How to Use a Shop-Vac in your Woodworking Shop
Instead of shelling out thousands of dollars for a central sawdust collection system for your shop, invest instead on a shop vac or shopping vacuum. A little elbow grease never hurt anyone and you won't have to sacrifice an arm and a leg to clean up your shop and whatnot. With that said, how does one use a shop vac exactly? We're here to teach you how.
What You Will Need
Have the required tools needed for this do-it-yourself project lined up before starting. This will save you from frustration and a lot of time. Also, buy parts as required by your dust control system.
Dust Mask: Safeguard your health and your lungs with a simple cloth dust mask.
Shop Vacuum: Naturally, you need the shop vacuum itself in order to properly use it.
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Universal Adaptor: This will allow you to plug your vacuum hose into your different vacs without switching from one hose size to another.
Vac Hose: The diameter of the hose should be 1¼ inches or 2½ inches and the length should be 6 feet and above.
Power Tools with Dust Ports: They'll save you time in adapting the vac to the power tool. Some don't even have dust ports, necessitating adjustment or jerry-rigging something up.
Foot Switch or Remote Control: Some high-priced power tools have an automatic remote control that activates along with the tool. But if they don't, it's helpful to install a foot switch or pedal instead.
Filter: A HEPA filter is helpful because it traps finer particles. This filter type is especially helpful for any worker that has asthma since fine particles can even slip through cloth masks.
Overhead Ceiling Hook: It reduces hose clutter by serving as the hook to hang your hose at when it's being used. This will efficiently get rid of tangles.
Whole Shop Dust System: Get one that comes complete with inlets and blast gates so that it can handle all sorts of handheld or stationary tools.
Here are the step-by-step instructions and tips on how to use your shop vac properly. Many of these are optional depending on your situation.
Universal Adaptors Make Hose Transitions Easy
If you're lucky, your tool has a dust port that you can plug your vacuum hose into. However, this isn't the norm. Usually, power hand tool dust ports vary in size. Therefore, you should buy universal adaptors at hardware stores and home centers (any shop that sells shop vac accessories, including online ones like Amazon). Just use a utility knife to cut the soft rubber to fit the dust port.
A 1¼-inch hose is good enough for most tools and is awesome when it comes for flexibility and maneuverability compared to, for example, a 2½-inch hose. If the dust port has an odd shape or size, then keep some duct tape available. As for the length, the hose should be about 6 feet or longer. Expect fewer to no drags or kinks on a smaller hose compared to a larger one, though.
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Connect the Vacuum to the Tool
Purchase bench top tools with dust ports whenever you can. This will save you hours of time fiddling with an adaptor and utility knife. Having these ports is handy because it saves you time having to sweep up or vacuum your shop from the aftermath of a woodworking session. There's at least an 80% reduction of dust from your work with the right vac setup.
The ports are typically your standard 2½ inches (so even 1¼-inchers can easily be adapted by the adaptor) so any 2½-inch hose will fit in. This works best with high-grade, high-capacity vacuums because they suck up all the sawdust and the chips before they have the chance to cake all over the table saw or planer.
Attach a Permanent Fitting
You also have the option to attach a permanent fitting on all the tools you frequently use the most. There's no need to remove the vac then reattach it every time if you're using one or several particular tools every day. It's ideal that manufacturers standardize dust port size so that you can go move your hose from one dust port to another without much problem (like in the case of USB ports).
It would be better if you have the right size hose for the right size port. However, we're instead left with a universal adaptor situation. To permanently install the adaptor to your most heavily used tools (like miter saws), just put the adapter unto the dust port to enhance the dust port with the right glue. Afterwards, all you need to do is plug and unplug the hose at will.
Use a Remote Control Foot Switch
If you need both hands to hold the work piece, then a foot switch is what you need to hook unto your shop vacuum. This allows you to use your foot to turn on the shop vac whenever needed while your hands take care of your careful sawing, sanding, or plunge cutting needs. It's like the pedal on your car to turn on the gas or push the breaks.
This foot switch or pedal is handy because you sometimes don't want to walk over your shop vacuum in order to turn it one when you need to cut something. Some vacs have their own remote switches that allow the vacuum to turn on automatically when your tool starts up. However, sometimes you don't need or wish to get an expensive tool like that when installing a foot switch is much simpler and cost-effective.
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Upgrade Your Filter to a HEPA
If your tool's filter isn't up to par or if it lacks a filter at all, then you should upgrade and get a HEPA filter for it to trap finer sawdust particles that you couldn't otherwise get without filtration present. The reason for this is that the exhaust tends to blow out fine dust when you turn on most shop vacs. These particles are hazardous to your respiratory wellbeing.
Some standard dust filters might be too crude to get all of these fine particles that could hurt your lungs, nose, and eyes. A HEPA filter however is high-grade enough to get rid of the dusty problem so that you won't end up in a fine mess of sorts. The store where you got your vacuum brand is sure to have a filter for it too. They're worth the money you invest on them, don't worry.
Overhead Hook Reduces Hose Clutter
Is your vac hose getting in the way of your work? Then it's about time you installed a ceiling or overhead hook to place your hose at to save space and keep things neat and tidy at your shop. It's safer for you because you can avoid tripping over the hose. It's safer for the hose because you won't have to risk ripping the hose apart by accident.
Get rid of tangles by hanging the hose up a hook. This is particularly beneficial for small shops with not much room or space to spare. This is especially true if you tend to work in one small area and you don't wish to entangle yourself with a long hose. Eliminate tangles by cleanly having a convenient hook around to hang the vacuum hose loosely. Just add hooks at areas where you work most often.
Get a Whole Shop Dust System
A dedicated shop-wide dust removal system might be what you need in order to completely get rid of sawdust or metal filings in a jiffy, even as you work. That way, you have fewer fine particles or debris to sweep up or vacuum as well. Many hardware stores and home centers sell this complete package of a system that's like the vacuum equivalent of a home entertainment system.
It has everything you need and it only costs $70 to $110. If you want to save money and go with the barebones adaptor plus hose setup with the dust port, be aware that you'll have to separately invest in other accessories (so you're sacrificing convenience for affordability). It takes about an hour to install such a system (or you can hire someone to install it for you for an additional cost).
When it comes to using a shop vac, it's a lot more complicated than shoving the hose up the dust port and turning it on while you work. There are a lot of accessories recommended in this guide to help make your work easier. You can also get a whole shop dust system so that you can deal with heavy-duty vacuuming work depending on your output (industrial-grade work loads versus hobbyist projects).
The best all-around dust systems have parts you only have to push together in order to assemble. Any system that requires more than just friction-fittings that allow easy rearrangement when needed is a bad and overly expensive system. Shop vac usage is as simple or complicated as you need it to be (although it doesn't hurt to add a bit of convenience in your usage in the form of pedal switches and installing a permanent fitting).