Shop Dust Collection

We are looking to upgrade our dust collection system to our shop this off season. Our current system includes a broom and a shopvac…so not much.

Ideally, I would like a shop wide system with suction point at each of our work areas/machines. I would also like one of those collections points on the floor you can just sweep debris into instead of using a dust pan.

What are some dos and donts when it comes to dust collection? What are you all using in your shops?

Do any of your machines make aluminum dust? If so, that complicates things, particularly if you mix wood dust in or have rust anywhere around.


Don’t mix wood dust and metal. Explosions can occur with fine dust and arcing or sparking metal, it’s not terribly likely, very bad if it happens.

Keep long stringy chips away from your dust collection, especially if you have relatively small ducts, as the will clog.

Cyclones are really nice if you’re going to get a big dust collector.

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For wood I set up this in my father’s home shop:

Things I’ve learned since I set this up that I recommend if they are in your budget.

  1. Get a remote control.

  2. They make automatic gates now that open when you turn on a tool. If you can afford it these are nice.

  3. You must have closable gates for every tool to have appropriate suction on a small system.


  5. Plan your duct locations and hose hookups for portable and movable tools when you layout your system.

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In the spirit of keeping wood and metal dust separate, I have become a fan of the small 5 gallon bucket cyclones for shop vacs (Dust Deputy or Harbor Freight are good options).

A dedicated dust collector is definitely nicer for continuous operation/noise reasons, but the small cyclones are cheap enough to set up several quickly with your current shop vac(s) and dedicate them to either specific machines, or specific debris types, and just run while you’re using the machines.

The next best thing I bought for a shop vac was an auto-switch, there’s a whole range of those available at most stores.

They make a lot of noise so isolate it as best you can.
They throw some dust in the air so again isolate as best you can.
Sweep as much as possible machine dust and swarf that did not go into the collector onto the floor. Use a broom and dust pan to pick up most of the dirt from the floor to keep it from blowing around in the air with the dust collector and filling the dust collector. They are a bit tedious to clean.
If at all possible, vent to the outside but for heating and cooling cost savings a regenerative heat exchange is desirable. It’s pretty safe to say outside venting isn’t going to happen but you can dream.

I teach a construction class and we recently did preliminary research into full lab dust collection like you describe. They are unsurprisingly very expensive.

We went the temporary route by mounting cyclone separators on top of shopvacs to make mobile dust collection systems. Relatively cheap and versatile. We then printed adapters for our the various dust chutes on machines like our router tables, hand sanders, and miter saws.

We also have a bigger system (1300 CFM) that is constantly attached to our 4x4 cnc router. This works really well for cutting polycarbonate and wood for bumpers.
Going forward, we would like a few more like this to leave stationary on machines like our router tables and compound miter.

The biggest issue we have identified is fine dust particles in the air. They can cause havoc on your respiratory system over time. We have done a little research into units to circulate these particles out of the air and they are not cheap either (about 1k per 10k sq ft last I looked).
Temporary solution was something like this for students.


So I’ve been wanting to look into this as well but haven’t had the time, any chance you can share rough numbers you were looking at?

We’ve ordered some of the larger HEPA style filters that hang from the ceiling recently but haven’t had time to install them yet. Still hoping to add a shop wide dust collection system and some sort of fume hood when dealing with certain adhesives and other chemicals. Trying to get the school to pay for it out of their budget instead of ours, because safety and what not hehe! In the mean time we went and did the same thing and ordered a bunch of disposable individual masks when doing certain tasks.

Our research into that full lab system consisted of talking with our maintenance guy about replacing our old unit. His response was “hundreds of thousands” to supply service to two ~50’ x 50’ x 20’ labs.

Didn’t take it too much further than that haha

Forgot to mention this in OP. There are a lot of YouTube videos of garage workshop set ups as well as some slightly bigger shops. This video (part of a series) does a pretty good job of showing his lab and the size of the space is more comparable with what I hope a “typical FRC team” has access to. PVC with blast gates at each machine seems like a common trend through out any videos I’ve watched. May be a great sponsorship opportunity to get some scrap pvc from a local contractor. This is the route we will probably go as we chip away over time.

TLDR; if your lab is anywhere near the size of our school labs, you will need $400k+ and a contractor to “do it right.” However, there are viable DIY options for considerably less.

We were also on the broom + shopvac system until fall 2021. The shopvac usually sat on the floor, at the back of the shop, covered in metal shavings.

We set up a wall-mounted vacuum and hose reel. The hose is long enough to reach the other side of the shop. Also wired up the vacuum to a nearby switch.


Hose reel
Cox Reels V-117H-835


A reasonable option for many FRC teams and small shops is to get a per-device vacuum. The bucket head vacuum (just a topper for any 5 gallon bucket) is inexpensive, light, and easy to use. I have one, and at one point it rode around on my CNC router gantry for chip collection duty.

The per-device vacuum avoids most of the opportunity for mixing different types of chips. It is also inexpensive to have multiple spare buckets, or easy to dump the bucket out before starting a new material. The vacuum could (should?) be coupled with an automatic vacuum switch, turning on the vacuum when the machine tool is turned on. (I haven’t used these personally, but it seems like the right approach.)

This setup would cost $65-70 per tool, would not use any additional outlets or require new electrical service to be installed, and allow simultaneous usage of all tools without loss to vacuum performance.

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That actually sounds really cheap to me. Maybe not for the average FRC team, but $1k per 10k sq ft of space is very cheap in the scheme of industrial equipment.

Yeah, in regards of the health benefits it provides for everyone in the lab, that isn’t much at all. It’s possible I am missing something but we checked out this unit.

2 would be enough to cycle the air nearly every 10 minutes which is recommend.
I am just now thinking we could possibly use ESSER (“Covid Relief to update school air quality infrastructure”) funds to do this…

Lots of great suggestions for the equipment but don’t forget to budget for operating costs if your air is dirty much of the time. The small non-profit, public (to senior citizens) wood shop I volunteer at fusses about the cost of filters because after the capital improvement project fund raiser succeeded we don’t have a lot of money for operations. We clean the central vacuum filter often with a shop vac, replace the HVAC filters often and clean the shop vac filter outside. I still find the air somewhat obnoxious with sanders running.

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