Bucket Vacuum Cleaner for Shop and Yard Work
I needed to clean out 50 years of cobwebs and dirt from two garages and a shed. The cobwebs were like a Hollywood horror movie and I needed to enter the shed armed with a broom and a shotgun. A little 1000 Watt home vacuum cleaner would be instantly full, so I disassembled an old one and mounted the parts on top of a big bucket from the Hornbach hardware store, to give the little sucker a fighting chance. All the surplus Covid filter masks also came in handy in the shed while cleaning.
It Takes Two to Tango!
The trick is to use two buckets, one inside another, like two paper cups, otherwise the bucket can collapse when the pipe clogs up. Screw the outer bucket to the castor wheel plate, then you can simply remove the light weight inner bucket only, to empty the cleaner.
The most difficult part of this project, is to disassemble the old cleaner. Evil one-time snaps and hidden little screws, may require using a wrecking bar and hack saw to pry the thing apart.
A home vac is a very simple device with essentially just one part - the motor-compressor unit.
The one I took apart also had a triac speed control, so that went into a little wooden box. I turned the speed down just a tad, to reduce the turbine screaming a bit. I've been wondering whether one could just stick a diode in series with an overpowered universal motor to slow it down to a more acceptable noise level, but that may damp it too much.
The motor is simply held down with three pieces of rigid strapping (a holy metal strip, normally used to tie roof rafters together), on top of the original rubber gasket. Cover any exposed wiring with self vulcanizing tape, or hot glue, to keep you from dancing on the ceiling if you would touch it. Mount a round cartridge air filter (from a large truck engine or another kind of shop vac) under the motor on the inside of the lid. I again used some rigid strapping, washers and screws and a Stonehenge like ring of dowels to keep the filter cartridge in place. To clean the filter when the vac doesn't want to suck any more, simply toss it high up into the air in the back garden a few times, when the neighbours are not around.
The suction pipe was semi-permanently glued into a hole in the lid with construction glue. If your old vacuum cleaner still has a functional pipe attachment mechanism, you may be able to re-use that - mine was worn out - the reason the vac was discarded.
Four little dowel sticks locate the lid on the bucket. You could slit open some rubber/foam tubing for a better seal around the bucket edge, but in my prototype, the smooth MDF board simply pressed against the top of the edge of the PVC bucket and it worked well enough. If the motor can dent the bucket when the pipe is blocked with your hand, then it is sufficiently sealed. If it collapses the bucket, then you need to drill a little 3 to 5 mm hole somewhere to let off some steam!
A bottom MDF board with four castor wheels, rounds out the project.
Airflow and Vortex Voodoo
A vacuum cleaner really works with air flow, not vacuum. When high speed air from the hose enters the large diameter bucket, it acts like an expansion chamber and the air flow slows down dramatically, causing any dirt to fall to the bottom, but be sure to extend the inlet pipe to below the filter, else the dirt will clog the filter in no time. You can keep vacuuming up debris till the bucket is almost half full.
There are lots of vortex voodoo videos on Yootoob about making your own shop vacuum cleaner in the most complicated way imaginable. This however, is for those who like to keep it simple: Just mount everything on the lid of a bucket and be done with it. For the ultimate lazy, almost never need emptying shop vac, you could mount the compressor on the lid of a 120 litre wheelie garbage bin, but I wanted it a little smaller!
I still want to put a case around the motor, to dampen the noise and maybe use it as a leaf blower, but then I need a removable pipe. I also need to fashion a better hold down than the two bungee cords, but this prototype setup works a treat already.
This kind of kludge could be plugged into the blow hole of a woodworking saw or sander, but it would not be able to handle a large hobłovačka (a wood thickness planer for the Slavik impaired). A planer makes a mind boggling amount of wood chips and requires a very large 4 inch pipe vac which will cost a king's ransom. With my Güde 405 planer, I don't use the dust funnel at all, jammed an Ikea pencil into the safety switch (Whenever I go to Ikea I collect a few pencils - they are very useful for dowel rods and could even be used for writing too!) and taped a large bag to the output side of the machine, so that most of the chips will fall into the bag - then I use an old broom and my bucket vac to clean up the rest of the mess when I'm done.
Long Distance Tubing
If you have a few bucks to burn, get 10 meters of 50 mm diameter 'garden pond suction pipe' (it is corrugated on the outside and smooth on the inside, for good flow) and use that for your vacuum cleaner. Then you can put the banshee screamer outside the door of the shop, to save your ears from the whining noise (and annoy the neighbours instead).
Every hand tool seems to have a different size blow hole, from 21 mm to 32 mm or thereabouts. One can get conical adaptors to cut to size for a ridiculous amount of money, but I simply use a few turns of masking tape to fasten the vacuum nozzle to a circular saw, jigsaw, or hand planer. This makes it somewhat annoying when changing tools, but the conical widgets tend to fall out, requiring some tape anyway.
Some tools do not have a blow hole at all - for example a drill or a 1/4 sheet orbital sander. I simply tape the snozzle of the pipe to the side of the machine and most of the dust then disappears into its maw.
It is amazing how much more pleasant it is to do woodwork when most of the dust is removed and you can actually breathe and see what you are doing!