If you’ve owned shop vacs, you know they have the potential to suck away many of your problems. The internet is said to do the same, but if you’ve shopped online recently, you know things aren’t always that straightforward.
There are a ton of shop vacs out there, and it can be hard to tell if you’re getting the right one for your woodworking shop from the product descriptions alone. If you want to keep your shop sawdust-free, you need the right shop vac, and not every model will be up to the task.
Our reviews of the best shop vacs for woodworking of 2020 are designed to give you the full picture. We cover the good and the bad so you’ll know what you’re getting before you buy. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide designed to help you think through your purchase, which is especially useful if you’ve never owned a shop vac.
|Vacmaster 12 Gallon Shop Vac (VBV1210)|
|Armor All 2.5 Gallon Utility Wet/Dry Vacuum (AA255)|
(Best for the Money)
|Shop-Vac 5-Gallon Stainless Steel Wet Dry Vacuum (5989300)||15 lbs||4.40/5|
|Stanley Wet/Dry Vacuum (SL18129)||8 lbs||4.30/5|
|DEWALT 6 Gallon Poly Wet/Dry Vac (DXV06P)||15 lbs||4.15/5|
If you’re looking for the coolest shop vac around, you’ll be impressed with the Vacmaster 12 Gallon Shop Vac (VBV1210). Its defining feature is that it comes with a miniature portable blower that detaches from the unit. That lets you use it as more than just a standard shop vac. This model also comes with a very large 12-gallon tank, but its frame is still slender enough that you’ll be able to wheel it around obstacles easily. This model also has an extra-large drain, which you’ll appreciate if you ever have to clean up an especially large water spill.
If you’re looking for a vac with a lot of oomph, you’ll be very happy with this one. The motor puts out five horsepower at its peak load, making it an extremely powerful machine. The one thing that could be better is the cord, which is only twelve feet long. Most people enjoy this vac, but they like it the most when they use an extension cord. If you need power and portability, this is the model to get.
If you value portability over power, the Armor All 2.5 Gallon Utility Wet/Dry Vacuum (AA255) may be right for you. The most amazing thing about this vac is how portable it is. It weighs just seven pounds, which is light for a shop vac. It’s also designed to be tall and narrow, which makes it good for getting into tight spaces, and makes it especially useful for cleaning out cars. Despite its small form factor, it still has a respectable two-horsepower motor. This model also ships with some of the best attachments included with any shop vac. In addition to the six-foot cord, it comes with three nozzles, a detail brush, and a crevice tool.
What earns this model second place on our list, however, is its price. It costs less than half of what the top pick on our list costs. This shop vac doesn’t come with wheels, but it’s light enough that most people won’t be inconvenienced by that. If you don’t need top-of-the-line power, this may be the shop vac for you due to its good performance in nearly every other category.
The Shop-Vac 5-Gallon Stainless Steel Wet Dry Vacuum (5989300) falls between the first and second models on our list when it comes to price, capacity, and performance. If you’re not looking to spring for the largest shop vac out there, but still want something that packs a punch, this one is worth considering. It comes with a five-gallon tank, which is enough for most small to medium-sized jobs. This shop vac’s motor has 4.5 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful models on our list. It has a rear blower port, allowing you to use it to blow dust or leaves out of your shop.
It also comes with a full-circumference dolly. Many shop vacs become unstable when full, due to a high center of gravity and poorly designed caster placement. This one’s design makes it nearly impossible to tip over even when full, which reduces accidental spills. What keeps it out of the top two is its terrible manual, which covers multiple similar units and makes it hard to find the information relevant to your model. If you need good power but don’t want to splurge, this is a good overall deal.
The Stanley Wet/Dry Vacuum (SL18129) features a shiny metal exterior that’s unlikely to go long without getting scratched, but underneath that questionable design choice, there’s an extremely effective shop vac. Its four-horsepower motor is put to good use, and users consistently rate it highly when it comes to suction. It also has a great reputation for being easy to assemble, so if you’re looking for a model that won’t take hours to put together, this is a strong candidate. The tall and narrow frame is something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, it provides four gallons of storage in a two-gallon shop vac’s footprint. That increases its maneuverability.
Unfortunately, that design choice gives it a high center of gravity, especially when full, and the wheels aren’t wide enough apart to keep it from tipping over. If it wasn’t as prone to this problem, it could easily gain a spot or two on our list. The hose is another weak area. It’s only five feet long, so you’ll have to reposition this machine more often. While this vac isn’t perfect, some people will be happy with the experience it provides.
The DEWALT 6 Gallon Poly Wet/Dry Vac (DXV06P) comes from a good brand and works well in some areas, but it has some shortcomings that will make it the wrong choice for many people. On the plus side, it’s a six-gallon shop vac. That means it’s good for medium and some heavy-duty projects when it comes to capacity. It also comes with a peak four-horsepower motor, which isn’t the strongest on our list but provides an above-average amount of power. Its best feature may be its disposable dry bags. A few are included with your purchase, and they make it easy to clean your shop vac out after a long day of picking up dirty or dusty material.
Unfortunately, the power cord is just ten feet long. Most people will find that they need to use an extension cord with this model to not be frustrated with it. It also only comes with three nozzles, which is far fewer than many other vacs. While its performance is good, many people will want a wider range of nozzles to complete more kinds of tasks.
