It’s a long and dusty trail to walk for us woodworkers. Almost anything we do when we are in the shop will generate dust and wood debris, whether cutting or sanding or chiseling or planing. Dust collection becomes an important aspect in our shop, and a good dust collector is an essential piece of equipment to have.
When we wrote of the essential tools for the beginner woodworker, and in retrospect, we neglected to mention the need for a dust collector and the attention we need to pay to shop cleanup. With just a beginner’s set of tools, both power and hand, investment in a small shop vac can be wise, too.
But, as skills advance and more tools are added to our shop inventory, expanding to table saw, miter saw, planer and more power sanders (orbital sander, random orbit sander, etc.), something more than a shop vac becomes necessary. Money will need to be spent on a dust collector, at the least, if not also a respirator.
In This Article
Harmful Dust in Woodworking Shops
Dust is nothing to play with, frankly. What you are sanding becomes an important consideration on the sophistication and filtering power of the system you invest in for your shop. Among the types of dust to protect yourself from:
Respiratory crystalline silica, particles smaller than a grain of sand, will become airborne when working on materials that contain it. Those materials can include:
Working on them means sanding, drilling, cutting, and grinding. Inhaling the particles can lead to silicosis, an irreversible lung disease that can be prevented with a strong dust collector and the use of a respirator. It can also lead to lung cancer.
You may not be working with any of those materials in your shop, but one of your projects may well include them along with wood, especially if your shop is in your garage, where more materials can be available. They should be considered when selecting your dust collector.
Certainly, that will be present in your shop, whether in the basement or the garage, or the shed out back. Eyes, nose, throat, and lungs can be adversely affected by the exposure to and the inhaling of that dust. A good dust collector and the use of a respirator, or at least a mask, are always advised and prudent.
We mention this because you may be involved in an improvement project on an old house (like I am, 130 years old) where asbestos is a possibility. A respirator or mask, goggles, and a good dust collector are simply best practices and essential to your health.
Again, we get to home improvement projects that will generate dust that needs to be collected and not breathed. Working with drywall and the dust it will generate, along with the joint compounds used when hanging it, will cause persistent throat irritation, along with coughing and breathing problems similar to asthma. If you’re a smoker, it will be even worse for you. Dust collection is essential with this work, too, and all precautions should be taken.
These are real dangers, and exposure to them is to be avoided. So, we amend our previous list of essential tools for the beginner woodworker to include a dust collection system.
The Source of these Fine Particulates In The Woodworking Shop
We know that saws of various kinds, table, circular, miter, and even hand, will toss dust and debris in the air. But, for the especially fine particulates, it’s the power sander first, hand sanding second. The dust will also come from the abrasives used on sanding disks, too, and not just the material being sanded.
Advances in sanding tool technology have come a long way in recent years. Today you can purchase a dustless sander, even.
In the past, as you know, sanders would come with those cute little dust collection bags that attach during use. They could be emptied, cleaned, and reused.
Dustless sanders have a larger port on them now too, which you can connect to your dust collection hose. With sufficient suction and CFM power ( cubic feet per minute), most of the dust created by the sander (orbital sander, random orbital sanders ) can be collected and removed from the air. We still wear our masks and goggles, if not our respirator, and recommend you do, too.
Mirka Dustless Sanders
Mirka was established in 1943 in Finland and has been in operation worldwide since then. Its US presence was established in 1985 as Mirka Abrasives, Inc., and it specializes its operation in surface finishing technology. Specifically, this means their sanders and sandpaper abrasives.
It supplements its abrasives technology with its machine and polishing compounds, with machines referring to sanders. The abrasive pads have plenty of holes in them in addition to abrasives of various kinds to help with whatever finish or polishing you need for your project. Those abrasives include aluminum oxides, ceramic or silicon carbide grains and range from coarse to very fine grits.
