Jul 20

Clearvue Cyclones Shop-Vac Dust Collector Review

The other day, I was again seriously looking at getting a full-on dust collection system for the shop, and realized that I was going to have to spend a minimum of $500 to get anything decent, and that it was going to take up a lot of room in my already-crowded shop.

In browsing around, I came across Bill Pentz’s site, on which he fanatically rages about the dangers of hobbyist dust collectors.  Bill’s definitely on a mission, but he has some interesting information on his site, and I recommend checking it out just to get another point of view if nothing else.

Anyway, there is a tiny company called Clearvue Cyclones that builds cyclonic dust collectors to the Bill Pentz designs.

The point of these dust collectors is the same point as those Dyson vacuums.  By setting up the wind in the vac the right way (like a cyclone), you blow the dirt/dust into the collection area directly, and not just blow it through a filter, relying on the filter to stop the dust from getting blown back into the room.

There are two advantages to this:

  1. You blow less dust back into the room, because most of the dust never even gets to the filter that’s blowing back into the room.
  2. Your vac retains it’s power longer between filter cleanings, because less material ever gets to it to clog it.  (Like the Dyson catchphrase “The first vacuum that doesn’t lose suction!”)

However, the Clear Vue designs, while they look extremely effective, and can be home-made or partially home made, are still around $1000.  As they say on their site, it’s still a good deal, and I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t have $1000 to spend on dust collection right now.

So then I spied their cute little shop vac conversion unit, pictured below.  As it turns out, I just happen to own a WD1665 RIDGID Shop-Vac, which is the one that this conversion unit works with.

Spoiler, this is a pic of my shopvac with the unit on it, so you can guess that I bought one. 🙂

Anyway, it works.

You take off the orange lid and detach the motor from your combo blower/vac, and replace it with this fairly massive lid, made from plastic.  This lid is not a polished made-in-vast-quantities-in-China product you’d buy from Home Depot, but an ingenious device hand made in someone’s garage.

The point is that the dust comes in at the top of the cyclone, and gets swirled down into the body of the vac, without the bulk of it ever getting to the filter or the motor.  (This is what they call a “two stage” dust collector – stage 1 is this cyclone, stage 2 is the filter for whatever was too fine to get caught by stage 1).

Normally, the shop vac sucks air through the motor and filter and then blows it into the body, and then out the side port of the motor.

I can vouch that normally it blows around almost as much dust as it sucks in.

With the cyclone attachment lid, I felt that it not only remained powerful even after 30 minutes of continuous use (normally it goes down to about 1/2 power after 15 minutes from filter clogging), but that the amount of dust being blown out the side of the motor was significantly reduced.

So, I’d say it was a successful product overall – it did what it claimed to do.  However, I did encounter one issue.  When I was cleaning out the enclosed base of my hybrid table saw, I sucked up a lot of fairly matted wood shavings – they had matted themselves into a pretty tight blob.

When this blob hit the little cyclonic chamber, it immediately blocked it.  Obviously, this wouldn’t happen with one of the full-size units, but with my little guy, it choked it right up.  And, I didn’t notice for several minutes.  The bad news was that because of the clog, it immediately started blowing through the filter again – the good news, is that I wasn’t any worse off than I was with the base shop vac at that point.

I had to pull the lid off and prod the clog with a piece of scrap wood to clear it, which wasn’t too hard.

However, the clog caused a bunch of dust to clog up the top part of the cyclone a bit, and I couldn’t get up in there to clean it…it’s all sealed up.  It didn’t seem to affect performance once I started it again, but you can see that it looks dirty still.

I tried to blow it out with my compressor, but no go.  I’m assume it’s just aesthetic, and not a big deal.

Also, the unit is heavy enough, and the shop-vac wheels small enough compared to the joints in my concrete floor that it did tip over once as I was pulling it around…but it did that with the old lid as well.  The topper seemed to survive the tip-over just fine.

