Don’t Sneeze!

Now that the dog houses are built (pictured here), the shop is a mess!  All the tools have been put away, but there are scraps of OSB, dimensional lumber, and styrofoam on the floor as well as TONS of sawdust.  It’s readily apparent I need some sort of solution for dust collection.  By itself, my granddad’s shop-vac just can’t keep up.

What’s all the hype about?

Although our grandparents didn’t concern themselves much with it beyond sawdust being a nuisance, we’ve learned in the past 30 years or so that the very fine particles of sawdust often inhaled in a shop can be detrimental to our health (check out a great article here).  In addition, sawdust poses three other hazards:

  • On the floor, it can be a slipping hazard.  Especially in my shop – with the epoxy floor, even a little water gets pretty slick.
  • When left and using metal-working tools (grinders, etc.), a spark can cause a fire
  • When left on a tool, the moisture released from sawdust will eventually begin to rust the tool

Figuring out the prototype

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I’ve looked at the work done by a lot of people to improve their dust collection/separation.  It breaks down into two main categories:  cyclone separators and Thein baffles.  There are plenty of retail/commercial options if you don’t want to build it yourself, but you know I like building things for myself.  I’m going to talk here about separators for a small shop, not the big permanently-installed ones with pipe running around overhead.

Cyclone Separators

These separators are pretty cool.  These tall, narrow cones typically bolt on the top of a container which is often on casters, and both the collection hose and the vacuum hose plug into the top.  While effective, these always seem to be top-heavy, especially if you pull your vacuum around by the hose like I do.

Thein Baffles

These work on the same principle as cyclone separators, but are typically shorter (half to 2/3 of the height of the cyclone).  With the smaller cross-section, they don’t seem to suffer the same tipping-over problem as their tall, skinny counterparts while still having many of the same advantages.

What I need:

  • A separator that I can power with my existing shop-vac.  I have both a 1 1/4 inch hose and a 2 1/2 inch.  I’m not opposed to buying another hose if it will keep things simple.
  • Reasonably low-profile to help prevent tipping.
  • Something I can put on a cart and roll around the shop
  • Easy to switch to vacuum only for the occasional non-sawdust clean-up job
  • Somewhere to store vacuum accessories so I can quit LOSING them
  • A way to quiet down the noisy old shop-vac.  Seriously.  It’s louder than the radial arm saw.
  • It’s got to be cheap to build in case it’s less effective than I want it to be.

After poking around in the corners of the internet, I’ve decided to try to duplicate the work done by D’Bug’s Life here.  I’ll do it in a few phases:

  1. Duplicate D’Bug’s Life’s work with a small twist.  I’m going to run a bead of caulk around under the lip of the separator section and let it cure there as a seal between the two buckets.  I won’t put the buckets together until after it’s cured, so I don’t “glue” the buckets together.  I’m also going to leave myself the ability to run the center vacuum tube all the way down to the baffle.  There are a lot of Thein baffle separators that have the vacuum about 1/2 inch above the baffle instead of right at the lid.
  2. Phase 2:  if phase 1 works, I’ll up-size the collection bucket to a garbage can with a hole in the lid (that’ll be another post).
  3. Phase 3:  using some of the scraps from the shop, I’ll build an insulated box for the shop-vac to quiet it down (that’ll be yet another post).

So, parts and consumables I need for phase 1:

  • Two 5-gallon buckets
  • One lid for a 5-gallon bucket
  • Caulk
  • Two PVC 45-degree elbows (I’ll have to test-fit a 2 1/2-inch Shop-Vac hose in the 2-inch 45-degree PVC ; if it doesn’t fit, I’ll have to try the 2 1/2-inch fitting with a short section of pipe)
  • One 24-inch piece of PVC to fit the 45-degree elbows
  • Two slip unions same size as the elbows
  • Three short sections of scrap dimensional lumber to stabilize the baffle below the lid
  • PVC cement

If I can’t press-fit the Shop-Vac hose to a PVC pipe or fitting, I’ll get the appropriately-sized rubber flex connector with hose clamps.  It’ll work great.

See you when I get back from my local hardware store!