Updated: Oct 14, 2021
There are two main uses for shop vacuums in a wood shop. The first is for basic clean up of dust and debris that accumulates on the floor, shelves & tables. The second use is connecting the vaccum to a machine, like a orbital sander, where its soul purpose is for dust collection. All vacuums in this post have a powerful enough motor to do both, however they feature different components (ie hoses and Hepa filters) that make certain shop vacuums better than others. A Hepa filter collects the fine sawdust that gathers in the air when sanding.
In my shop, I currently have five shop vacuums. One (the Nilfisk ALTO) is hooked up permanently to my sander, The RIDGID is connected to the chop saw and the Vacmaster VWM is for the Shapeoko XXL CNC router. The fourth (Vacmaster Red) is a floor vac for doing the heavy grunt work. The fifth vacuum I recently purchase, its the vacuum I wanted for over a decade a FESTOOL CT 15 HEPA Dust Extractor. This is a premium machine that is designed to work with all the Festool tools so it's worth the extra price. It's currently dedicated to the Festool Domino. I plan to use it with other Festool machines as I accumulamted more of their tools over the years.
Whats a HEPA Filter?
The Hepa filter is a Micron bag that collects all the fine dust that would normally be small enough to breath in. It's very important to keep those fine dust particles out from getting into your lungs. Wood is technically a carcinogen so protecting yourself from fine dust is critical to your health and the Hepa filters help do that. They also make cleanup easier as they collect everything into a bag that can easily be thrown out.
Weekend Woodworker's Shop Vac
This is the 6-gallon, 3 peak horsepower variant. It comes with caster assemblies, wet and dry filters, hose storage brackets, secure fit hose, extension wands, utility nozzle, and a floor nozzle. Its cord is 10 ft. long and a maximum of 17 ft. of reach with the attachments. That's plenty of reach to clean a regular shop. It has a caster so it's easy to move around.
I have this vacuum and use it for all the basics. Simple jobs like sawdust on the floor or debris from a router is what this machine was designed to do. It's a little bulky when it comes to storage but the 6-gallon bucket rarely needs to be changed often. The Vacmaster has a low price, which is why I bought it. However, the one draw back is the hose can pull out too easily during long extension. This isn't a major issue but is a limitation to the machine. This shop vac is only for cleaning debris and dust off the floor and shelves.
- Good enough for Clean ups
- Not built for being dust collection to any machines
- Hose is cheaply made
Trusty RIDGID Lasts for Years!
I’ve been using this Ridgid wet and dry vacuum for years and have never experienced a breakdown. It has a 12-gallon tank with 5 peak horsepower. Its motor boasts a maximum power of 170 mph. It comes with an 8-foot hose, wet and dry filters, a standard nozzle, car nozzle, 2 extension wands, and a blower wand. It comes with caster feet too for extra portability around the shop, however I have mine permanently connected to my chop saw for dust collection. The 12-gallon capacity is a big plus and it does a nice job of sucking the debris from the saw. It's very easy to setup, extremely reliable, and comes with a lifetime warranty.
- Built to Last
- Powerful Motor
- Good Connector Hose
- Could use more attachments
For a bit less money, Vacmaster provides value for its price with this vacuum. This shop vac has a 5-Gallon tank, with a powerful 5 peak horsepower motor. It comes with a long 20-ft cord with a maximum reach of 41 ft. with attachments. It has tons of attachments too! The Vacmaster VWM510 has a flexible hose, remote control handle, (2) extension wands, car nozzle, floor brush/squeegee nozzle, round dust brush, crevice tool, air and noise diffuser, tool caddy, washable cartridge filter, foam wet filter and wall mount storage rack.
I use this vacuum because it can attach to the wall and easily detach when its time to empty it. This vac was purchased specifically to be the dust collector for the Shapeoko xxl CNC machine. The flexible hose filling the router easily and mounting it to the wall saves a lot of space in the shop.
- Long flexible hose
- Powerful motor
- Very quiet
- Lots of attachments
- Hard to store the hose
- The remote handle is not user friendly
Value for the Money
If you're looking for a bang-for-the-buck machine then this is the shop vacuum for you. This Dewalt Shop Vac has a 9-gallon tank with a 5 Peak horsepower motor. It's touted as a 4-in-1 tool (wet, dry, blow and inflate). It has a long enough 10 ft. power cord with rubber canisters for easy movement. It has a removable bag for easy storage of its hose. It comes with a 7 ft. hose, 2 extension wands, cartridge filter, floor nozzle, utility nozzle, crevice nozzle, round brush, inflator kit & adaptor, and a disposable filter bag.
The inflator kit attachment should be standard for all shop vacs! It comes in handy for rubber boats, mini pools, and other stuff you need inflating. It's a DeWalt so I trust its quality. It has a 3-year warranty which is good enough for its price.
- Value for money
- Powerful 5hp motor
- Inflator kit
- Doesn’t excel in anything
The Nilfisk Alto Aero 2.1 is a powerful vacuum designed for industrial spaces, like a car garage or wood shop. This is a German engineered piece of equipment so it's more expensive but the payoff is, it's more refined and does a better job. It comes in two versions, with or without a Hepa filter. I bought mine with a Hepa filter because this vacuum is dedicated permanently to my orbital sander. It's definitely worth the extra money to protect your lungs fine dust is the worst. The vacuum is surprisingly quiet for the amount of powerful suctions it creates. The vacuum also comes with an additional outlet which is convenient.
- German Engineered
- Powerful Suction
- HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air)
- vacuum comes with an additional outlet
Best Vac to Hook Up to Tools
For dust collection alone, this is the best vacuum you can get for the money. Yes, it’s about twice the price of the above shop vacs. And yes, get it if you have the money. The price tag comes with a lot of convenience and value for the money. It’s a Festool, it's built tough. For one, it’s a true 4-gallon tank. This vacuum is lightweight and is ideal for woodworkers who are on the go or have a small workshop. The suction is plenty. The touch control is easy to operate. The Festool bag is super easy to change. When used with other Festool equipment there is little to no dust excess. It's an impressive machine, another feature is that the top is flat for storage. Great for contractors who move around a lot and need something very mobile to take with them.
- Top of the line & Tough rugged build
- Powerful and Efficient
- HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air)
- Extremely light
- Convenient to carry around
- Higher Price
Best Shop Vac to Hook Up to Tools
Yes, it’s about twice the price of the above shop vac. And yes, you should get it if you have the money. The price tag comes with a lot of convenience and value. It has a high performance turbine which creates a constant strong suction. When using it with a sander there is no noticeable dust, and extremely impressive feat. The bag holds 26 gallons, which means you don't have to change it often. When you do it's a simple process of removing the entire bag and easily clipping on a new one. By far the best design on the market, the machine feels like a home-base for the other machine hand tools in my shop. The dust extractor also has all the benefits that come with the Festool system. Other Festools Tools can connect on top of this vacuum for super efficient storage.
- Top of the line, Powerful and Efficient