We take a look at eight dust extractors to see which ones stand out and which ones suck the most.
The battle against dust is one that every power-tool woodworker faces when they go into their shop. Dust in the air, in their lungs, embedded in the finish they worked so carefully on. If you have the space and money, an industrial-grade dust collection system is great, but not everyone has that luxury. A simple wet/dry vac works, but they simply aren’t designed for the volume and type of dust woodworking generates. So today, we’re looking at the mobile dust-fighting champions of the woodworking world: portable dust extractors.
As with most things these days, we’re spoiled for choice, so we picked a few parameters to narrow things down. We wanted plug-in dust extractors for all-day functionality, and we wanted each of them to have an onboard power outlet that could be used to activate the extractor with an attached tool. If you’ve had a sander battery die mid-project, you understand why plug-in models are the go-to for professionals.
Now before anyone gets too caught up in the numbers and testing terminology, I want to make a few things clear. Every dust extractor here has enough airflow to suck up more dust than you can generate with any tool plugged into it. And every dust extractor here will gradually see a reduction in airflow as it fills up. With that in mind, this article focuses more on what it’s like to use the dust extractors and what features are important, as opposed to a performance-based shootout.
Why an Extractor Over a Wet/Dry Vac?
When considering your dust collection needs, you need to look at your personal use case. If you’re running a professional cabinet shop with a 24“ planer that has a 4“ dust port, these aren’t the tools you’re looking for. If you’re a handyman who occasionally cuts some 2x4s with a circular saw, your old hardware store wet/dry vac will be fine. If you’re reading this magazine though, you’re mostly like a hobbyist woodworker with a spouse, 2.5 kids, and a 2.5 car garage that is also your shop space. And that old wet/dry vac isn’t cutting it anymore.
Woodworking generates two types of particles—larger sawdust shavings that fall to the ground and smaller particles that are airborne. A study by Proto, Zimbalatti, and Negri in the Journal of Agriculture Engineering from 2010 showed that 88% of those airborne particles were smaller than one micron. Do you know how many microns the average wet/dry vac filter is rated for? Because we don’t, and neither do the manufacturers. In most cases, they aren’t given a micron rating at all, it’s just a bit of paper to catch the biggest chunks of dust.
What you want to look for is something that’s HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) rated. According to the EPA, HEPA filters “theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns.” Every extractor in this test besides the Karcher has a filter that is either HEPA rated or has HEPA filters available. It’s not just the filters in play either. All of these dust extractors feature tighter tolerances between the motor and reservoir to prevent dust from escaping as well.
The other, less scientific reason is that dust extractors just suck more than wet/dry vacs. Some higher-end vacuums may meet or surpass the extractor’s CFM ratings, but for all-day consistency and power, a true dust extractor can’t be beaten.
Power to the Tools
Every extractor in this test features an onboard power outlet for plugging smalls tools into. Small is the key word here—you don’t want to melt your extractor, and you definitely don’t want a fire. The Makita, DeWalt, Karcher, 3M, Festool, and Uneeda have set power requirements, with the dial used solely for airflow adjustment. The Bosch and Metabo actually allow you to adjust the current of the motor for the tool you have plugged in.
Both motors draw about 10-11 amps at full power, meaning you can use a tool that draws 3 amps or so, like a 5“ random orbital sander. If you want to use a larger tool, say a 7.2amp jigsaw, you simply adjust the power dial and go. As with most things in life, applying a liberal dose of common sense is going to yield the best results and keep you out of danger.
Three extractors, the DeWalt, Festool, and Makita, are designed to be used with proprietary Bluetooth systems so a cordless tool can activate the extractor. This is great if all your tools are in the same ecosystem but less useful if you have a mix of tools. I’d like to see toolmakers set standards that allow universal compatibility, but I’m not holding my breath.
At the start of the test, our goal was to really break down how each tool performed in depth, testing hard numbers first, then collecting some major dust. Once things got underway, we realized there weren’t going to be any clear winners or losers. The most powerful extractor in the world is going to be inefficient if the tool it’s attached to has poorly designed dust collection. And short of hooking them up to a planer, every extractor was more than capable of drawing away as much sawdust as we could make. With that in mind, we did pick up a few interesting tidbits to share with you.
