Woodworking can be a relaxing activity if you know what you’re doing. Even with the loud noises coming from your power tools, there’s nothing that takes the tension off your shoulders more than building wood-based art for your home.
However, arguably one of the most annoying and time-consuming activities is cleaning up when you’re all one. Look at the mess your tools left for you to sweep and dispose of. It angers up the blood, but there’s absolutely no way you can cut remove materials from wooden pieces without producing a ton or two of wood dust.
The table saw – the saw with an upward-facing blade that protrudes from an aluminum table – is famous for being one of the biggest pains in the neck to clean up after. All the dust falling into every nook and cranny, potentially clogging the blade or arbor hole, or falling carelessly to the floor, can become a slipping, fire, and health hazard if inhaled.
Thankfully newer table saw models come with more reliable dust-collection systems, but what if you have one of the older models without built-in dust-collecting portsWell, you don’t need to worry since we’re going to show you a few ways how you can upgrade your table saw’s dust-collection capabilities.
1. Installing a dust port
The simplest way to suction any residual dust away from your table saw is by installing a dust collector. Newer models should have these built-in already, but older models may require a little bit of tinkering in order to get the dust port installed correctly.
The dust port should be placed anywhere beneath the blade on the under portion of the table. This works best if the there is an open bottom under the blade (the original “dust-management system” which simply lefts dust fall to the floor). With a plastic tray, MDF filler, and duct tape, you can customize your own budget-friendly dust port. Be sure that the port is large enough to accommodate the size of your shop vac’s hose.
2. Filling any gaps
You might be surprised to learn that most dust-collection inefficiencies are caused by gaps, whether you’ve installed your own dust port or rely on the built-in port for dust cleanup. Since the shop vac’s suction hose relies heavily on there being no holes or gaps where air can seep through, it only makes sense that you keep the dust-collection port as airtight as possible.
Luckily, in most cases, it’s an easy fix. All you need is a bit of upholstery foam that you can cut to custom sizes and a bit of duct tape. Place the foam where you find any gaps and cover the exterior surface with duct tape. Run your shop vac to see if there are any remaining gaps.
To see if you missed any gaps, turn the lights off in your workshop and direct a flashlight’s beam through the dust-collection port and other nearby spaces.
3. Installing a hood and overarm collector
The dust that comes shooting from the blade is the hardest to collect. If your model doesn’t have a built-in overarm collector and/or hood, even running a small piece of wood through the saw’s blade could blast copious amounts of dust into your beard and hair, making you look 50 years older. It’s also important to eliminate airborne wood dust since, if inhales, it could wreak havoc on your lungs and overall health.
There are several pre-built overarm collectors and hoods available for older table saw models. However, you need to check the measurements of both your tool (fence, blade, table, clearance to the left and right) and the overarm collector to ensure a perfect fit. Another option would be to build your own hood and overarm collector using whatever scrap pieces of wood you have and a flexible hose which connects to your shop vac. Be sure to include a port that’s large enough to fit the dust-collecting hose that connects to your shop vac.
4. Closing up the back
If you have a contractor-style table saw or portable table saw, take a look at the under portion of the table to see where the blade is located. Most of these models are designed with open-ended containers which house the blade. This lets you better see what’s going on under the table, but it’s also a huge contributor to ineffective dust management.
There are several ways you can close the back, but they all require that you custom-make your own panels. If the housing is made of metal, we recommend using an MDF panel cut to the size of the open area and attached using magnets. This will allow you easy access to gauge what’s happening with the blade if speed and cutting power are reduced (most likely due to sawdust).
Another way is by using the same MDF panel and drilling through the housing. After you’ve drilled a hole through the housing, lock the panel in place using screws or wing nuts. We recommend using wing nuts since they’re easier to remove than tightly wound screws.
Older and/or contractor-style table saws are notorious for having poor dust-management systems. Common problems that affect how well your shop vac can suction away sawdust from your table saw include gaps in and around the dust-collection port and an open-ended house which contains the blade, drive belt, and motor. Or, if you’re rocking an ancient table saw, there just might be a lack of a dust-collection port altogether.
Depending on your model and what factors contribute to poor dust collection, you’ll need to implement the right methods and attach the correct accessories. In our opinion, an overall solution to many people’s table saw problems is an overarm collector and hood. Since most of the dust that their shop vacs don’t pick up is airborne, you’ll want a system which catches dust coming directly from the blade.
Just make sure that, if you’re opting for a pre-made model, you get a system that fits perfectly on your table saw. If one isn’t available, then you either need to build your own or get one professionally made.