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!

June 2018 Prints

A bountiful harvest of prints this month.  I had a lot of work going on in the shop, and that typically ends up producing different jigs and prints to help out.

First up, I reorganized all of my machine screws into one central organizer.  To help with organization and to tell them apart I printed a screw ruler and hardware guide.

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The ruler measures screw lengths of either flat head or other style.  The guide has through holes that match my common hardware styles along with examples of washers and nuts.  It makes matching a random bit of hardware easier.


I do a pretty good job keeping my eye and ear protection on when in the shop.  Dust masks are another thing.  A lot of my tools have vacuum, but certainly not all.  Most masks I have tried don’t work well with the beard and mustache, and most are pretty hot.  This one works well for me.  I built it a little home to prevent damage, and so I always know where it is.  I feel a little like bane when I wear it.

I took a photo of it on the cutting mat, then used the lines to help design an appropriate housing shape.  The hinge required a single screw and nut, and a magnet in the lid and body keep it closed.  The backplane screws down so I tucked it under a cabinet with other PPE.


I had a lot of flat parts that needed holes drilled in them in the same location.  Instead of marking every one I made a drill template with bushings.  The bushings are sized so a particular drill bit just fits inside.  It keeps the bit on location and perpendicular to the surface.  They will wear out eventually, but are easy to replace.  These all fit in a 5/8″ hole and have two screws to keep them in place.  Once built this saved me a ton of time and increased repeatability.

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Dust collection fittings never fit.  There was an article about it in one of my woodworking magazines.  The guy basically threw up his hands and told the industry to get their act together.  I emailed him with my solution.  He said it was cool, but a workaround for an issue that shouldn’t exist.  Agreed, but here is my workaround for my miter saw.

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I switched to using these small bottles from woodcraft for my glue.  I like them a lot better than the bottles that most glues come in.  The only trick is that the little red caps blink out of existence once dropped.  I did a few test prints with a segment missing to get the taper size and groove right for this one, but I think I have a winner.  It is much easier to handle, harder to lose, and is more easily replaceable.


I had kind of a failed attempt at a vacuum system for degassing epoxy.  I might revisit it at some point, but for now it is a defunct project.  I needed to tap some polycarbonate for pipe fittings and bought a pipe thread tap.  It didn’t come with any case or even pouch, so I printed one.  I sprayed it good with oil to prevent rust.  Hopefully stored this way it will not get lost, broken, or rust.

Printing With Supports, DC Fittings

I started off wanting to create more custom dust collection fittings.  This time for my router table.  I need something to go from the back of the fence to the dust hose, and take a tight 90 degree turn.  I quickly came up with a 3D design that smoothly transitioned between the two diameters.

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This isn’t a simple print.  Previously I used a PVC elbow to make the turn, but I wanted to work on my support skills. The shape starts large on the left, but gets smaller on the right.  That means very little is ever touching the print bed.  I knew this would require a lot of support material to work, but thought it would be a good challenge to fiddle with support settings so that bottom surface was as smooth as I could get it.

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The slicer software shows in green the support material.  I can only print one material at a time.  What it does is tries to make a very sparse little structure just below the main model surface.  The printed model will droop a little bit, but hit the support and not droop any further.  If you get it right, the bottom looks good, but is able to be broken away from the support.  That is the theory at least.  In practice, anything I have printed with support has looked horrible on the bottom.


I started with the default settings that were recommended for my printer.  Instead of printing the whole thing I only let it print the bottom bit just past the support.

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It made it out alive, but looks rough.  The bottom layers are pretty loose and separated from each other.  Could I improve on this?

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Not really as it turns out.  One trick is to reduce the print temperature.  If it is cooler it will solidify faster and not droop as much.  I also tried modifying that support surface to be more solid so it would offer smoother support.  On every one, the edge would peel up and get caught by the nozzle.  They all failed at roughly the same spot.  No big deal, go back to the settings I started with.

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The left one was the original settings, and the right one had the support structure even closer than before.  All of them fail in the same way, that thin bit on the bottom right bends up and catches the nozzle.  Printing the support with no gap would make it hold well, but might make removal difficult.

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Ok, the print didn’t fail, that thin bit was firmly stuck down, but the support structure is welded on there.  Time for a re-think.


I wanted elegant, but now I am going with simple.  Instead I printed a tube to connect to the hose, a tube to connect to the router, and a block with a swept section that connects the two.  5 minute epoxy is the universal force that binds us together.

This lets me print each segment in the ideal orientation and then put them together later thus maximizing the ability of the printer in each situation.  The final result works well.  So much for increasing my supported print skills.

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Sander Dust Collection Fittings

This falls into yet another “project I started over a year ago” category.  Not sure how it fell off the radar, but it did.  Dust collection is a wonderful thing to have, but there appear to be no standards.  Every piece of equipment has a different hose size.  I wanted to plumb my two main bench-top sanders together in a clean and easy way.

I started by adapting the back of my spindle sander to a PVC elbow, and then to a ribbed segment that would accept some flexible hosing.  5 minute epoxy is all you need to join the plastic pieces.

I cut a small length of hose and attached another hose coupler.  One side is ribbed to keep the hose from coming off, the other is smooth.  The hose slides on and off easily, but seals well enough to be a good vacuum.  I printed some mounting blocks that have a path through them to pass zip ties through.  This holds the coupling down without any complex clamp mechanisms.

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Similarly I went to the stand that has my disk/belt sander and attached hosing so I could get to it on the side of the machine.

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Now the vacuum built into the disk/belt sander can service both it and the spindle sander with just a quick re-plumb.  Cheers to less dust in my lungs!