Introduction: Drywall Sanding Dust Collector/Separator

Picture of Drywall Sanding Dust Collector/Separator

Drywall sanding produces lots of dust no matter how dust free your joint compound claims to be, Drywall dust will quickly clog your shop vac filter and shorten the life of your vacuum.

There is a wide selection of drywall dust separators on the market from $50 or so on up to several hundred dollars for a nice Festool extractor. Being a DIY homeowner, taping drywall is not a full time job and doesn't warrant spending the money, so I decided to make my own with about $20 at the local hardware store, This price can be more or less depending on how you make it and what items you might have lying around, I could have used an old bucket but opted to buy a new one for this project, about $5 for bucket and lid at Lowes.

Step 1: Shopping List

Picture of Shopping List

There are numerous ways to configure this with PVC pipe and hoses. I chose to do this with a combination of threaded and slip PVC fittings for my shop vac that has a 1 1/4" hose.

1 - Bucket and Lid
1 - 1" schedule 40 PVC pipe, cut in several sections: 1 x 12" and 4 x 1 1/2"
4 - 1" PVC female slip to male threaded
1 - 1" PVC threaded coupling
1 - 1" PVC slip to threaded coupling
2 - 1" PVC slip 90 degree elbows
1 - 1" PVC female slip to male threader 90 degree elbow
PVC primer and glue
All purpose PVC glue

Hacksaw to cut PVC pipe
1 1/8" spade bit or hole saw (I used a 1" spade bit and widened the hole with a box cutter)

Step 2: Prep and Assembly

Picture of Prep and Assembly

Drill the holes in your bucket, I'm not certain that placement is important but I put the sander hole in the center and the vacuum hole near the rim. Hole should be slightly undersized so PVC thread ends can screw in tightly.

Cut the PVC pieces, 1 x 12" piece and 4 x 1 1/2" pieces. I used a hacksaw, but a sawzall might make faster work of this. Sand the ends to remove any burrs.

Dry fit all of your PVC pipe and fittings to ensure you have everything in order. I failed to take a picture of the fittings laid out, so please see the sketch.

PVC primer all of your slip ends. WEAR GLOVES, PVC primer and glue is nasty stuff and does not come off easily, so unless you want sticky purple hands, wear gloves.

PVC glue all of your slip ends and push together your fittings, If you never done this before, you may want to glue them one by one, PVC glue has very little working time, precious few seconds.

Use the general purpose glue on the PVC threads that will go through the bucket lid, screw the threads through the lid and then screw your threaded ends together, till the lid is firmly between the two ends.

Step 3: Done

Picture of Done

Add water to your bucket so that the end of the center tail pipe is under water.

Attached completed lid assembly.

Attach sander hose to intake pipe and vacuum hose to exhaust pipe.

You might need a hose clamp if your vacuum hose does not fit snugly, my sander hose fit very tightly, but the vacuum hose was a bit loose.

Happy sanding!


jmedina37 (author)2017-04-13

Will this work for airbrush paint extractor?

onemoroni1 (author)2016-05-28

Going to make this as filters are a pain to bang out the dust and blow out plus too expensive to keep replacing. I am thinking of adding half inch holes in the underwater part of the intake pipe to aid in water contact with the dust.

Pa1963 (author)2016-03-09

For the connection through the lid, get a couple of close threaded nipples, then go to the electrical dept. and pick up some lock nuts and reducing washers.

zenbooter (author)2015-08-22

I worked for 50 yrs in Jersey. lived in Piscataway mostly. bought one of these things from hd when they opened the p,burg store. could,nt believe the efficiency of it. got parted from it along the way. now flipping houses in Kentucky and doing drywall. let you know how it works when built. thanks a bunch for this, great idea.

ddpruitt made it! (author)2014-08-30

I combined it with a couple of other designs I've seen, put the vacuum on the center and a funnel in the top bucket. Works good even with the small shop vac I'm using.

rusold2day (author)ddpruitt2014-12-13

did you do an instructible for your version?

