Dust Control & Collection in Small Shops & Tight Workspaces

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The Importance of Dust Control & Collection in Small Shops

With so much research available, it’s hard (and outright foolish) to ignore that shop dust is a serious health concern.  However, there are relatively easy and cost effective steps you can take to reduce or eliminate this dust in small shops and workspaces.   I personally decided that the most efficient way to eliminate the hazards associated with shop dust was to build a dust collection system in my workspace.   I want to share how I planned and executed my small shop dust collection, including the build and installation of my dust collection system.

Determine Your Dust Control Needs

As with any project, you need to analyze your current and future dust collection needs.  This means you need to determine what current tools create dust and any future tools you may add to your shop that will also create dust.  I found that my biggest causes of shop dust were my router table, plunge router, sander, jigsaw, table sanding and drilling.  I keep my miter and table saws in the garage since they would not fit in my 64 sq. ft. shop.  Being able to separate the two largest contributors of dust and chips allowed me to specialize my dust collection system and cater to finishing tools.

The second stage of planning is determining how many tools will be used at one time and the size of your shop.  I didn’t need to worry about distance because my shop is only 8 ft. x 8 ft. The number of tools was a concern because I will most likely want more than one tool hooked up to the system at a time.  I decided to go with a dedicated 2 ½” line to my router table and then 2 additional ports for handheld tools that would be connected to the system.

After you’ve identified your dust control needs, it’s time to focus on the heart of the system – the vacuum.  The world of vacuums is a tough one to navigate; you have HEPA vacuums, shop vacuums, dust collectors and vacuum pumps.  If you have allergies or asthma you may want to consider a HEPA vacuum to drive your system.  The advantage of using HEPA is that you’re going to eliminate virtually all dust trying to escape out the exhaust port of the vacuum.  If you’re looking for better CFM (cubic feet of air flow per minute) because you will be pulling a lot of dust and chips through your system, or you will have long pipe runs, then a stronger dust collector will be needed.  I have a small shop and small demand for my collection system so I opted for a 14 gallon Ridgid shop vacuum to power the system.

The next phase of planning is to determine how you want to separate your dust and chips.  You have several options for dust separation.  The easiest method would be to simply connect your dust extractor to your manifold and let the filter do the separating and simply empty the canister when it’s full.  The drawback is that your filter will need to be cleaned and replaced often and the costs will add up over time.  The second method is to use a bag in your dust extractor to collect the dust and chips.  This keeps your filter from getting clogged, but you do have the cost of the bags which can be $5-20 each.  The last option (and my personal favorite) is a cyclonic dust separator.  I opted for a Dust Deputy separator for my system but there are several to choose from.  A cyclonic dust separator is situated between your suction device and the debris source. The cyclonic force separates out dust and chips into a separate receptacle, in my case a 5 gallon plastic bucket.  I have been using mine for several months now and the separator has collected over 99% of the dust and chips before they reach the vacuum.

Building the Dust Control and Collection System

Now that you know what’s going to drive your system, how many tools you will need to hook up and the method for collecting your dust, you can finally build the system.  Once I had the dust extractor and separator in place, I was able to design the details of the manifold system.  For the manifold I chose to keep everything 2 ½” since that is what the Vac and dust deputy are setup to accept.  The main stack consists of two Y-Connector fittings stacked on top of each other.  Each dust port is controlled with a 2 ½” metal blast gate.  To connect hoses to the outlet ports I opted to use 2 ½” to 2 ¼” swivel conversion ports.  These ports allowed me to easily connect Bosch and other standard vacuum hoses to the manifold.  I had to use 2 ½” splices and a good layer of PVC cement due to the complexity and various piece in my dust control system

Small Shop Dust Control & Collection - Manifold Pieces

Once the manifold was complete I mounted it to the wall using 2 ½” horseshoe brackets and a 2 x 6.  I placed the shop vacuum in a separate room to reduce the noise while in operation.  Since the vacuum is located in another room, I mounted a Rockler Safety Power Tool Switch to the face of my work bench.  This remote switch allows me to run the shop vacuum to the switch and then just plug the switch in the wall.  I chose not use an automatic power sensing switch because I wanted to be able to use multiple tools in the system at the same time.

