Shop Vacuum Roundup

Shop Vacuum Roundup

Design and engineering details make each of these shop vacuums unique.

Like all dedicated woodworkers, I have no problem generating copious amounts of dust and debris. And while making dust is always more fun than cleaning it up, cleaning doesn’t need to be an onerous task. With new shop vacuums, even the most basic models are quite capable, making the dreaded cleanup job much more convenient, effective and enjoyable. Efficient filters and well-sealed tanks are standard with most current models, and design and engineering advances have resulted in vacuums that fit the needs and budget of almost every woodworker and DIYer.

A Model for Every Need

I evaluated eight shop vacuums, from very affordable general-purpose models to high-end dust extractors for professionals and serious (and well-heeled) woodworkers. Whether you need to clean your shop floor, extract dust from a power sander or suck up a small flood in your basement, one of these units has you covered.

For simplicity, I’ve sorted the featured models into three categories: value-priced general-purpose vacuums, step-up general purpose vacuums, and commercial-duty dust extractors. Because each model is designed for a specific mar- ket niche and to provide the appropriate set of features, a head-to-head comparison isn’t really meaningful — it would be like trying to compare se- dans, sports cars and SUVs.

I found that all of the tested vacuums provide more than adequate suction for their intended use. Almost any vacuum will suffer a decrease in performance as it fills with debris, and the finer the dust particles, the more rapid the decline.
Hose diameters and lengths vary considerably, but the short explanation is that a larger-diameter hose moves more air and is good for picking up bigger objects, while a smaller hose increases air velocity and is better for sucking up dust. A long hose gives you more reach for cleaning or collecting dust from a tool without having to move the vacuum.

Most of the vacuums come with a standard-duty pleated filter, but other choices are available, such as filters for heavy-duty applications and HEPA (high-efficiency particle air) filters that trap microscopic dust. Note that installing a HEPA filter does not necessarily mean a vacuum is certified for hazardous material mitigation. The type of filter installed will also have an impact on the vacuum’s performance, depending on its airflow resistance.

Models with cylindrical filters that extend into the canister will suffer most quickly as the canister fills and the filter becomes submerged in dust and debris. Empty these vacuums early and often to maintain performance. Also, cleaning or replacing the filter regularly will help maintain peak performance and extend the life of the motor.

The three dust extractors have an auto-on feature that’s triggered by a power tool plugged into it. They also have variable suction control, which allows you to dial in the right amount of power for the tool
in use (prevents sanders from sticking to the work, etc.).

There are many other details to consider, such as cord, hose and accessory storage, the accessibility of the power switch and how convenient the motor housing latches are to use.

Bosch VAC090A

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The Bosch is a sturdily built professional-level dust extractor, priced at $600, with many well-implemented features. Like the others in this category, it has variable suction control and an auto-on power tool outlet. There’s a very convenient hinged filter-access lid on top, and the 11⁄4″ x almost 10′ hose attaches to the front port with a twist lock and stores easily with bungee-style straps. Another useful feature is the retaining system for Bosch’s L-Boxx tool and storage boxes, which turns the vacuum into a handy dolly. There’s an automatic filter cleaning feature that makes a loud thumping noise every 15 seconds — it’s a feature, not a problem. However, auto-clean must be turned off when using paper collection bags or a HEPA filter. The Bosch’s narrow, snag-free design makes it easy to use in close quarters.

A filter access lid on the top of the Bosch VAC090A (left photo) makes cleaning and replacing the filter a snap. Bosch provides simple and effective bungee-style retainers (right photo) for hose storage and a loop for hanging the power cord.
A filter access lid on the top of the Bosch VAC090A (left photo) makes cleaning and replacing the filter a snap. Bosch provides simple and effective bungee-style retainers (right photo) for hose storage and a loop for hanging the power cord.

