One tough sucker

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…

The total stackWhile 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

33 thoughts on “One tough sucker”

  1. I would be intrested in the plans. This seems like a great alternative to the high priced stand alone dust collector.
    Rick Pa.

  2. OK, I’ll get your request to Jim. He’s retired… so it may take him a few days…Busy schedule, ya know? 😀

  3. Tom,
    That thing looks neat. I’m actually waiting for my ClearVue Blower Vac Conversion lid to arrive, and I’m hoping for equally amazing results. Looks like you got them much cheaper than I did. Good Luck with it.

  4. I’d love the plans as well–my wife might say I NEED the plans dust collection is a constant issues for me)! Thanks for sharing, Tom.

    Joliet, IL

  5. Hey Tom,

    That looks like it would serve me well. I would be interested in the plans if they are available.

    Thanks the the blog. I enjoy all of your entries!


  6. Hi Tom,
    Us upside downers would love to see those plans,
    keep up the good work mate.


  7. Would like to see plans…Anything that gets rid of dust is a priority…Thanks, Tom…..

  8. I just discovered Phil Thien’s plans this past week and was thinking of making my own. I would love to see an improved version.

  9. OK, an e-mail is off to Jim!

    Remember, he’s a retired guy, so it may take a few days to get a response!

  10. Thanks for the heads up Tom.
    I’d sure like those plans too.
    It would almost be worth dedicating one of those to each corner of the shop for different machines to avoid running hoses all across the shop floor.
    Thanks again.
    And thanks to Jim for sharing his invention.

  11. Tom, that is just almost amazing, when the plans come in, please send a copy this way.

  12. FYI – Jim got in contact with me today. He said he’s going to improve his drawings a little, then be able to send them out to all who requested…

    Thanks for your patience!

  13. Another request for those plans! I’ve been thinking about doing the one from Thein’s blog, so I’m very interested in seeing other versions/adaptations.

    Thanks for the great blog!!

  14. Tom, I would like a copy of those plans too when they are available, please.

    Keep up the great work !


  15. Tom, please send me a copy of the plans when available. That would work great in my shop as well.

  16. Tom, when the plans are available let me know.
    That would work great in my shop.
    Looks neet have to try it.

  17. If it’s not too late, I’d love the plans as well. Like Jared from Joliet says, my wife says I NEED it too!!


  18. Tom,

    I’d appreciate a copy of the plans as well, once Jim has completed his refinements.


  19. Please send me the plans. I have been looking for something like this. Thanks for the info and thanks in advance for the plans.

  20. Hello Tom!
    I was searching for alternates to spending $$$ on a workable, useful shop vac system, and Yahoo search found your page for me! I’d like to build one of these – the idea of stacking the pieces is a better fit for my should-be-spacious-but-is-not shop. Please pass my request on to Jim, if he’s still taking requests (he probably feels like a disc-jockey by now!) for his plans. Thanks a million (or at least the $3-400 bucks and up the store bought ones cost).


  21. If the plans are still available or if they are published somewhere I’d love to have a copy.

    – Woody

  22. These plans sound great. if possible will you please have Jim send them. Hope your buddy Jim is enjoying retirement as much as I am.


  23. I also would be interested in a set of his final plans.
    What a great idea.

  24. love to see the plans looks like just the dust buster i’ve been looking for.

  25. Tom would you please have Jim send me a set of his final plans. Thank you very much, that would work out great in my basement shop.

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