Tool Box Buzz

Best Dust Extractor – Head-To-Head

Best Dust Extractor

Construction is a messy business and dust is one of the biggest evils in our industry. Not only can dust be destructive to personal property but is dangerous to our health. Recent OSHA regulations have highlighted how dangerous dust can be and how important it is to capture dust on the jobsite. In our latest Head-to-Head tool testing we evaluated eight of the industries top Dust Collectors in the 8 to 12 gallon capacity size. The lineup includes dust extractors from: Bosch, DEWALT, Fein, Festool, Hilti, Makita, Metabo and Milwaukee. Read on to find out who makes the Best Dust Extractors!

Dust Extractor Lineup

The eight dust extractors used in this Head-to-Head evaluation are listed below. A link to each is included with specific manufacturer specifications.

Dust Extractor Testing / Evaluation

For the Dust Extractor Head-to-Head we evaluated the tools in the following categories:

All of these tests and evaluations were performed by our Tool Box Buzz Team of contractors. Each of the guys on the team is a contractor, a PRO, a guy that actually uses tools every day to make a living. We know you have lots of places to get this sort of evaluation of tools, but we think ours are the best based on our vast construction experience.

Using Fleece Bags as Primary Filter

For the air volume, suction, and airwatts measurements and calculations, testing was done with clean dust extractors as an “out of the box” baseline. Each dust extractor was equipped with a filter(s) and a fleece bag (without a bag the filters would clog very fast, and we always recommend using fleece bags on the jobsite).

In the second round of testing each dust extractor was used to suck up 20 lbs of drywall compound powder before performing all the measurements and calculations. This helps show the potential performance in a real application. Certainly the results could vary depending on the application, but we felt this was a great way to show before and after performance.

As stated above, we used fleece bags in all of the dust extractors as the primary filter to prevent premature clogging of the pleated filters. Using fleece bags increases the life of the pleated filters (they cost far more than the fleece bags), increases the life of the motor, and makes cleanup easier and safer for users.

Fleece filter bags drastically reduce your EXPOSURE to the vacuum contents – such as silica or lead paint. The use of fleece filter bags is a best-practice methodology, and this was validated by all but one of the vacuum manufacturers that we interviewed for this article. You can learn more about this topic in the following article: using fleece bags in dust extractors.

Dust Extractors – Testing Measurements

One of the key reasons to develop a Head-to-Head test of dust extractors is to objectively measure the relative differences in performance. Tool Box Buzz carefully researched how to best derive these measurements. Our goal was to create a series of measurements that accurately depicted the unit performance.

Our research led us to an industry standard of Airwatt as the objective criteria for overall unit performance, as this unit of measurement is dependent on both pure suction power (measured by inches of water column) and air flow (measured by cubic feet per minute – CFM).

An Airwatt or air watt is a measurement unit of the effectiveness of vacuum devices which relates the relationship between the airflow produced, the suction and the amount of power (watts) a vacuum cleaner produces and uses. The formula we used to compute airwattage was calculated using the  ASTM International Standard ASTM F558 – 13.  The formula for this ASTM standard is: P = 0.117354 x (F) x  (S).

’P’ is the measured and derived power in airwatts,’F’ is the rate of air flow in cubic feet per minute (denoted in cu ft/min or CFM) and ‘S’ is the suction capacity expressed as a pressure in units of inches of water column. The constant in the equation (0.117354) makes the calculated result, over a wide range, come out to where one airwatt is roughly equal to one electrical watt. Our testing methods enabled us to calculate the Airwatt or ‘P’ for each dust collector.

We needed two test jigs built  – one to produce inches of water column (S) and one to give us airflow CFM (F).

