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Building An Automated Dust Collection System with iVac

Building An Automated Dust Collection System with iVac

In this post, I'll show you how to build an automated dust collection system using the Clearvue CV1800 and iVac automated woodworking dust control system. If you're looking to make your woodworking dust collection more effective and more efficient, you should definitely read on. Check out the video below then continue on to the article for more information on my new dust collection system.

Dust Collection System Components:

Let's Talk Single Stage vs. Two Stage Dust Collectors

Dust collectors are split into two basic categories: single stage and two stage. Single stage are the standard in the dust collector space, with one of the most popular being the Harbor Freight 2HP unit, pictured below. Single stage dust collectors are a good starting point, and are usually extremely budget-friendly. They do have some serious drawbacks, though.

First, these budget models generally utilize filter bags rather than true HEPA filters, and these filter bags allow quite a bit of fine dust to enter the air in your shop. For example, the Harbor Freight model includes a 5 micron bag. To compare, the Clearvue CV1800 I went with is rated at .5 micron, a 10x improvement in air filtration. Wood dust has been classified as a carcinogen, so it's generally frowned upon to inhale the stuff for hours on end. This is the biggest point of failure on single stage units, without question.

Some of the more expensive single stage units will include a HEPA canister filter, and this is certainly a big upgrade. The issue here, though, is that these filters will clog easily and frequently, due to the amount of dust that makes it into the filter. Cleaning can be an annoying process, and if it can be avoided, that's time that can be spent actually working wood.

Why The Two Stage Dust Collector Is Better

Many of the problems of the single stage dust collectors are solved by the two stage dust collector design. In case you're unfamiliar with what a two stage dust collector is, it features some sort of system, usually a cyclone or dust separator, that separates most of the dust into a dust collection bin before it ever hits the filters. This separation keeps the filter from getting clogged nearly as quickly, and usually the filters are much higher quality as well.

This pre-separation also makes emptying of the dust bin much easier, generally speaking, because the dust bin can be designed in a way that makes it convenient to be emptied. Compare this to the bag and strap system on most single-stage units and you'll wonder how you ever lived with that frustration.

There are a ton of options in the two stage market, and you can even DIY a system based on a single stage dust collector if you already have one. For my shop, I went with the Clearvue CV1800, and here's why.

The Clearvue CV1800 Dust Collector

The biggest reason for choosing the CV1800 was the price point. All in, you're looking at around $2,000 with the electrical box, wall mount, and the dust collector itself with the filters. While this sounds pricey, when you start comparing the stats of the CV1800 to other dust collectors in its category, you'll start to see how reasonable it is. The Dust Gorilla Pro 5HP, the comparable unit from Oneida, costs over $500 more, for example.

Much of this cost savings comes from the amount of assembly required on the CV1800. It is shipped in a few small boxes and you are responsible for assembling the entire blower assembly, including caulking all of the seams, mounting the impeller, etc. It took me roughly six hours to assemble the unit, but it was a fairly straightforward process.

Overall, I've been very impressed by the performance of the CV1800. It will practically suck your arm off with the incredible volume of air it pulls. I did have a little trouble with a leak in the system, but found it at the bottom of the cyclone, where the flex hose connects the cyclone to the dust bin. Clearvue's customer support was helpful in helping me find the issue and, once rectified, the system is working as expected.

Dust Collection Ducting Size, 6" vs. 4"

Once you've landed on your dust collector, it's time to pick the size of your ducting. This will largely depend on the power of your dust collector, and usually a dust collector with anything less than 3HP of power won't support 6" ducting. The CV1800 is designed for 6" ducting, so that made my choice pretty simple.

6" ducting supports quite a bit more air volume, but it comes at a price. The ductwork and, especially, the fittings are much more expensive on 6" vs. their 4" counterparts. This was a bit of a hard pill to swallow, especially when comparing the cost of 6" vs 4" PVC fittings. The prices for fittings are easily 4-6 times the cost. On that note, let's talk about ducting material in general.

Dust Collection Ductwork Material : PVC, Snaplock, Spiral Pipe, Nordfab

When looking at the material choices for your dust collection ductwork, they can be a bit overwhelming. Some people might think to go with flex hose, since it seems extremely easy to install because you can just flex it in any direction and then anchor it in place. Flex hose, however, is a terrible choice for ducting due to the amount of air resistance the corrugated sides create. Flex hose should be used as little as possible, usually only from the end of the hard ducting to the dust port on the tool.

