Lawn Vacuum System Using Woodshop Equipment




Introduction: Lawn Vacuum System Using Woodshop Equipment

Throughout the year, we have many pine cones that need to be removed, before we can mow the lawn. Rather than rake them, and if I get to them right after they fall, a shop vac can make short work of them. However, if they sit, they start to open and their increased size clogs the vac quickly.

Additional to dealing with pine cones, there is the matter of leaf clean up in the spring and fall. A shop vac doesn’t work at all for that and I’m pretty sure my wife would be unhappy with the results of driving a lawn vac through her lilies and such.

I had two dust collectors for my wood shop. One has four bags and would be a monster to move out to and around the yard. The little horse and a half Jet wouldn’t be bad to move. However, it has an expensive canister filter I’m not inclined to risk damaging.

The aforementioned facts convinced me I needed a third collector I could dedicate to yard work, when it wasn't tending a power tool (the miter). True to its nature, craigslist provided me a one horse power Delta collector I was able to dedicate to the tasks.

Moving the collector was a problem, since the small, standard wheels barely tolerate rough concrete, let alone gravel and grass. Too, collectors don't come with much in the way of handles for moving them. I solved those problems by mounting wood handles to the unit, then installing an axle and larger wheels.

With the new handle and wheels, the unit rolls around the shop much better and, tipped back on the new wheels, it pulls around the yard just fine.

The next problem I considered was common to every lawn vac system I looked at – everything vacuumed up was pulled through the impellers. This can be hard on even heavy duty impellers. Of course, anything drawn through them, like a tool or a pair of Raybans, was destroyed.

I had already put dolly handles and wheels on the Super Dust Deputy cyclone to make it easy to move for emptying. This is a pre-filter, which works by spinning everything drawn through it, until it drops down, into the thirty gallon can under it. Connected to my dust and chip collector, ninety-seven percent of the dust and debris drawn in by the collector drop out (down) before they can get to the impellers.

Incorporating the cyclone into the system was a simple matter of disconnecting it from the big collector, rolling it into the yard, then connecting it up to the smaller collector and vacuum hose and wand.

The collection port of the cyclone has a a four inch diameter by twenty foot long hose running from it to a four inch vac wand. It works wonderfully, even off the under powered collector.

When leaves and things are damp, I note a significant drop in the effectiveness of the collector. A later upgrade to a [so called] two horse collector purchased from Harbor Freight resulted in a dramatic improvement.

The cyclone can, on top of which the Super Dust Deputy sits, is made from a plastic thirty gallon drum with the top cut out and a seal on top. It has a view port cut in the side, which is just Plexiglass or Lexan caulked to the inside to allow monitoring the fill level. It works well, but I should have ran it up another seven or so inches.

Because it’s a component system with dollies built in, getting the system to the job site is just a matter of rolling the two units to where you are going to use them.

With the cyclone pre-filter, vacuuming gravel and other items poses no danger to the impellers of the collector.

This system:

1) Cleaned my wife’s flower beds of leaves well, without the damage a rake would cause;

2) Swallowed pine cones as well as a commercial unit;

3) Cleaned up a couple gallons of paint chips (scrapings left by painters) from the gravel around at the back and side of my wife’s family store; and,

4) Cleaned up all the sawdust and chips left on our lawn from cutting up a pine, which fell over in a wind storm.

5) Has the advantage of doing double duty - it helps keep your shop clean, protects your collector from damage, and makes yard care much easier.


1) Wheel the dust collector and the cyclone and drum to where they will be used, positioning them next to each other.

2) Install the reducer on top the cyclone.

3) Connect the short 4" hose to the top of the cyclone and to the dust collector intake.

4) Connect the 20' hose to the cyclone input.

5) Connect the collector to an outlet. Preferably, the outlet will be a 12 gauge, 20 amp circuit, to avoid tripping under load of larger collectors.

6) Attach the wand.

7) Vacuum away.