Artur Zawadzki (author)2014-08-27

naprawde fajne

coran121 (author)2014-01-04

Because you're already at a disadvantage with the dust collection using a shop vac, I would strongly advice you take the two top hard 90 degree elbows off the top and just plug the hose vertically. All those 90's do is steal power.
Other than that this is an awesome simple, cheap fix to a problem! Thanks!

nitesurfer (author)2013-10-01

Thanks a lot this is brilliant...
I was looking at my old shop vac and a bucket and was wondering if it would be possible to do something like this as a dust separator for my workshop and also for plastering.... as i am fitting plasterboard ( aussie drywall ;) ) and it is amazing how you get ten times more dust back when you sand the jointing compound.
I would never have thought of putting water in the bottom to stop the dust but i can see ti will work brilliantly on plaster dust..
Could you tell me how long it takes before the water stops filtering the air or does it just keep going as the dried compound doesnt mix with water?
Also could this set up be used to filter wood dust from a router and saw etc..

jimbru (author)nitesurfer2013-10-02

The idea to use it for sawdust/wood chips is not bad, just be careful as air with a sufficient amount of fine sawdust will make a VERY combustionable mix.

If you add the static electricity from a plastic bucket where a vortex of air spins the sawdust in high speed around the sides you have a potentially dangerous contraption.

This is why commercial separators are made of metal not plastic.

One way to mitigate the risk of self ignition would be to add a grounding strip/cable and connect it to something grounded. For example a waterpipe or radiator(if you have waterfilled radiators and not electrical ones)

(Sorry if the technical terms are not correct, English is not my first language.. :-) I hope you get the gist of my post)

nitesurfer (author)jimbru2013-10-02

Thanks a lot for the explanation..... makes a lot of sense.. I thought the water would have just been to trap the plaster particles.. but i never thought about the potential for fireworks galore if I use it for wood.... Thanks for the warning and advice...
I guess the same risk exists with the plastic cyclonic separators too then....

jimbru (author)nitesurfer2013-10-03

As I responded below, the direction of the airflow is important and if there is water in the bucket will matter.

In the case of commercial cyclonic separators I believe the plastic used is different from an old paint container or similar bucket and will be less prone to building up static charge but this is just an assumption.

The container might be too small to make a really dangerous fire hazard but I know of a case where a friend of a friend had a woodworking shop in his basement garage with no dust collection system. Once he was sanding a table and a lot of sanding dust was floating around in the air and when his (old..) air compressor switched on it created a spark that ignited the air/dust mix. The whole garage was demolished and he was lucky the house didn't go up in flames or he was severely burned.

gvernea (author)jimbru2013-10-03

There is a lot of mythology around the idea of dust collecting and sanding dust but almost no examples of it actually causing a fire or explosion. The example given, flying dust and a spark, is NOT static electricity bur a spark touching flammable material. And plastic is plastic when related to static production. See the Fine Woodworking's analysis of dust collection and reference to research on flammability from static electricity. They dispel the myth.

Bowtie41 (author)gvernea2013-11-01

I would have to disagree.We had a soybean mill nearby that used to have way too many dust fired in the silos.They had placards everywhere about the dangers of static sparks.

Mugsy Knuckles (author)jimbru2013-10-02

I gotta think the water will mitigate if not eliminate the fuel/air explosion issue.

jimbru (author)Mugsy Knuckles2013-10-03

In the case of plaster dust which is not flammable yes, most probably for wood dust as well if the air is flowing as in the instructable. Also the proportinos of air/dust and the granularity of the wood - fine dust is worse than wood chips or coarser dust.

Mugsy Knuckles (author)jimbru2013-10-03

Sure, but in this case it will be wet. Plaster dust poses zero explosion risk regardless.

jtharkness (author)2013-10-01

Do I understand correctly that negative air pressure (suction) is created in the tube that is attached to the sander THROUGH the water by creating a suction above the water? In order for that to happen, something must be driving the suction and pulling the air through the dust hose perhaps by sucking the gas molecules out of the water, which as far as I know, can only be done by evaporation, cavitation (bubbling), or electrolysis. Obviously electrolysis isn't happening, it won't work via evaporation until all of the water is evaporated, and you have already said not to let it bubble. Perhaps I am missing something and I will have to try this to see it work. I can see this working if both pipes in the bucket are above the water and at opposite sides of the lid but otherwise I don't buy it. Not to worry though as I don't mind eating humble pie when proven wrong.

When the pressure drops above the water, the water level rises. It rises because the pressure on the intake pipe, the one below the surface, is greater then the inside pressure. A bubble of air will come chugging up into the water from the input pipe.
For additional reference material, find a pothead with a water pipe. Same thing.

