Dust Collector Upgrade

I picked up my current harbor freight dust collector probably some time in 2010. For the price it is an awesome deal, but after these years it is time for an upgrade. The motor (lower left in left picture) pulls in dust and blows it into the upright section. Everything swirls around so big dust falls to the clear bag while finer dust gets filtered in the white upper section.

It is an ok principle, but has issues. The upper bag filters down to 5 micron, but no further. A very fine dust will land on everything in the shop when using this for a while. Those finer particles are bad for your lungs. The bag is a pain in the butt to replace and often gets rips in it from sucked up chunks of wood.

I spent about $350 on this upgrade. Over half of that was the filter. Considering a new harbor freight dust collector can be had for about $180, that is ludicrous. A new tool with good filtering and easier disposal is in the $1,500 neighborhood. We have had a ton of house expenses, so maybe a diy upgrade isn’t so ludicrous after all. I want to keep my lungs clear, so let’s get started. With a dust mask on, I ground off some rust spots and repainted with whatever green I had lying around.

I had thought about doing a lesser version of this many years ago, but never got around to it. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do one upgrade and make it count. I will show where we are going, then explain the journey in steps.

The motor has been turned sideways from where it originally was. Below it is a pre-separator (red). It pulls out most of the junk before it gets to the filter area. As everything swirls in the upright the leftovers fall into my new bag replacement (blue), and finally out through a new hepa filter (green). Everything gets attached to a mobile base. Let’s start there.


Dropping Some Base

I was going to need more space for the pre-separator and wanted nicer casters than the original assembly, so I started with a cut bit of 3/4″ plywood. A set of 2×4 uprights with plywood and angle brackets support the motor in its new configuration.

The motor is really heavy and caused the base to flex a lot. I added a rib along the right side and eventually a 2×4 underneath to further stiffen the bottom. With that I had a good mobile base for my new dust collector.

I reused the circulator and upright rods to attach that section to the base.


Pre-Separator

Before hitting the motor or clogging up the filter most dust will be caught in the pre-separator. The design is called a Thien Baffle. The exact dimensions seem to be debated, so I just made it up as I went along. Basically everything comes in through a right angle port so it swirls around and gets flung to the edges. Gravity takes over for the particles and the air goes up through the center.

My circle cutting jig came back in full force with a lot of inside and outside cuts. I love this thing! I cut out a top for the separator and added a groove for the weather seal that would go up against the trash can top (left). Next I cut the baffle that keeps dust in the bin from getting pulled back up (right).

I clamped the two together and match drilled the 1/4″ threaded rods that hold the two sections together. I used the circle jig to drill out the 4″ inlet and 5″ exhaust ports. The inlet port is sized to allow a 4″ right angle dust fitting to slip into the top. The bottom goes onto a 4″ tight PVC drain elbow. I custom printed this to work with the parts I had around. I used silicone calking to seal it and screws to hold it in place. The center is larger and will accept 5″ hose to go between the separator and motor. Same method of silicone calking and screws to seal and hold.

I bolted the bottom baffle on and fitted it all to the metal trash can. This section is before the motor, so it will be under vacuum. I think the metal can will do better than a plastic one in preventing collapse.

I added weather stripping to the lid where it interacts with the trash can overlapping the interface to help form a better seal. With everything underneath I just needed a short segment of 5″ hose to attach the two.

Here is the pre-separator fully assembled and in place.


Bag Replacement

Ideally, most of the dust is already out by the time it passes the motor. Some will still exist and it will need a place to go. Instead of a thin plastic bag that rips and is difficult to install, I wanted another rigid bin. A 20 gallon rubbermade can was just about the right size. I temporary attached two pieces of 3/4″ plywood and match cut the interior and exterior diameters, the cutouts for clearing the metal upright bars, and holes for screwing the two halves together.

The upper section had a groove in it to lay a generous bead of silicone calking to help it seal with the metal ring of the circulator. It turns out that ring isn’t very circular, so the gap in that groove varies wildly.

