Shop Vacs vs Dust Extractors vs Dust Collectors: What is the Difference?
It’s of tremendous importance to have a proper dust collection system in place in any woodworking shop. The dust produced, if left under a machine, can become a fire hazard if sparks or excessive heat make contact with extremely flammable sawdust. In addition, airborne sawdust can get into your lungs and cause respiratory problems later on in life. However, it’s important to note that no matter how effective your dust collection system is, it is by no means a replacement for personal protective equipment like dusk masks with respirators.
Generally speaking, there are three ways you can deal with sawdust and wood debris: shop vacs, dust extractors, and dust collectors. They all have their own set of pros and cons which we’ll discuss in this article. Moreover, one way of handling residual sawdust and debris isn’t a blanket solution for every power tool you possess. Depending on the size of the residue, one system will perform better compared to the others.
What is a shop vac?
Shop vacs also referred to as wet/dry vacuums, are the most basic dust collection system you can use in your shop. It’s basically a vacuum that works best on small-sized debris in smaller quantities. It uses low air volume which travels quickly through a narrow hose.
Shop vacs work best for picking up sawdust and wood chips produces by handheld power tools. Most power tools today have ports where you can connect your shop vacuum hose to in order to pick up debris as it’s produced.
Most shop vacs use a one-stage system where all sorts of debris (microscopic dust and large-sized chips) are collected into a single tank. The tank doesn’t filter out the small from the large, and this could produce troubles to the tool’s motor down the road.
What is a dust extractor?
Dust extractors have filterers that separate large-sized particles from microscopic ones. The fundamental difference between shop vacs and dust extractors is that dust extractors use high air volume which travels considerably slower through a wide hose. The wideness of the hose allows for larger-sized pieces of debris to travel through the hose and into the tank without blockage and causing engine trouble.
Dust extractors are extremely handy at suctioning particles in the air. They can come with filters that deal with microscopic dust particles (HEPA-grade ones can filter out particles as small as 0.3 µm 99.7% of the time).
Dust extractors are, generally speaking, an all-around dust collection system that can be used for both stationary power tools and handheld ones. In addition, for dust-producing tools like sanders, dust extractors are the most effective way of picking up any dust that falls to the ground as well as remains airborne.
What is a dust collector?
Dust collectors work just like dust extractors (high volume, low suction power). The difference is that they require dedicated ports to function. This is what makes the work extremely well with stationary power tools like miter saws and wood thicknessers.
Like dust extractors, they work extremely well at picking up large amounts of dust and debris in a single pass. Shop vacs, due to their narrow hose and nozzle, are better-suited for picking up small amounts of troublesome dust in tight-fitting spots.
What separates a dust collector from a dust extractor is its ability, or lack thereof, at suctioning airborne pollutants. Although they utilize a two-stage mechanism that separates large debris from small particles, they aren’t designed to filter the air since they’re connected directly to the sawdust exit port of stationary power tools.
How to measure the effectiveness of a shop vac, dust extractor, and dust collector
The same calculations and variables are required to measure the effectiveness of each dust collection system. First, we have to look at the volume of air that the unit suctions up (cubic-feet-per-minute, CFM). This determines how effective the unit is at picking up potentially airborne particles, keeping them in the hose, and delivering them to the tank. Generally speaking, a higher CFM means greater versatility. For instance, wood thicknessers produce wood shavings that require around 500+ CFM to pick up sawdust from sanders requires around 100+ CFM.
The next variable used in measuring effectiveness is the static water lift count. This simply measures how far water can travel up a 2-inch hose with the suction power of a shop vac, dust extractor, or dust collector. The higher the static water lift count, the more effective the unit will be at picking up large-sized chips and shavings.
There are several other considerations you should make before purchasing a shop vac, dust extractor, or dust collector, but the CFM and static water lift counts are the most important variables to pay attention to.
In a nutshell, a shop vac is better than nothing and works better with handheld power tools; a dust collector works better for static power tools like miter saws and planers that produce large amounts of sawdust, and a dust extractor does it all with the addition of filtering the air in your workshop.