Craftsman 125.12007

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This Craftsman general-purpose shop vacuum delivers a lot of value for the money. Priced at $100, it generates remarkably strong suction, and it has good build quality and an extensive selection of cleaning tools. The onboard storage has a place for everything, and the motor unit’s flat top makes a good tray for holding tools and small objects. A simple twist lock secures the 21⁄2″ (x 7′) hose to both the inlet and blower ports.

Because it’s one of the larger units, it might be a challenge to use in a small shop. It also requires some quick and easy assembly. I found the canister latches to be a little balky to use, and it wasn’t always clear when or if they engaged properly.

The Craftsman can hold 16 gallons, so a threaded plug on the bottom of the canister (left photo) makes draining liquid easier and more controlled than dumping the tank. Wire retainers on the Craftsman (right photo) provide simple, yet effective hose storage. The large power switch is well placed, and the flat top makes a good storage tray.
The Craftsman can hold 16 gallons, so a threaded plug on the bottom of the canister (left photo) makes draining liquid easier and more controlled than dumping the tank. Wire retainers on the Craftsman (right photo) provide simple, yet effective hose storage. The large power switch is well placed, and the flat top makes a good storage tray.

DeWALT DWV012

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Among the dust extractors, the DeWALT, which costs $500, is a relative bargain. It’s solidly built with high quality materials, and it’s impressively powerful. A lot of attention has been paid to ergonomics. Three handles are provided for wrangling the unit, as well as a rear telescoping handle. The canister latches are large and easy to use, and it has convenient hose and cord storage. A ball-bearing twist lock keeps the 11⁄4″ x 15′ hose securely attached to the inlet port. This vacuum also has an automatic filter cleaner, which clicks loudly about every 30 seconds. The canister accepts accessory paper and fleece filter bags but can be used without them. You can employ this vacuum for any cleaning task, but DeWALT is quick to point out that it’s primarily a dust extractor. And like all the other dust extractors, no accessories are included.

The DeWALT features many nice touches such as simple hose and cord storage (left photo), a telescoping handle and a stable dolly with non-marring wheels and casters. DeWALT’s twin HEPA filters (right photo) are low-profile to allow plenty of room for debris below them in the canister. These are permanent filters that can be cleaned many times.
The DeWALT features many nice touches such as simple hose and cord storage (left photo), a telescoping handle and a stable dolly with non-marring wheels and casters. DeWALT’s twin HEPA filters (right photo) are low-profile to allow plenty of room for debris below them in the canister. These are permanent filters that can be cleaned many times.

Festool CT 26

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From its performance to its price of $625, the Festool leaves no doubt that it’s a premium dust extractor. This is a system vacuum that’s compatible with almost all of the company’s power tools — and other brands — and offers a mind-boggling array of accessories. The CT 26 uses a self-cleaning filter bag to maintain its strong performance, and it has a well-designed hose and cord garage on the top as well as a cord wrap on the back. Other nice touches include a standard 11⁄16″ x 111⁄2′ anti-static hose and a brake to prevent unwanted movement. I found it to be noticeably quieter than the other models, and its rectangular footprint allows it to maneuver easily in tight quarters. The vacuum can also be used as a mobile cart for Systainer® tool and storage boxes. For more capacity, Festool offers the CT 36 and CT 48 models with larger canisters.

Festool’s CT 26 has its auto-start tool outlet under a hinged access door (left photo). When a power tool plugged into this outlet is turned on, the vacuum starts automatically. The Festool features a hose and cord garage on top of the unit, and it also has a cord wrap on the back (right photo). It’s shown here with the optional handle and tool caddy.
Festool’s CT 26 has its auto-start tool outlet under a hinged access door (left photo). When a power tool plugged into this outlet is turned on, the vacuum starts automatically. The Festool features a hose and cord garage on top of the unit, and it also has a cord wrap on the back (right photo). It’s shown here with the optional handle and tool caddy.