The real choices for dust collection ductwork are PVC, snaplock pipe, spiral pipe, and more expensive products like Nordfab. If money is no object, Nordfab is certainly the way to go, but it was far out of my price range. Two drops would have cost almost as much as my whole PVC ducting system, so that was definitely out.

Snaplock pipe is a great option for sure, with the pricing being in a similar range to PVC, but my thought was that it would be more difficult to work with, considering it's sharp metal that has to be cut using metal cutting blades on a jigsaw or something similar. The beauty of PVC is that it could be cut on my miter saw, so I could be assured I had nice, square cuts, and I could make these cuts quickly.

Spiral pipe seems great, but I couldn't find a place locally who could supply it, so it was out for me. Do some research in your area and maybe you'll have better luck.

For these reasons, I went with PVC, and I'm extremely satisfied with its ease of installation and performance. Before we go further, let's get the grounding issue out of the way. I believe grounding PVC is unnecessary and I do not plan on doing so. I have yet to be shocked by the PVC, and I have never seen a documented case of a fire in a woodworking shop caused by PVC ductwork.

Installing PVC Dust Collection Ductwork

With that out of the way, let's discuss how I went about installing my PVC ductwork. I used 6" Schedule 20 Sewer & Drain PVC, which was the cheapest I could find in my area. It is quite thin, but is plenty strong to deal with the air pressure, even with every blast gate in my system closed. I purchased my pipe and most of my fittings from a local plumbing supply store, and that is probably where you'll have to source most of your PVC as well, if you go the 6" route. Lowes and Home Depot, in my area, do not carry any 6" Schedule 20 PVC and the 6" fittings they have are Schedule 40 fittings, which are extremely expensive.

Before buying my PVC, I roughly mocked up my shop in SketchUp and laid out how much I would need. This actually worked really well, even though I wasn't incredibly precise. I ended up with only a few feet of 6" PVC pipe leftover. I did the same with my fittings, and this also worked well.

To install the ductwork, I first marked the length of the pipe I needed, then made the cut on my miter saw. Again, this was a total breeze and ensured that all of the ends of my pipe were square.

Next, I temporarily fitted the pipe to whichever fitting came next in line and added metal strapping to support the pipe and fitting. I added this metal strapping every few feet, usually having support every six feet at a minimum. To install the strapping, I used 1 ¼" screws and screwed directly into the joists above the drop ceiling in my shop.

I then created a loop around the pipe at the bottom of the strapping, and connected this loop using a machine screw and nut. The beauty of creating this loop was that I could make fine adjustments to the length of the strap by moving the screw up or down one hole on the strapping. Since the PVC is relatively lightweight, this system worked out perfectly.

With the pipe hanging freely, I could then screw together each PVC piece with a few ½" self-tapping sheet metal screws. During assembly, the fittings and pipe would occasionally pop apart, so adding these screws served as a little piece of mind and, if I need to disassemble the system, I can just remove the screws.

Finally, with each joint permanently attached with the screws, I taped each seam using foil tape. This probably wasn't completely necessary, but for the small amount of time it took to tape each joint, it makes double sure that there aren't any leaks in the ducting. Leaks will completely kill the efficiency of the system, so better safe than sorry.

Here's what most of the ducting looks like, after everything is assembled, screwed, and taped. It is extremely solid and very secure, I definitely don't have to worry about it going anywhere.

From the dust collector, there is a 6" main trunk that runs straight for about 5 feet (this is a necessity for my dust collector, to reduce air turbulence before it enters the dust collector) before branching off to the right, where it goes to my table saw and miter saw. The other half of the branch continues on to my planer, then it branches again, with one branch ending at my drum sander, and the other branch going to my jointer then ending at my bandsaw.

Each tool drop uses a 45 degree wye fitting, which is the best choice for these drops since it reduces the air turbulence and resistance a sharper turn, like a tee fitting, would create. From there, on most of the drops, there is a 6" to 4" reducer followed by a 4" iVac automated blast gate. From the blast gate, it connects to the machine with 4" flex hose. That is the basic formula for each drop, and this worked out well.

While this formula worked for most of my tools, let's talk about a few of the unique drops in my system.

Dust Collection At The Table Saw

The table saw is one of the more difficult machines to effectively manage dust, due to the sheer number of different ways to make a cut. Ripping, crosscutting, dados, miters, etc, all pose their own challenges. The one operation that is fairly easy to contain dust is ripping, if you use a blade guard with some kind of dust collection built in.

