How Do Cyclone Dust Collectors Work

How Do Cyclone Dust Collectors Work?

Cyclones by any other name…in the Atlantic and Pacific northeast, they are called hurricanes; in the far East, they are called typhoons.  But, they are all the same event:  large air masses that circulate around an area of low atmospheric pressure.

Obviously, they are not going to fit in your woodworking shop.  But a small version, under controlled conditions and equipment, can make your woodworking shop a cleaner place. 

A cyclone dust collector works by creating a very small and controlled “hurricane” contained inside the housing of a cyclone dust collection system.  The circular winds within the “cyclone” lift dust and larger particles, much like the winds of a hurricane will pick up yard debris.

The spinning particles are thrown against the wall of the chamber by the centrifugal force created by the cyclonic energy.  They lose their momentum when they hit the chamber wall and fall down into a hopper beneath the cyclone collector.

That’s the simple explanation, but there is more to cyclone dust collectors, so let’s dig a little deeper.

What Does a Cyclone Dust Collector Do?

What Does a Cyclone Dust Collector Do

The easy answer is it collects dust.  But it’s how that is done that is the interesting part.

If you have a Shop Vac vacuum system in your woodworking shop, you’re already collecting the dust and airborne particles generated by your tools.  In excess, this hazardous dust can present a health hazard when inhaled.  A mask filter is not enough to protect you fully, and something more is needed if your work is creating a great amount of those particles and dust.

This is where a dust separator comes in handy and may be an indispensable piece of equipment in your shop.  As such, it’s a very wise investment.

Cyclone dust separators begin their work by creating an airflow that brings in the dust and larger particles into the unit where the cyclonic air movement spins it so that the centrifugal force bangs it against the wall of the chamber.  That slows the movement of the dust particles such that they drop down into a collection bin or hopper.

These cyclone separators can separate more than 99% of dust particles greater than 10 microns, a very efficient separation.  Dust filters in this process can remove dust particles down to a size of 3 microns, and between these two dynamics, that efficiency is increased.  You should still wear a mask to filter out those rare particles that aren’t caught up in this process, but these unit’s high efficiency drastically reduces your health risk.

A couple of videos to demonstrate dust collectors:

What is a Two-Stage Dust Collector?

We teased the answer to this question in the previous paragraph, actually.  The two-stage dust collector employs the cyclonic action we’ve described and explained (first stage) and a blower that pushes air through a filter (stage 2). 

DIY Dust Collectors

If you are handy at your craft and like to save money by finding your own solutions, there are some DIY dust collector projects you can pursue.  We might write about them someday, but for now, we found a few videos about them to give you some ideas.

What Does CFM Mean On a Dust Collector?

Everything these days seems to have a 3-letter acronym attached to it, and of course, so do dust collector systems.  The acronym is CFM, which stands for cubic feet per minute.

It refers to how much air needs to move with strength in order to collect dust or larger airborne particles in your woodworking shop.  A mild breeze might move a falling leaf, but it’s not going to do much else, so to speak. To knock down branches or blow yard debris around, that breeze much is very substantial.

It’s the same in your woodworking shop.  The smaller the particles, the greater CFM will be needed; the larger the particulate, the lesser the CFM will be needed to move it.  Generally speaking, you will need around 1000 cubic feet per minute of airflow strength to collect fine dust; and around 350 cubic feet per minute of airflow strength to collect chips.

It depends on how many tools are being used simultaneously – the more being used, the more dust and airborne particles will be generated.  As an example, an average table saw, planer, or joiner with a 2 – 5 inch diameter port, will require up to around 600 CFM to clean the dust well.  By comparison, a Shop-Vac vacuum at 6.5 hp peak performance can generate about 185 CFM.

The various types of dust collectors available on the market are rated by that power to generate airflow sufficient for your shop’s needs.  Depending on the unit you need, the costs can range from around $675 up to more than $15,000 for industrial strength dust extraction collectors.

Are Cyclone Dust Collectors Better?

Are Cyclone Dust Collectors Better

Better than what, you might ask?  But seriously, are there advantages to cyclone dust collectors in your shop?  Yes.

  • If you’ve removed a bag from a standard dust collector, you’ve no doubt seen how much dust is released, all of which needs to be collected again; but, because the cyclonic dust collector’s bin holds the largest of airborne particles, emptying it is a lot easier and much cleaner.
  • Following up on that first point, because fewer particles are pushed against the second stage filter, they need to be cleaned or replaced much less often.

There are definite advantages, then, to the cyclone dust collector, and those advantages bespeak the wise investment for your shop.

Whether you are a DIY enthusiast determined to build your own cyclone system or a small shop enthusiast who can afford a small commercial unit, these dust collectors are worth having.  The health benefits are obvious, and we all like to work in a clean environment. We’ve given you enough information now to make an informed decision.