To build this you need the following materials:

1) A dust collector. For my prototype, I started with a one horse Delta I bought off craigslist. It worked, but efficiency was, very notably, affected by the dampness of what was being vacuumed. Any collector’s performance is affected by the length of the hoses between it and the cyclone pre-filter, and the hose from the cyclone to the wand used for vacuuming. Generally, the more powerful the collector the more air it moves, which translates to better performance. After trying the one horse Delta, then a “two horse” Harbor Freight collector for the same operation, I recommend, highly, the Harbor Freight unit. NOTE: You may be able to find a used unit on craigslist, but keep in mind, coupons are almost always available for these and they only cost a couple hundred new.

2) A 12 gauge extension cord. If a cord longer than fifty feet (50') is needed, consider a ten (10) gauge cord. When supplying power for tools with significant power consumption, or over long distances, larger never hurts, other than when you're buying it. Even then, it only hurts once.

3) A Super Dust Deputy. These can be bought from several sources, including the manufacturer, Oneida, on line.

4) At least a 30 gallon, plastic drum.

5) Four hood hold downs. These are available on line and at many local auto parts dealers.

6) A piece 3/4" plywood or similar material big enough to cover the entire top of the drum and on to which the Super Dust Deputy will mount.

7) A section of four inch (4") diameter flexible hose long enough to reach from the dust collector to the top of the Super Dust Deputy.

8) A twenty foot, four inch diameter flexible hose.

9) The flared end of a four inch diameter sewer pipe.

10) Two 2x4's or 2x6's, for building the dolly handles for the cyclone pre-filter. For 2x’s, if they will work for your collector handles too. If your collector is like the Harbor Freight unit, plywood may be a better option. However, you can use 2x’s, but would need to run diagonal braces about eighteen inches (18") to twenty-four inches (24") in from the handles and up to the handle.

11) Four (4) wheels approximately 8" in diameter with 1/2" diameter holes for the axle. The larger the wheels, the easier it will be to move your equipment over rough surfaces.

12) Two 24" long, 1/2" diameter rods. This should be more than sufficient to support the weight of the collector, or the per-filter cyclone, when full. These are available at most hardware stores.

13) Eight 1/2" flat washers. Each side of each wheel should have a flat washer to improve roll and to keep the wheels where they belong.

14) Four one inch long carter keys. Nails will do, in a pinch.

15) About eight (8) 3/4" long 10-24 screws to secure the hold downs to the barrel. 16) Eight (8) 1-1/4" long 10-24 screws to secure the hold downs to the barrel cover.

17) Sixteen (16) flat washers for the screws used to secure the hold downs.

18) Sixteen lock washers for the screws used to secure the hold downs.

19) Screws, nuts and washers described in the directions for mounting the Super Dust Deputy.

20) Fencing material for the bag hold down.


You’ll need the following tools to build this:

1) A saber or other saw to cut out the opening in the plastic barrel, to add shape to your handles, if you desire, to cut the plywood or other material into a circle of the same diameter as the outside dimension of the barrel, and to cut the hole over which the Super Dust Deputy will mount.

2) A drill to mount the hood hold down straps to the barrel and cover, to drill holes for the axle, to drill holes for the carter keys, and to drill holes to mount the Super Dust Deputy.

3) A screw driver to tighten screws used to secure the Dust Deputy and hold downs.

4) End wrenches or an adjustable wrench to tighten the nut or bolts used to secure the Dust Deputy and handles.

5) A 1/2" drill bit.

6) A 1/8" drill bit.

7) A metal punch.

8) Hack saw.


1) Describing how to build handles and install wheels on your dust collector is difficult, because there are so many dust collectors out there. How you install the handles is, of course, dictated by the design of the one you buy. As can be seen from the picture, the little Delta allowed me to just attach the handles to the metal frame, which made for a nice, compact looking assembly using 2x’s. The picture of the larger Harbor Freight model shows I had to rely, solely, on the based to mount the handles. For it, plywood worked well. The design you choose for your handles can be varied greatly, as the photos of the two handles I built suggest. For example, the plywood handles could be nothing more than squares and they would function fine. Use your imagination and build to your taste or needs.

