Dust Collector vs. Shop Vac?

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Forum topic by BrandonR posted 03-03-2012 12:07 PM 27793 views 3 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View BrandonR's profile


64 posts in 2261 days

03-03-2012 12:07 PM

Topic tags/keywords: dust collection

I have been really bad about my dust collection, and I know this is something I shouldn’t ignore. I have been working in my shop, 1 side of garage with the door open. I do have a cheap shop vac but seldom hook it up. If I am doing any kind of sanding or routing, I wear a mask. My shop vac now doesn’t fit on most of my tools.

I know I need to set up a collection system. My question is where should I go and at what price range. If it is more than 200 I am going to have to wait and save. I am debating getting a Harbor Freight 2hp dust collector and using it with a theiin separator. At home depot last night I saw a Rigid 5HP dust collector on sale for 49.99. I didn’t know if this would work just as well hooked up with a thein separator. The shop vac route would be much cheaper, but would it be more limited than the HF DC system?

I know neither are the best options out there, but much better than what I have now! I am hoping on some advice on which route to take.


19 replies so far

View Chipy's profile


374 posts in 2561 days

#1 posted 03-03-2012 12:29 PM

I Have the HF collector and it works well.I use a Grizzly separator the type that fits over a garbage can.I got a coupon for the HF dust collector in Wood Magazine and I think it was real close to the price of the shop vac.The HF dust collector is more powerful and you can grow it into a “hard duct system” down the road.

This is another alternative.

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2416 days

#2 posted 03-03-2012 12:56 PM

I have both the Harbor Freight DC and a shop-vac with Thien baffled separator.

Plainly put, there is no (none, zero, nada) comparison from any shop-vac to the HF DC. The DC wins, hands down. And by a HUGE margin. If you have never used a DC, you simply can not understand the amount of air they suck, it’s amazing! (I just got mine, and oh man is it sweet!)

I will suggest buying a “Bucket-Vac”, which is a small shop-vac power head you put on a 5-gallon bucket, as the are handy for certain smaller tools that benefit from the higher static pressure. And at $20, they’re pretty cheap. I do recommend the unit sold at Lowes over the Home Depot model. I have 2 of these as dedicated collection for 2 smaller machines, and they’re awesome. They both have received their own Thien baffled separator now and are plumbed in mostly with PVC (pvc from vac to baffle, and then from baffle to machine) and only a short piece of flex hose to connect the machine.

The small vac will also be good for general vacuuming chores in the shop, as a 4” DC hose isn’t always good for clean-up work. And you don’t want to suck up anything that will hurt the DC’s blower (a non-issue with a Thien baffle).

I have a blog (Hot Rodding a Harbor Freight DC) in which I am going to do various low-dollar mods and test them to see what works and what doesn’t.

So, in closing, a HF DC with Thien Baffle and a bucket vac. You will be set to rock and roll!

Good Luck!

-- Kenny

View kizerpea's profile


774 posts in 2336 days

#3 posted 03-03-2012 01:07 PM

My friend…u have opened up a can of worms here!!!!!!!!!!!!! theres more info on that topic than u can shake a stick at…good luck!!!!


View Viking's profile


880 posts in 3163 days

#4 posted 03-03-2012 01:17 PM


The HF is a great dust collector for the price and can be easily upgraded with a few modifications. You can install the ore-separator, as above, in front of the HF DC inlet which will grab the majority of the chip and keep large chunks from hitting the impeller. To boost performance you ad replace the 5micron bag filter with a cartridge type filter like the Wynn 35A. The original bag filter works pretty well but you get a significant improvement with the Wynn. The bag will grab particles as small as 5 microns and has approximately 35 sq. ft. of surface area. The Wynn 35A Nano filter is sub 1 micron and about 275 sq. ft. of surface area.

For improvement in shop air quality you also need a powered air filter. There are several on the market and several LJ’s have built their own using surplus HVAC blowers. You can search “air filters” on this site and select either reviews or projects and see a good assortment. If you build your own it is very handy to have a shutoff delay that lets the filter run for a period of time after you leave your shop. I run mine for 30 minutes after I shut down.

Good luck.

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View rusty2010's profile


150 posts in 2526 days

#5 posted 03-03-2012 01:22 PM

It’s a hard call. I been there. I have the Grizzly 2hp. I can not honestly say that there is a difference between HF and Grizzly. Maybe someone here has done a comparison. The Grizzly is 299 plus 80 for shipping. I bought mine in 1994.Works great. Mine sits in a closet next to a laundry sink and is remote control. It is also plumbed with 4” PVC lines to my shop tools. I had to wait and save my money just like everyone else and it was worth the wait. Having the space and tools are a true luxury in the woodworking world, it takes time and money. I think it’s worth the wait. Good luck too you.

-- check, recheck then check again

View HorizontalMike's profile


7749 posts in 2882 days

#6 posted 03-03-2012 03:48 PM

The major difference between the two systems is/are:

Shopvac = high suction but LOW volume. It can and does collapse my 30gal trashcan separator when the hose is blocked. I use mine a a dedicated DC for my 12in miterbox.