Well, I finally got to this project and created a test separator, but on a micro level using a clear glass jar instead of a 5 gallon bucket. I was wrong and you were, of course, right. It not only worked, it worked quite well and easily. So, if you could see me, I would be eating humble pie :-). I thank you for the comment and the good and ultimately 'instructive' instructable. Perhaps if I had been a pothead, I might never have given this a second thought. Hmm, now that I know how a 'waterpipe' works, and it seems I effectively have one . . . .
I look forward to future 'ibls.

altomic (author)2013-10-18

giant bong, yeah. great idea.
it would be good to have a trolley to move the bong and vacuum around with.

DragonDon (author)2013-10-06

Simple ideas that can move the world! This would be perfect for small spaces I think. Any idea on how often changing the water would be a good idea?

rimar2000 (author)2013-09-28

Clever idea!

"Drywall dust will quickly clog your shop vac filter and shorten the life of your vacuum... and lungs"

I am doing an [almost] noiseless vacuum to take off outdoors the sawdust from my wood lathe and table cutter. Your idea applies perfectly, I will borrow it. Thanks for sharing.

bongodrummer (author)rimar20002013-10-01

Just as a blatant plug, you may be interested in my super silent, cyclonic vac system - I did an instructable a long while ago:

rimar2000 (author)bongodrummer2013-10-02

Yes, I saw it when you published, I found very interesting.

My vacuum cleaner works, but the engine has too little speed. It aspires, but when I intersperse a device to capture dust, it does not works anymore. I will attempt to use it directly, the sawdust going into the turbine chamber and from it to outdoor.

Changing the motor means to make it again from zero, besides the cost of a new motor.

bongodrummer (author)rimar20002013-10-02

Hmm. I only sorta get what you are saying? So are you filtering the air stream before it gets to the vac motor?

rimar2000 (author)bongodrummer2013-10-03

No, I am only interspersing a plastic container where the air+dust enters and then the clean air goes to the turbine. It has no filter, only a long vertical input tube and another lateral to vacuum. Maybe it could be effective for fine dust from sanding, but medium sized sawdust is not sucked.

Pydesigner (author)rimar20002013-09-29

I anxiously await your silent vacuum!

rimar2000 (author)Pydesigner2013-10-02

Please read my response to bongodrummer.

rimar2000 (author)Pydesigner2013-09-30

OK, thanks. It is just installed and working. Today I must test it a little more, and then intercalate a contraption as yours to avoid the wood debris go into the turbine chamber. And then, disassemble it to take photos for the instructable. In brief, maybe next week I could publish it.

Randyrandy74 (author)rimar20002013-09-29

That sounds like a great project. I will be doing something similar for my basement shop this winter, several dust collection hoses directed out a basement window with collection and filtration or possibly setup in a separate crawl space to dampen noise.

elic (author)2013-10-02

Very nice idea.
I suggest you changing the pipes, so the one which connects to the vacuum cleaner will be in the center and the sander hose to the side hole. This pipe must be in spiral position, so the entrance of dusty air will make a vortex in the water which will suck the dust to the bottom of the bucket.

gmyers2112 (author)2013-10-02

gmyers2112 (author)2013-10-02

so it's a giant dust bong. The problem is that you won't have all of the dust touching the outside of an air bubble as it passes through the water and therefore only a fraction of the dust will actually be collected by the water. Big chunks will get caught because of weight and density, etc but under normal shop vac airflow parameters, you're gonna have a lot of dust making it through and blowing (sucking) out the other side. Of course, if you're pulling it all through a shop vac after that anyway, I guess you could sorta consider this a pre filter to your existing filter. But really, this seems like a lotta trouble to go through to keep from sweeping up the major chunks with a broom and a dust pan.

spark master (author)2013-10-02

I have been thinking of making one of these for year, exactly as you did here. One could make a second bucket(stage2) and it could catch more blow by.Consider splitting the input pipe into two make them go to opposite sides of the bucket. If you used a garbage pail you may never have an issue, with blow by or foaming, or splashing.

great instructable!!!

