Rigid construction with all-metal ducting. Highly efficient filtration (two microns). Five-year warranty.
The priciest item on our shortlist, this product is out of the reach of many consumers.
Good suction at 1,280 CFM. Free-standing with a wheeled base. Decent power, capacity, and filtration.
Some complaints about the quality of the instructions.
Affordably priced. Easily attaches to wall.
Smaller capacity is not enough for some shops. No separate section in the bag for chip collecting.
Incredible suction. Able to capture 74 percent of all one-micron particles. Compacts waste for less-frequent bag changes.
A good dust collector will have a major impact on the cleanliness of your workshop, the quality of your work and, most importantly, your health. But with dozens of different models to choose from, how do you know which is the right one for you?
That's where BestReviews can help. We have our own workshops for testing, we talk to established tradespeople to get their input, and we analyze mountains of customer feedback. This detailed research builds a thorough understanding of what each machine does, as well as its strengths and weaknesses.
Find our recommendations and buy with confidence. Each top pick delivers the best-in-class performance you're looking for. For more information before selecting your own dust collector, please read our research in the shopping guide.
A dust collector is more than just a big vacuum. While it does suck up waste, it also traps small particles which, if left to contaminate the air, are hazardous to your health.
Dust collection relies on suction or, more accurately, air flow through the machine. This air flow is created by an electric motor that drives a large impeller, or fan blade. In general, the bigger the better. What happens next depends on whether it's a single or two-stage dust collector.
In a single stage dust collector, the waste passes through the housing that contains the impeller blade. Heavy material falls into a collecting bag, finer particles are trapped by either a porous filter bag or a canister. Filtered air returns to the workshop. Because waste actually passes through the impeller, a steel version makes for a more durable machine than a plastic one.
The process for a two-stage dust collector is similar, but the majority of the waste falls into a collection bag or bin before it reaches the impeller. Only fine dust goes through it. This makes for higher efficiency and a longer working life, but the machine is more complex and thus more expensive.
There's an additional design element in some dust collectors, available in both single- and two-stage models. Different manufacturers call it different things – vortex, cyclone, turbo cone – but effectively, it's like a hurricane inside the machine. This tiny twister improves performance by slowing down some of the waste, which falls into the collection bag before it reaches the fine filter. The result is better air flow, and so the motor doesn't have to work so hard.
The things you need to consider when choosing a dust collector are:
Capacity vs. size
So, let's look at what impact each one has on your decision.
To clear chips and dust effectively you need good air flow. In dust collection, that flow is measured in cubic feet per minute, or cfm.
The different machines in your shop have different requirements, depending on the amount of waste they produce. Figures can be found online, or from the manufacturer of the machines you own. Typically a bandsaw will need 300 to 400 cfm, while something like a planer might need 500 to 800 cfm.
A few machines soon adds up to a total requirement of a couple of thousand cfm. However, it's highly unlikely you'd ever run all your tools at once, so you only need to worry about providing for the largest one or two. In many small home workshops, a 500 cfm dust collector will do the job. Even quite extensive set-ups are unlikely to need more than 1,500 cfm.
Much is made in some technical articles (and by some manufacturers) about the effect static pressure can have on cfm. Static pressure is mostly caused by dust particles rubbing along ducting as it passes, and so reducing cfm. It's impossible to eradicate completely, but you can minimize it by simplifying any ducting layout. Have as few bends and connections as possible, and use as little flexible hose as is practical.
In truth, while static pressure is a measurable effect, in the real-world it's seldom a problem.
Large chips and shavings are sucked up by your dust collector and dumped into a collecting bag. The lighter particles stay airborne and need to be filtered out. This is done by the porous bag or canister on the top of the machine. The finer the filter (measured in microns), the more dust will be collected.
For a long while, 30 micron filters were commonplace. They collected the majority of visible dust. We now understand much more about air contamination and the effects small particles can have on health, so while these machines are still available, they're usually used in environments where high capacity is required. They are supplemented by additional filtration.
In terms of what's safe in the home or small commercial workshop, it's a question of the finer the better. Five micron machines are common, several will filter down to two microns, and some claim to filter a percentage of even finer dust. Get the best you can afford.
The other thing to consider is the surface area of the filter. A larger surface area allows for more air flow, and more efficient operation. Pleated filters are thus an improvement over plain filter bags. Canisters offer the largest filter area, though those bags with pleated internal surfaces are also good.
You most likely don’t want to spend all day emptying waste bags, so the more capacity the better. The downside is that big machines need more space – something that's often at a premium in small workshops.
The smallest duct collectors are wall-mounted models, but their capacity might only be a couple of cubic feet.