HF DC = HIGH volume suction. Not going to get into the argument about just how much volume but north of 1000cfm. My HF DC services my TS, BS, Jointer, and Planer (I move the hose to each machine as needed). My HF DC also has a Thien baffle on a 30gal trashcan.

FWIW, I do not see any perfomance differences between the Grizzly separator lid and the Thien separator lid, as I have used both on my larger machines. The only noted difference that I see is that the Thien separator allows you to fill the can higher before chips start bypassing the separator and going directly into the DC bag.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2274 days

#7 posted 03-03-2012 04:08 PM

Hi Brandon, the CFM you get from a Vac is shadowed in comparison to a DC, I have 2 craftsman shop vacs that work pretty good one is a 5HP the other is 6.5HP I had a DC many years ago that burnt out, I got it after 20 years of use and lasted me 6 years, it was free so I can’t complain. To do it right and get the most bang for your buck go with a DC, the HF one is a good unit, and there all pretty basic, just a motor to drive he impeller. Keep in mind there is a much higher noise level with a DC, if you can keep it in a closet or behind a wall and just pipe it out that’s the way to go. I am building one myself and I will be using a blower motor & squirrel cage assembly that I got for free, all the other components are made from scrap, I know sounds a little weird. If you want to check it out I have blog you can look at HERE Whatever you decide to do, something is better than nothing.
P.S. If you check out my blog you’ll notice the shop is a mess, I’m working on that as well, maybe a tool collector?!? Maybe not.

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3142 days

#8 posted 03-03-2012 04:16 PM

The HF DC is also a chunk quieter than a Big Block 454cid ShopVac.

After a while, the noise difference becomes pretty noticeable….

-- -- Neil

View JAAune's profile


1788 posts in 2285 days

#9 posted 03-03-2012 04:30 PM

As Mike says, Vacs are high suction but low CFM. Most dust collectors are the opposite with the possible exception of Onieda’s Smart collectors and high pressure CNC systems (haven’t looked closely at those yet).

Most large power tools require the high CFM of a dust collector. Many portable tools are specifically designed for use with a shop vac though. This is the case for tools like hand-held sanders, some routers and Festool’s lineup of power tools.

-- See my work at and

View rusty2010's profile


150 posts in 2526 days

#10 posted 03-04-2012 12:54 PM

Mike, I apologize if I’m interfering with the OP and will start a new thread if need be.
I’m wondering about the Thien separator. Is its purpose to let the bigger chips fall into a trash can? Does this save where and tear on the DC? Does this help in the efficiency of the DC? What are the benefits? Thanks

-- check, recheck then check again

View Loren's profile (online now)


10278 posts in 3616 days

#11 posted 03-04-2012 01:10 PM

Dust collectors do best with getting chips from machinery or
open hoods for sucking the dust off router tables and
stuff like that.

I haven’t played with it much, but when I reduced my dust
collector outlet to use a vacuum hose it really choked up
and the suction was less than a shop vac. The issue
is air volume and pressure and the two types of tools
really do serve different purposes.

For years I had between 2 and 4 shop vacs and I would
leave them set up as dedicated collectors for specific
tools or work areas. I had a foot switch on one hooked
up to my table saw for awhile. I would power up the
saw, kick the switch, make the cut, turn off the saw
and kick the switch again. It was very noisy but so was
the saw anyway.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7749 posts in 2882 days

#12 posted 03-04-2012 01:25 PM

Rusty: ”...I’m wondering about the Thien separator. Is its purpose to let the bigger chips fall into a trash can? Does this save where and tear on the DC? Does this help in the efficiency of the DC? What are the benefits?”

Yes, its main purpose is to separate the debris (chips and larger dust) by forcing them to change direction (circulate) and lose energy. That energy loss allows them to drop out of the airflow and to the bottom of the can and not be passed on and into the main DC bag.

This saves much “wear and tear” in that it keeps the main filter from clogging up too quickly and too frequently. With the filter NOT being clogged up so much, the entire system will perform to a higher/better level, and do so for longer intervals. That is the main benefit.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View lunn's profile


215 posts in 2277 days

#13 posted 03-04-2012 02:58 PM

I just bought the HF DC abt 3 weeks ago. Had been useing a shop vac hooked to my miter saw. Now i have a dedacited DC line. For a hood i went to the dollar store and bought a square plastic tub. run a hose up into it from the saw. Im not worried about all sawdust but the fine that lingers in the air. I leave the DC on after i cut and you can see the fine dust being sucked into it. Lines also runs to tablesaw, radialarm, bandsaw. Any DC is far better than a shopvac.

-- What started as a hobbie is now a full time JOB!

View Bob Kollman's profile

Bob Kollman

1798 posts in 3159 days

#14 posted 03-04-2012 03:09 PM

The harbor freight dust collector I can’t say enough good things about it. With the right
coupon combination you can own one for as little as $ 120.00. Don’t think twice….Just
buy it. And thanks to all the LJ’s who did reviews of that tool!!!!

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

View rusty2010's profile


150 posts in 2526 days

#15 posted 03-04-2012 03:47 PM

Mike, When you say main filter, are you refering to a shop vac?

-- check, recheck then check again

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