Air Volume Measurements


To accurately measure the air volume (flow) through the dust collectors, TBB used a commercial Dwyer hot-wire anemometer. This measuring device has a probe in the air stream that has two openings. In one opening, there is a temperature sensor. In the other opening is a very small wire that is heated up by a power source in the anemometer. As the air flows over the heated wire and cools the wire, additional power is supplied to keep the wire at a constant temperature. The additional power needed is directly correlated to the air flow over the wire. TBB constructed a jig to hold the anemometer probe in the center of the airflow to consistently test units. A close up view of the front of the CFM test rig follows:

TBB took CFM measurements after each unit had run for one and one half minutes. This 90 second run time allowed the anemometer to reach a steady state and allowed the anemometer to calculate and record the average readings for CFM over that timescale. The nearby decibel meter had a stopwatch feature that was consistently used to time the 90-second period for both the CFM and sound level readings. Also, each vacuum was on full power, and if available, had the auto-clean feature turned on.

It’s important to note that our CFM measurements will be consistently lower than the manufacturers published data. All but Makita test their CFM at the bare motor inlet. Makita tests theirs at the end of the supplied hose. Our tests were conducted at the opening of the canister with a fleece bag and standard filter attached.. Our testing was done consistently for each unit and provides a more realistic measurement during actual use.

It’s also important to realize that most manufacturers are focusing on CFM as a direct result of the OSHA regulations for silica exposure. Table 1 sets CFM limits for applications like grinding wheels. For a hand held grinder it requires 25 CFM per inch diameter of the grinding wheel. So if you want to use a 6″ grinding wheel, you’ll need a dust extractor that’s capable of producing 150 CFM at a minimum. The tool owner or operator must use the manufactures’ certified data in determining compliance with OSHA for selection of grinding wheel size or any other such determinations. TBB data cannot be used for any compliance determinations.

Suction Measurements

Water Column Jig

To measure static power (suction) we used both an industrial gauge that registered up to 200 inches of water column, and a water column test. The water column test is a much more visual representation of suction so it’s a great way to show the relative suction of the dust collectors. We also used the gauge to calibrate the water column jig that TBB built. The Water Column Jig had a clear 2” PVC water column that visually indicated the suction power of the test units using colored water and a measurement scale. TBB marked the maximum water column reading on to the PVC column with tape that indicated the unit name and test type. The units were tested with the manufacturers’ supplied hoses for each unit and the hose was coupled to the Water Column with airtight rubber compression fittings.

TBB also used the industrial gauge to measure the test units’ suction to create a second set of readings to ensure a good correlation between results of the Water Column and the industrial gauge. Also, each vacuum was on full power, and if available, had the auto-clean feature turned on.

Dust Collector Noise Measurements

For each dust collector we also measured the noise in decibels. During the CFM test, we placed a decibel meter in the same exact location (we placed tape on the floor so the supporting tripod was in the same location) for each vacuum and measured the average and maximum decibel level. Measurements were recorded both when the vacuums were clean, and when they were dirty with drywall compound (under extreme motor performance, the sound levels are higher).

Dust Extractor Head-to-Head Results

Measured Air Flow (Volume) Results

Below are the results from our air flow tests. The measured air flow in CFM is shown for both the clean and dirty dust extractors after sucking up 20 lbs of drywall compound. For the clean condition the top three included:

  1. Hilti 172.2 CFM
  2. Festool 159.5 CFM
  3. DEWALT 153.4 CFM

In the second test with a dirty fleece bag and filter, the top three were:

  1. Makita 134.2 CFM
  2. Festool 129.7 CFM
  3. Hilti 111.7 CFM

What’s quite glaring in the results is the drastic drop by DEWALT from third place to last place in eighth.

Measured Suction (Water Column) Results

Below are the results of the suction (water column) tests. The measured suction (water column in inches) is shown for both the clean and dirty dust extractors after sucking up 20 lbs of drywall compound. For the baseline clean dust extractors the top three included:

  1. Hilti 97.8 inches
  2. Festool 96.3 inches
  3. Makita 93.4 inches

After sucking up the drywall compound the top three remained the same with:

  1. Hilti 99.4 inches
  2. Festool 97.5 inches
  3. Makita 91.5 inches

Interestingly enough both Hilti and Festool recorded slightly higher suction values in the dirty configuration. Statistically there really isn’t much difference between their first and second test however. DEWALT struggled in this test and was significantly lower than the rest of the field.

