The tale of the Cyclone - part 1

by Mark Hochstein

I have been contemplating the purchase of a new dust collection system for several years. After entirely too much research I decided that a two-stage cyclone system was what I neededwanted. I also wanted to make sure that this was the last dust collector I would ever buy.

Next I had to decide which model to go with. Recently several manufacturers have come to market with some nice portable 1 1/2hp and 2hp models that are very attractive. They all feature remote controls and self-cleaning filters. A little more research lead me to discover that the reason they needed the “self-cleaning” filter feature was due to the fact that the portable models all had a fairly stubby cyclone funnel in order to be compact enough to be portable and to have a low enough center-of-gravity to be stable. That leads to the cyclone not separating the material from the air as effectively before heading into the filter. In addition, none of the models I was considering had certified HEPA filters which, for me, was a requirement. In addition I found that for the suction I needed to really collect the fine dust, 2hp simply wasn’t going to cut it. So, I ruled out the portable models.


Of the fixed models the choice was quickly reduced to four manufacturers - Oneida Air Systems, Penn State Industries, Grizzly and Clear Vue Cyclones. The Clear Vue cyclone looks really cool because it’s made of clear lucite. You can actually see your dust and shavings spinning around and dropping into the barrel. This particular design has a very loyal following in the woodworking community and by all reports works exceptionally well. Ultimately I eliminated it though for three reasons: 1) It doesn’t take long for the inside of the lucite to become etched from the dust and then it’s just a brown plastic milky looking cyclone 2) User fabrication is required using MDF and while it may work well it just doesn’t look professional to me and frankly, I didn’t feel like spending a bunch of time just trying to build the system. 3) They require the use of a 5hp motor to do the same work as the other systems. The 5hp motor draws more amps than my circuit is wired to handle. I found out this is apparently because they use a lower efficiency motor than some of the other manufacturers, but I'm not necessarily convinced of this so I’d love to hear more on this subject from some knowledgeable EE’s.


Next in line was a Penn State system. The little portable 1hp unit I’ve been using for the last 12 years is a Penn State model and it’s served me fine. The Penn State fan curves look pretty good too, but their systems definitely cut come corners to save cost. For example, the filters are connected to the unit with flex hose and they just sit on the floor next to the unit. They have good filters and everyone who owns one has good things to says, but no one was able to do a head-to-head comparison and none of the magazines have reviewed these units in many years. I knew I had to see it for myself. Fortunately I managed to have a Philadelphia layover that got in early enough for me to hop on the train out to the Penn State showroom - which is co-located with MLCS Woodworking and now Eagle America in the Philly suburbs.

When I got there I asked to see the Tempest unit that I was considering. They didn’t have the exact one set up, but they did have a similar model set up in their shop. I asked what the difference was between it and the present model other than the motor size and he said it was just the impeller size. The unit really was about what I expected. Sufficient, but it kind of reminded me of Russian Aircraft - brute force engineering - nothing was elegant or particularly well constructed. The main parts of the system are made from 17 gauge steel, but the other parts are from much thinner gauge stuff. To be honest, it looked like typical Chinese work. Sufficient, but nothing to be proud of.


Third in line was the Grizzly. I knew a local woodworker who had installed a Grizzly cyclone. I arranged to go to his shop to check it out. I have a Grizzly jointer so I already know the quality of some of their products. I say some because I have had quite a few issues with Grizzly, their shipping and the fit & finish. If you get a good one it's a great value, but unfortunately you might have to fight a bit to get there. Anyway, I got to his house and he had a 3hp Grizzly Cyclone installed. The dust collector functioned very well. I examined the construction of the machine which seemed to basically parallel the Penn State system. It was OK, but nothing to brag about. The plastic bag at the bottom of the filter and the flex-hose connecting the filter to the cyclone seemed a bit cheap to me.

I was going to have to see an Oneida-Air system in person in order to make this decision.

The Oneida system was about $200 more expensive but by all reports had the best airflow of any system out there - and as a bonus it is all made in the USA. They use a Baldor 3hp motor and the whole system has a 5 year warranty.


It took a few months but I was able to manage a meet-up with another woodworker who had the exact Oneida Air system I was considering. When I got a chance to see the system the decision was an easy one. The fit and finish of the system greatly exceeded the Penn State and Grizzly systems. The metal was significantly heavier - which would come back to haunt me during the install.

In addition, the filter is connected with a nice composite plenum which holds the filter up off of the floor. My philosphy is that I’m willing to pay more for good engineering and this was it.

So, I took the leap and ordered the Pro 1500 system. Oneida was also willing to do the system design, but after sitting down and doing some planning myself I felt like I had a pretty good handle on that - my duct layout just isn’t that complex.

I also discovered that we have a manufacturer of spiral pipe right here in Baltimore - Phoenix Metals. They were great to work with. I sent them my ducting order and it took them three days to get it all together. All of the Lateral-T’s were custom fabricated and the sales guy I was working with, Chris, had his guys seals all the joints inside and out with duct mastic. I was very happy with their work and I saved about $700 over what it would have cost me to ship similar pipe from someone else.

This is by no means the difinitive word on selecting a dust collection system, just my personal journey through the process. I'm posting this because it may be of some help to one of you when you are doing the same research some day. Of course the market is a fluid one and manufacturers modify and update their systems all the time so the currency of the information should be considered.

Next post: Running the ductwork and installing the system

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