Small Shop Dust Control & Collection - Mounting Manifold

Small Shop Dust Control & Collection - Shop Vac

Small Shop Dust Control & Collection - Dust Deputy & Switch

Small Shop Dust Control & Collection - Finished Build

The whole manifold system only has enough power to have one blast gate open at a time but this is not an issue because I only have a one-man shop.  With the fences properly setup on the router table the vacuum is powerful enough to collect over 95% of the chips and dust that are produced.  Read even more details on my forum post discussing this project.

What do think?  Share your thoughts about my dust control and collection system, or how you’ve created your own dust control for your shop.

More Dust Control and Collection Tips on BTP

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Jason Larcheid is a hybrid tradesman with experience as an electrician and project manager. As an electrician Jason has extensive experience in residential wiring and low voltage. He has also spent significant time…Read more

22 comments on “Dust Control & Collection in Small Shops & Tight Workspaces

  1. Nick

    Jason, great article! I really like that you were able to put that vac in a “Remote” area and give yourself some more space in your shop. The whole setup seems great for a one man show here. I like it and have considered some of your ideas for my own place. thanks!

  2. John S

    Really glad you were able to bring all of this together into an article for us! I definitely appreciate how much thought you put into arranging your shop and definitely benefit from your wisdom in arranging my own!

  3. Matt

    Thanks for putting this into an article Jason. I really like the way you have setup your dust collection. After seeing some really elaborate setups I think you really balanced a simple and low cost setup with something that is really easy to use. I have a shop move planned in the next year and will likely be stealing a lot of your ideas – thanks!

  4. Chad

    Finally got around to reading the whole article. Really nice job on the dust collection system. Now that you have been using it awhile, is there anything you would change with how you set it up?

    1. Jason Post author

      Hi Chad, I must admit I am very pleased with the setup. It can handle pretty much anything I can throw at it. I guess if I had to upgrade one thing it would be to add more power. I have not tried to attache another shop vacuum but that is going to happen in the near future.

  5. Eric

    Nice setup. Looks like you can swap out the vacuum easy enough if you need more power or it fails. You might consider a central vac in the future as they develop considerable suction and can be plumbed with an exhaust pipe that terminates outside. This would reduce both the noise and the overall dust in the shop.

    1. Jason Post author

      Eric, that is a solid idea. I haven’t looked into a home vac filter system but if they aren’t too expensive to replace then I think you might be on to something. In the mean time I am going to install an outside venting option for the current system.

  6. Brad

    Good article Jason, I was searching for a manifold idea and found yours. I am def going to copy it. As for the auto switch, I just purchased one and hooked up three machines to it via a extension cord, and it works great. Do you see any issues with this? I am not running all the machines at the same time, just one at a time.

    1. Jason Post author

      Brad that seems like a good idea so that you never forget to turn it on. I use mine for shop cleanup so the manual option is nice to have to vac up small messes.

  7. Jon

    Great set up. Im currently working on a similar one of my own. Trying to find fittings and reducers for specific tools has been the biggest setback yet. Any ideas on where to locate odd sizes or how to identify exactly what I need?

    1. Jason Post author

      Good Morning Jon,
      I was able to get 90% of my parts for the manifold at Rockler. The 2 1/2″ clamps I sourced from the electrical department at my local big box hardware store. I found that it helps to test fit the whole manifold before you do your glue up.

      I just added a sweet collection fitting for when I am doing dado or slot work on my router table.

  8. Chris

    Wow…awsome article.
    You set the bar high my friend.
    Dust will eventually get most of us. My grandpa was a shop teacher that died from ‘farmers lung’,and that was when all they cut was real wood. I cant believe I don’t have my set up yet.
    Thx for a great baseline.

  9. Sergey

    What a great article Jason! I really learned a lot about dust control and collection from you. I will be referring to this article once i am ready to set up my shop. Thank you very much!

  10. Éric

    Great article. I did something similar after reading this, but also created a cheap air filter by duct taping a furnace filter (actually two – a fine hole and a coarse pre-filter) to the back of it. Does a great job with everything else. I may even build a second one, since the components are so cheap.

  11. Charlie

    I need to do this too. My shop is a little bigger (12×20) and both the table saw and mitre saw are included in the same space. Do you have any recommendations for how to make sure it’s easy to incorporate blast gates that are quick and easy to use when you want to switch between tools?

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