns on the vacuum automatically when the tool starts up. (Fein is one brand.) This is a great feature, because you don’t have to walk over to the shop vacuum to turn it on every time you want to make a cut.

However, you can also solve this problem in three other ways. One, use a pedal switch to turn on your vacuum. Two, buy a remote switch and turn the vacuum on from anywhere in the room. Or three, plug your tool and vacuum into a special power box that activates the vacuum when the tool is turned on.

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Upgrade to a better filter

You may have noticed the cloud of fine dust that blows out the exhaust when you turn on most shop vacuums. Small dust particles flow right through standard shop vacuum dust filters. To stop this fine dust, buy a high-quality HEPA filter from any store that sells your vacuum brand. They’re well worth the price because they last a long time and can be rinsed clean.

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Reduce hose clutter with an overhead hook

Dust collection hoses add to the clutter in a small shop. But if you tend to work in one area, you can eliminate some of the tangle and keep the tool from getting hung up by loosely hanging the vacuum hose from a hook. Or add several in the areas you work in most often.

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For more convenience, get a whole-shop dust system

For $70 to $110 and an hour of your time, you can set up a smaller version of a whole-shop dust collection system, complete with enough blast gates and inlets to handle a range of fixed and portable tools. You simply push the parts together (friction-fit them), so you can easily rearrange them as needed.

Add an 18-ft. length of 1-1/4 in. hose for hand power tools and a remote control for the vacuum, and you can work virtually dust-free from anywhere in the shop.

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Use a portable dust hood

Many power tools don’t have dust ports. But if you’re doing a lot of cutting and drilling, you can easily position a portable dust collector nearby. Depending on the system, you may have to fiddle with adapters and metal duct (from home centers) to make the transition to the vacuum hose. You can also rummage through the HVAC aisle at your local home center and put together a less expensive system with stock parts and duct tape.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Dust mask
  • Shop vacuum

Buy parts as needed for your dust control system.