Harbor Freight - 2 hp dust collector (Rating: 4)

I am going to post this comment, or something similar to it, elsewhere on this site to get the best chance of feedback.

I am a 70-year-old retired worker but am now also a working artist who does wall-hanging collages made from enameled or stained wood pieces. I have items in a half-dozen galleries and outlets in this town and another town close by, and the income from the projects helps to supplement my retirement income. It also helps to keep my wife from harping about me needing to get a part-time job.

Anyway, I purchased my model 97869 HF dust collector last week and have only run it for a short time. I do woodworking (the collages, plus other projects) out in my back yard, which is a "natural" yard with plenty of trees, lots of leaf mulch, and NO grass. Plenty of shade, too, which is good, because my workshop is small (200 square feet) and I do a lot of work out on a 10×17 foot adjacent deck. Most of my bigger tools (jobsite saw, band saw, jointer, thickness planer, sliding miter saw, bench-top shaper, 6×48 bench-top sander, etc.) are on stands that have wheels. (My big drill press stays indoors.) I just move the items out onto the deck and cut, sand, and plane as required, with the dust collector working without bags or filters (maximizing efficiency) and blowing the dust and chips out onto a tarp that I temporarily lay down on the ground to catch the stuff. To aim the dust as required I picked up some large plumbing sections (90 degree and 45 degree) that are attached to the top (and removable for storage) and vent in any direction I choose. The pieces are black, so they fit in with the style of the blower.

After a work session I merely pick up the tarp (an old shower curtain, actually) and fling the dust to a part of the yard away from the work area. The yard is large enough for the buildup to never be a problem.

I had no mounting problems with the metal base that came with the unit, because I did not use it. I made a new, much-smaller bass out of plywood and 2×4 pieces and mounted the unit on it and the wheels underneath. Solid and portable (and painted black for style), allowing me to roll the unit into my shop and stash it under one of my work benches.

This dust collector seems to work quite well. It is considerably more powerful than the 7-amp GMC unit that I was using before, and since I will hook up three tools at a time to the collector when doing my work the extra suction is worthwhile. (I do not use the thing with my sander, since it efficiently vents the small amount of dust into the open air and I let gravity handle the output from my jointer, with a newspaper catching the chips as they slide down the chute.)

Some points about this dust collector that may be of interest and help to our readers.

1. The 20-amp motor is rated at "peak" amps, which is almost a useless specification. No mention of the steady draw, but it is probably in the 12 to 15 amp range. I am basing this on the air pressure I feel with my hands in comparison to the 7-amp GMC, as well as on number two, below.

2. Relating to number one, above, the 6-foot power cord is a 16 AWG type, which is obviously NOT thick enough to comfortably handle even 15 amps, let alone 20. This is probably due to the often sloppy way Chinese manufacturers will build an item that is strong in one respect and weak in important other respects, even with upscale tools, let alone budget HF versions. I replaced my cord with a 12-foot 14 AWG type, easy to do with this machine.

3. The impeller appears to be a roughly 9-inch job, made of steel, and is vibration free. This appears to be the same diameter as the one in my much smaller GMC unit (which was not vibration free when new; I had to install small weights to fix that problem), although the individual blade pieces are a bit wider. (Pictures of both units side by side, as well as the HF alone with its amiable exit ports, are attached.) I cannot guarantee the exact size measurements of either impeller, since I did not remove the outer covers and do an exact check. Instead, I did my measuring by inserting a ruler into the housings through the outlets and up against the center shaft of the impeller and noted the distance to the outer edge. With both units it was 4 inches, which tells me (assuming about an inch thickness for the center shaft section) that the overall diameters were roughly 9 inches. (One review I read of this unit said it had a 10-inch impeller, but perhaps there were variations during the construction runs.) Interestingly, the housing is big enough to handle a 10, 11, or even a 12 incher, and one wonders why the smaller size was chosen. However, it may be related to it being wired only for 120 volts. A bigger impeller would put the motor under greater load, increasing the current draw, I think, mandating a 240-volt feed. The smaller impeller keeps the unit out of electrical trouble with the input.

4. The motor itself seems very solidly built, with the shell made of cast iron instead of the usual steel. It may be an old design, but as long as the bearings are good it should hold up.

5. The on-off switch appears to be a 10-amp rated type, which makes it too small for the current draw, even if the 20-amp rating is radically bogus. This switch looks identical to the one on my 7-amp GMC. and even with that low rating the GMC switch pitted enough over time to give me trouble. I took the switch apart and cleaned off the burned marks and it works OK now, but it will eventually do the same thing all over. Fortunately, switches like this are easy to take apart and clean up (and cheap to buy), but it is likely that the one on the HF unit, with its obviously much larger motor, will pit up and cause problems much sooner than the one on the GMC did. Consequently, I will order a 20-amp switch (probably from Grizzly) to replace it.

I run two power lines to my shop from the house. One is an 8 AWG line for the power tools (and the AC or heater units when I work indoors at smaller tasks). The other is a 12 AWG line for the lights and dust collector (and dehumidifier for use during damp days when I am not in the shop and it is neither hot nor cold). There are outlets for both circuits both in the shop and out on the deck. The first line had been protected by a 25-amp breaker and the second by a 20-amp breaker. However, I have upgraded the second to a 25-amp type (admittedly pushing the 12 AWG wire feed to the safety limit) and bumped the first to 30 amps (which the 8 AWG wire should have no problems with). The idea is to make sure that the HF unit does not trip the breaker if the load, in combination with the shop lights is just a tad too much for the old breaker during start ups.

Time will tell if this unit does the job. I ran the old GMC continuously and it never let me down, except for that switch. The HF unit will be run similarly as I do my work out on my work deck. It had better do the job, because my mods have already violated the warranty.

One final note. A question, actually. Does anybody here know of a source to purchase a larger impeller?

Howard Ferstler