Milwaukee 8955

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The Milwaukee is a step-up general purpose vacuum that’s old school, but in a good way. It may look like it’s from the middle of the last century, but its motor and filtration are thoroughly modern. It provides plenty of suction and, because the canister is tall, it can collect a lot of debris below the filter before it needs to be emptied. I found the two-wheel, one-caster dolly arrangement to be easy to maneuver, but not quite as stable as models with four contact points. The power switch is small and hard to see on the back of the motor. I think it should be “Milwaukee red” to at least make it more visible. Unfortunately, there are no cleaning tools included with this model. With its steel tank and simple construction, this vacuum, with its 11⁄2″ x 7′ hose and price of $270, is a workhorse that should last for many years.

Milwaukee’s large pleated filter allows plenty of airflow but still leaves a generous space in the canister for debris. The power switch on the motor housing is small and hard to see.
Milwaukee’s large pleated filter allows plenty of airflow but still leaves a generous space in the canister for debris. The power switch on the motor housing is small and hard to see.

RIDGID WD1851

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The RIDGID seems to get all the details right. It’s a step-up general purpose model that’s feature-rich and easy on the pocketbook with its price of $159. Despite its strong performance, it’s relatively quiet, due in part to the included muffler. There’s a good selection of standard-issue cleaning tools that all fit in the non-fussy fabric tool caddy mounted on the handle. Large wheels and casters provide the unit with excellent mobility over rough surfaces. Additional features including a 21⁄2″ x 7′ locking hose, a bottom-mounted drain for wet pickup and secure canister latching make this a very pleasant vacuum to operate. Some assembly is required, but it doesn’t take long and the parts fit well. This is a nicely made vacuum that has few, if any, disadvantages.

The RIDGID is relatively quiet considering its power. Some of that is attributable to the standard muffler that’s plugged into the outlet port (left photo). The RIDGID uses a thumb-actuated lever to lock its hose to the inlet port. It also features a well-designed rocker power switch, carrying handle and wraparound hose storage (right photo).
The RIDGID is relatively quiet considering its power. Some of that is attributable to the standard muffler that’s plugged into the outlet port (left photo). The RIDGID uses a thumb-actuated lever to lock its hose to the inlet port. It also features a well-designed rocker power switch, carrying handle and wraparound hose storage (right photo).

 

Shop Vac 5873410

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The Shop Vac is a general- purpose model and the most compact model in this group. It’s versatile and excels in the mobility department. I grew to like this vac because it’s a very good performer that’s easy to use anywhere. Priced at $130, it also comes with a generous selection of cleaning tools and even a paper filter bag for collecting fine dust from drywall and concrete. A 11⁄2″ x 12′ hose with a screw lock gives this vacuum more reach than any of the other general-purpose models. The dolly can be removed quickly by pressing a lever, so the vacuum can be converted for handheld use. If space is at a premium and you want a vacuum that’s easy to use anywhere in your home, this is a great choice.

The Shop Vac 5873410 uses a screw connector for attaching the swivel end of the hose (left photo). Its 12’ hose provides exceptional reach for cleaning without having to move the vacuum. The Shop Vac’s jellybean shape makes it easy to maneuver and carry. It also features a convenient top-mounted cord wrap and large rocker-style power switch (right photo).
The Shop Vac 5873410 uses a screw connector for attaching the swivel end of the hose (left photo). Its 12’ hose provides exceptional reach for cleaning without having to move the vacuum. The Shop Vac’s jellybean shape makes it easy to maneuver and carry. It also features a convenient top-mounted cord wrap and large rocker-style power switch (right photo).

WORKSHOP WS1100CA0

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If you’re the super-organized type, you’ll love the WORK- SHOP vacuum. With a price of $250, it’s a general-purpose step-up model that’s designed like a rolling toolbox. There are two slide-out compartments (the top compartment also has a lid) that store the 17⁄8″ x 8′ hose and cleaning tools with motor, filter and canister positioned below them. There’s even a shelf on the back for storing cleaning supplies. Aside from its sleek, functional design this vacuum is a great performer and a very quiet one, too. Other features include a rear-wheel brake to keep the unit stationary, a cord wrap and a locking hose. It’s easy enough to roll the unit but it’s very heavy, so lifting it is a chore. The WORKSHOP seems to be a durable, well- made machine that should provide years of service.

