Dust Collector Vs Shop Vac Vs Dust Extractor: An In-depth Review 2021

A proper dust collection system is one of the most important must-haves in a woodworking place.

Without one, the dust produced in the workshop will most likely be left under the machines. It can be hazardous in many ways. For example, the uncleaned dust may become a fire hazard. Sawdust can cause several health problems as well. 

There are three types of dust collection systems that can help you get rid of sawdust. Dust collector, shop vac, and dust extractors. Each comes with both pros, cons, and its mechanism.

Choosing the right tool for your workshop requires you to understand how each one performs and where you should use it. Depending on the amount of debris, each tool can outperform another within seconds.

Today’s article will be an in-depth review of dust collector vs shop vac vs dust extractor. So, without further ado, let’s get started!

What Is A Dust Collector? 

Dust collectors have a low suction and wide hose. A good dust collector is a must if you have a lot of sawdust and wood debris production in your woodworking workshop. Investing in a strong dust collector will ensure a clean workspace. 

There are two types of dust collectors. The first type, single-stage dust collector works great in small workplaces or garages. If you do woodworking as a hobby and do not produce a lot of wood debris, then this is ideal for you. Anyway, did you subscribe one of these YouTube channels to learn woodworking online?

The second type is a two-stage dust collector or a cyclone dust collector. If your profession is woodworking meaning you have a larger workspace, and produce a lot of wooden debris and sawdust, then this is ideal for you. 

A two-stage dust collector offers better filtering since it is targeted to clean more debris. In a double-stage dust collector, the larger particles are separated from smaller particles to avoid clogging the motor. This ensures a healthy and long-lasting machine. 

Dust collectors can be connected to your power tools like saws during woodworking. 

When To Use A Dust Collector?

Dust collectors are used for cleaning up larger areas with dust and debris. They are also great at suctioning small, microscopic dust particles and sawdust. The main purpose of a dust collector is to clean bigger areas with lesser time. 

Two-stage dust collectors offer a better and thorough cleaning job but as we said earlier, if your workspace does not produce much debris, then a single-stage dust collector will work fine. 

What Is A Shop Vac? 

A shop vac or a shop vacuum is a powerful vacuum that is designed to use in workshops. It is different from regular vacuums used in the household.

The dirt and debris produced in workshops contain bigger particles, wooden chunks, etc. So, using a standard vacuum to clean that up instead of using a shop vac is not ideal. 

Firstly, it will not be as efficient, and secondly, it will not be clean as expected. 

Shop vacs are considered the standard dust collection system in workspaces. Shop vacs or wet/dry vacuums are ideal if your workspace does not produce as much debris.

If you use handheld power tools for woodworking, then using a shop vac to clean the sawdust and wooden debris produced is a great choice. Like dust collectors, shop vacs can be connected to your power tool and used to pick debris as it’s produced too. 

Shop vacs have a low air volume and a narrow hose. It has a one-stage filtering system. All the debris, large-sized debris, and microscopic debris are collected in one tank. Unlike dust collectors, the large-sized debris is not separated so it can cause clogging and eventually deteriorate the performance of the machine. 

When To Use A Shop Vac?

Shop vacs are great for cleaning smaller garages and workshops. It does more than a standard vacuum but less than a dust collector or extractor.

A shop vac can clean most of the dirt and debris in your workspace. However, it will not clean microscopic dirt or debris as much. For smaller particles and airborne particles, you will need something more thorough and stronger. 

Here you can learn more about Shop Vac and its usage.

What Is A Dust Extractor? 

Dust extractors are quite similar to dust collectors. However, dust extractors can be used with both handheld power tools and stationary power tools. These can be considered as all-rounder dust collection systems with precise cleaning power. 

Dust extractors are great at picking particles that are mixed in the air. Tools like sander produce sawdust that both fall to the ground and are airborne. Dust extractors are exceptionally great when it comes to cleaning debris like this. 

It is designed to protect the lung of the worker from pollutants and large particles that we can still breathe in. 

Dust extractors have high air volume and use filters for the cleaning process. These filters can pick extremely small microscopic dust particles as small as 0.3 µm 99% of the time. The filters separate microscopic particles and large particles. 

When To Use A Dust Extractor?

Dust extractors are used to clean up larger areas with dust and debris. They are also great at suctioning small, microscopic dust particles and airborne sawdust. The main purpose of a dust extractor is to keep the dust collection system of the workspace clean and efficient. 

Unlike shop vacs and dust collectors, dust extractors are great at removing airborne sawdust that can be harmful for your body. Clean air in the workspace is as important as the cleanliness of your workspace.

You can learn more about the importance of a good dust collection system here.

factory worker blowing sanding dust
factory worker blowing sanding dust

Dust Collector VS Shop Vac VS Dust Extractor

1. CFM

The suctioning power of a dust collector, shop vac, and the dust extractor is determined by the volume of the air the tool is suctioning cubic per minute.

In simpler words, the offered CFM of your tool determines its strength and ability to pick up airborne debris and move it to the tank. A higher CFM means it is a great suctioning tool. 

Wood shavings require 500+ CFM and sawdust requires 100+ CFM from the tool for it to get suctioned. 

