Do I Need A Dust Extractor?

Every woodworker starts somewhere and the beginner often has limited cash to throw at this hobby. It can be a simple equation of getting the machinery that creates the dust before we consider actually controlling the dust that these machines and tools generate, but at some point the question will surface on dust extraction and is it needed.

Is dust extraction needed? Yes it is if you run woodworking machines that create chips, dust, and shavings.

Dust extractors help with air quality as well as maintain machine efficiency. The machines that rely on a good dust extraction method are below.

  • Table saws
  • Band saws
  • Jointers
  • Thicknessers
  • Drum Sanders
  • Router tables 

There are reasons why each of the machines above require having waste removed as wood is processed through and over them.

After learning some expensive lessons over the years I will share what I know about these reasons below, and maybe after reading about them you might avoid the same troubles. Lets get into it.

 First up, I will qualify what I call a dust extractor. For the purpose of this article a dust extractor is any method that uses vacuum to take sawdust, wood chips, and other debris away from the cutting zone.

There are several machines and methods that perform this task to varying levels of efficiency and as this is not a sales page but purely informational, I will place them all within the same category for now.

Dust extractors on table saws.

For the hobby wood worker a table saw is probably already sitting in your shop. It may be a bench top version or it could be a stand-alone type that has an open frame stand or it could be a cabinet style saw. Every one of these saws will generate dust and chips.

While they all can use an extraction method, the enclosed cabinet saws actually require dust extraction if the motor is enclosed within the cabinet.

table saw with motor in cabinet

The saw that sits in my shop is a 10” jet cabinet version.

The motor is enclosed within that cabinet and the dust collection zone is also that same cabinet where the motor is situated.

It’s not the best outcome but where else can the motor go?

While I do operate the saw with the dust extractor attached and running, I have had the experience of the 4” port that the cabinet relies on to evacuate the dust becoming blocked. While this event may not have been the direct cause of burning out the bearings in the motor, the fact that the motor resides within this cabinet is an issue to be aware of. A clean airflow over the motor is preferable. Having the motor completely smothered in fine sawdust is not.

So for cabinet based table saws, I am calling it as a yes, you need a dust extractor.

Dust extractors on Bandsaws.

dust control port on band saw

The way that bandsaws cut is problematic for dust collection at the cutting zone. The saw blade takes the debris down into the base unit of the tower and if the dust control design is sub-optimal the dust can easily fill this confined space before a vacuum system has a chance of taking the dust out of the way. Some designs handle dust far better than others.

While the motor for a band saw most often is mounted on the outside of the tower, it is not at risk of dust intrusion.

The parts of the bandsaw that can be damaged are the bearings that hold and guide the base wheel and the tire that sits on the rim directly beneath the saw band.

This tire can be made from urethane or rubber and while they both can stand a great deal of work, dust will slowly take its toll on them both.

If the cabinet actually fills with dust and debris there is potential for substantial heat build up around the wheel and saw band and this can cause premature wear and breakage to components inside that tower.

What is poorly understood by the novice hobby wood worker is that wood dust can be extremely abrasive. Many woods contain silica in varying amounts and this mineral is the enemy of sharp tools. Just remember that it is also contained in the sawdust.

My call is a yes for dust extraction for a bandsaw.

Jointers and dust extraction.

This is one of the machines that will require dust extraction regardless of the amount of use the machine gets. Jointers can remove a lot of wood in a pass and the wider the board getting processed; the more chips and dust are generated. These machines are designed with dust extraction ports so that should tell you everything you need to know. The machines run smoother, and will last for far longer if you attached an extractor to it. There is no debate on this one.

Yes, dust extraction please.

Thicknessers and dust extraction.

These machines are similar to the table saw in that there are lunch-box versions all the way up to large cabinet units. Dust and chip extraction is vital on these machines just as much as the jointers we mentioned above. They rely on having the waste being cleared as they cut and will perform well if taken care of.

feed rollers on thicknesser

The downside of running a thicknesser without dust extraction is that while the wood will feed and the cutters will cut, the machine will eventually fill with shavings and chips and damage the machines feed rollers and bearings.

This is most applicable to the lunch-box units because of the portability and size.

What also happens is some of the chips become lodged between the wood and the feed table and the pressure on the wood as it is pulled through the machine by the feed rollers will create dents and marks on the underside of the wood and these marks will require a lot of sanding before a good surface is found. This is a poor outcome as it can be easily avoided.

My call on thicknessers is that dust extraction is required.

Drum sanders and dust extraction.

The potential for major issues if a drum sander is operated without a dust extractor attached is very high, in fact it is a certainty. If you are unfamiliar with these machines, the method of operation is based around sandpaper wrapped around a revolving drum and the wood stock is fed beneath this revolving drum by a conveyor belt.

drum sander with top open

The drum that has the sandpaper is most often made with aluminum and is open both ends to allow heat to dissipate because these drums work hard and build up heat quickly. If no dust extraction is connected, the sandpaper very quickly becomes clogged and will burn out, creating even more heat.

The sandpaper is costly just by itself, so to have a coil of it burn out prematurely is crazy. The machines come with the 4” connection port so hook up a dust extractor and save yourself the cost of replacing a lot of sand paper as well as possibly damaging the drum and the bearings.

There is no debate on this one. Yes, Dust extraction is mandatory.

Router Tables and dust extraction.

This is a tool where it will depend on the set up you have and the method of the fence used. As the router bit spins in the vertical position up through the table, it has the habit of throwing chips and dust out in many directions so dust control is not as easy as the cabinet machines.

Having said that, having a method of keeping chips away from the router motor body below the table is preferable and can be managed with some adaptation to the underside of the worktop.

Each router table will have it’s own challenges so I don’t have a firm opinion on if a dust extractor is a necessity. It would be a benefit to have extraction fitted, but it is not a game changer.

I’m calling it a maybe you need it, but you could possibly get by without it.

There are other uses for the dust extraction unit in a small workshop like using them to help control sanding dust from wood turning and sanding on the lathe. CNC machines also benefit from the same process as the router table. The machine may run and cut, but don’t expect peak efficiency from the machines performance.

That’s about it for this article I think. You should have some more of an idea if you need a dust extractor in your shop, and I do believe that when you do get one and see the benefits, you will wonder how you ever got by without it before.

I know that is how it was for myself and now I don’t turn any machine on without controlling the dust.

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