WORKSHOP’s motor, canister and filter are on the bottom of the unit (left photo). The canister is essentially a slide- out bin and includes a drain for liquids on the bottom. Designed much like a rolling tool- box, the WORKSHOP has drawers for its hose and accessories (right photo). The top drawer also uses a lid for additional accessibility.
WORKSHOP’s motor, canister and filter are on the bottom of the unit (left photo). The canister is essentially a slide- out bin and includes a drain for liquids on the bottom. Designed much like a rolling tool- box, the WORKSHOP has drawers for its hose and accessories (right photo). The top drawer also uses a lid for additional accessibility.

Sound and Size

Earlier, I gave you a heads-up on filter and hose size details you should consider in your search for the right shop vacuum. Sound and size are also important considerations.

Although several manufacturers list the decibel level of their vacuums, how and where the measurement is taken makes a difference, as does the frequency of the sound. Fortunately, none of the vacuums were uncomfortably loud, but I’d still recommend wearing hearing protection.

Finally, unless you intend to use your shop vacuum as a stationary dust collector, you should consider the size of its footprint, its dolly and how the accessories, cord and hose are stored. Large casters and wheels will ease travel over rough and uneven surfaces, and a handle will make maneuvering a vacuum much easier.

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  • Kiser01

    I bought the Ridgid vacuum for cleaning my shop floor and also for dust collection. I made a collector out of a trash can and attached the vacuum to it. I then came out of the trash can with a 4″ Y connector. I ran a short 4″ hose with a gate to my Lathe. and stepped down to a 2 1/2″ 15′ hose with a gate that I use on smaller tools and as a vacuum with the Ridgid attachments. This combination works great in my huge 8′ X 15′ woodworking shop and the Ridgid has plenty of suction. Also, I placed a vacuum bag which is sold separate in side the canister to catch any dust or pieces that may get through the dust collector.

    • I’m leaning on going this route. What size of Ridgid vac are you using?

  • Darin Clements

    I’ve been a “professional” remodeler for 20 years and I only use Rigid vacs. When I first started out, I used Shop Vac and wasn’t impressed at all. Rigid combines cost, quality, and usability to make for a fine tool.

    • Philip Palmer

      I am a retired pro remodeler and still make furniture and cabinetry in my shop. I also used Rigid shop vacs exclusively. When I sold my business 5 years ago to retire, I kept two vacs (a large roller and a battery powered portable, both two years old at the time) that are still running strong today. Every time I see a fancy new innovative vac I sometimes curse the reliability of the Rigid vacs that keeps me from buying something new. 😉

  • Christian

    The best addition to any of these systems would be the dust deputy by oneida. That cyclone does the trick and prevents me from having to replace so many hepa filters.

  • Raymond Paquette

    I just threw out my Lowes branded Shop Vac. It has at most three hours on it and the motor died. Everything except the motor checks out. Chinese motor? In any event I was told “so sorry to hear that. We have some on sale if you want to buy another”. I said I’d think about it. I went to Home Depot and checked out the Rigid. Hallelujah, it is guaranteed for life!! Big decision… buy one guaranteed for life, or one guaranteed until I plug it in. Bought the Rigid and went back to Lowes and told them where they could put my Lowes credit card!

  • loverpoint

    I want the shop vac with the best Hepa filtration . I am wondering why the PulseBac shop vac is not mentioned in this testing, is it because it is not a giant tool supplier like DeWalt and others ? . I have seen videos of it on UTube and have read some of the specs on its ability to filter the smallest particles of dust . My concerns are having a shop vac with the best HEPA and one that provides constant maximum suction .