Editor’s note: The stats listed below were current as of press time when the article was published in the October 2023 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Updated prices as of November 2023 are listed near bottom of article.
Speed vs Volume
In real-world practice, CFM is the volume of air that can be moved, and the airspeed is how fast it moves. Both are important when collecting dust, especially from larger machines—a table saw generates a large volume of dust and can do so quickly. Think of your home furnace — it moves a large volume of air, but it does it fairly slowly.
Broadly speaking there’s an inverse relationship between airspeed and CFM. It takes more power to maintain speed as CFM increases, and that’s generally visible in our test results. The two outliers are the 3M and the DeWalt, which had high airspeed and CFM, though they didn’t perform any better in our shop testing.
Most extractors are bigger and heavier than you’d expect from the photos. Keeping them in one place is great if you can, but if you have to move them, there are some winners and losers. The Karcher was lightest overall, and the Bosch was lightest of the true extractors, but not by much. Neither is great to pull around though. The Karcher is a bit tippy, and the Bosch suffers from small casters in the front. The Metabo weighs a bit more but has the smallest overall footprint.
The Uneeda is both very heavy and suffers the same small front caster issue, but one look at the tall shelf system shows that portability isn’t the main objective. The Makita, 3M, and DeWalt were all standouts for how well they moved, thanks to high-quality rubber casters and nice push handles for the latter two. The handles also doubled as a great place to wrap the cord or hose in a pinch.
Improvised storage aside, all of the extractors had at least a hose storage or cord/accessory storage spot. The Makita, Festool, Bosch, and DeWalt all feature the ability to mount storage containers on top. We packed eevery extractor up between each test, which made clear pretty quickly that none of them completely solved the problem of what to do with a hose and cord that didn’t result in any sort of entanglement. The Bosch did a great job overall, but the large recess at the top of the Festool ended up winning the day … assuming you don’t attach a systainer and cover the storage.
- If forced to choose between a longer cord or longer hose, I’ll take the longer hose. The 3M is the runaway champ for both of those however. Between the hose and the cord, you can get a whopping 42 feet away from a wall outlet.
- Even though each extractor has a tapered or stepped end to the hose, there’s no rhyme or reason to what tools they’ll fit. For best results you may need to cut them shorter or buy rubber bushings to fit your tools. Replacement tips and bushings are available online for most of the brands.
- The Karcher exists in a sort of no-mans land between true dust extractor and a wet/dry vac. For a lot of hobbyist woodworkers that’s probably all you need.
- Most of these extractors can be used either as an extractor or for general use around the garage and home. But let’s be fair — that’s not their prime environment. On the flip side, if you’re doing some major home renovations (such as drywall work), the level of filtration they achieve is just as important there as it is in the woodworking shop.
3M: Pneumatic Compatible
While electric sanders are popular with the home woodworking crowd, many professionals prefer pneumatic for a variety of reasons. The 3M was one of only two extractors in the test with pneumatic hookups, which helped it stand out a bit in a crowded field. It also had a nice push handle, and the hose was second only to the Festool.
We were a little less enamored with the purchase experience, as there is some wild price variation listed online, to the point where it’s unclear if there’s a difference in what’s included from each seller.
If you prefer pneumatic sanders and want to save some dough, though, this is the extractor for you.
Karcher: Entry-Level Affordability
Like I mentioned previously, the Karcher isn’t quite in the same league as the other dust collectors on paper. It lacks a manufacturer’s CFM rating and HEPA certification and, by Karcher’s own admission, is part of their home lineup instead of professional. (None of Karcher’s professional collectors feature onboard power so we chose the WD 6 instead.)
The Karcher also has a few small design quibbles; it’s tall and bit narrow, and I don’t love the use of metal for the container. It’ll probably pick up dents and dings, and a seam along the bottom is going to get gummed up beyond any help.
When we actually started testing though, none of the small stuff mattered — all day long the Karcher sucked up sawdust with the best of them. We appreciated the variety of included attachments and good on-board storage. At $200 less than the next cheapest option, it’s a screaming bargain for the home woodworker with a garage shop who doesn’t need OSHA-certified extraction.