Airwatts – Results

Below are the results of the airwatt calculations. The top three in the clean condition were:

  1. Hilti 1,986
  2. Festool 1,801
  3. Makita 1,653

The results after sucking up 20 lbs of drywall compound were:

  1. Festool 1,483
  2. Makita 1,440
  3. Hilti 1,302

Again we see DEWALT drastically fall off and this is due to it’s struggle in the suction testing above. Both Bosch and Milwaukee dropped about 40% from clean to dirty which is also something to consider when evaluating this data.

Noise Results

Below are the results from our decibel measurements.  We recorded the average sound level along with the maximum values. As you can see below the top three quietest were:

  1. Makita 76.3 db (83.3 db max)
  2. Milwaukee 79.8 db (84.0 db max)
  3. Metabo 80.6 db (89.4 db max)

While the results might look really close, differences in decibel levels are logarithmic, so levels of 90 are actually MUCH higher than levels of 80, essentially 10 times louder. Noise is a serious hazard in construction so any tool that offers lower sound signatures are important for hearing protection.

Dust Extractor Costs

Cost is always a factor in determining what tool to buy. Below is a chart showing current pricing (at the time of this publication) for each of the dust extractors that we tested. Both DEWALT and Makita ring in at the lowest cost of $529 which is almost half the cost of the highest priced Hilti at $949. It’s worth pointing out that the total cost may be a bit deceiving, especially with companies like Hilti and Festool that offer robust warranties. Hilti offers a 20 year limited warranty and a 2 year wear and tear warranty and Festool offers full coverage for 3 years, both are significantly longer than any of the other tool manufacturers.  While we’re not going to dig into the details of the warranties here, it should be looked at when considering to the total cost of ownership.

Ergonomic / Feature Results

Ergonomics are critically important when considering new tools. For this evaluation we included a long list of features in our ergonomic evaluation. Our team of contractors rated each feature from 1 to 3 for each dust extractor with 1 being the best score and 3 being the lowest score. The average score across each category was used to rank the dust extractors with the top three being:

  1. Fein with an average score of 1.24
  2. Milwaukee with an average score of 1.53
  3. Bosch, Hilti and Metabo tying for third with an average score of 1.71

Overall Winner – Best Dust Extractor – HILTI VC 150-10 XE

The toughest part of these Tool Box Buzz Head-to-Head evaluations is coming up with an overall winner. The TBB team has been working hard to develop a good ranking system. The current ranking system assigns a number from 1 being the winner of a category up to the total number of entries. Each category is added up and the tool with the lowest overall score is the winner. Below is a table with all the results from each category. As usual, the top three tools were extremely close and rightfully so as they are excellent dust extractors.

First Place – Hilti

Coming in first place, and what we consider to be the BEST dust extractor on the market today is the Hilti VC 150-10 XE. While it may be the most expensive dust extractor to buy, it offers excellent power and it comes with an excellent warranty that is tough to beat in the industry. The Hilti 20-2-1 warranty is a 20 year limited manufacturers warranty, a 2 year unconditional warranty  covers anything including cutting the cord and other non-manufacturer related items, and a 1 day in Hilti’s regional repair shop with pre-paid shipping labels, all of which is really awesome!

Second Place – Makita

Coming in a very close second place was the Makita VC4710. Tied for the least expensive dust extractor we tested, this is an extreme value for contractors on a tight budget. It held its own with Hilti and Festool in the performance testing we did and its also the quietest extractor. There’s no doubt this is a top notch dust extractor with a price that’s tough to ignore.

This extractor was also the quietest one which can be an important safety issue for everyone to consider.

Third Place – Festool

In third place was the Festool 584014. Festool has been a leader in dust control for years so its no surprise to see them at the top of the list. Also priced on the higher side compared to other models we tested, it too offers an exceptional warranty that will keep you working worry free for the first three years. This dust extractor was very consistent in the performance testing boasting the best airwatt measurement in the dirty filter testing.

Final Thoughts – Dust Extractors

Recent OSHA regulations are changing the way we work. OSHA’s respirable crystalline silica rule, which affects 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, as well as general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries and hydraulic fracturing.

We hope this Head-to-Head tool testing we developed clears up some confusion on which Dust Extractor is best suited for your construction applications.

Dust Extractor – Head-2-Head Video

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