The TACKLIFE Wet Dry Vacuum (PVC01A) does some things right that similar models on our list can’t seem to do. It includes a 13-foot cord, which isn’t a world changer, but this is about a third, or more, longer than most included cords. The seven-foot hose has an extender that adds a few more feet, so you should be able to get twenty feet, or more, away from your outlet when cleaning without an issue. The five-gallon tank is enough for medium-duty work and the low end of construction work.
Unfortunately, this machine suffers from the top-heavy design issues that plague many shop vacs on our list. Given the leverage that the longer cord gives you, it’s surprisingly easy to tip this model over, especially when it’s more than half full. It also has inferior attachment storage. The attachments are constantly falling off, and when that happens, they may get lost. If you’re looking for a vac with extended range, you may like this one, but the stability and attachment storage will likely frustrate most users.
The CRAFTSMAN 17584 6 gallon Shop Vac is a machine from a storied brand that doesn’t quite live up to the quality expectations many people have. In its favor, this machine has a six-gallon tank. That’s more than enough for most people who are using a shop vac around the house. It’s also enough for the low end of industrial and construction work. This model ships with two extension wands and two nozzles, which is a decent attachment selection for the price.
However, it only has a 3.5-horsepower motor, which is really underwhelming. It won’t have as much suction as many others, and given its size, there’s a mismatch between capacity and performance. It also suffers from poor quality control. Too many units ship with damaged parts or parts that don’t fit together correctly. If that wasn’t bad enough, it weighs nearly 15 pounds, making it one of the heaviest shop vacs out there. Given that you can get more satisfying shop vacs for less than you’d spend on this one, it’s a model most people will be best off skipping.
Our reviews have already given you some insights into what makes for a great shop vac for woodworking. Of course, there’s more to know if you want to make a great purchase, so if you’re looking to learn more about shop vacs, check out this guide. We cover these great machines from nozzle to power plug, so you can get a good idea of what to look for when you shop. We’ve also included some tips on getting great value for your money, if you’re looking to snag a deal.
The hose is one of the most important parts of a shop vac when you’re planning to use it for woodworking. Many woodworking machines, such as planers, saws, and routers, come with dust ports. These are designed to be used with shop vacs, or with a fancier and more expensive dust collection system.
To get full use from your shop vac, you’ll need a hose long enough to reach from the floor to the dust port on your equipment. In many setups, you won’t want less than a six-foot hose.
You’ll also want a long hose for the sawdust that escapes your machine. If you’re trying to clean out nooks and crannies, it helps to have a long, flexible hose, as well as the right attachments for the job.
Power is another area you shouldn’t skimp on in a shop vac. The more power your shop vac has, the more sawdust it’ll capture while your tools are running, which means less overall cleanup.
How much power is enough power? For general use, you’ll want a shop vac with at least a four-horsepower motor. That will give you enough power to make short work of sawdust and pick up larger bits of wood and other debris that builds up in your shop. Any less than that, and you won’t have great efficiency in removing sawdust while your tools are running.
If you get a model with five-horsepower or more, you’re getting a shop vac that’s approaching industrial and construction-grade power, so you can rest easy knowing you won’t have to do much cleanup.
Most shop vacs come with casters, allowing them to be wheeled around. However, the smallest models don’t always have them. In theory, they’re light enough to carry around no matter how full they are. In practice, you may wish you had wheels on your vac, but that’s going to vary from person to person.
Something else to consider is stability. It would stink to have your shop vac fall over and spill sawdust all over the floor, especially if you just cleaned it up. Stability is more important for woodworkers than it is for many other kinds of shop vac users. Shorter models with wider bases tend to be more stable than taller, narrower models.
Many people start shopping by looking at the price tag, but that’s a great way to end up with a machine you don’t like, and that means you end up with poor overall value.
A better process begins with identifying your needs. If you first determine what features your shop vac needs to have to make your woodworking easier, then limit your search to those with the features you need, you’ll end up with a model you like.
Once you’ve made your shortlist, it’s a good idea to choose the least expensive remaining model. It has the features you need for a good experience, but delivers them at the lowest price, making it the best overall value for the money.
Our other Shop Vac Rundowns:
The Vacmaster VBV1210 is our favorite due to its large tank, quick-release blower, and extra-large drain. The Armor All AA255 comes in second with its decent power, great portability, and attachments. Its incredible price makes it the best shop vac for the money on our list. In third, the Shop-Vac 5989300 has a very powerful motor, a rear blower port, and a full-circumference dolly. Its terrible manual keeps it out of the top two. Fourth place is taken by the Stanley SL18129, which has good power and a tall, narrow frame. Its value is hurt by its short hose and general instability.
In fifth is the DEWALT 6 Gallon Poly Wet/Dry Vac (DXV06P), which has a large capacity and great disposable bags. The short power cord and underwhelming accessories make it a poor overall choice. The TACKLIFE Wet Dry Vacuum (PVC01A) features a decent power cord and a long hose but drops to sixth place because of its instability and poor attachment storage. Last place on our list belongs to the CRAFTSMAN 17584 6 gallon Shop Vac. It has a good capacity and attachment selection, but also has underwhelming power and poor quality control.
Shop vacs have the potential to turn big problems into little ones, and we hope that our reviews have also helped you transform your shopping experience into an easy one.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!