By Rob Zschoche
As a remodeler who specializes in tile, I work on a lot of kitchens and bathrooms. My least favorite part of these jobs is demolition, which in older homes often involves tearing out tile set in a couple of inches of mortar. It's a nasty process, so we were eager to test two dust-collection attachments from Hilti that promised to make demo easier and less messy.
Since the attachments fit only Hilti tools, the manufacturer also sent us a couple of tools to use them with. Over the course of several months, we tested the TE DRS-B Dust Remover, which we installed on a TE 706-AVR breaker, and the DC-EX Dust Removal Hood, which we put on a DCG 500-S grinder. These attachments can be connected to any good vacuum; we used them with the VC 40-U, a 9.5-gallon capacity wet/dry model from Hilti. The company also makes a 5.5-gallon version of this vacuum, the VC 20-U.
The TE DRS-B consists of a rubber nozzle attached to a vacuum port. The port slips over the front end of a breaker or combination hammer and fastens in place with a cam-lock lever. When the vacuum is on, dust and chips from around the bit are sucked in through the nozzle. We found that the attachment captures most of the dust coming off the chisel, as well as chips up to about the size of a quarter. But it worked better on floors than on walls; when we broke up vertical surfaces, large chunks of tile and mortar fell and created clouds of dust when they hit the floor. Still, using this attachment was better than working without any dust collection at all.
The Dust Remover comes with two vacuum nozzles — one for chisels up to 16 inches long and one for chisels up to 20 inches long. It's designed to work with bushing bits, pointed chisels, and flat chisels up to 3 inches wide. A different attachment collects dust while drilling. It costs $160, and the TE 706-AVR — the breaker we used it with — $1,150. The combined cost is significantly higher than the price of comparable breakers from other manufacturers. But I look at it this way: If I spread the amount over the 20 demo jobs we do per year, the expense would come to $65 per project. After that, the tools are paid for. And some of that money would come back to us in reduced cleanup labor.
Although the VC 40-U can be used as a stand-alone dust vac, it's designed to collect dust and chips from tools with dust-collection ports, and slurry from wet coring machines. It accepts two kinds of collection bags: a fleece one for use with a HEPA filter, and a plastic one with either a paper filter (for dry material) or a polyester filter (for wet). The plastic bags are very sturdy and, at $3 apiece, inexpensive to replace.
To prevent clogging, a built-in "shaker" knocks dust out of the filter by reversing the flow inside the machine every 15 seconds. The shaker works well but creates a thumping noise I found annoying. Otherwise the machine is solid and well-made and has excellent suction. The wheels on the canister are large and sturdy, though the locks on the front ones aren't easily accessible. Also, I wish I'd had the optional folding handle on my vacuum; it would make transport much easier.
Unlike other dust-collecting vacuums, the VC 40-U isn't activated by the tool it's attached to. Instead, it has to be turned on manually — a much less convenient setup. A company spokesperson told me that this is because the combined amperage of the tool and vac would exceed the 15-amp UL limit.
Another thing I didn't like was that you can't adjust the air flow, which makes it difficult to use with orbital sanders: Running at full suction, the vacuum pulls the sander too tight against the work.
When equipped with a HEPA filter, the VC 40-U costs about $980. (For information on RRP compliance, see the editor's note below.) It's a decent machine, but I doubt I'd choose it over a less-expensive model from Festool or Fein — one with just as much suction power plus tool-activated switches and adjustable air flow.
To test the DC-EX dust-removal hood and the DCG 500-S grinder, we put a 5-inch diamond blade in the tool and cut through a old tub surround's tile and backerboard. Because the hood covers only about half the blade, dust escaped as the blade plunged into the material. But once the hood was against the work, the vacuum collected most of the dust. We were able to catch even more by holding the nozzle from a second vacuum behind the blade as we began each cut. This method was cleaner — and less likely to damage finishes in adjacent rooms — than breaking out the walls with a sledge or demo hammer.
I wished we could use this grinder and dust hood to cut out mortar-bed walls, too, but with a maximum depth of cut of 1 inch, the tool doesn't go deep enough.
The hood fits all three of Hilti's 5-inch angle grinders. The DCG 500-S has a constant-on trigger switch and is one of the smoothest and most powerful 5-inch grinders I've come across. I liked everything about it except its stiff trigger action.
As grinders go, the setup isn't cheap: $257 for the tool and $100 for the hood. But for me — because I prefer not to breathe a lot of dust, and cleanliness is a big selling point with customers — it would be a worthwhile expense.
Rob Zschoche owns Robert Zschoche remodeling in Chantilly, Va.
Editor's note: With the recently enacted RRP lead rule on everybody's mind, we asked Hilti whether its dust-collection system qualifies for lead cleanup under the new regulations. Since the EPA hasn't issued a definitive standard for HEPA vacs, this question can't be answered with absolute certainty. But a Hilti spokesperson did tell us that the company considers the VC 40-U and VC 20-U to be "HEPA vacuum cleaners within the definition of the EPA RRP regulations" because they "are designed such that, with the HEPA filter installed, the HEPA filter is the last filtration stage, and 100 percent of the intake air pulled in through the hose passes through the HEPA filter."
To read more about HEPA compliance with the RRP, see the May 2010 JLC Report.