I didn’t trust the calking alone, so I cut down some right angle brackets and drilled/screwed them into place to help support this mating ring.

The bottom half of the mating ring will attach to the 20 gallon trash can. I installed 1/4-20 T-nuts so a bolt can come in from the top to draw the can up and seal it. I put another thick bead of silicon calking on the ring and screwed the can down through the lip. The combo of screws and silicon made for another slid connection.

It is pretty important that you don’t let this section get too full. Otherwise the circulation of dust might get up to the filter and damage it. I cut a thin section of clear plastic and added a viewing port to the can.


Last but not least is the filter. Made in America from Wynn Environmental, the filter is a majority of the cost of the project. The new filter gets down to 0.3 micron instead of 5 micron. That doesn’t hamper flow though, instead of the 30-something square feet of filter the bag had, this one has over 200. The kit comes with little cleats that look like modified hose clamps to strap everything down from the inside.

To test out my new vacuum rig I had 20 board feet of 4/4 maple to plane. I got through all the boards and looked into the grey plastic bin. I was horrified to see a pile of shavings in it. I thought the pre-separator had failed to… well separate.

Turns out the pre-separator was past full and the shavings had gotten up past the baffle into the final stage. Good thing emptying both sections is easy and only takes a minute. The newly revamped dust collection rig works well and the pleated filter on top makes it breathe even better than before the pre-separator was added. Very happy with this upgrade.

Vacuum Cart

I am trying to make a commitment to do better dust collection in the new shop. I want to prevent the thick layer of sawdust the was on everything in my last shop, and I want to keep my lungs healthy for another half century or so. I have a few projects coming up that are aimed at those goals. The first being a shop vacuum cart.

I have used a small shop vac for specific applications, but never had a general one to use at different places around the shop. My portable sanders, router, miter saw, and other dust generating tools often went un-vacuumed.

I picked out a decent sized vacuum that had good specs but wasn’t the highest end you could get. It seems like for another 100 bucks you got a few features and a marginal increase in performance. The next level above that would go to the pro-sumer version at 5x the price. Not gonna happen on my current budget. I took some of the old counter top material left over from the previous owner and routed a nice radius on the front.

I picked up the milescraft circle cutting jig for an upcoming project, but decided to give it a test run here. What a great jig! Well worth 40 bucks. There is going to be a 5 gallon bucket pre-separator before the main vacuum. I screwed a bucket to the base to hold the separator bucket and built up a platform to get the shop vac higher.

I did a lot of positioning and found that moving the bucket to the right side and rotating the vacuum to the left let the inlet hose clear more easily. I screwed the shop vac down through the base into the platform. Hopefully these screws don’t rip out. If they do I will lose a lot of vacuum pressure.

I got a dust deputy brand cyclone separator. It is supposed to spin the dust out to remove most of it before it gets to your filter. The hose port situation is a little awkward. The port up top goes to the shop vac. Even with elevating the vacuum it is an odd stretch. The hose wants to kink in on itself.

I took kind of a step back and had a think. This calls for some 3D printing. The top of the dust deputy has a tapered shape to it. I printed a matching ring that fits into a 2″ PVC elbow. The printed part got epoxied into the elbow and fits on the top of the dust deputy. The friction fit holds it well and makes a good seal, but lets it be removable.

With the elbow taken care of I created another fitting to push onto the end of the corrugated vacuum hose. This one works a bit like the fitting that comes with the vacuum. It slips over the outside and locks into the ridges. They are a 1/4″ pitch. I made a fitting with ramped one way rings inside. It pushes on easily, but is tough to remove. That should form a decent seal as well.

I might bond this part in eventually, but for now, the hose can be removed, and so can the elbow. It makes taking the bucket lid off and dumping the dust easier.

All assembled, I wanted to perform a test. I dumped out the main vacuum body and the removable bucket. I then went around and vacuumed a section of the shop floor around my miter saw and where I had been working on this project. I came up with a few cups of dust, a bunch of leaves and some chunks of stuff. The vacuum chamber was basically empty.

