Home > Woodworking > If you’ve never failed …….

If you’ve never failed …….

….. you’re not trying very hard.

Last week I scrubbed the Net for design ideas and then visited both the blue and orange home centers to purchase materials. By the weekend I felt ready to give the Thien baffle dust/chip separator build a go.  Actually I have two Shop-Vacs  (large and small) so I had two builds in mind. Admittedly there is a lot of information, including many great photos and discussions about these devices but I still didn’t have actual plans for either version of the baffle.  I did my best to sort it, and started by building the smaller version this weekend.

The Materials

Homer Bucket Baffle

The raw materials for the smaller 5 gal chip separator baffle included a 5 gal plastic pail with lid (“Homer Bucket”), 10″ wide aluminum flashing, a 2’x4′- 1/2″  birch plywood and a length of corrugated bilge pump discharge hose. I would have preferred a plain white bucket but at twice the price, I figured orange was the new white! Hey I can use that $2 elsewhere in the build 😉

I wasn’t all that pleased with the prospect of using a plastic snap-on bucket lid because I didn’t think it would hold up that well with a baffle mounted on top of it and it would be difficult to get on and off.  I ran across the this screw on lid and even though it cost more than the bucket+lid I purchased it any way because I liked the idea. Now you see where I invested that $2 savings.

5 Gal Screw Top Lid

Design Challenges

Well to start with, I didn’t have any plans. I was basing this effort on Mr. Stumpy Nubs’ design so I watched his video a few times until I think I had enough information to get started.

Stumpy Nubs 5 gal Thien Baffle

In my opinion the most difficult part of this build if the fact that the device must be air tight and must survive the “rigors of a vacuum”. The baffle doesn’t mate well with the lid, the wood has gaps as well as the metal flashing. I probably should have used 3/4″ plywood instead 1/2″ but that was what I had on hand. The 3/4″ ply would have cleared the lip of the lid better. Another issue that folks don’t seem to discuss a great deal is where to find vacuum cleaner hoses and adapters. Shop-vac parts are shamefully over priced and you can pay as much as $10 for plastic union. Seems like they want between $30 and $40 for a replacement hose. I seriously considered buying a new vacuum cleaner over buying a hose. But yet I digress.

I didn’t look forward to working with the metal either so I decided to use the full 10″ width instead of trying to rip it down. I knew that all of this would need to be sealed so I “shopped at home” and found a caulk that I thought might work.

The Frame

So with only some pictures and a tape measure, I begin the build. Right from the start I decided that since cyclones rotate counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, I was going to build mine facing the other way versus Stumpy’s.  As is typical with any of my work the first cut I made was wrong. I decided to start by cutting out one of the 10 1/2″ circles on the band saw and started by hacking off the other side of the 2’x4′ panel. I forgot that I wasn’t cutting a circle rather a circle with a baffle spout on one side.

Baffle Wood Pieces

Piece by piece I cut out the frame. On the trailing edges of the intake I cut a bevel in an attempt to encourage the particle flow into a cyclone. Because I thought of this after the fact only one was cut on the table saw. For the longer piece, I used a spoke shave on it while in situ.

Of course I didn’t have a Forstner bit nor a hole saw in the diameter required by the hose connector so I used an 1-1/4″ hole saw and a drum sander on the drill press, sanding until I had a perfect fit. Fortunately it wasn’t a big deal to cut a small rectangular patch to mend cutting mistake on the intake spout.

Frame Mostly Completed

I think it would have been easier to cut the holes in the bottom panel where the waste falls away before constructing the frame but truthfully, I hadn’t fully formulated a plan at this point.  I wasn’t even sure if I was going to use the plain plastic snap-on lid or the fancy screw on lid at this point.

Now that the baffle frame was mostly constructed it was time to give serious thought to mounting it. A decision was made to go with the groovy screw-on lid. I also decided to use some scrap pipe insulation to form a make-shift O-ring which would also even out the irregularities of the lid top. Note this was foam insulation but in hindsight I think the more rubbery insulation would have been a better choice. I had both on-hand but thought this would be easier to work with. It was but I think the seal would be better with the rubber.

Decision Made - Screw-on Lid it is!

Pressing on with the build, I lined up the baffle to the lid then marked and cut out the waste holes. I then counter bored and bolted the baffle to the lid with 4 bolts

Lining up the Holes

Waste Holes - Bottom View

Now I was ready to attach the  baffle top. I haven’t mentioned it but I used my pin nailer (1″ pins) and glue on this assembly.

Top Attached

And finally to apply the skin.

Caulked and Skinned Caulked and Skinned

The caulking was applied as a sealant/mastic and the aluminum skin was formed around the baffle. My exposure to the metal sharp edges was minimal, I only had to make a couple of straight cuts and one significant bend to form the aluminum to the baffle spout. The product came in a coil so I used that to my advantage as I glued and screwed it around the circumference of the baffle. I used small brass screws because I had them on hand. Would have used nails but the 3d nails I had were finish nails and I wanted fasteners with a head on them.

The Result

So having started with a little work Friday night and another half day of shop time on Saturday, I was finally ready for a test. Isn’t this where I’m supposed to  video myself dumping table saw dust  onto shop floor and then suck the entire pile into the bucket, thus demonstrating the awesomeness of my new build?

Here is my obligatory dust photo to prove that my Thien style baffle in fact worked. I only had a little dust, I sucked it up, it worked.

It Works!

Unfortunately there were problems. The first problem, it leaked. When I fired up the vacuum cleaner, the baffle began making a hideous squealing noise as air was sucked across the aluminum sheets it vibrated making a terrible sound. And of course I’m sure many of you picked this up at the beginning of my post, the flashing just isn’t up to the task without a proper frame to stretch it over. Naturally the aluminum was crushed under the weight of the atmosphere. Crushed like a can of pop 😦

Fail !?!

I feared this from the moment I saw the material in the big box store but I soldiered on anyway. I’m thinking the material could yet work if I were to support it with vertical stretchers along the back side. I could use dowels but it would probably be better to shape the supports for the best dynamic flow, remember this is supposed to be a cyclone inside so one would want to do everything possible to reduce turbulence.

I don’t think I’m going to go that route however. Shopping at home again, I found an old 5 gal plastic pail so I think I’m going to use that for skinning. I’ll cut off the top and the bottom and split it open and it should conform nicely to the shape of the baffle. It might not be a perfect fit but it should be close and it should be strong.


I went round and round with this last week but I think in hind sight, I should have gone with my original plan and that is to have purchased the Oneida Dust Deputy with 10 gal steel drum. For $150, I’d already be sucking up and separating chips instead of planning a build repair. I’ve already read enough reviews to know that the Oneida Dust Deputy is the real deal and frankly you really can’t build one for much less money (the DIY Dust Deputy is $40 and ready to mount). I actually decided to try these builds on the principle that I can learn something along the way and if I’m going to spend money, let me spend it on something that I can make. After all, I am a hobbyist and this is my recreation. I’ve used similar logic in brewing; even though I get great deals on commercial beer every year through my brew club, I choose not to buy them on the principle that I am a brewer and if I’m going to spend money on beer it should be supplies to brew my own.

So have you ever had a shop failure? If not you’re simply not trying hard enough….

You have been reading an excerpt from the shop journal of the Turtlecovebrewer.

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