I had been using the SawStop Overarm Dust Collection unit, but I wanted to be able to use two 4" drops on the table saw so that I could still have roughly the same air volume as if I was using one 6" port. Because of this, I decided to try the Shark Guard Dust Collection Blade Guard. The Shark Guard features a 4" port and is works perfectly with the SawStop, so it fit the bill nicely.

After doing some testing, I am extremely impressed so far by the Shark Guard. The amount of airflow through the blade guard is unreal, it will actually pick up small offcut scraps and suck them up into the system. It works extremely well when ripping boards as long as the width of your cut is larger than an inch or so.

Obviously, when making dado cuts or other non-through cuts, the Shark Guard won't be an option, so I need to figure out something else for those types of cuts. I'm thinking a crosscut sled with built-in dust collection might be the answer.

Dust Collection At The Jointer

The jointer is the one tool in the system where I was able to fabricate a 6" port and keep the 6" line all the way to the tool. I did this by taking a 6" HVAC takeoff and attaching it to a piece of plywood with a hole cut into it. I then attached this over the hole in the side of the jointer using self-tapping metal screws and sealing tape.

Of course, since I was using 6" pipe, I also need a 6" blast gate. Luckily, iVac makes a 6" automated blast gate as well, and it is much beefier than their 4" models, being made of metal. It works great, just like the rest of the system.

Dust Collection At The Miter Saw

The miter saw is a notoriously tricky place to have dust collection, because miter saws tend to spray sawdust everywhere. In my shop, I have the Jay Bates Miter Saw Station, so the miter saw is at least enclosed. To add dust collection, I added two 4" ports to the top of the enclosed cabinet, since I had two of the 4" automated iVac blast gates on hand.

This is working decently, and has definitely reduced the massive dust cloud that is generally created by the miter saw, but most of the dust still isn't making it up into the ductwork. I think this is because of two things:

  1. The sheer volume of air that would have to be pulled up through the large opening in the miter saw station is too much for the 4" ports to pull. I need to block off some of the open space and create a smaller area for the air to travel through, increasing the air pressure.
  2. The dust has to fight gravity, which naturally wants it to settle inside the bottom of the cabinet. I don't know of a way I can get around this, so I just need to make the volume of air it needs to pull be smaller.

I think I can fairly easily improve this, but this is the one area in the whole system I'm not happy with. I'll keep you posted on my improvements.

Dust Collection At The Router Table

The final place where I desperately needed to improve my dust collection was at my router table. The router just throws dust all over the place, and I had never had a ton of luck just using the dust port on the back of the router table. I recently discovered the Rockler Dust Bucket, a metal container that mounts below the router table and provides suction through the router plate. This pulls dust downwards and also features a splitter which also pulls dust through the port on the fence. I've only tested it a little bit so far, but it's working great.

Now that we've covered the way the tools are connected to the ductwork, let's talk about how I automated the dust collection system.

iVac Automated Dust Control System

As I mentioned earlier, this is an automated dust collection system. To automate the system, I used the iVac automated dust control system, which is a system of automated blast gates, a dust collector switch, and tool sensors which work in tandem to automatically turn the dust collector on and off when a tool is in use, and also opens the blast gate for that tool when it is in use.

The system begins at the iVAC Pro Switch, which receives a signal from the iVAC Pro Tool Plus sensor, located at each tool, when the tool is turned on. The Pro Switch then sends a signal to the associated blast gate of the tool that has been turned on and opens its blast gate, prior to turning on the dust collector. Once the tool is turned off, the system will continue to run, clearing the ductwork of any residual dust, before closing the blast gate and turning off the dust collector.

For my system, I needed a special Pro Switch fitted with the MRT, or Minimum Run Time, switch. This allows me to set the minimum amount of time my dust collector will run, a very important feature for a duct collector with a motor this powerful. I have mine set to run for a minimum of 10 minutes, which is what Clearvue recommended. If I cycle the motor on and off more frequently than that, it will put undue wear on the startup capacitors in the motor and will eventually burn them out. They are inexpensive to replace, but I'd rather not have that issue.

As you can imagine, having this system in place vastly improves the efficiency over the standard system of manually opening a blast gate at each tool before turning on the dust collection. There is no need to walk back and forth to blast gates, and there is no forgetting to open or close a blast gate. The system works incredibly well, and I am loving having this sophisticated of a dust collection system in my shop.

In Closing

Hopefully this article has provided some good information for you about dust collection and how to build an automated dust collection system. I spent many, many hours researching dust collection and think I ended up with a great system. It's efficient, effective, and just works. I'll keep you all posted as I continue to use the system, and you will certainly see it in my other woodworking projects. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

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