2) Mount the handle(s) on the dust collector. If able to secure the handles though a housing, like the Delta has, use at least four 2-1/2" wood screws on each vertical portion of the handle. If attaching to the base. Mount the handle sides to the base in four or five places using 10-24 screws, flat washers, lock washers and nuts on each side.

NOTE: I installed the wheels on the side with the motor, since the extra weight was less a problem at the pivot point, when tipping the collector back, on the wheels for moving it over rough ground.

3) Both handle systems utilized the installed handles to support the axles for the wheels. Mounting the axle required me to drill 1/2" holes for the 1/2" rod. To establish where I wanted the axle holes, I had to consider obstructions, such as motor mounts, and I wanted the holes just above the collector base. Once I established the position for the holes, I used a ruler to mark the location in from the back, on both sides, and above the base enough for the axle to just clear the base.

4) Drill a 1/8" hole about 1/2" in from the end of the axle rod. You should use a punch or other means to dent the rod at the point you are drilling to give the drill bit some bite, so it won’t wander.

5) Install a Carter key or a nail in the hole just drilled and bend it over.

6) Slip on a flat washer, one wheel, then another flat washer. 6) Slide the axle through the two 1/2" holes drilled for the axle. 7) Slide a flat washer over the axle, the other wheel, then another flat washer.

7) Mark a spot for the other 1/8" hole for the other Carter key about 1/8" out from the flat washer.

8) Remove the wheel and two washers, then pull the axle back out so you can drill the Carter key hole and cut the axle to length.

9) Punch the marked location for the Carter key and drill the 1/8" hole.

10) Mark the axle rod 1/2" out from the Carter key hole and cut the axle to that length.

11) Install the axle back on the collector, install a flat washer, the wheel against the first washer, the last washer, then the Carter key (bent to stop if from falling out).

12) Since my Super Dust Deputy connects to the big collector by way of a five inch (5") inch hose and the lawn system uses common four inch (4") hoses, I had to reduce the top connection of the Deputy to four inches. To do this, I picked up a six inch (6") to four inch reducer (available at many hardware and big box stores and modified it to fit my system. Modifying the reducer was a simple matter of drilling out the rivets holding the six inch diameter portion of the reducer together, further closing the opening down to five inches (5"), clamping it, drilling new holes, then riveting them to hold the position. Once the reducer was riveted, I sealed any potential leaks using foil duct tape. I power the system off a twelve gauge cord, so I don’t starve the motor of power.


The smoother you can keep the inside of the collector can, the easier it is to remove bags, if you use them, when they become full. Too, I find laying the can on its side makes removing bags easier.

If you use bags, they need to be clear, or you lose the ability to monitor fill level. Even if you aren’t paying attention to fill level, if you get any leaves into the collector bag, you know you have either a bad seal on the cyclone, or its full.

Using bags also requires a bag holder. I made one out of fencing I had left over from building tomato cages and rock cages ( It holds the bags tightly against the collector can, so it isn't drawn into the system, making the collector can inoperative.

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    Question 2 years ago on Step 4

    My question: Does the dust collector break up the leaves into pieces? What's your best guess of how much the volume gets reduced vs. just old bagged leaves? (Leaf mulcher mfrs. say you can fit about 7x as many leaves after mulching.)


    Answer 2 years ago

    The black, funnel shaped thing on top of the blue barrel is what's called a cyclone. Everything drawn up through the hose is spun out before it gets to the impeller. That's why I use it in front of the collector. For that reason, nothing gets chopped up, only spun out.

    Without the cyclone, gravel, rocks and the hundreds of pine cones from our yard would go through the impeller blades, beating up on them. Too, that pair of aviator sun glasses that the four inch vacuum wand grabbed would still be wearable, being banged around in the hose aside.

    I don't use this for general yard clean up. Rather, I use it to vacuum pine cones, leaves out of the gardens and things off the gravel, such as paint chips.

    A mulcher would sound like world war two broke out if you tried to vacuum gravel and pine cones. Without the cyclone, picking up knots and chips of wood off the floor result in flinchingly loud bangs, as they leave dents in the heavy metal of my collectors. As the noise would suggest, you would not be doing the impeller any favor.

