Product Reviews » Stepping Up to Better Dust Collection
The reason that we woodworkers need to implement dust collection in our shops is not to keep the shop clean per se, as a broom can do an adequate job of that for a fraction of the cost. The real purpose of dust collection is to keep the microscopic dust out of our lungs, where it can do all kinds of bad things to us. In spite of that, many dust collection systems fail to protect us against this chronic allergen/irritant/carcinogen that floats pervasively where we work and play. Many systems come up short because they deliver insufficient airflow and provide unsafe levels of dust filtration. To steal a phrase from Al Gore, these facts can be considered the “inconvenient truths” of woodworking dust collection.
I had convinced myself that I was getting by for a while with a 1.5HP dust collector with a 2 micron cartridge filter; a pretty typical hobbyist woodshop dust collection configuration. As time went on, however, I realized that it wasn’t as good as I had originally thought. Fine dust was still accumulating everywhere, and I could still “taste dust” after a day in the shop. As my shop grew and my tool arsenal expanded, I realized that my dust collector was underperforming in a couple of key areas:
Not enough oomph. The suction from this system was adequate (barely) for very short runs, but not for the large duct system that I now had in place. When my dust collector was operating at peak performance (right after the filter was cleaned), it was picking up most of the chips and larger dust particles, but far too many of the fine dust particles were ending up in my nose and lungs rather than in the dust bag.
Filter clogging quickly. Like most single stage systems, mine did a dreadful job of separating the fine dust from the air and it packed a great deal of it into the filter. This quickly killed performance and required frequent cleaning (sometimes multiple times per day). A separator could have been added to deal with some of this, but these can also degrade performance a bit, and even with better separation I still lacked the suction that my shop configuration requires, so the “fine dust in the nose” problem would have remained.
These problems had been on my mind for several years so I did extensive research on many aspects of dust collection, including filters, cyclones, ducting, etc. My goals for upgrading my dust collection system were simple:
Both my experience and my research suggested that single stage dust collection systems were not optimized for fine dust separation, so I decided that a cyclone design would better serve my needs. Cyclones do a better job of separating dust out of the air and putting it into the collection barrel, rather than into a filter. Over the years of doing my investigation, many new entrants got into the cyclone game. I talked to owners and read user accounts of their experience, reviews, etc. I also spoke with most of the manufacturers to gauge their understanding of dust collection and to get their perspectives on the strengths of their design. My research drove me to the conclusion that Clear Vue Cyclones had what I wanted. They were known for great air movement performance, leading in fine dust separation and great filtration. I also liked their creative design, using clear PETG for the cylone body that allows you to monitor what is happening as it collects debris. Plus the product is American made by a small, innovative company using the cyclone design of Bill Pentz, an iconic figure who has been a major advocate for modernizing small shop dust collection, and whose research has influenced much of my own thinking on this topic.
Part of my early research included multiple telephone and email conversations with Ed Morgano, the founder and then-owner of Clear Vue Cyclones. But around the same time that I came to the conclusion that Clear Vue was my choice, Mr. Morgano announced that he was shutting down the company due to personal reasons.
Perhaps a year later I learned that Clear Vue Cyclones had been purchased by three brothers: James, Paul and Chuck Bushey, who had moved the company’s operations to Seattle. I refreshed my research to be sure that Clear Vue was still my choice, and indeed, it was. I contacted the Bushey brothers to get a sense for their passion for the business and their intentions for moving forward. I have seen businesses that “lose their soul” when they change hands and I wanted to feel confident that this was not the case. I was delighted to find that the new owners carry the same passion for dust collection as Ed Morgano. They also bring a fresh level of energy to the business that impresses me and fills me with confidence for the future of Clear Vue Cyclones. I liked everything that I heard, so I made arrangements to have them ship a unit to me.
Unpack and take inventory. Everything was packed extremely well, and in perfect condition. The quality of joints and machined surfaces was perfect. A quick walk through of the instructions while the parts were laid out reassured me that everything was there and it was obvious that the process would be straightforward. The instructions were clear, and included a lot of pictures that were helpful.
