Features April 2016 Issue

Dustless Sanding

DIY device makes projects cleaner and easier.

Responsible boatyard work requires dust collection. Whether itís toxic bottom paint or ordinary sanding dust, it still makes a mess and can ruin a neighborís paint job-in-progress. Dustless sanders have hose connections leading to vacuum cleaners, but unless it is a sophisticated vacuum with multi-stage dust separation, those filters clog and dust flies.

dust-collection system
A tester tries out the dust-collection system with a cheap, thrift-store vacuum.

Even with a multi-stage, dust-filtering vacuum, there are drawbacks. All work stops when the shop vacuum is full. Cleaning or replacing dust filters becomes just one more expense, interruption, and irritation in the boat yard. And if youíre sucking up bottom-paint dust or horrible bilge filth, there is the matter of transporting that heavily loaded, bulky shop vacuum to a disposal site in the back of your car; will it tip?

The solution? Create a homemade dust-collection system using a five-gallon bucket with hoses attached to its lid. With a few common tools, $48 in parts, and 10 minutes of shop time, you can cobble together a simple dust-collection bucket that will get you through the longest day of sanding without interruption and that allows easy transportation of the waste to a disposal site.

Weíve used this easy, do-it-yourself tool for bottom sanding, bilge cleaning, shower sumps, blackwater cleanups, cold fireplace ash, and even pumping muck from a home sump pit. When the five-gallon bucket fills, just move the retrofitted lid to a fresh bucket and continue. Work speeds along, and the full buckets are much easier to carry and safer to transport, pour, or empty into bags than a full shop vac.

What You Need

5-gallon bucket $2.98
Screw-top lid $7.25
(2) 1ľ-in. thru-hulls 2 x $7.99 = $15.98
1-in. PVC 45 elbow 48 cents
(2) 24-foot 1ľ-in. sump hoses 2 x $10.98 = 21.96

Total $48.68

How to build it

The DIY dust bucket is essentially a five-gallon bucket with two through-hulls (inlet and outlet) attached to the lid and sump-pump hoses fitted to the through-hulls. One hose is attached to your sander (inlet), and the other is attached to a shop vac (outlet).

1. To create the bucketís outlet fitting, mark a circle thatís the diameter of the through-hullís threads in the center of the lid. Cut a hole for the through-hull using a hole saw (best) or saber saw. Trim the through-hull flange to fit around the molded ridges on the lid (hole saw also works well for this). Repeat these steps for the bucketís inlet (from sander), placing the through-hull as close to the lidís rim as is practical.

2. To finish the inlet from the sander, caulk or glue (polyurethane caulk works well) the PVC 45-degree elbow inside the through-hullís rim fitting, on the underside of the lid, roughly parallel to the bucketís wall; this will create swirl.

3. To complete the sanding kit, add one or two 24-foot sections of 1ľ-inch sump pump hose, creating a super-light kit that will easily reach your boatís entire bottom without having to move the vacuum as you work. (This hose generates an horrendous whistle when used as an open vacuum line, but when restricted for use with a sander it is quiet.)

Adjust the fitting sizes to suit your vacuum hose. We also recommend buying an extra screw-top bucket lid for transporting the waste to disposal, and buy as many spare buckets and lids as the work may require.

To test the effectiveness of the dustless sanding bucket, we used it with a cheap, thrift-store vacuum designed for small jobs the last time that we sanded the bottom of our 34-foot catamaran. The vac had a tiny paper filter, which clogged quickly when used alone. With it attached to the bucket trap, we finished the entire bottom-sanding jobómany hours laterówith no reduction in flow, and the mess was entirely contained in a single bucket.

The Bottom line

The total tally for the DIY dustless sanding bucket rang in just under $50 and took about 10 to 15 minutes to make. Testers have found that compared to using a shop vac alone, it made sanding easier (no vac to lug around) and it was effective, plus it makes cleanup and disposal a breeze.

A commercial version, the Oneida Air Systems Dust Deputy (www.oneida-air.com), is available for about $100 for the full kit (including hose and bucket). In our opinion, itís better suited for the serious home woodshop than the boat yard. While it does work well, the extra complexity and expense do not seem justified at the lower airflow rates required for sander-dust collection, in our opinion.

Comments (16)

Another vacuum add-on I use is an "automated vacuum switch" which turns the shop-vac on automatically when you turn on the power-tool Basically you plug both into it with the shop-vac left in the on position. When you push the power-tool button on, the outlet powers up the shop-vac. Great for any power tool with a vacuum port.

Posted by: AndrewC | December 24, 2018 12:11 PM    Report this comment

I've found it's easier to use a filter and a bag in my shop vac. The bags catch most of the material and the filter catches the smaller particles and last a long time. They are somewhat expensive disposal is simple and not in a cloud of dust.

Posted by: Myles | December 18, 2018 4:41 PM    Report this comment

I added a Dust Deputy (~$50 Ace Hardware) upstream of my shop vac around 3 or 4 years ago. I plug in to table saw, router table, sanders or use for clean up as needed. I have emptied the 5 gal bucket at least ten to twenty times by now with no accumulation in the shop vac and only a very fine residue on the filter (I just checked) with no loss in suction. These things work so well that I see no reason to lug a big shop vac around. I wish the vortex was integrated into the shop vac itself or the shop vac pump could be purchased as a more compact unit.

Posted by: RRow | December 16, 2018 1:56 PM    Report this comment

Yard workers sanding/working on corrosive fiberglass, a known carcinogen, who want to live to old age would do well to consider an air supplied suit/mask typically used in boat and f/g manufacturing facilities throughout the known world.

If you ask around boat yards and the early days of f/g boat manufacturing you'll find there aren't many involved in f/g repair and building who lived long enough to see old age upon retirement. Sad but true.

