Boatbuilding creates a lot of dust, and to keep it from spreading everywhere, including into my lungs, I have several vacuum systems to collect it. I have a two-bag dust collector that gathers the coarse sawdust from my tablesaw, jointer, and thickness planer, and I rely on two shop vacuums to catch the fine dust coming from sanders and to clean up whatever winds up on the floor and workbench. The filters in those two vacuums need to be cleaned periodically, and it’s a job I don’t much like. When it was time to clean a filter, I used to take it outside, hold it in an open grocery bag, and shake it. I wore an N-95 mask to protect myself from the powdery dust that drifted up from the bag.
There had to be a better way, and it didn’t take long to find one: let centrifugal force do the job. I’d already figured that out with my food processor: Rather than do an unavoidably ineffective job with a spatula, I pour out the blended batter and spin the blade in the empty processor bowl. It’s instantly clean. Spinning a shop vacuum filter is equally effective. All it takes are a couple of plywood discs, a machine screw with washers and a nut, and an electric drill. To contain the dust, a 5-gallon bucket and a piece of plywood big enough to cover its top will do the job.
While spinning a filter can effectively remove the material that it collects, preventing it from getting clogged in the first place will reduce how frequently you need to clean it. There are dust-separating cyclones that can remove debris before it gets to the shop vacuum. Unfortunately, these units are about as big as the vacuum and make it awkward to move the combination around and in and out of the shop. Inexpensive nylon mesh pool-skimmer socks happen to fit over shop vacuum filters and can catch debris. The dirty sock can then be removed, the debris shaken off, and the sock used again. Some of the finest dust can still get to the filter, yet it can do its job well without being excessively burdened by the coarse material that the sock collects.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats.
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