Installation adjustments. The Clear Vue Cyclone comes as a kit. This requires a bit more installation time, but the advantage of this is that you have great flexibility in how it is installed and configured. An example of this was that I wanted to have the cyclone extend an additional 6” from the wall to accommodate my existing ductwork. One call to Clear Vue (It's cool when you call a company and the owner answers the phone and is actually the one who helps you) and they walked me through exactly how to modify the hanger bracket. The modification added about 5 minutes to the overall installation. And because the system is so light (only about 110 pounds), the bracket had no problem handling the additional burden placed on it by extending the cyclone further from the wall. I have also seen numerous examples of people making modifications to the unit to fit their purposes for low ceilings, angled installations, etc.
Easy installation. Complete installation, including pulling a 10 gauge wire through the attic of my shop, took about 4-1/2 hours, with a helper. The manual said it would take 4 hours, not including wiring, so our experience was right in line, and honestly much faster, than I expected. David, my assembly partner, and I agreed that the project was actually unexpectedly fun, and not intimidating in the least.
Pre-wired electrical box is a great option. When I had originally researched Clear Vue, the only thing that I was concerned about was the wiring installation. I know basic wiring pretty well, but this looked a bit intimidating to me. Fortunately, the Bushey brothers recognized this as well. They now offer a pre-wired electrical box that takes all of the guesswork out of the process (I don’t like guessing with 30 amp service!). You can still wire it “from scratch” if you prefer, but this is faster and simpler in my view. They still advise having an electrician install the pre-wired, fully UL compliant box, but if you are comfortable with basic wiring you should be ok here. If you have the slightest reservation, however, hire the electrician. It shouldn’t cost much because 95% of the work is already done.
I did not experience any surprises during the installation. We spent the next day extending my ducting to additional tools to take advantage of the new power, and then it was ready for action.
How loud is it? The first test that I ran was a sound measurement. Proper dust collection is going to make some noise and I wanted to see how loud it was. I was expecting it to be quite loud, given the large 5 HP motor, and the fact that it is spinning a huge 15” impeller and moving air at blinding speeds. From 10 feet away, (which is the standard measuring distance) it measured at 88-89 decibels. I was expecting worse. I suspect that sound levels for various installations will vary quite a bit depending upon the size of your shop, height of ceilings, wall material, etc. In my shop, you can carry a conversation when it is running, albeit with voices raised. My old dust collector ran at 84 decibels in the same setting, and had a much smaller motor and impeller. As another comparison point, my planer screams at over 100 decibels. I had planned on building an insulated closet around the cyclone to muffle the sound, but since I generally wear hearing protection when I am operating power tools, and the sound cannot be heard from most rooms in the attached house, I probably won’t bother with the closet. If you have the space to build an enclosure with sound dampening material, however, it is not a bad idea.
Bowling ball test? If you want a simple summary without having to digest all of the data in the table below, here it is: COWABUNGA! Don’t let pets or small children near the dust ports, or they might disappear as fast as the dust in your shop! If this thing can suck up a bowling ball from the longest duct run in my shop, I don’t think it will break a sweat with little particles of wood dust. But, for those engineering types among us, let’s proceed to some data…
Air movement measured in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM), along with velocity measured in Feet Per Minute (FPM), are standard ways to measure the capabilities of dust collection systems. The amount of air movement at the inlet to the dust collector itself is an important starting point and is a function of several things including the impeller size, design and power of the motor. This is the point from which the dust collector vendors normally take their air flow measurements. Ultimately what is important, is how much air movement occurs at each of our dust producing tools. This is what I measured, which means the values are not as high as they would be in a laboratory test, but they are an actual example of real world data from one guy’s shop.
The minimum air flow requirement per tool is a widely debated topic. From various sources you will see targets ranging from 300 CFM - woefully low for anything but chip collection, to 1100 CFM or higher, depending on the tool, to capture the fine dust that is most harmful. To keep our vertical ducting runs from plugging, we also need to keep the air speed at a minimum of about 4000 FPM. Based upon years of experience I am positive that my old system was not moving enough air through my 6” ducts because there was dust left in the tools as well as in my ducts. I am equally confident that my new CV1800 system IS delivering adequate air flow to every tool because there is virtually no dust left in the tool or ducts, and the air quality is noticeably improved in the shop. When a ray of sunlight beams through my shop, I no longer see dust particles suspended in the air. So the effective minimum for my shop lies somewhere between the capabilities of my old and new systems. I am now quite happy to be above the line rather than below it. In my view, the objective is not to achieve the minimum, but to comfortably exceed it to allow for performance decline due to some filter clogging, and to allow for occasional use of two simultaneously open blast gates if your dust collector can handle it. It is a health hazard after all, so “squeaking by” should not be the goal.