Edgar (author)2013-10-02

There's a lot more uses, for cleaning a lot of mess many Workshop machines create!
Voted and Blogged, so now many a Gizmo Makers will know about this:

michaelmacnz (author)2013-10-02

Great thinking... I use one of these (without water) to collect Carbon fibre sandings... The sandings (short fibres) are mixed with epoxy later as a reinforced filler/glue.
The trick for using dry is to reverse the input output so that the inlet to the pail is the angled one and starts a vortex around the outside of the pail. The outlet connected to the vac is the center one but shorter and covered with a coarse filter screen..
Well done.. love the water for drywall, that stuff is horrible.

imboox2 (author)2013-10-02

Just a thought...what about a dry second stage to keep the vac dry. A small cyclonic stage. I very much like this Instructable.

I used to have a Rainbow vac for decades, when the motor died I never replaced it. Too costly at the time since parts were hard to find.

foglemam (author)2013-10-01

Wondering if you considered a Thein type baffle instead of the water? They work great with fine dust from a drum sander and add very little resistance to airflow.

ofeargall (author)2013-10-01

I'm not trying to plug my own Instructable here but I think I have something that may apply. I used a similar concept to make an oil bath air filter for my motorcycle

In step 2 I used scotch-brite as a primary filter. I wonder if you used a similar concept with a floor-sander disk attached to the center pipe to act as a baffle to keep the water from splashing into the intake tube of the vacuum. Again, not trying to highjack. This is a brilliant Instructable that has lots and lots of uses. Great work.

criggie (author)ofeargall2013-10-01

Series land rovers have used oil bath air filters from the late 1940s through to the 70s. Work well in dusty conditions, but have to be changed at the recommended point. Overworking them means the oil is too thick and not doing its job right.

Same would go here when the water is over-choked with dust.

Randyrandy74 (author)ofeargall2013-10-01

That's an interesting idea, I actually have some old floor sanding disks laying around somewhere, will have to test it out and post the results. Thanks!

GreenMeUpScotty (author)2013-10-01

Great Explanation and setup on your Instructable. I've used a similar homemade setup and it does work-but mine did not look as good as yours. Kudos on your well thought-out explanations and design. They can also be adapted to use with a Cut Off Saws to collect the sawdust.

...Happy Sanding...

MarkML (author)2013-10-01

Excellent Instructable, and great feedback from others. Very timely too. I'm about to begin a big drywall project. Thanks!

GrfxGawd (author)2013-10-01

Anyone (including the Author) have any thoughts or leads on doing this for a mill, primarily working with non-ferrous metals and polymer?

zawy (author)2013-10-01

If you want the cyclonic action to work better: smaller bucket diameter that is 3 times taller than it's diameter before hitting water at the bottom. Inlet should shoot parallel to bucket wall at top. Inlet should be 1/2 bucket diameter tall and 1/5 bucket diameter in width (from wall, going towards center). This would approximate a high efficiency Stairmand cyclone. Higher air flow rate, smaller particles. This means the smallest bucket possible as long as air flow rate is not reduced. See how fast a garbage bag fills up to measure air flow rate to see if a particular design is slowing the air too much. Outlet is in the center, nothing special, just not too big and not too small to slow air down.

tmorsch (author)2013-10-01

Great idea! I don't do a lot of dry-walling but I have a big problem with small particle dust in my wood workshop. I wonder if this setup would work there as well.

Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)2013-10-01

Not sure you're looking at the diagram correctly. The vacuum intake is ABOVE the water line, so it draws air from the sander, through the water, and it bubbles out from the bottom of the central tube. Except for small droplets that get entrained by the air, there is no way for the vacuum to draw in the water. If you stuck the vacuum intake line directly into the water, then it would certainly suck it all up, but that's not how this system is arranged.

I've been using systems like this on a laboratory scale for many years, and with vacuums much stronger than a Shop Vac (i.e., essentially perfect vacuum, with plenty of capacity to maintain <12" of water absolute at the scale I operate). The key thing for this kind of system is that the liquid must not foam or create a high "froth" at the operating air rate. If foam or froth gets up to the level of the vacuum air intake, then the liquid WILL get sucked up pronto.

Sorry, the above was meant to be a reply to "blanco3" below.

About This Instructable




More by Randyrandy74:Edgebander (Edgebanding Machine) - for Laminate or VeneersDrywall Sanding Dust Collector/Separator
Add instructable to: