Introduction: Building an Automated Dust Collection System

About: Weekly how-to project videos about #woodworking, metalworking, and more. #Maker. Created by Johnny Brooke.

If you're a woodworker and you're looking to take your dust collection system to the next level, definitely check out this Instructable. I go through choosing a dust collector, picking ductwork sizing and material, then installing the system with automation. This was a huge project but it has increased the efficiency in my shop an incredible amount.

Don't miss the video above for even more information!

Step 1: Materials Used in My System

I'll explain why I chose all of these items as the Instructable goes along, but here's a list of the items I used for your reference.

Dust Collection System Components:

Step 2: Choosing a Dust Collector

Dust collectors are generally divided into two categories: single stage and two stage. Single stage units are the most budget friendly, and the popular Harbor Freight 2HP unit is a great example of a single stage dust collector. These units pull dust directly into the impeller, the big dust falls into a bag below, and the finer dust goes through a filter bag above. The issue with this type of system is that, usually, the filter bags don't filter out nearly enough dust and a lot of that dust makes it back into the air. For more details on this, check out my article on the topic.

The other category is two stage dust collectors. The big difference here is that there is some sort of separation mechanism, a cyclone in the case of my dust collector, that separates most of the dust before it ever makes it to the filters. This has a few advantages. First, your filters get clogged a lot less frequently, which means you don't have to clean them as much. Second, the dust bins on two stage units are usually designed to be emptied a lot more easily, and are usually larger so they don't have to be emptied as frequently.

There are a ton of great companies who make two stage dust collectors, so do some research and find one that fits your needs and budget. For my shop, I went with the Clearvue CV1800, a two stage dust collector with a 5HP motor, plenty powerful for my shop size. It is more budget friendly than other similar dust collectors due to the amount of assembly required.

Step 3: Choosing Ductwork Size, 6" Vs 4", and Ducting Material

The Clearvue CV1800 dust collector is designed for 6" ductwork, so it was a no-brainer for me to go with ducting that size. That said, you need to ensure your dust collector is powerful enough to support 6" ducting if that's what you want to go with. It requires a very powerful motor to pull that volume of air, and usually you'll need at least 3HP motor to do so.

6" ductwork is certainly more expensive though, especially in the fittings. For instance, my 6" PVC fittings cost 4-6 times as much as their 4" counterparts.

On that note, let's talk about ducting materials. There are a number of choices, but for the budget conscious, the choice is between PVC and snaplock pipe. I went with PVC because it is easier to work with, and I can cut it on my miter saw. It's also lightweight and easy to fit together.

Step 4: Installing Dust Collection Ductwork

To install my ductwork, I went slowly, measuring well, and just took my time. First, I would mark out the rough length of the pipe I needed for that section. I would then cut it to that length at the miter saw. Next, I attached the pipe to whatever fitting was next in line. To suspend the ductwork, I used metal strapping, and attached it to the joists above my drop ceiling in my shop with two 1 ¼" screws. To attach it to the ducting, I created a loop with the strapping and connected the loop with a machine screw and nut.

Finally, I attached all of the joints between the fittings and pipe permanently with ½" self-tapping sheet metal screws. Once all of the joints were attached, I taped all of the seams with foil tape to ensure there were no leaks.

When designing your ductwork, you want to avoid any sharp 90 degree turns, as you'll see in my system. Each drop for each tool utilizes a 45 degree wye fitting, then that is usually followed by a 6" to 4" reducer, then a blast gate, and finally a short length of flex hose to the tool. Let's go over a few tool examples where I did this differently.

Step 5: Dust Collection on the Table Saw

With a dust collector designed for 6" ductwork, you want to have either one 6" port open at all times, or two 4" ports if a 6" port isn't feasible for that tool. The air volume of two 4" ports is roughly equivalent to one 6" port, and having two ports open will reduce the strain on your dust collector.

At the table saw, I accomplished this by having one 4" drop that runs to the dust port in the cabinet of the saw itself, and another 4" drop that runs to a blade guard with dust collection built in. The blade guard I'm using is called the Shark Guard, and it has an incredible amount of airflow with the 4" port.

Step 6: Dust Collection on the Jointer

The jointer was the one tool in my shop I was able to keep 6" ducting all the way to the tool. I was able to make a dust port for my jointer using a 6" HVAC take off and a piece of plywood with a hole cut in it. I added some sealing tape to the machine, then attached the wood to the jointer with self-tapping metal screws. I had to use a 6" blast gate at this tool.

Step 7: Dust Collection at the Miter Saw

The miter saw is notoriously difficult to collect dust because it tends to throw dust all over the place. I have my miter saw in a miter saw station, so it is surrounded by an enclosed cabinet. This makes collecting dust quite a bit easier right off the bat.

To attach this cabinet to my system, I cut two 4" ports into the top of the cabinet and attached them both to my ductwork. I only did this because I had the 4" blast gates on hand, rather than one 6" blast gate. I will most likely be switching this out, because I'm not super satisfied with the dust collection at the miter saw currently. I definitely need to revamp this setup.

Step 8: Dust Collection at the Router Table

One other place that is notoriously difficult to collect dust is the router table. To accomplish this, I installed a Rockler Dust Bucket, a metal box that attaches to the bottom of your router table and provides downwards suction through the router plate. I attach the ductwork to the router table using flex hose, which I have set up for vacuuming up any dust on the floor as well. This worked out great.

Step 9: Automating Your Dust Collection System

To automate my system, I used the iVac dust control system, which includes automated blast gates, a switch for your dust collector, and sensors that are attached to each tool. The way the system works is as follows:

  1. When you turn on a tool, the iVac Pro Tool Plus Sensor senses the current running through the cord of your tool and sends a signal to the iVac Pro Switch that is connected to your dust collector.
  2. The Pro Switch then sends a signal to the iVac Automated Blast Gate that corresponds with that specific tool, opens the blast gate, then switches on the dust collector. This all happens within a few seconds.
  3. When the tool is turned off, the system runs the dust collector for another minute to clear any residual dust in the lines, then closes the blast gate and turns off the dust collector.

The traditional way to do this is to have a manual blast gate at each tool, which you have to open and close before and after each cut. It's extremely easy to forget to do this and end up with either a pile of dust at your tool, or reducing airflow to another tool if you forget to close it. This also saves you from walking back and forth to your blast gates over and over. You can imagine how much efficiency can be gained here.

Step 10: Enjoy Your Fancy Dust Collection System!

I think that pretty much covers my new dust collection system. Hopefully you enjoyed this project! I spent a ton of time researching this, and would like to mention Bill Pentz's website and his amazing research on the topic. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments. If you'd like to check out more of my woodworking projects, check out my YouTube channel for a lot more!