Both f/g dust and lead/copper compounds are deadly to humans. And other organisms.

It's always a good idea when having work considered in a new yard to see whether they properly suit up their workers doing f/g repairs/alternations. If they don't care enough about the health of their workers why expect they'd do better on your craft ?

Peter I Berman
Norwalk, CT

Posted by: Piberman | December 15, 2018 2:29 PM    Report this comment

I'm a pretty avid woodworker and I have a 5 foot tall version of this on my dust collection system. They work wonders.

You can get the Dust Deputy here: amzn.to/2GgpCHa and it's made in the USA.
You can get the screw top lid here: amzn.to/2GrMHai

There are knockoff versions out there, but if you read the feedback it seems they don't really work well.

Posted by: BloxygenBoy | December 15, 2018 12:57 PM    Report this comment

I'm a pretty avid woodworker and I have a 5 foot tall version of this on my dust collection system. They work wonders.

You can get the Dust Deputy here: amzn.to/2GgpCHa and it's made in the USA.
You can get the screw top lid here: amzn.to/2GrMHai

There are knockoff versions out there, but if you read the feedback it seems they don't really work well.

Posted by: BloxygenBoy | December 15, 2018 12:56 PM    Report this comment

I built the collector, hooked it up to a five gal. Shop vac. It caught the dust from bottom paint very well, but screeched so loud i had to wear earmuffs. I looked up after 30 minutes to see a small crowd gathered from around the boatyard to see what was making the terrible noise. I threw it away, too much noise.

Posted by: Roland52 | December 15, 2018 12:43 PM    Report this comment

I built the collector, hooked it up to a five gal. Shop vac. It caught the dust from bottom paint very well, but screeched so loud i had to wear earmuffs. I looked up after 30 minutes to see a small crowd gathered from around the boatyard to see what was making the terrible noise. I threw it away, too much noise.

Posted by: Roland52 | December 15, 2018 12:43 PM    Report this comment

I ground all the gel coat off my cabin top this year using a rotary sander with vacuum attachment. The standard shop vac was clogged in about 3 minutes. I went and bought a "dust deputy" off amazon for $50. This is a plastic dyson like cyclone tube. You attach it to a 5 gal bucket. "YouTube" has good videos on it. The result was nothing short of amazing. After the 5 gallon bucket was entirely filled with fiberglass and paint dust I opened the vacuum and there was no more then a tablespoon of dust in there. Really was shocking. Highly recommend for big sanding jobs.

Posted by: squarpeg | December 15, 2018 9:46 AM    Report this comment

Using a sump hose as a super low cost vacuum hose is a great idea, but it didn't work out for me.
The hose I bought (Nelson Plastics #00108) makes a horrible screeching sound when hooked up to a vacuum. We ended up just using two short vacuum hoses already on hand.
A plain bucket lid works fine and the extra $5 for the fancy screw top one can be saved.

Posted by: aluminu | May 3, 2016 3:26 PM    Report this comment

The air flow is low, so it is normal for much of the dust to stay in the hose. simply shake the hose when finished (vacuum running) and it should flow through.

As for no dust in the bucket, either the inlet 90 is not creating the correct spin (should be aimed parallel to and slightly towards the wall, or there was simply not enough dust to accumulate. The very fine material made it to the shop vac, which is normal, and the coarser material stayed in the hose. This is not unusual, if the amount of sanding is relatively small.

Posted by: Drew Frye | April 21, 2016 10:39 AM    Report this comment

Built this unit but paint dust didn't end up in the bucket. Ended up in either the hose or the mini shop vac I used. Could it be too little vacuum or too much?

Posted by: BillM | April 21, 2016 10:17 AM    Report this comment

I used a wet/dry ShopVac when redoing the bottom of our first boat, a Northern 29, back in 2001. I had it connected to the dust collecting port of a Makita random orbital sander.

Worked very well for me.

Posted by: MarkTilley | April 8, 2016 2:19 PM    Report this comment

The screw top lid, as with all of the other parts, are available at Lowes. It is a separate lid that goes on a standard bucket.

Lowes, Encore Plastics 5-Gallon Bucket Lid, $7.28.

There is no separate filter in the bucket. The air from the sander enters at an angle, creating a swirl and enough centrifugal force to encourage dust separation. The filter in the vacuum is still the backstop, but the dust loading is much lower and the filters last longer.Do use a good dust filter on the shop vac, not just a foam wet/dry filter.

Posted by: Drew Frye | March 20, 2016 2:39 PM    Report this comment

With bottom paint on the 'to do' list this season, this project caught my eye; thanks, I plan on building it. But.... looking at the parts list, build list, and photos, I don't see where the screw-top lid or (what looks to me, to be) a round filter media between the pail and the pail lid are addressed. Not having played with this idea yet, I would assume that the inlet side should exhaust directly into the pail, with the filter stage inserted between the collection bucket and the vacuum side outlet. Correct? The inserted picture of the bucket lid underside is a little too small for me to make it out. TIA for the clarification.

Posted by: Shane | March 20, 2016 10:12 AM    Report this comment

With bottom paint on the 'to do' list this season, this project caught my eye; thanks, I plan on building it. But.... looking at the parts list, build list, and photos, I don't see where the screw-top lid or (what looks to me, to be) a round filter media between the pail and the pail lid are addressed. Not having played with this idea yet, I would assume that the inlet side should exhaust directly into the pail, with the filter stage inserted between the collection bucket and the vacuum side outlet. Correct? The inserted picture of the bucket lid underside is a little too small for me to make it out. TIA for the clarification.

Posted by: Shane | March 20, 2016 10:10 AM    Report this comment

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