This table shows “before and after” data in my shop. Please note that this is not a highly scientific study and the airflow measurements are not presented as empirical data. I simply placed an anemometer at the end of the dust collection hose at the tool port for each tool. The measurements were taken in the same fashion for the before and after tests, so I am confident that the results are directionally accurate and the relative improvements are indicative of the net effect of my upgrade. Also, I fully acknowledge that I have additional work to do in running better ducts to some of my tools, and now with a dust collector that is capable of pulling more air, I will continue on my journey of continual refinement toward better dust capture. The main thing that I was interested in for now was the % improvement for each tool, and the results significantly exceeded my expectations.
These measurements show dramatic improvement in airflow. Another way to illustrate this point was when I first fired up the Clear Vue cyclone after my ductwork was in place. As I opened each blast gate, there was substantial amount of dust pulled to the cyclone, even though I wasn’t operating any of the machines! There was a great deal of residual dust and debris left in the pipes and interior corners of my tools that my old system had failed to capture. I was actually cleaning the ductwork and my tools with the new cyclone.
The final test of the system was how well it separated fine dust. I measured this by how much dust came out of the filter when I cleaned it. After running enough dust through the system to fill the bin twice, I got about two tablespoons of dust out of the filter and could not measure any drop in air movement prior to cleaning (those are big filters, so 2 tablespoons of dust wasn't going to do much to clog it). My old system would have pushed well over a gallon, and probably more like 2-3 gallons into the filter in that time and would have suffered major drop in air movement that I couldn’t afford. So the CV1800 provided a huge improvement on the separation front. I will post back with an update after I have a bit more run-time with the system, but early indications are spectacular.
Do yourself a favor and take a hard look at your dust collection system. Is it removing the fine dust from the air and keeping it out of your lungs? Or is it simply sucking up the debris that you could remove with a broom and pumping fine particles back into the room? If you can justify stepping up to a cyclone, the CV1800 absolutely rocks. The upgrade has been a huge success on all fronts. Given the quality and performance of this system, I believe it would meet the needs of nearly any hobbyist or small professional woodworking shop. Plus, it is cool to see what is happening inside the cyclone by looking through the clear walls of the cyclone.
For most shops I believe that the CV1800 would be more than adequate, but for larger shops, or when you need to run multiple tools simultaneously on a regular basis, you might consider the CVMAX which uses a slightly larger impeller and expanded 8” cyclone inlet and outlet. If a dust collector from Clear Vue Cyclones looks like a good fit for your requirements, I would encourage you to also consider the following options:
Filter Cleanout Box. This makes cleaning the filter a breeze. Even though you won’t have to do it very often, it makes life easy when you do. It has a 4” PVC connection so you can hook a flex pipe to it and clean it out in seconds after blowing the dust free from the filter using low pressure compressed air.
Fiber Drum. I like this better than using a trash can. Seals better, looks cooler. I bought mine from McMaster Carr. Including shipping to my door this was only $41. The folks at Clear Vue indicated that they were looking into adding these to their product line as well.
Remote Control. It’s handy to have a remote and it is a relatively inexpensive add-on. The pre-wired electrical box from Clear Vue comes with a nice radio frequency remote and you can order additional transmitters to keep one by each tool. I bought three additional transmitters and placed one near my table saw, jointer, planer and miter saw.
Clear Vue blast gates. These are the best blast gates I have ever seen for use with 6” PVC. They fit perfectly on the outside of the pipe (plastic and metal go into the inside, serving as a bottleneck), operate smoothly, and don’t leak. As my old plastic ones break, and I have a track record of cracking them, I will replace them with these. The metal ones I have work well enough so I probably won’t replace those, but I'll add the new plastic/metal versions for any new ports moving forward.
On a final note, a great dust collector is just the start of an effective overall dust management system. Proper duct design and installation is equally important and I will cover that in an upcoming article, along with other tips and tricks to maximize the effectiveness of your system.