Capture the mess before it’s made, with a DIY dust collection system
Here’s a rewarding weekend project that turns an ordinary shop vacuum into a capable mini dust collector. It creates a swirling vortex of airflow to spin out all the big chips and sawdust particles, so that only the finest of fines will exit the top to be captured by your vacuum. Plus it’s see-through, so your friends will love watching the cyclonic action, and you’ll get to brag, “Yeah, I made that!”
This is an easy-to-build dust separator with a baffle based on J. Phil Thien’s well-known “cyclone” design. It works because the incoming air is forced around the outside wall, where the heavier dust and chips fall through a slot in the baffle, into the large trash can below. When driven with a blower like I use, the baffle removes the need for a standalone dust collection system (which not everyone has the money, space, or power to accommodate). When used with a shop-vac, this simple dust collector will greatly prolong the life of your filters and prevent the constant need to empty the vacuum bin, which is typically small and difficult to remove.
IMPORTANT: The measurements presented here are tailored to fit the trash can I used. If you’re using a different collection vessel, you’ll need to alter all of your measurements to fit.[youtube https://youtu.be/m9Sn7g-vsf8]
DIY Dust Collection
Whether it’s sawdust, carbide grit, aluminum shavings, or powdered circuit boards, you don’t want that stuff clogging your workpiece, your eyes, or your lungs. A dust collection system not only protects your health, it also keeps your tools cleaner and safer, reduces fire risk, and keeps mess off the floor.
Systems for big workshops typically have a powerful central vacuum and dedicated 6″ or 4″ hoses for each tool, with “blast gates” to shut off the suction to tools not in use. That’s a doable DIY project if you’ve got lots of space. But most small workshops can benefit greatly from a movable system based on an ordinary wet/dry shop vacuum and its standard 2½” hose — like the cyclone separator described here.
Dust Collection Tips
- Newer bench/table tools may have a standard 2½” dust port, where you can plug in a shop-vac hose. Hand tools like sanders are easier to operate with a 1¼” hose.
- To mate different ports and hoses, you can buy standard adapters at your local home store or cut down a universal adapter to fit — but you should still plan on needing duct tape, because many toolmakers haven’t yet standardized their dust fittings.
- Ditch the dustpan — instead, push debris into a dedicated “floor sweep” box attached to your vacuum.
- Swap your shop vac’s filter for a HEPA filter to capture the finest dust. But wear a mask or respirator anyway — a shop vac has good static pressure but doesn’t move enough air volume to filter all the air in your workspace.
The base of the separator sits on top of the collection vessel and forms a seal. The inner dimensions of the bottom piece will determine the size of the top piece, so if you are using a different collection vessel, adjust accordingly.
The top of the separator connects to the vacuum or blower and provides a path for air to leave. The top is the same size as the center section you removed from the bottom piece. If you are using a different collection vessel, adjust accordingly.
By using polycarbonate for the side walls, you can see how well the collector is working without lifting the lid. You can also tell at a glance if your collection vessel is full.
This step involves some tricky drilling, so take your time and work carefully. Polycarbonate can crack if too much pressure is applied, which is why we are using pan-head screws (which have a flat-bottomed head) and driving them by hand.
This is easily the most difficult part of the project and requires a good deal of finesse. The inlet needs to be cut to match the curve of the side walls, and any gaps will result in pressure loss and a sloppy joint that requires a lot of hot glue to seal. For best results, watch the video before attempting this part of the project.
At this point, your separator is ready to use. I almost exclusively use mine with a DeWalt 735 thickness planer. The planer has a built-in blower so no suction is required; however, this creates positive pressure in the collection vessel and you will need to clamp the lid on. The separator also works quite well with a Shop-Vac, but you will need to adapt the 4″ fittings to fit your Shop-Vac hose.
Keep in mind that if you clog the hose or overfill the collection bucket, the internal cyclone will stop working and the dust will instead escape through the top port.