Ventilation in the shop

Ever since setting up my workshop last month, I’ve been working on making the space as versatile and organized as possible–a bit of a trial and error process. One step in the right direction was setting up a ventilation system so that the fumes and dust created by the various projects would be taken care of. While this is not the most glamorous project, it sure is necessary!

At first, I was going to put off such a project since my rather limited funds asked to be put towards a new creation, not infrastructure; but the more I thought about it, the more important proper ventilation seemed to be. Welding, cutting and soldering all make some pretty nasty fumes and dust that would be better off not to have in my lungs. So what does a ventilation system actually entail? Here were my three requirements:

  1. Take care of the fumes and smoke of welding, soldering, etc
  2. Remove or collect dust and wood chips as they’re produced
  3. Relatively cheap, versatile and easy to use[1]

At first it seems a simple fan would be the best choice for solving #1 since there is bountiful air outside and “dilution is the best solution”. While a fan certainly would take care of the fumes, I still wasn’t sure about how I wanted it set up.

Combining #2 and #3 was the more daunting challenge since any solution that seemed obvious was also either expensive or difficult to use. For example, a shop-vac would certainly take care of the wood chips, but a large vacuum would not be easy to use in a small shop. The alternative to a large vacuum would be several small shop-vacs, which while easy to use by virtue of being always setup, they seemed far from economical. After playing around with an old canister-style vacuum I no longer use, I realized that a vacuum system would work quite well.

A vacuum system, like those old house vacs, is a central vacuum unit connected to a network of pipes, and therefore enable vacuuming from anywhere. Just as a power tool can be plugged into any outlet and work, why not make it so I can plug my hose into any vacuum outlet?

By building the system out of an old vacuum and 1″ PVC piping, the whole system cost less than $15 and enabled the vacuum hose to be connected anywhere in the room.

One change I’ll make once the system is setup and working the way it should be to drill holes in the ceiling and route most of the PVC through the attic above the garage. That way the amount of visible piping will be minimized, but such a project is a bit more permanent than I was willing to do the first time through.


  1. I learned a long time ago that any system that is not ‘easy to use’ is a system that is left unused.

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