Installing Your Woodshop’s Dust Collection System

by Casey Luke Short

Keep your woodshop both clean and safe with a stationary dust collection system.

Did you enjoy Tinker Toys or Legos as a kid? If the answer is yes, then your gonna have fun piecing together your own vacuum system.Your basic run down of parts will consist of the following: a dust collector, remote switch, PVC or metal duct, elbows, t-fittings, floor sweeps, hose, reducers, splices, hose ends, hose clamps, wall hangers, grounding wire, glue, and tape. To me, designing and assembling a nice vac system was a lot of fun.

If you’re building something as large as a boat, or any other demanding wood project, you need some type of vacuum. There are health risks associated with breathing in the dust, and the layers of dust in the woodshop or garage can build up fast. If your shop is attached to the house this dust also works it’s way inside, making matters even worse, and sometimes driving a wedge between you and your spouse.

A remote switch makes turning the vacuum on and off easy.

For several years I got by with just a basic shop vac, but once I installed a vacuum system, projects became more enjoyable.The ease of simply pushing a button or flipping a switch and having vacuum suction at every tool location is a real benefit to both your health and your productivity.

To save money, consider purchasing a mobile dust collector. Several manufacturers make machines that roll on casters. These relatively inexpensive vacuums are easy to move and clean. However, there is some downtime reattaching the dust collector from one machine to the next, and they’re not as powerful as the larger stationary systems.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of projects, a stationary dust collection system is probably the best way to go. This type of vacuum typically has multiple branches that pull dust from numerous power tools, hoses and floor sweeps. A basic stationary system works very well for a small shop.

Remote switches are available for 110 and 220 voltage applications.

The larger your woodshop, the more you’ll want to think through the design.Consider your specific cubic-feet-per-minute requirements. The more tools you have running at once, and the longer your duct runs, the larger the system will need to be. There are several kinds of dust collectors available. It’s best to determine what you need and finish your design before purchasing your vacuum system, or you may buy one that’s too small.

By designing an efficient system, you’ll keep costs down.To do this, pick up a good book through this link. My shop fills my two car garage, so I had a fair amount of space to work with. My father gave me a nice Delta 2 stage, 2 horse power vacuum when he downsized to a mobile Jet unit. I received this vac before designing my system, and was lucky the size was perfect. I used grid paper to lay out my shop’s system.

To simplify the design, I cut out post-its to the dimensions of the items in my woodshop, and stuck them to my grid paper. This allowed me to quickly arrange the shop’s layout without getting overly technical. I positioned my tools for the shortest ducting possible, while still maintaining easy access to each one.

Make sacrifices where needed. For example, I rarely use either of my lathes, so I didn’t bother giving them their own duct, and simply placed a shop vac next to them. I can always run a duct in the future. As for the drill press, I just placed a floor sweep suction port close by. Both of these decisions saved me time and money and probably kept me from requiring a larger system.

Installing vacuum ducts under shelves not only saves space, it creates space.

For convenience, I installed two PVC lines under some shelves that fed into my vac.I saw my dad do this in his shop, and it works really well. I mounted the trunk line, made of PVC, down below the shelf so the pipe would clear the shelving brackets. I prefer to use gray electrician’s bundling tape for the PVC connections. This makes it easy to rearrange the duct lines if necessary. I’ve found this tape peels off with little residue and oftentimes can be put right back on the PVC.

On each PVC line I placed one or more T’s to service my table saw, router table, and band saw. I installed the PVC an inch or so from the underside of the shelf. This gave me enough clearance for the T’s. The blast gates were glued onto each T rather than taped like the PVC pipe connections. A blast gate is basically a valve for turning off the suction that pulls dust from each stationary power tool, floor sweep or hose. I had a jointer that would have also been hooked up to this vac system, but sold it to gain more floor space for my boat build. Some vacuums are so powerful it is recommended to keep at least one blast gate open so your hose does not collapse.

Blast gates allow you to shut off and turn on suction to various tools.

From the blast gate connected to the “Tee,” I ran a clear hose to each stationary power tool.The benefit of a clear hose is you can see if you have a clog. The fine white powder produced from sanding epoxy may require that you disconnect these hoses from time to time and clean them out with water. Make sure to purchase a strong hose, one that can take your weight if you accidentally step on it.

Add a floor sweep to make cleaning up sawdust easy.

For added convenience, I installed two floor sweeps.These floor sweeps are controlled with their own blast gates. This makes cleaning up the shop easy. I don’t fix the floor sweeps to the ground. They are held in place just with their connections to the PVC. To me, this is safer for the equipment. I can bump one, and they simply move to the side without breaking. I just kick them back into place with my foot.

Most stationary power tools have their own hoods to capture dust, but some don’t. You may have to get creative and purchase a hood or two and install them onto your stationary power tools. You can find all sorts of cool parts online to customize your vacuum system. For example, my Jet bandsaw had one port for collecting sawdust. I felt it needed another, so I added one.

If you are building a boat, install a vacuum hose on the ceiling in the center of your workshop.

If you’re building a boat, or you use a lot of handheld power tools, consider running an extra PVC line to the middle of your woodshop. I placed an extra line directly in the center of my garage. It’s suspended from the ceiling and reduces from 4″down to 2″. With this branch line I can easily reach my lathe and drill press. The hose that connects to this branch is used very often while working on my boat. I connect it to my orbital and finish sanders to keep the dust under control. Consider installing one, it’s an excellent addition to any vacuum setup. For convenience, I added a remote start so I can turn the vacuuming with this or any other line.

Ground everything on your dust collection system to reduce the chances of a fire.

Here are a couple final thoughts to keep you safe.Do your homework by purchasing a good book. This will make things go much smoother.┬áDon’t use your vac system as a wet vac. Things get moldy, and it ain’t pretty. GROUND EVERYTHING! With all the fine dust and the abundance of oxygen rushing through the system, a small spark can ignite a large fire. If for any reason you think sparks may have been drawn into your vac, turn it off and empty out the wood chips and dust. The last thing you want is to burn up the coolest part of the house. And one final thought, don’t install a vac system in a room with a gas powered appliance. Even the pilot light can ignite the dust in the air.

I was hoping by the end of this article I would finally be able to spell the word vacuum. But I think I only spelled it correctly one time and had to rely on spell check. Even my attempt in this sentence to get it right backfired. Ahh well… some of us just stink at spelling.

To order parts for your vacuum system click here.

Here are some more shots of my stationary duct collection system.

Use a Y-Fitting to collect dust from two locations on one stationary tool. This fitting worked great for my router table. I also used a similar one on my band saw.

To purchase a Y-Connector similar to the one above, click here.

This router table fence from Jessem has a vac port built right into the back of the fence.

To order 2 1/2 inch vacuum hose, like what’s shown above, click here..

Companies sell handy brackets for mounting PVC pipe to ceilings and walls. I installed my brackets on small blocks of wood that I screwed into the ceiling's beams.

You can order wall hangers by visiting this site.

Tape works great for connecting your fittings and vacuum duct together.

To order tape for your vacuum duct system, click here.

Reducers allow you to step down from one size hose to another, and come in a number of sizes.

To order reducers for your vacuum system, click here..

Blast gates, hose clamps and grounding wire are three of the items you will want to order for your stationary vacuum system.

To purchase hose clamps, click here. If you are needing a grounding wire kit, click here, and if you need blast gates, click here.

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