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Using a Shop Vacuum for Dust Collection

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

Diy dust collectorFamily Handyman

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.

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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 simple, inexpensive DIY dust collectors that’ll suck up most of that sawdust before it gets all over the house.

Get dust collector universal adapters for transitions

Dust collector adapter options

Universal adapters make transitions easy for a DIY dust collector.

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 for a DIY dust collector 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 for a woodworking dust collection system. (We recommend 1-1/4 in. hose for most hand power tools.) However, keep duct tape handy for odd-size dust ports. (Check out another great use for a shop vacuum you haven’t thought about.)

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

dust collector

Use a 1-1/4-in. hose for mobility

The smaller 1-1/4-in. hose is easier to adapt to portable tools and is much easier to maneuver than the 2-1/2-in. hose for a woodworking dust collection system.

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 dust collection systems.

Buy bench-top tools with dust ports whenever possible

Connect the vacuum to the tool

Buying a tool with a dedicated dust port can save hours of time trying to adapt a tool yourself.

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!

Make a permanent adapter for frequently used tools

Attach a permanent fitting.

Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you use a tool; make a permanent adaptor so the DIY dust collector tool is always ready.

Detail of adapters

Universal adapters are available at hardware stores and home centers.

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.

Use remote controls

Use a foot switch

When you need both hands to hold your work piece, try getting a foot switch to hook directly to your shop vacuum to easily turn it off and on.

Use a wireless hand-held switch

Turn your vacuum on and off easily with a wireless remote that you store in your pocket or Velcro to handy spot near the workbench.

Turn on your vacuum automatically

Activate your vacuum immediately with a sensor switch that senses the tool being turned on and then starts the vacuum simultaneously.

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.

Upgrade to a better filter for dust collector

Install a better filter

Upgrade to a HEPA filter to trap finer particles.

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.

Reduce hose clutter with an overhead hook

Install a ceiling hook for dust collector

Get the hose up and out of the way with a hook attached to the ceiling. It’s safer for you and the hose.

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.

For more convenience, get a whole-shop dust system

Install a dedicated dust collector system

The DIY dust collector system we used is made by Shop-Vac. This and other systems are available at home centers, hardware stores and on-line.

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.

Use a portable dust hood

Use a portable collector

A dust shroud can be set near a saw, drill or sander and pick up dust as you work.

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.

Required Tools for this dust collector project

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

  • Dust mask
  • Shop vacuum