Why You Need a Dust Collector

Having a dust collector in your workspace helps safeguard your health and boost your bottom line. Here’s how to choose the right type for your studio or shop.

Last edited: 9/16/2019

You need a dust collector for two reasons:

  • Health
  • Money

First off, even working outside, you can't avoid breathing in airborne debris, some of which may be toxic. With the right dust collector and a well-maintained filter, you can see to it that your work environment is not a hazmat zone.

Secondly, a collector allows you to recover and recycle your scrap easily and profitably. Phil Scott, of the Rio Grande Jewelry Tech Team (who owned his own shop and still does custom work in his off-hours), tells me that he sent his sweeps to a refiner about every quarter. He says, "If I'm polishing silver or gold, I collect everything. Removing scratches means removing metal. It has to go somewhere, and if I leave the dust on the floor, it's like I'm tracking dollar bills right out of my shop and throwing them to the winds. The better my collector is, the more of that money I eventually get back. Depending on how much material you process, a good collector could pay for itself in just a few months."

How do you choose a dust collector?

To choose the best collector for you, consider the amount of work space you have, what processes you're doing, how much volume you handle and what your budget demands.

  • Tabletop dust collectors take up less space and require less capital investment, but need more maintenance and they collect less efficiently than floor-standing dust collectors. Smaller filters mean less surface area gathering dust from the air flowing by. If yours is a smaller shop or studio and you are working with fewer than a dozen pieces at any one time, a tabletop unit may well be your best choice.
dust collector
  • Floor-standing units, on the other hand, take up more space and require a larger initial capital investment, but they need less maintenance, provide more efficient filtration and deliver more aggressive collection. If your operation produces a higher volume of work than a handful of pieces per day, one of these will certainly be the best choice for you.
dust collector

What is CFM?

CFM (cubic feet per minute) tells you how much air is being forced through the system. When you're looking at dust collectors, look at their CFM ratings. Machines with higher CFM ratings tend to be louder, but they move air more quickly and gather far more debris, keeping it out of your lungs, off your floor and clothes, and ready to turn back into cash.

What about filters?

The filter is the heart of your dust collector. Floor standing units are available with either cartridge or bag-type filters; tabletop units are available with fiberglass drop-in filters.

Bag filters and cartridge filters deliver comparable service lives and provide roughly equivalent effectiveness, but there are differences:

  • Bag filters offer a larger area of filtration, are generally found in larger-size machines, and can be changed less often than cartridge filters. Ultraweave-style bags deliver the same efficiency as cartridge filters.
cartridge filter
  • Cartridge filters are a newer technology, generally need less space, and must be changed more often than bag-style filters. Cartridges are much quicker to change—a few minutes rather than, say, half an hour.
filberglass filter
fiberglass filter
  • Fiberglass filters allow you to rotate them, further extending their service life.

How often do I need to change filters?

Clean your filters once a week, depending on your particular applications and materials.

  • Bag-style filters should be changed between one and three times a year, depending on the work you do; cartridge-style filters should be changed every 5 or 6 months.
  • The fiberglass filters in table-top units should be rotated after 1 or 2 months and changed every 3 to 4 months.