    I note only the rare commercial unit use cyclones. People, including those ordering for cities and such, just don't know a lot about them.


    5 years ago


    I need a dust collection system bad, but this is now on the list of projects!


    Reply 5 years ago

    And building this system [very much] justifies the Super Dust Deputy too. The philosophy which smacks of an event involving my wife about four decades back.

    I bought a trailer from a guy and, in the course of visiting with him, I learned he did glass etch. I found that interesting and we ended up talking about it in detail. Eventually, he suggested I borrow his air compressor for a few weeks and do some etches the wife would like, then point out I could do more, if I had a compressor too.

    I got my compressor a few weeks later.

    I cannot say enough good about cyclone pre-filters. My purchase of a three horse Oneida Gorilla Cyclone was inspired by the performance I experienced with one of the small Dust Deputies for vacuums. Before getting it, vacuuming sheetrock dust would clog the vacuum filters in five minutes or less. After it, I could get up to a half hour of run time.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Sadly, cost is prohibiting to me. I either must build it, Or trade labor for it. I Finally got a nice shop, but it's full of portable jobsite tools. They work well, But they are not heavy iron tools. dust collection is limited to a shop vac and my lungs, and power is being run slowly, so things still run off of extension cords. I may end up building a cyclone long before I can buy one.


    Reply 5 years ago

    I had to run my Bosch for a year, while I waited to get 240 to my cabinet saw. A couple years down the road, it was Groundhog's day, all over again. I spend a lot of years just vacuuming up after the fact and making do. My first big jump in the dust collection world was just installing a couple squirrel cages that allowed me to fire up the leaf blower and clean shop.

    [Did that during the day once, then pulled the garage door up and discovered I'd just dusted the entire neighborhood, so only did it after dark, after that . ;) ]

    Today, I have that 240 and the Bosch went the way of craigslist. Today, I have three collectors [even though it's not really that big a shop. Those collectors tend some nice toys, uh, tools (e.g., 8", spiral, long bed jointer, over-arm pin router, a router carving machine, etc.). Regarding all that, it should be noted, I'm sixty-six, and those things didn't appear over night.

    My passion for fabricating saw dust filled my shop with tools and equipment, as opportunity and need arose. I upgraded them when I could. There are still a few tools I want (okay, that never ends), but I remember [when not wanting that wide bed sander] to appreciate the fact I have a hobby shop many professionals would be happy with.

    I still build many things, both because I want the money to go to something else and because it just doesn't exist. I still make do with some tools too.

    The point of this is, take time to look at what you've accomplished. Too, remember, if you lost it all, you could replace it in far less time than it took you to build the first collection. I know this, first hand. My first Unisaw took me fifteen years to acquire. The second, and many times the equipment I had then, took three years.

    The short of it is, if you want it and give it your passion, you'll have it. If you doubt it, go back to taking time to really think about what you've already accomplished.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Agreed! And inspiring souls such as yourself fuel the passion! Keep it up!


    5 years ago

    If you don't have a wood/workshop or equipment, you can purchase a leaf blower/vacuum and the hose with lid that fits any garbage can. The leaf blower will mulch the leaves and deposit them into the garbage can. All are available from Canadian Tire, Lowes and Home Depot. Even I was able to afford them!


    Reply 5 years ago

    That's a great idea.

    Just a reminder, the idea of the cyclone and dust collector is so you can vacuum without concern about rocks running through the impellers, since they spin out before getting to the collector or leaf vac.


    5 years ago

    I just blow my leaves into the neighbor's yard. He blows mine and his into his neighbor's yard. He blows them all onto the golf course next to his house. The greenskeeper brings a big vac on wheels, it chops them up and they use the bits in the giant composter for the flower beds all over the course.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Finally, a common sense approach. Golf course is only a few blocks away, so it's going to take a bit more cooperation.


    5 years ago

    great idea. I connected my leaf vac to my dust collector much the same way. got a lot of weird looks last fall but it worked