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Dust collectors / vacuum buying guide - Karcher, JET, Fein, Delta etc

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Buying Guide to Dust Collectors: Work cleaner! Breathe easier!

by Penelope Corcoran

If you work with wood even if it's just in your home workshop on weekends, you're wise to invest in a dust collector. Wood dust (a.k.a. sawdust) is a documented health hazard. Exposure to wood dust has been linked to external and internal health problems ranging from dermatitis to cancer.

With the right piece of dust collection equipment in place, your work or hobby environment will be cleaner, more pleasant, and healthier for you and your family.

Important Features
Airflow: The basic standard of measure used to rate dust collectors is "the volume of air they can move (cfm or cubic feet per minute) at a given static, or constant, pressure (resistance to airflow measured in inches of water)." Phew! What that means: Buy a dust collector with enough cfm to handle the dust output of your biggest dust-generating machine. If your shop runs more than one machine at a time, you'll need a dust collector that can cope with their combined dust output.

Not sure how much cfm the tools you work with require? Consult the list below.

  • Planer, up to 12 inches: 400 cfm
  • Planer, 13 to 20 inches: 500 cfm
  • Spindle shaper: 400 cfm
  • Band saw: 300 cfm
  • Radial-arm saw: 350 cfm
  • Table saw: 350 cfm
  • Jointer, 4 to 12 inches: 350 cfm
  • Belt-disc sander: 300 cfm
  • Floor sweep: 350 cfm
  • Lathe: 500 cfm
  • Drill press: 300 cfm
  • Scroll saw: 300 cfm

Static pressure: Quoted in inches, static pressure measures the strength of a machine's air suction. The higher the cfm and static pressure numbers, the stronger the dust collector.

Filter bag efficiency: How good's that cloth filter bag? It all depends on the weave. The finer the weave, the more efficient the filter: a super-fine weave will tend to be super-efficient, trapping particles as small as one micron.

Noise level: Measured in dbs. The lower, the quieter.

Wheels or not: Unless your shop has the ductwork required for a centralized dust collection system, you'll probably want a machine with wheels. If and when you do install the ductwork, many mobile units can be adapted for use as central dust collectors.

Five Different Types: Most dust collectors fit into one of five categories. Which is right for you? It all depends on the quantity and kind of wood debris and dust your work or hobby generates (and, to a lesser extent, what you've budgeted for dust collection equipment).

Shop vacuums: Shop vacuums are ideal for light-duty dust collecting, say, for the level of wood dust produced by a sander or router. They are not equipped to handle the larger wood debris of jointers and planers. Vacs are the least expensive kind of dust collection apparatus (from under $200 to over $400), but also the least effective.

Single-stage: Single-stage dust collectors typically consist of a blower and a pair of filter bags, stacked one atop the other. As wood debris is drawn into the machine, heavier chips and debris fall into the bottom bag, while the top bag catches finer dust. Clean air filters back into the shop. Wheels make it possible to roll a single-stage collector wherever it's needed in your work setup. Prices range from under $200 to $1,500.

Two-stage: Using a collection drum and bag configuration, two-stage collectors cleverly separate out larger, heavier wood debris before it passes through (and wears out) the machine's impeller. Air is sucked in, debris falls into the drum, finer dust is blown through the impeller and collects in the filter bag. The only problem is, when emptying the collection drum you have to lift off the (heavy) blower that sits on top of it. Prices for a two-stage collector range from $400 to $1,200.

Cyclone pre-collectors: With its distinctive funnel shape, the cyclone pre-collector is aptly named. This highly efficient dust collector uses its shape to whirl and separate dust, chips, and other debris. Big stuff falls into the drum-shaped waste container. Fine dust is blown into the filter bag. Pros with medium- to large-sized shops like this type of dust collection system. Prices range from $500 to $2,800; for some models, the waste container will cost you extra.

Ambient air cleaners: Ceiling-mounted ambient air cleaners capture wood dust particles too fine to be trapped by dust collectors. Air is sucked through a series of filters, tiny micron-sized particles are captured, then clean air circulates back into the shop. Most shops use this type of equipment in combination with another dust collection system. Prices for ambient air cleaners range from $200 to $1,000.

Major Brands
Many manufacturers make vacuums, dust collectors, ambient air cleaners, and dust collection filters, fittings, and hoses. Some of the best-known brands are Delta, JDS, Jet, and Fein. editor Penelope Corcoran learned most of what she knows about tools from her dad. The rest she learned as a homeowner and do-it-yourselfer.

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