The many holes in their abrasive pads allow for the dust to be freed from the pad surface and available to be collected by your dust collection system. Their sanders have a port that is compatible with dust collection systems and, with sufficient suction and CFM power, will grab the dust that is released to flow through the pad holes and drawn away from the workpiece and the sander, and thus, from you.
You no longer have to rely on those little bags that sanders tend to come with for minimal dust collection that must rely on the little suction power of the sander itself. Convenient, easy to use, and with the right dust collector, powerful enough to keep most of the dust out of the air and off the floor.
But for Mirka, it’s in the abrasive and the “holey” pad. If you’ve ever wondered why abrasive pads for your sander come with holes in them, now you know.
Festool Dustless Sanders
Festool is a German-based manufacturer of very high-quality shop and woodworking power tools. It emphasizes healthy working and designs its products with that in mind.
It also looks for ways to reduce exposure to the dangers of exposure to dust in the workplace and home shop. We’ve written about Festool often in the past and love its Festool Domino and the Festool Track Saw. You’ll find a past article on the former, the Festool Domino, here; and a past article on the latter, the Festool Track Saw, here.
In fact, speaking of abrasive pads for sanders, we wrote of the Festool Granat and the Festool Rubin pads. In addition to its fine line of power tools, two of which we’ve already mentioned, Festool also makes these fine abrasives for its line of sanders which includes:
- Orbital sanders
- Random orbital sanders
- Linear sanders
- Delta sanders
- Drywall sanders
Festool also makes sanding blocks and sponges, rolls of abrasives, and even sanding blocks with dust extractors.
The Festool Granat abrasive pads are its longest-lasting and best-performing pads. It’s durable enough to work with hardwoods like cherry and mahogany yet gentle enough to be used on cedar and pine.
It can be used on raw wood, paints, plastic materials, and composites with low-grit number pads and high-grit number pads that can produce a mirror-smooth finish.
It works well because the grit of hardened aluminum oxide and synthetic resin extends from edge to edge for full coverage, with the resin holding the abrasive tightly to the pad and preventing cracking and tearing.
The Festool Rubin was specifically designed to shred wood fibers and prevent clogging and buildup of materials that get in the way of the abrasives doing their job. Festool brags that its Rubin will remove materials 30% faster than other sandpapers, even and remove multiple layers of material easily.
Comparing Mirka and Festool Sanders
With various models to choose from, there are some generalities that apply when comparing the sanders of both companies.
Mirka sanders will tend to be just a little bit lighter in weight than Festools; and tend to be a little bit quieter and vibrate just a little less, too. If these are important qualities, Mirka might be the better choice for you.
Yet, Festool sanders will be a little bit less expensive, even though Festool sanders are not necessarily cheap.
No matter the brand, there are some general safety guidelines when using a sander to keep in mind no matter what the project or how big the workpiece may be:
- Safety Gear. Masks, goggles, respirator, dust collector. Always. You want the air you breathe to be particulate-free, no matter what that particulate may be. Safety first.
- The Air Around You. On-tool extraction is very important. With dustless sanders available to connect to your dust extractor, this is crucial to keeping the air around you safely breathable.
- The Right Tool for The Right Job. The selection of your dust extractor becomes important in this overall exercise of protecting your health. Let the abrasive do its part, the sander do its, and the dust extractor carry it all away.
Dust Extractors For Your Woodworking Shop
We’ve reached the point where we need to consider and compare dust extractors as between Mirka and Festool. We’ve covered their sanders and their abrasives and need to look at carrying the dust away from the sander for ultimate disposal. First, just a few words about dust removal in general.
OSHA regulations governing safety in the construction workplace have changed the way work gets done, and the concepts are applicable to the home workshop. We mentioned crystalline silica earlier and its dangers when inhaled, and since this is present on construction sites and may be present in your garage shop on some projects, it’s worth mentioning again.
Dust extractors need to be chosen with a full scope of the work you might be engaging in, even when it might be only very occasional in scope. You should never cheap out on safety factors in your shop, and dust can be a major offender there that can lead to ill health and worse.
