Apr 29, 2009

Tips for dust collection in small and large shops

Dust collection in small shops, and tips for for bigger shops to minimize waste and maximize efficiency.

Dust collection is a rather important aspect of the woodworking trade. Believe it or not, sanding dust is a very combustible substance. To add to that, it sure doesn't taste good, and breathing it is harder on your lungs than smoking cigarettes. For safety sake and your health, you should consider some type of collection in your small shops.

Do you sand a lot, and find yourself waiting for the dust to settle before finishing, because it's the same room. Any person who already has dust collection might find a couple of pointers that will help reduce the waste when running the system. Though some people do woodworking for a hobby, and would rather not spend $200.00 - $500.00 on a cheap dust collection, others have thousands of dollars spent into their systems and would like to optimize it's use. The following tips are a great way to eliminate most of your dust control problems.

I've seen and done many different techniques in many shops. Some take the route of using smaller dust collectors at each machine, while others have a big unit with piping to each machine. If you have duct work running to all the machines and are not using gates, you are wasting tons of energy, which equals money. Not only does the system not take all of dust out of the air current, you find yourself sticking your arm in the table saw often to clear it out. It's not easy tilting the blade to a 45° angle when it's packed with sawdust all around it. A good dust collector would prevent this, or at least minimize your cleaning time.

One tool that doesn't absolutely need collection is you jointer. This tool makes shavings more than dust. And most cases if you don't have a fancy cabinet under it, you have an angle iron stand and your chips fall below. You can stuff a cardboard box under there, this will catch all your chips. If you do in fact have a base to your jointer, with a chute for chips, which are mostly square for some odd reason. Make a 9" x 9" square, or what ever size you need to overlap the chute by 2" or so, with a 2 3/4"(or whatever size you have) hole in the center for your vacuum. This way you don't have to clean up when your done.

Go over your machines and determine what makes dust and what makes chips. You can be quite creative and find easy solutions with the stuff you already have. Saw dust is the real problem, and we are going into that right now.

Solutions for the small shop.

Firstly and most obviously, your sander most likely can connect to your shop vac, if it has holes in the backup pad and paper. It does get heavy after a lot of sanding, and it's hard to do panels on different angles because the bulky hose coming out of the back. But, it is an efficient way to put dust where you want it, and not air borne. This works well because it's actually sucking the dust through the sander, not pushed by the sander. Beware that you might need a finer filter on your vacuum to trap the dust inside so it doesn't blow out the side of the thing,(Not that it happened to me....lol).

Another good way that won't cost you an arm and a leg is a simple box fan. Believe me this helps a lot. What you do is use a furnace filter on the back side of the fan, Mount it with screws or duct tape. This filter will last years so semi permanent is o.k. Hang it from a hook in the ceiling, or somewhere you can reach it. But be sure air can pass through it from both sides. I keep mine near my sanding bench. Run the fan on low during your work hours. Simply vacuum the filter every so often as it's pulling the dust out of the air. I run two actually, one near the sanding bench and on central to the shop, but out of my way. This works rather well, and it'll cost you $25.00 for one. You can buy the stuff and any local home center, or Wally world(walma*t).

Another good, but a little more expensive way, is to build yourself a sanding station. Sounds huge, but it's really easy. By some 2"x4"'s and a sheet of peg board. Build a bench about 4" inches shorter than working height. Then stand you 2x4's on the tall edge and make a frame around the edge of the table. Depending how big the table is you might want to put some cross supports to eliminate bowing of the work surface. I recommend at least one. I used Velcro to attach the peg board to the surface so I can clean the inside periodically. Next, make a hole in the side, that your dust collector or vacuum can connect to. When you sand your project 90% of the dust will be sucked through the top and into your system. Works well but takes time to build, and floor space to sacrafice. You can also devise some type of foldable legs for easy storage.

Solutions for a bigger system.

On bigger dust collection systems there are many things you can do to optimize your usage. First and foremost, if you don't have gates, get them. Make sure all other gates are closed when in use, to maximize vacuum pressure on your machine. Some shops have automatic gates which are a great system as long as they don't get jammed. Plywood squares do help, but manual gates are rather inexpensive, and are easy to install.

Don't walk so much it's not a marathon.

Set up a switch that works on a pull string rather than push button. Then run a web around your shop that's in reach to each machine. Not the most efficient but it minimizes walking time, and works good. Another way to do that is run actual switches to each machine that all connect to your one dust collector. This takes a little more money, and OSHA wants the wiring enclosed in conduit, with junction boxes.

Downsize your duct work.

As you reach the far extents of your shop, your dust collection seems to lose its sucking power. Get some reducers right at the machine and you'll double it. ( 6"to 4" reducer) these are most common as a six inch runs the length of the shop and your 4" drops down to your machine. Sometimes you can reduce again right at the machine to increase suction, depends on the tool. Don't downsize below the machines output duct size, then increase to make the connection because you'll lose all that gained power.


Most shops I've seen always use sheet metal screws to attach duct work together. Naturally it's the way to do it, but do you take the extra steps to ensure quality? Run a bead of silicone around the tube before connecting, then cover each screw. Even better don't use screws, use hose clamps. This will minimize the loss as you get further away from the dust collector. It may only be a little at this joint, but after 100 joints or so, and 1000 screws you'll lose a lot. I seen a guy make a living from optimizing collection systems. This is one of his techniques that always boosts suction. In the least, use duct tape to seal the joints.

These are some tips that will help you breath and work better, and make your woodworking experience a much more pleasurable one. A safe shop is a happy shop.

Frankie Talarico Jr.


  1. It is annoying when a lot of dust gets piled up. It is always better to have an area that is clean and does not have a lot of dust. It feels cleaner to be around when there is no dust around. http://www.canvasaustralia.com.au/bellows.html

  2. Gain your access to 16,000 woodworking sketches.

    Teds Woodworking has over 16,000 woodworking sketches with STEP BY STEP instructions, pictures and blueprints to make all projects very easy!