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Shop Dust Collection System

August 9, 2023

I have had a dust collector in my shop for as long as I can remember. Okay, it’s actually more of a Frankenstein’s Monster of a dust collector. It started as a Harbor Freight rolling dust cart and slowly morphed into a wall mounted motor, with a floppy filter sack to catch the finer particles. It has a good cyclone separator that dumps into a big garbage can, and a single long flexible hose that I move from tool to tool as I need them. It works, but it leaves a lot to be desired.

This unit didn’t actually pull away all the dust from my various machines, it just slurped up the easy to reach table scraps, and left behind plenty of mess to deal with later. In fact, it wasn’t until I rearranged the shop for this video that I realized the enclosed base on my jointer was packed so full of sawdust that you couldn’t find room for one more toothpick if you were certified tetris master. Considering that space is where the motor lives, I’m lucky I didn’t start a fire. 


I did have the foresight to put a viewing window in the lid back in the day, but it's really easy to forget to check it. If that happens, the cyclone chokes up and the filter bag gets packed full in a hurry. When that happens, not only is it a pain to unclog, but the process leaves me covered in the dust that I had managed to contain. This is messy, and it’s also a health issue. Breathing in that fine dust is bad for your lungs - which is part of why we are trying to collect and filter it in the first place!


So for years, what I thought was a perfectly adequate dust collector, was honestly more like a big, loud shop-vac. It wasn’t until my recent upgrade that I really understood what good dust collection is.


Check out my new system from Oneida.


Oneida includes some very good, comprehensive instructions - so rather than going too in-depth on the assembly, I’m going to hit the main points of the process. It starts by assembling the frame that will hold up the cyclone and motor. Following the diagram, I put all the pieces together, up on my workbench and only loosely tightened the hardware. 


Then I lowered the floppy assembly to the ground so it was standing up right. Tightening the hardware after the frame was standing under its own weight helped to make sure that everything was lined up right, and all four legs were flat on the ground. I did have to make a few tweaks after I moved the frame to its permanent home because my floor is very uneven and full of cracks from frost heaving.


A foam gasket gets installed on top of the cyclone to create an air-tight seal against the bottom of the fan housing. Then, the cyclone goes into the frame with the inlet pointed in the direction indicated by the layout map. Then it gets lined up with the mounting holes around the perimeter before installing bolts and tightening them down. Next the fan housing goes on, and once again it’s important to clock the outlet in the correct direction. Then you bolt it down by installing bolts through the top. 


Until now everything has only been mildly heavy, but for the motor assembly itself you better get a second set of hands involved. I rolled my workbench into place so we had a big solid surface to stand on, then my wife and I lifted the motor and set it on top before tightening more bolts to lock it down.


There’s an elbow that gets attached to the fan housing, and a support brace helps take a little of the weight off it. I put the dust bin on the filter using j-bolts, then flipped it over and threw a drop-in silencer in the top of the filter, then hung the whole thing from the elbow using more j-bolts. These funky bolts make it easy to remove and clean the filter in the future if it gets plugged with fine dust.


Now that the dust collector is assembled it's time to run ducting to them. Since every system is going to be different, I’ll just give you some points I picked up along the way. First of all, assemble as much as you can on the ground, it's much easier than trying to fit one piece at a time together from the top of a ladder.


A straight segment at the start of your main line ensures maximum airflow. Oneida recommends a minimum of one to two feet before you introduce a curve. Since my main line is in a major walkway, I went roughly 20-inches before I curved the line up to the ceiling. I figured this was a good compromise between airflow, and avoiding banging my head on a pipe. 


From here, it's just a matter of branching off from the main line to reach all of the tools in the shop. Right away I needed to branch off to the far wall, but I also needed to avoid some junk on the ceiling, so I needed a very slight bend in the line. To do this, I used a 90 degree fitting, and straightened it out so it only curved a little bit. 


Smoothly adjusting a 90 into some other angle is simple, just make a mark on the outside of each segment, then rotate every mark in the opposite direction, keeping left turns lined up and right turns lined up. 


With the bent pipe in place, followed by a wye, I used straps screwed into my sheeted ceiling to keep everything from crashing down on me while I worked. Later on I will tighten these straps, but leaving them with some slop now makes it easier to come back and tape the seams. 


After the wye, there was a section of straight pipe, then a 90 and another straight which is the start of my first drop down to a tool. This piece is a wye, and a reducer all in one, which turns a 6-inch pipe into two 4’s. I put blast gates into the end of each of these, then attached hose adapter fittings to the bottom of each blast gate. I come back to this seam later on and run a bead of silicone around the top and bottom of the blast gate to prevent any air leaks. I figured out later that it's much easier to put the silicone on the lips of the blast gate first, then assemble the fittings and screw them together. At this point I can attach a heavy-duty flexible hose with a hose-clamp, then attach the other end to the tool.


From here on out it is mostly an exercise in repetition. Assemble what you can on the ground. Fit all the assemblies together. Attach the drops to their respective tools. Then come back and seal off any seams that you missed. 


Now that we are up and running, and I didnt even have to dismantle my old unit to get everything in place, it’s time for some head to head comparisons. Starting with a noise test - I used a free decibel meter app on my phone. For a frame of reference, I tested my dinky little dehumidifier which is quiet enough that sometimes you can forget it's even running. The app claims that it runs at around 50 decibels.


With nothing on in the shop except for the lights, the app picks up noise in the low to mid 20’s, then it actually picked up my footsteps in the 40’s when I walked over to turn on the old system - which runs at about 75 decibels.


The new Oneida V-System, is designed to ramp up slowly to increase the longevity of the motor - once it was fully up to speed, it was running at about 80 decibels. So it's a little louder according to my phone, but considering this is a 3 horsepower motor running on 220 power vs the other machine which is only 2 Horsepower on 110, I thought the gap would be bigger.


Next I dumped out a 5-gallon bucket of sawdust. It had everything from big planer shavings to fine palm-sander dust. It too the Frankencollecter approximately 40-seconds to suck all that dust up. Then I dumped that same bucket of dust back out on the floor and the oneida V-system picked it right back up in about 24 seconds - almost half the time it took the other machine. Oh, and check this out, that test was done with the 5-inch blast gate for the planer left open. It probably could have completed this test faster, but when I shut that gate, there was so much suction in the system that it actually started to lift the mostly-empty drum off the ground!


So that’s all nice information to have, but how well does it actually work? Here’s an example. My jointer has lots of air-gaps between the tool itself and the base it sits on. With the old system there was lots of fine dust as well as a sputtering of bigger flakes that slipped out those gaps and settled on the lip of the base and all around the floor. With the Oneida V-System, I wasn’t able to detect anything slipping through those same gaps. The suction is so much stronger that none of the dust could escape its near gravitational pull. 


A few of my tools didn’t get hooked up to this system yet because they don’t have any sort of dust ports on them. I have plans in the near-future to make some custom containers to fix that situation - so check back soon to see how I make those. 


Make sure you watch the full YouTube video to see the complete process and demonstration. If you’d like to learn more and start shopping for your own dust collection system, head over to Oneida now and look at all the options they have available.

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