This is great news. Now I can easily empty the smaller bucket instead of the big vacuum. Instead of running a standard pleated filter I can use a bag. The bags get disposed of, but have a finer filtration level. With 99% of the junk getting caught in the vortex, the bags will last a long time. Plus, anything that might puncture a bag will get filtered out.

I have been using this a lot with my router for a really big dust job and everything has been working wonderfully. If you are thinking about adding a dust deputy to your shop vac, do it!

Hanging Bosch Flexiclick Station

I happened across a Bosch flexiclick around the black friday season. It is a 12V driver with interchangeable heads; offset, hex driver, and regular 3/8″ chuck. Any of the 3 can go on a right angle attachment. It is pretty genius. I have owned their pocket driver for a few years and love it to death. I liked it so much I built it a portable caddy a while back. This new driver needs a home too.

I started by imaging a few things I wanted to make prints for on top of my cutting mat. It provides a good grid reference when making things in CAD. That usually gets you a 90% solution. The drill body will need a holder and the charger has no wall mount ability. Usually they have some key holes in the bottom to let you hang them from a screw.

I have a wall section with a french cleat so I arranged all the holders until I got a compact layout. Here are all the printed parts screwed down on a scrap board.

Starting off at the top is a plate that holds the charger. It is shaped like the charger with a channel underneath to allow a zip tie to pass through and hold it down. A cleat on the bottom keeps it from slipping down. The one zip tie wrap has been sufficient in holding it down with battery connects/disconnects.

The drill body has a nub sticking out where the various heads are removed. I used that to provide a good lock in mechanism. It is sturdy enough to have not fallen off yet, but is easy to plug in and out. The bottom bent section has some flex to it which is part of the magic.

The battery holder is not my design, Thingiverse link to the original designer.

Last but not least is the tray that holds the flexiclick heads. The right angle and offset attachments have a high enough center of mass that they need a little helper support to keep them from toppling over.

I bundled my three original designs and uploaded them as a group to Thingiverse. All together fully populated and with the wires bundled up, it looks like a nice drill station. I had room left over so I stuck a Ryobi charger on there for good measure.

If I were to do a review of this tool I would say it is good but would have been a lot better if it were brushless. Trying to mix this many functions together always results in some compromises. Still, I use it for small light drilling quite often, and the offset driver has gotten me out of a bind.

Corner Chamfer Router Template

I have gotten some good use out of my router radius templates. I saw an interchangeable jig system that did a similar job and included chamfers in addition to the radii. First a reminder of how they work. You sit the template on top of the wood and use a special router bit that is a cutter with a matched diameter bearing on top. The bearing follows the template and removes any wood that protrudes beyond it. Ideally you cut off as much waste as you can on the bandsaw or elsewhere. Routers don’t remove a lot of material well.

I modeled a variety of them from 0.5″ to 1.25″. The length given is a leg of the isosceles triangle that will get removed, not the hypotenuse. See the diagram below.

I printed a stack of them in case the need arises, and uploaded the design to thingiverse. If they look odd compared to my normal prints, it is because I used some cheap translucent filament I had lying around. I figure they will get torn up eventually, so no need to use the good stuff.

Hidden TV

Things are continuing to come together at our new house. I have my workout area setup in my office and have been getting back into the kettlebell routine. There is one thing missing though. About the only time I watch TV is when I am working out. Our only TV doesn’t live in my office, so I wanted to stash one out of the way but within easy reach.

Ta Da, TV hidden behind a closet door. Nobody expects it! The sound bar was left over by the previous owners. It just fits inside the door opening and matches the TV perfectly. I cooked up a set of 3D printed brackets to hold the sound bar and mounted them to a 1/2″ sheet of plywood.