Both Festool and Mirka offer dust extractors for the woodworking shop – the Festool CT36 and the Mirka 1230, for instance.
We’ll mention that the Mirka 1230 is a rebranded Nilfisk Attix model. The Nilfisk 33 has a CFM of a little more than 150, which is a closed system (sander/abrasive/suction to disposal) that should be sufficient to pull dust from a sanding job.
The Mirka Dust Extractor 1230 HEPA has a high-performance motor and turbine that will generate by measuring 4500 l/minute (liters per minute), which translates into the 150 CFM suction strength mentioned above. Its autostart function increases its lifespan and helps to reduce noise, and the collection bag is self-cleaning.
It has a flat top that could be used to support something else besides the workbench and is wheeled for easy maneuverability around the shop. It also has storage for hoses and cables to keep them out of the way when not being used.
Festool, on the other hand, manufactures its own dust extractor systems. The CT36 model, a fair comparison to the Mirka 1230 model, uses a HEPA-certified bag (self-cleaning, also), variable speed suction to meet the needs of the power tool being used, whether sander, planer, track saw or miter saw, all power tool products offered by Festool.
It’s a compact model, light in weight, and comes with an 11.5’ hose that stores away in the unit’s garage. It, too, is just shy of 150 CFM capacity.
One of its appealing qualities is its full integration with a stackable Systainer storage system. We found numerous comments on woodworker bulletin boards referring to the Systainer system, and those who have multiple Festool products take advantage of the system for a compact and organized woodworking shop.
We priced each of these models and find them not too far off in cost, with the Mirka 1230 model right around $800, and the Festool CT33 model about $30 more.
- Variable speed control with lever, for an optimal control when working Separate on/off switch, for…
- Brushless motor, no need to change brushes, less down time
- Vibration reduction system, minimizes the vibrations for your main application
- Variable Speed (Two Mode: On/Off or Throttle) 4,000-10,000 rpm
- Constantly high suction because of the compact high performance turbine
- Smooth suction hose and optimized sys-dock with cord holder and t-loc function for conveniently…
- Economical because of the optimal use of the available volume with a selfclean filter bag in the…
- Maximum utilization of the container volume – the gross volume is the same as the Net volume
We think it’s cool that these models have Bluetooth auto-start systems that bring them online when you begin using your dust-generating cordless power tool into action. See how far we’ve come with technology today? Bluetooth for power tool integration – very cool.
It’s worth noting, though, that they are not the only options for dust extractors for your shop. You also have the Bosch GAS 35 M, the DeWALT DWV010, and a Makita model to choose from, each priced below the Festool and Mirka models mentioned, and there are more.
- Automatic Filter Clean of the dust extractor pulses every 30 seconds for continuous operations…
- Powerful 15 amp motor of DEWALT dust extractor delivers 155 CFM of airflow for maximum suction
- Power Tool Actuation controls the On/Off operations of the vacuum with a power tool
- Meets the EPA Lead Related Renovations, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule for HEPA vacuum only when…
Each has its own qualities that might persuade you to purchase, but we are impressed with the specs and features of the Festool and Mirka models we’ve compared for you today.
This video will give you a full range of comparisons that is not limited to just the Festool and Mirka models discussed above. A lot of testing was done with eight brand models. It’s pretty comprehensive and worth watching.
The models compared and tested in the video fit in at various price points in the general range of the Mirka and Festool models discussed in this piece, although mostly below the $800 – $830 range of these two. Each has something compelling about them, even if just in price, to warrant your attention. We can tell you that the bulletin boards of actual woodworkers with dust extractors in their shop speak well of the Mirka and Festool models.
Our familiarity with the brand tends toward favoring the Festool because we know of the high quality of their power tool offerings – the track saw and the Domino, two terrific tools. We might be a little biased, but the Festool reputation does precede their tools.
Dust collection and safety measures in the shop are important and should not be overlooked. Take this seriously in your own shop and stay healthy.
Last update on 2022-11-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API