Dust can hurt you, and dust collection now stands alongside safety glasses, hearing protection, and hard hats as standard safety equipment. Recent tool design reflects this awareness. Dust pick-ups are being built into sanders, routers, planers, and saws. As with most safety equipment, the problem with dust collection is that it can be inconvenient and awkward. Festo, Fein, Porter-Cable, and Ridgid have all built portable, tool-activated vacuums that can serve as "local" dust collection systems. The idea works. I know, because I'm finally using these vacuums in my shop.

Features. With all these vacuums, you plug the dust-maker into the dust-collector, pull the tool's trigger, and the vacuum turns on. When you let go of the trigger, the vacuum turns off after it's cleared the hose of any remaining dust. I've had a shop vacuum for years. I hated using it for dust collection because it was very loud and ran all the time. The "remote" tool-activated feature fixes that problem, yet these tool vacs also let you disable the remote feature.

Performance. The Ridgid is a "carry away" model. The Fein is the size of a medium waste paper basket. The Porter-Cable and Festo vacuums are roughly the size of two small file drawers. The Fein, Festo, and Porter-Cable models work with a wide variety of tools. Festo's auxiliary outlets are rated for tools up to 12 amps. The Ridgid vac is rated and designed for light sanders. I tested each tool with a sander and with a power planer. All the tools did fine with the sander, but the Porter-Cable and Ridgid models choked on planer shavings because their hose-to-body connections are too restricted. The Fein and Festo vacs ate everything up.

Noise. Both the Fein and Festo models are quiet. You can talk to the person next to you while the machines are running. The Festo even has variable suction. On the low setting, the machine is nearly silent. The Porter-Cable and Rigid units carry on the American theory of vacuums--if it's not loud, it isn't cleaning.

Cord storage. Poorly designed hose and cord storage can turn a vacuum into an octopus. The Ridgid vac has a nice, simple design that lets you wrap the cord and hose around the machine. The Fein model lets you do the same thing. Festo provides an optional vertical arm on which you can hang the hose. This is wonderful for a shop, but I wouldn't want to load it into my truck. Porter-Cable seems to have ignored the cord-storage issue.

Results. I would feel comfortable having the Fein ($220), Festo ($375 to $460), or Ridgid ($129) vacuums in my shop. I would only use the Ridgid vac for light sanding--as it specifically says in the manual. If I worked out of my truck, the Festo model's size might be a concern. In my mind, Porter-Cable needs to refine the design of its vacuum ($267) and address some of the storage issues. For work in my boat shop, I'd pick the Fein. It's small enough to lift into a boat and it will suck up anything.

All these tools do their basic job well. Choosing the best machine for you depends on how you're going to use it. The type of filter you install influences the size of the dust particles these devices pick up. They help keep the dust out of your lungs, allowing you to breathe more easily and hopefully live a longer, healthier life--if you'll use them!