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.

Shop Vacs vs Dust Extractors

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.

Dust Extractors vs Dust Collectors

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.

Vacmaster VBV1210, 12-Gallon 5 Peak HP Wet/Dry...
  • Easily Convert from Wet/Dry Vacuum to 210 MPH Handheld Blower
  • 19-Foot Cleaning Reach with Hose and Power Cord
  • Integrated Accessory Storage

Shop Vacs vs Dust Extractors vs Dust Collectors

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.

What is a dust collection system?

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.

Festool 575267 CT MIDI HEPA Dust Extractor
  • Constantly high suction because of the compact high performance turbine
  • Smooth suction hose and optimized sys-dock with cord holder and t-lock function for conveniently connecting...
  • Economical because of the optimal use of the available volume with a self clean filter bag in the container

Shop Vacs vs Dust Collectors

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.

What is an electrostatic precipitator?

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.

Best Dust Collector: Buying Guide

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.

What is the CFM of a shop vac?

SHOP FOX W1727 1 HP Dust Collector
  • Motor: 1 HP, 120V/240V, single-phase, prewired 110V
  • Motor amp draw: 9A/4.5A
  • Air suction capacity: 800 CFM

What is a Dust Collector and Do I need One in my Workplace?

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.

What is a cyclone dust collector?

Related Dust Extractor Articles

Buying Guide
Best HEPA Dust Extractors

Single Reviews
Festool 575267 HEPA Dust Extractor
Bosch VAC090S 9-Gallon Dust Extractor

Comparison Articles
Festool 574930 vs. 575267 HEPA Dust Extractors

Info Guides
What is a Dust Collector & Do I Need One?
Shop Vacs vs Dust Extractors vs Dust Collectors


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.

Best HEPA Dust Extractors: Buying Guide and Top 5

3 Recommended Shop Vacuums

SaleBestseller No. 1
DeWALT DXV06P 6 gallon Poly Wet/Dry Vac, Yellow
  • Portable 6 Gallon wet/dry vac ideal for small clean-up jobs
  • Powerful 4 peak horsepower motor provides just the amount of suction needed to most any cleanup job
  • Ultra durable rubberized casters allow smooth swiveling for ease of movement
SaleBestseller No. 2
CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 16 Gallon 6.5 Peak HP...
  • HEAVY-DUTY: Powerful 6.5 peak HP provides extra power for large projects in the garage, shop and on the...
  • BUILT-IN BLOWER PORT: Rear blowing port on this wet dry vac allows for quick cleaning of leaves and grass...
  • OVERSIZED DRAIN: Built-in oversized drain on the wet/dry vac allows for convenient emptying of liquids
Bestseller No. 3
Stanley 6 Gallon Wet Dry Vacuum , 4 Peak HP Poly 3...
  • ♥♥♥We are the official seller of wet and dry vacuum cleaners, 100% of the products in our shop are...
  • ♥♥♥ Advantages: ♥1. Large capacity. ---- 6 gallons of capacity can satisfy normal daily using for you,...
  • ♥♥♥Applications Target: Benefit from its powerful vacuuming function, it is very useful for household,...

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