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.

Heavy Work Bench

Shop work is still mostly getting usurped by home improvement projects. In moving stuff around the shop it occurred to me that there was some space for a work bench. I want something very sturdy to attach bench tools to (vise, bench grinder, anvil, etc), but also a place I could sit and do repairs. I worked out a design that requires most of a sheet of 3/4″ plywood and a hand full of 2x4s. I started by planing 2x4s square and gluing them together for extra thick legs.

The frame is 4ft wide which goes well with a 4×8 sheet of plywood, and 8ft 2x4s. The recessed bottom shelf gives some space for storing bench equipment when not in use. It would store more and be more accessible if it was full depth, but I wanted leg room so I could sit comfortably at the bench.

I screwed together two sheets to make the top. I was going to glue them, but screwing was good enough and I can replace the top piece if it becomes damaged. This is a very stout table.

Bare, and in its final resting place it looks pretty good. Time to load it up with junk! From left to right, my big red vise from my dad, old bench grinder turned buffer, anvil, arbor press, carved depression used to hammer bowl shapes in wood, and bench grinder on the bottom.

Most everything is attached to thick pieces of wood. This lets me put the tool wherever I need it and clamp them down. I made sure the table top protruded from the legs far enough so I could clamp anything across the entire width. I kept thinking of fancy dovetail sliders, or bolt patterns, or bench dogs that would let me install a wide variety of tools. In the end a thick top and some C-clamps is simple and effective.


While I was dismantling parts of the garage to make space for this bench I pulled off these shallow shelves. It was kind of perfect for what I wanted to add to the bench. These shelves can be used to store my electrical/electronics stuff. That jives with my idea of this serving as a part time repair bench. The shelves were up against the wall and didn’t have a back. I added one to keep stuff from falling out the back.

The lower shelf has a power strip and commonly used equipment. It probably needs more organization in the top shelf. For now I am going to live with it and see what gets used often, and what can live elsewhere.

A front cover helps keep the dust out and things from falling off the shelf when banging on the table. Two bent brackets catch the front door on the right hand side, and a swiveled part holds it at the top. To remove you just swivel the one catch and slide the door left a few inches. That way it can be removed or installed even when the table is covered in junk.

I have had it this way for a week or two now and already I christened the table top with grinding detritus and grime from the next project. We all knew that pristine surface wasn’t going to last long.

Mobile Clamp Rack

The next set of loose junk around my garage to organize are my clamps.  In the previous shop, these filled every nook and cranny along one wall.  Those dowel holders are a very efficient way to pack as many clamps in as possible horizontally.  The professional metal brackets don’t pack quite as tight, but look nice and make the clamps easier to access.  I had bought a number of them in the past, but didn’t use very many for lack of space.  Thank goodness I never throw anything away!

My new shop has a lot of space, but not as much wall as you would think.  Windows, doors, and a lot of plumbing stuff take up much of the available wall surface.  To remedy this, I need a new wall.  A wall on wheels.  I cut down two 1/2″ sheets of plywood and screwing them down to a 2×4 frame.

The wall stands on a set of 2x4s with casters and is short enough to get under my garage door.  I can roll this anywhere in the shop now.  The frame took 4 boards, and the legs with braces another 2 for a total of 6 2x4s.  I had the casters already, but went for nicer grade plywood and ended up spending about 100 dollars to build this.

I used a few of my previous clamp holders, but ditched most of the hodge podge for the nicer looking store bought metal brackets I already had.  Everything got directly screwed to the plywood face.  This big of a blank canvas supports all sorts of solutions and lets me pack in clamps efficiently.  I even managed to get my saw/router guides and cawls onboard.  I may eventually re-organize so they are grouped more by length than type of clamp, but with everything so open it is really easy to see what is available.

 

 

Sawhorse Sheet Goods Table

UPDATE: This setup served me well for about 6 months, but died this weekend.  When assembled it is a really sturdy platform.  Disassembled, the brackets are weak and prone to bending.  During the assembly process they are easily damaged as well.  I don’t regret having built it, but will be doing sheet goods differently in the future.

I will need a temporary work surface when renovating the new house, and have a lot of sheet goods and drywall to cut up.  I thought about building some sawhorses and adding on to them, but I don’t have much time.  Instead I started with two of these Burro branded horses.  Honestly, for 20 bucks a piece, these things are pretty good.  Made in USA, stackable, stable, and strong.  Just make sure you are choosy, not all were created equal.  Explaining the build will be easier with a before and after shot.

I want to put a full sheet of plywood or drywall on these and have the cuts be well supported.  That would require a structure almost a full 4×8 feet.  I used metal brackets to help it be a quick assemble and break down job.  Two 42″ 2x4s go across the saw horses.  The saddle brackets keep them upright and a right angle bracket on the edge holds a long support to tie the two horses together.

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Every time I use these as a cutting surface I am going to cut into the 2x4s a little.  I will adjust blade depth to minimize the damage, but I don’t want metal anywhere near the top surface.  The brackets that hold my middle support were too tall, so I cut them down.

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The table breaks down into 2 stackable horses, 2 supports that go on top of the horses, 2 long ones that go from horse to horse, and a center one to help prevent sag.  The only extra screws needed for assembly are at the four corners where the long stretchers meet the supports on top of the horses.  I made sure to install the screws low so the saw won’t catch them.  The horses still stack, even with those saddle brackets installed.

When I assembled this I didn’t screw any of the 2x4s down to the horse’s saddle brackets.  It all still felt stable.  A half inch sheet of plywood and a few screws should turn it into a sturdy temporary work bench.  All the drywall cutting I need to do will be aided by this big stable platform as well.   The assembled dimensions of the top are 44×84″.  Enough to support a 4×8′ sheet, but leave some room at the edges.