Here’s a comparison of the CFM provided by dust collector, shop vac, and dust extractor on average:

  • Dust Collector: 650 to 700 CFM
  • Shop Vac: 100+ CFM
  • Dust Extractor: 140 to 300 CFM

2. Static Water Lift Count

Static water lift count is another metric of counting the efficiency of your tool. 

The water lift of your tool simply means how far water can travel inside the hose of the tool with its suctioning power. A higher water lift count means your tool is better and more efficient at picking up larger debris.

Standard shop vacs provide an 80 inch water lift count, while dust collectors may provide a 90-100 inch water lift count easily. 

3. Usage Type

Shop vacs are considered as light cleaning tools in comparison to dust collectors and dust extractors. However, shop vacs are not designed to perform the same way as the other two devices.

While the targeted area for shop vacs is a smaller workspace with a lesser amount of debris produced, both dust collectors and dust extractors are made to clean large workspaces, microscopic dust, airborne sawdust. 

If your key concern is not air filtering, then a shop vac will be ideal for your workspace. 

Shop vacs work great with handheld power tools. A dust collector works great with stationary tools while a dust extractor works fine with both types. 

4. Versatility

Shop vacs are portable and lighter than both dust collectors and dust extractors. Shop vacs can be used to clean your household as well. But it is not possible with the other two.

Shop vacs can also clean a wide variety of materials while dust extractors and dust collectors cannot. For example, shop vacs can clean broke pieces of glass, dirty water, etc. But dust collectors and dust extractors are limited to cleaning dust, wooden sawdust.

5. Price

The price for shop vacs, dust collectors, and dust extractors varies from one to another because of many factors. Some of the factors can be the size, built-in technology, CFM, horsepower, etc. 

A regular shop vac with an 80-inch water lift and 100+CFM can cost anywhere from $40 to $200. 

A small dust collector that has 750 to 1000 CFM can cost anywhere from $100 to $500. Out of all these 3 tools, dust extractor is perhaps the most expensive. A good dust extractor can cost up to 4x more than a regular shop vac. 

Good dust extractors come with built-in features like HEPA filters. HEPA filters are extremely precise and get rid of 99.97% of the microscopic dirt all the time. You can learn more about HEPA filters here.

This is why good dust extractors can cost anywhere from $400 to $700.

Final Verdict

There is no clear winner in the debate between dust collector vs shop vac vs dust extractor. Each performs great in its targeted area. The winner in your case will depend on what kind of cleaning tool are you looking for, the size of your workspace, and the type of debris produced in your workspace. 

Shop vacs are designed to clean up in smaller workspaces with lesser debris. If you have a small workspace, do not produce a lot of debris, or do woodworking as a hobby occasionally, then you do not need to spend on a dust collector or a dust extractor. A shop vac will do the job for you. 

Dust collectors are great at cleaning up large workspaces e.g. professional woodworking shops or garages, that produce a lot of debris, sawdust, airborne sawdust, large wooden chips within a small time.

Dust collectors have a much larger CFM count than shop vacs, so they can clean up more than a shop vac does. 

On the other hand, dust extractors were designed to keep the air of the workspace free of sawdust. According to National Cancer Institute, Wooden sawdust is carcinogenic, so this means without a proper dust collection system in your workspace, you will be harming your safety.

If your garage produces a lot of wooden sawdust, microscopic dust and dirt, airborne dust, then installing a dust extractor will be ideal for you. 

man wearing a respirator and hearing protector in workshop
man wearing a respirator and hearing protector in workshop

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What does a cyclone for a shop vac do?

Ans: Cyclone separators are used in both shop vacs and two-stage duct collectors. Its main job is to capture the debris before it reaches the filter. A cyclone separator removes 85% to 95% of the dust before it reaches the filter of the cleaning tool. 

It is essential in a shop vac. Without a cyclone in your shop vac, the filter of the machine will get clogged and dirty faster than you think. Depending on where you are using it and the type of debris you are collecting, you may have to clean your shop vac’s filter 5x to 10x more often. 

Q: Can I use the filter from a shop vac on my dust collector?

Ans: Shop vacs have high static pressure with low airflow and dust collectors have a low static pressure with high airflow. Filters that are designed for shop vacs will act restrictively when used on a dust collector.

Using the filter from a shop vac on a dust collector will restrain the performance of the dust collector. For it to perform accordingly, you will have to sort the larger particles like wooden chips before to avoid clogging. You will also need more filters to accommodate the airflow of the dust collector.

Q: Is a dust collector better than a shop vac?

Ans: Dust collectors and shop vacs perform differently and are designed for different purposes. Whether a dust collector is better than a shop vac or not depends on the size of the workspace, type of debris, and amount of debris.

Shop vacs are great at cleaning out the majority of the dust in a workspace. But even the strongest shop vac will not clean as much as a dust collector. Dust collectors pull out more microscopic dust and large debris and clean more efficiently than a shop vac. 

Q: Can you use a vacuum as a dust extractor?

Ans: Vacuums can be used to extract dust but they will come with limitations. Standard vacuums or household vacuums will not perform efficiently when it comes to cleaning larger particles.

Besides larger particles will clog and deteriorate the performance of the tool within days. Industrial vacuums on the other hand are stronger and can be used as a dust extractor. However, it will not perform as efficiently as a dust collector. 

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