Bosch: Bargain Champ
The Bosch VAC090AH isn’t the cheapest dust extractor here, but it is the lowest-priced option that checks all of the boxes for professional use. HEPA-compatible? Check. Automatic filter cleaning? Check. Wet/Dry functionality? Check.
There are a few areas where cost-cutting concessions were made: the front casters are awfully small, and the hose feels cheap (and isn’t anti-static). Bosch sells a higher-quality anti-static hose (VH1635A) if you’d like to upgrade, but that wipes out most of the cost savings.
Don’t let those small drawbacks discourage you, though. The Bosch has plenty of power and suction. Plus, the onboard storage was top-notch for both convenience and portability, and the light weight made it easier to move around the shop than most.
DEWALT: Almost Flawless
One of the things I appreciate about DeWalt products, in general, is how well thought-out they are. The DWV015 exemplifies this mindset in several ways. The wheels and portability are hands-down the best, there are multiple ways you can store the hose and cord thanks to the telescoping handle, and the 16′ hose features a great locking mechanism.
There are a few weaknesses: the cord is relatively short, and tip of the hose makes an incredibly annoying sound. The cord I can forgive but the sound is a literal pain. Turn on the DeWalt without a tool attached and you’ll be greeted with an unrelenting, high-pitched whistling noise. No other extractor in our test suffered this same issue. From the reviews online it sounds like it wasn’t an isolated occurrence.
If you can get past that sound, the DeWalt is among the most livable day-to-day options here.
Design and performance-wise, the ASR 35 seemed closely related to the 3M, though there are a few differences. The Metabo lacks the pneumatic hookups and, while it has the attachment points for a push handle, doesn’t include one. The hose also isn’t quite as nice, but the Metabo does gain wet/dry functionality.
The ASR 35 was one of two extractors in the test to allow you to set the amperage when connecting a tool. The knob plainly states how much power the motor is drawing, and instructions are clearly labeled right on the front of the machine. The power activation setting knob is a bit more cryptic, but there are helpful hieroglyphs if you can’t remember what the letters stand for.
While the Metabo was rarely outstanding in any way, it was a continually solid and dependable choice in our testing.
Makita: Everyday Choice
The VC4210 packs lots of friendly touches into a solid all-around package. The design is top-notch, with hooks and cubbies for the cord and attachments and the ability to mount three different types of containers to the top rack. It was the quietest in our test by a small amount on paper, though it seemed more noticeably quiet in use (there’s a scientific reason for this — an increase of 10 db doubles the perception of loudness, so even 2 db is a noticeable amount).
The Makita lacked any real drawbacks, outside of the hose seeming a bit cheap. It didn’t exactly inspire us, but then again, none of the extractors had an emotional impact.
At the end of the day, it included all of the features we wanted at a middle price point, which makes it a great option for most
Festool: Woodworker’s Choice
The Festool is a bit of a ringer in this comparison. Almost every other extractor we tested was designed with the job site in mind, requiring a multi-disciplined approach to features and functionality. The Festool was designed with woodworkers in mind from the start, and it shows.
It’s all in the way it gets the little details right: the hose is easily the best in the test, the large wheels make it easy to move when you want to, and a kickstand means it won’t when you don’t. The space at the top by the handle is large enough to stow the hose and have room to spare. This a luxury that everyone else seems to have omitted.
It’s not entirely perfect: the model we tested was the only one in the comparison that didn’t have filter cleaning, and jumping up to CT 36 E AC adds $120 to the already-high price. If you can justify the cost though, you’re going to be very happy with the results.
UNEEDA: The Finisher’s Choice
The EKASAND was a bit like a heavyweight prizefighter in this comparison. It was larger, heavier, more expensive, and definitely felt built to a higher level of quality than the rest. It also felt, more than any other unit, to be designed for finishing. This makes sense, as Uneeda is largely known for its sanders.
In spite of the great pedigree, there are a few missteps that keep it from true perfection. The rack was great for holding things if the unit was stationary but rattled and bounced a bit while moving the extractor around. There’s no CFM rating from Uneeda, which was a bit odd given the price point. And, that price might also be a real issue for many woodworkers.
That being said, if you’re a professional finisher or refinisher, the Ekasand is a great choice, thanks to the built-in pneumatic capability. This is why it earned a permanent spot in the finishing area in of our new shop.
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.