I have this friend on the Woodworker’s Website Association named Jim. He’s a now-retired grizzled veteran of the competitive northeast construction and cabinet trades. He’s seen it all, heard it all, tried it all and shoots straight from the hip. Ask a question, you get an honest answer with Jim. He’s that kinda guy.
But, that’s not who this article is about. It’s actually about something he dropped off for me this past March when he was down for a visit.
Now that Jim is retired, he has time on his hands to travel and to tinker. Before his trip this spring, he called me and asked if I was interested in looking at something he had built. One Saturday morning, I drove to the travel trailer park Jim was staying at, and after our greetings and some shop talk, he showed me something that looked like Rube Goldberg himself had created. Old plumbing fittings, waferboard, 2 x 4’s and weatherstripping had been cobbled together. It looked as if it had been picked over in a rubble heap. MacGyver would be proud of this…
While it did look nasty at first, it may prove to be something that will change how I work in my shop.
Jim had created a modified cyclonic dust collector. He started with the plans drafted by Phil Thien. Phil’s plans show how to create an inexpensive dust collector which fits onto the top of a metal garbage can. A shop vac and an intake hose to suck up the dust is everything needed to create your own dust collection system.
Jim’s improvements include extending the cyclone separator in a compartment above the trash can, which Jim says improves the airflow by removing any potential debris interference.
Since it was nearing the start of hurricane season, I had left the collector in the corner of my shop to – err – collect dust. Finally, this past weekend, I was able to run to Home Depot and pick up an old-fashioned metal trash can to affix the collector to.
Jim had routed a groove to fit over the rim of the can and had sealed the bottom of it to get an airtight fit. I hooked it up as described, and I was initially thoroughly unimpressed. The collector didn’t seem to generate enough suction to lift even the finest of dust. I fiddled with the collector for a while, and then I discovered my problem. I hadn’t fit the lid deep enough into the groove.
A quick shove down on the offending side, I got that sealed up and WOW…
The suction generated by my standard issue shop vac was impressive. Planer shavings, sawdust, small animals – what couldn’t this thing pick up? Jim had also warned me that if I drew a vacuum by sealing off the intake hose, the trash can could collapse due to the air pressure. Well… sure enough, the silly thing’s sides did buckle when I put my hand over the intake hose! I’ll also have to follow his advice and cut a brace for the inside of the can to give it extra support.
To put this unit to the test, I set up a field experiment. I had been planing strips of ash and walnut for a project, and I had a good pile of shavings there ready to be cleaned up. The shop was a mess.
I took my shop vac outside and emptied it. I banged out the filter – the works. It was as squeaky clean as I dared make it. I stacked the empty shop vac on top of the unit and hooked up the hoses. That’s when I went to work, sucking up everything.
The suction worked as I had expected it to for a dust collector. There was a large rush of air headed into the hose, and everything was sucked through into the can. I love clear hoses on my collector…
After working the hose for a while, cleaning up the mess of a long day in the shop, I stopped the shop vac and took a peek inside. There was some fine dust in the vacuum’s tank, but that was it. None of the larger shavings made it to the vacuum.
A peek into the trash can showed me why… there’s where I found all of the planer shavings, silently resting in the can. A quick trip outside, and the can was clean once again.
The collector was extremely effective. I have a 1 hp 500 cfm Delta model in my shop, and I rarely use it. The system gets clogged up frequently and it doesn’t have the ‘oomph’ to get the planer shavings. Then, there are the bag changings… something I never look forward to. That metal ‘belt’ I have to snap in place rarely goes on the first – or second – try.
This system exceeded all my expectations. In fact, I will be looking into getting a dedicated shop vac to mount on top of the collector on a semi-permanent basis.
Hey, Jim, I gotta hand it to you. You are one tough sucker after all!
P.S. – If you are interested in seeing Jim’s plans, I can forward the messages to him