When the house work is done I will probably keep it as a way to break down sheet goods.  This will be a big upgrade over my current method of hanging them out of the back of the suburban.

Table Saw Inserts

Professionally made zero clearance table saw inserts are an important add-on for any table saw.  They make the cuts come out cleaner and ensure small scraps don’t get lodged inside the throat.  They are quite expensive though.  They run over 30 bucks a piece for my saw.  No more, time to make my own.  I bought a smallish piece of phenolic coated plywood for 40 dollars.  It has enough material to make at least 8 inserts.

I started off trying to make a jig that would hold the plywood and make all the blade relief undercuts and slots for the riving knife behind the blade.  It was difficult to hold everything and produced mixed results.

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Eventually I just used carpet tape to tape down one of my old store bought inserts.  A guide bushing on my plunge router let me remove all the area where the riving knife should be.

From there I printed a 7/16″ radius template for the tracing router bit.  I could have used the already taped on insert as a template, but it had a few weird features I didn’t want copied.  With a finger hole drilled in, things were starting to look right.

I need a way to level out the insert.  The pocket they go in is always deeper than a 1/2″ sheet of plywood so you can raise it up to be flush with the top.  I used brass threaded inserts for #6 set screws to give each one leveling feet.  The set screws can be adjust from above with the insert in place.

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The surface coating on this plywood is hard and very slick.  A great material for fences or inserts like this.  The phenolic chips like mad though.  I will stick with these and have left over material, but probably not buy it again.  A few coats of polyurethane and wax would be easier to work with and also reasonably slick.

Because of how high the 10″ saw blade is in the housing I had to use a 8″ dado blade to start the cut before switching back to the full sized blade.  I made 4 total, and once I got the swing of things they came pretty quickly.  Two will be for dado cuts, so they don’t need the riving knife slot.  Hopefully this batch lasts me a few years.

Nailer Cabinet

Air nailers are a pretty wonderful invention.  They can provide low visibility fastening in a lot of different applications.  I have had a brad nailer for ages, and picked up a good pin nailer when I redid the kitchen.  The cordless electric nailers are a lot heavier than their air counterparts, but for just a few quick hits, they are awesome.  I recently built up a full inventory of air and electric brad and pin nailers.  Time to put those nailers to work building a little home for all these gadgets.

I planned out a cavity to hold all the nailers up top, and a set of drawers below to keep the nails and other accessories.  1/2″ maple made up all the components except the drawer bottoms.

Once assembled I cut more plywood with a 45 degree angle on it to act as a french cleat across the back.  The electric nailers sit nicely on their own, but the air ones will need hangers.  Plus, this lets me rearrange things, or add dividers if I feel the need later down the line.

I played with the arrangements, and there are lots of spacing options that work.  Big enough to be flexible, but not so big as to waste space.

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This is a decent looking cabinet on its own, and is about where I would stop in my previous builds.  I wanted to add a little something, so I made my own maple edge banding.

The pin nailer came in handy for securing it all, and hand planing really lets you sneak those parts into a good fit.  With the body of the cabinet in shape I turned to the drawers.  I thought drawer fronts with chamfers might be a neat flare, and I had a new router bit to try out.  I cut all the end grain chamfer while it was still a solid long block, then cut the two fronts out and routed the long grain.  It completely mitigated any tear-out issues.  I finally feel like all those minor screw ups of the past are congealing into wisdom.

Everything got multiple coats of danish oil.  Not a bad finish, I like the wipe on aspect and how it looks.  Honestly though, it is just some kind of thinned linseed oil.  At probably 4x the price of basic linseed oil, I might just figure out how to thin that stuff myself.

I 3D printed organizers to keep each set of nails contained and labeled.  The drawer I had these in was a mess with different nail lengths all mixed up.  Mishaps have occurred from pulling the wrong length nail ream.  If I ditched the manuals I could have probably combined everything in one drawer.  Oh well, this provides ample expansion for new nail lengths, or other jigs/accessories I might acquire.

The final design looks pretty nice.  I will see how much dust it collects and consider adding doors later, but for now it is perfect.

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Dovetail Transfer Jig

I have quite a few dovetails to cut in the upcoming months.  One part of the process I always felt very weak was in the transfer of markings from one piece to another.  Whether you do tails first or pints first, at some point you need to clamp the to parts together and do a transfer.

I have seen a few different variations on this idea, this is just my take.  Essentially the two boards need to be held at right angles, and up against a fence that references two sides of the boards as co-planar.  I don’t normally keep around extra big plywood because I don’t have the room to store it.  I found out lowe’s has 1/4 sheets of “lauan grade” plywood.  Not as good or as pretty as birch, but it looks stable enough for jigs, and was much cheaper.

I started by using pocket holes to join the base. together.  I relieved the edges up against the fence with a plane to make sure no dust would keep the aligned boards from interfacing with the fence.  A 90 degree cut of plywood made a fence/reference surface for the boards.  I made sure the base was good and square before nailing in the fence.  The fence only protrudes enough to act as a reliable alignment surface.

This might have been good enough, but I wanted additional assurance that it was square, and a little help lifting it up off the table.  These blocks do both as well as stiffen the jig.

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To demonstrate the use of this jig I have a (admittedly poorly cut) dovetail that needs transferring.  The jig sits on the bench top, or could be clamped down.  Adjust the two boards to be jointed until they are lined up.  When set, transfer the edges of the cut dovetail to the pin board as shown.  Because the jig hangs out over the edge, a really tall board could be dovetailed without issue.

This simple easy jig should be helpful in the months to come.  Hopefully I reference it soon with high praises.