Mid-range, floor-standing models with a single bag have at least twice the capacity as their wall-mounted cousins. They're popular because they give a good balance between waste collection and amount of space required. Some vortex models use the effect to compress the waste, thus containing up to ten cubic feet while remaining relatively compact.
Twin bag dust collectors can take 14 cubic feet of waste or more, but do need a lot more room.
Check dimensions carefully before buying. Think about whether it will be practical to wheel your dust collector around the workshop, from one machine to another, or whether a better plan would be a permanent site with a ducting system.
With many workshop machines, more horsepower equates to higher performance. With dust collectors, it's not really an issue. All the models we looked at had more than enough power to run efficiently.
Many dust collectors have flexible ducting between the impeller and bag or filter. While this is fairly efficient, and keeps costs down, it does disturb air flow. Machines with all-metal ducting are more expensive, but more efficient.
Two types of collecting bag are available; semi-disposable, transparent, plastic bags, or long-lasting cloth bags. It's useful if the latter has a clear viewing window, so you can see when it's getting near full.
Some dust collectors have timers, so you can leave them running after you've finished, to clear up any excess, airborne dust. They will turn themselves off later.
Look for a decibel (dB) rating. Most dust collectors fall within the 70 to 90 dB range. That's somewhere between a vacuum cleaner and a food processor. If it's louder, ear protection would be advised.
Snap-ring fixings for waste bags are easier to use than rubber bands, and they provide a better seal.
Dual or triple ports allow you to collect from more than one machine at the same time.
It's a good idea to check electrical current requirements. Many machines will plug into a standard 110V household supply, but some need 220V. With larger dust collectors you might also want to check the amps they draw, in case you need to use a separate circuit.
We've focused on single-stage dust collectors because they give the best combination of cost and efficiency. They're ideal for home and small workshop environments. While two-stage systems offer higher performance, their prices puts them firmly in the professional bracket.
The cheapest dust collectors are small, wall-mounted models, costing between $175 and $230. They are a compact and reasonably powerful option. The drawbacks are lack of mobility and modest bag capacity.
There's a big choice in mid-range dust collectors — those with cfm ratings of 1,000 to 1,500. You can pay as little as $320 or as much as $600, depending on features. At the lower end of the price range you have a viable alternative to wall-mounted models, with much more air flow and capacity, provided you have the necessary space. The more expensive models don't necessarily offer higher flow rates or larger capacities, but may be quieter or offer greater filtration efficiency.
The best dust collectors in terms of air flow, waste capacity, and filtration cost around $900 or more, depending on whether you want a one- or two-bag system. Although mobile, these are the kind of machines that have enough performance to cope with two major tools at once.
Filter bags and canisters can be quite expensive, but they generally last anywhere from twelve months to three years. If you notice a drop in performance, dust in the air, or that the motor is struggling – and cleaning the filter makes no difference – then it's probably time for that filter to be replaced.
Many machines have a dust extraction port, but tools like lathes and pillar drills do not. The solution here is a dust hood. There are many commercial models available, or you can search for websites that show you how to make your own.
Q. Do I really need a dust collector? Can't I just clean up with a shop vac?
A. Dust collectors clean up while you're working, so they're much more efficient. They save you time, and you're not trying to work while you're up to your knees in waste. Airborne dust can also create static build-up, which could cause an explosion. Small particles can get into varnishes, wax or paint and ruin your finishes.
More important are the health aspects. Even if you wear a mask, fine particles can irritate your respiratory system, eventually leading to permanent damage. Some exotic timbers are actually poisonous. For the good of your working environment, your safety, and your personal well-being, you need proper, active dust collection.
Q. Can I use a dust collector as a fixed central unit, rather than moving it from one machine to another?
A. Given a powerful enough machine, yes you can. A popular solution in home workshops is to use ducting to create a network of pipes, with the dust collector at the center. Closures called blast gates are used to isolate machines that aren't in use, thus providing maximum extraction for the tool you're working at. When you move to another machine, you simply close the blast gate on one and open it on the other.
Four-inch metal ducting is recommended (and should be grounded to cancel out static build-up). Flexible hose can be used to connect each machine. Four-inch PVC will work, but is often more expensive than the metal alternative. Narrower tubes used for household plumbing are considerably cheaper, but don't allow sufficient air flow. For best results, keep bends and junctions to a minimum.
Q. How fine should filtration be?
A. Some commercial dust collectors filter at 30 microns, but these are normally found in an environment where additional air processing is used. Experts tell us that most danger to health comes from particles 10 microns and smaller – the body takes a long time to get rid of them – so filtration levels of 5 microns or better are recommended.
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