A slim TV mount holds the TV tight against the door and with just a tiny gap between it and the sound bar. I mounted everything, hooked up power and AV wires, then wire wrapped the two power cords together to prevent them from getting caught in the door and make it all cleaner. Buying a TV with a roku built in made for one less device and cord to deal with. I was going to paint the plywood, but it is tucked well behind the TV and sound bar, and the closet door is normally closed. I finished it off with a set of printed remote holders that sit just below the TV.

When it is all together and the door is closed you can’t tell what entertainment is lurking beneath!

July 2018 3D Prints

Monitor Lift

One of my office monitors started making odd noises and showing crazy artifacts.  It got to the point of being un-usable, so I replaced it.  The pair was 5 years old and they don’t sell that model any more.  The cheap replacement I bought didn’t come in the same height and neither monitor had height adjustability.  A black circular disk printed at the right thickness matched the two screens up well.  A copious sprinkling of office desk clutter helps camouflage the printed lifter.

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Electrical Cutouts

There is going to be a lot of power and low voltage routing going on at the new house.  I have been practicing with my oscillating multi tool to get the cutouts just right.  A set of tracing templates would help.  It turns out low voltage and high voltage boxes are slightly different sizes.  Who knew?

They are pretty simple.  Color coded and labeled for their intended use, and thick enough to balance a bullet level on top.  Mark where you want the box to go, trace out the square, cut and install.


Laser Case

I picked up a laser range finder to help out with all the flooring and other work at the new house.  It is really amazingly accurate, but leaves something lacking.  There is no case.  The delicate output window for the laser is unprotected, and so is the screen.  A sock or super basic nylon case would have been helpful.  No worries, I printed my own, and shared it on Thingiverse.


Cup Holder

Our new place has a bigger yard and that requires a bigger mower.  I found a riding mower to act as my trusty yard steed.  It fulfills all of my boyhood fantasies of owning a riding mower except one.  The cup holder.  Basically it doesn’t hold my RTIC cup.  I fixed that with a little Husqy orange liner.  Can’t go losing your drink every time you hit a bump.

Death and Resurrection of a Drill Press

My beloved drill press is a Craftsman from the early 90s (I think) that I snagged on craigslist.  It has served me well, but is very difficult to move.  Top heavy and with a small base; even small shifts in position are precarious.  I am going to need to move it a lot soon, so when woot had a Bora Portamate mobile base on sale I snatched it up.  I was walking the drill press out of its corner to get the base installed when disaster struck.

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I tried to control it on the way down, but once it got going there was no stopping it.  I didn’t get hurt but the arm that holds the table broke off.  I still had a drill bit installed in the chuck, and that is what kept the table from sliding further.  It bent the drill bit, but the quill appears true.  I stood it up and started it spinning.  No wobble of any sort that I could see.  With that established I gathered up the broken parts.

Maybe a quick visit to the local welding shop would have me set right?  Apparently cast iron is very difficult to weld.  They were not wild about trying, and wouldn’t guarantee me any of their work.  Whelp…forget that.  After being really bummed for a day or two, I decided I could build up my own top table top out of the scraps I had around.  I gained enough confidence to install that mobile base.  It floats like a dream now!

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I started with a stout piece of oak drilled to match the table arm attachment point.  A drill press would have been really useful there, but I managed without.  From there I built out ribs that hold the top.  I made sure everything was square with respect to the drill bit before screwing them in completely.

The table top will be done with two layers.  The top will have a square cutout that holds a sacrificial drill insert, and the bottom has a hole so you can push up from the bottom to remove the insert.  I printed a square guide to let me cut out a 2.75×2.75 inch hole for the insert.  That new plunge router lets me do all sorts of cool things.

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I routed some slots for a set of aluminum t-slot guides that hold the fence in place.  The fence is just two pieces of the same plywood glued back to back.  I cut a dozen of the center inserts.  They all got an undercut chamfer to help keep dust from letting them sit level.  This table is smaller than my last, but I feel it is more functional by far.  It was a good recovery, and ultimately led me to making a better drill press table.

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