OK. Time for the bottom line.  Was it worth the sale price of $200 to get a cyclonic adapter for the shop vac that I already owned, and is it better enough that I don’t need a full-on dust collector now?

I like it, and as it sits right now, I’d buy it again.  I do wish that for $200 the fit and finish was a bit nicer (for example, you can see the UPC sticker is still on the PVC elbow), but as a maker of a high-tech homemade product myself, I know how difficult and expensive it is to jump over that hurdle without massive volume of sales.

I don’t think it’s any more powerful than my shop-vac was to begin with, but it retains it power longer.  I do think that it blows a whole lot less dust into the air while it’s running, and that’s the major advantage you get with this product.  I think it’s an admirable competitor to the $300 dust collectors you get from Delta or Grizzly, and even though it’s probably less powerful, it’s a lot more safe for your lungs.

And of course if you already have this particular shop-vac, and can convert it to most-of-the-time dust collection, then it’s a pretty good deal. 🙂

Clear-Vue’s customer service was also great, they shipped my product extremely quickly, and with no fuss!

All that said, I am saving up for one of their full-size units – maybe come tax refund time next year. My little guy, even with a brain transplant, is just not powerful enough to really slurp live dust out of my table saw, and I never did like dragging it around 😀 I just have to find a place to put the thing.   I wonder if I can mount it horizontally some how – I have a lot of ceiling height, if I could put the whole thing up and ceiling level and not take up any floor space, that’d be perfect!  I’ll have to ponder that one!



p.s. here’s a youtube video of this thing in action (it’s not me, it’s from the vendor):

Jun 30

Wood Project Finishing Steps

Someone recently asked me how I finish my woodworking projects.  I wrote down the steps to share with all!  This isn’t the best process for every piece, but it works for an awful lot of them.

1) Sand your piece.  A lot.  No, more than that.  Sand it
again.  Down to at least 220 by hand, or even finer with a random orbit sander
(I have a DeWalt one that was like $80 at Home Depot).
2) Dust off your piece with the compressor’s air gun – blow
open all the pores.
3) Move your piece to a dust-free area. (This is key – my friend tried to finish her piece while her husband was using the router 10′ away).
4) Go over the surface with a tack cloth to remove any
remaining dust.
5) Apply a coat of Seal-A-Cell to seal the grain, or a
stain if you are staining.  If it’s pourous wood like pine or poplar, then apply
a pre-stain-conditioner first.  Apply with an old white t-shirt or sock.  The
chemicals can leach the colors out of colored rags.
6) Let dry fully (read product directions for
7) Sand surface lightly with synthetic steel wool pads to
knock the shine off and add some tooth to the finish, so the next layer will
8) Apply 2-3 coats of Arm-R-Seal Topcoat, letting dry
completely and sanding lightly with the artificial wool pads between each coat.
What I do is put the rag into a zip-lock between coats so I don’t have to use a
new rag every time.  Obviously, don’t mix rags between
9) If you want a gloss finish in the end, do the first 2-3
coats with satin (since it sands easier) and only the final coat with
Good luck!

May 07

Wood Project Photos

Medicine Box
Incra Bookends
Well, I completed my bookends project, and I’m 90% done with my Medicine Box project.  Just needs to mortise in the hinges into the top, decide if I’m doing an inlay, and then apply the finish…

Check out the pics at right!

May 04

Woodworking Mania

Been out in the shop quite a bit lately.  Working with the new router table.

The router table is way in the back, so even if this was a recent photo, you probably couldn’t see it.

Anyway, I have an Incra jig for the router table, and it’s working well.  I’m not thrilled with the vertical holding jig part of it, but I think it’s more a me thing than an it thing.

I’m making a bookends project from the Incra projects and techniques book.

It’s turning out quite nicely so far.  I’m using the finish recommended by David Marks, which is General Finishes’ “Seal-A-Cell” and “Arm-R-Seal”

I can see why he uses them, they are amazing.

Pics of the project soon!