Dry pick-up attachments. I put a lot of effort into building cabinets and making countertops, so the last thing I want to see is a blunt plastic nozzle scratching the work. Fein provides an excellent vac head. Brushes raise the potentially marring plastic off the work and keep it safe. The other tools' accessories are geared more for rough-duty pick-up. Hose flexibility is paramount here, too: I had to move the hose around and flex it to get into corners, inside cabinet carcasses, and up to windowsills without it fighting me or its ribs scouring a door or counter edge. Fein's 1 1/2-inch hose is supple. The Love-Less 2 1/2-inch, 12-foot-long hose is flexible and easy to work with, too. Fein's hose is 10 feet long; the other vacs come with standard 7-foot hoses.

As I reached to get more dust or moved to a new spot, I towed the units by their hoses. Tightly locked hoses didn't pop out while I worked with the tools or moved them. The Craftsman, Fein, Ridgid, and Shop-Vac hoses lock securely to the vac bodies.

The folks at Fein and Shop-Vac had their thinking caps on when they made interchangeable 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-inch hoses for these vacs. This makes them versatile enough to suck up bulk items or to attach to power tools. I suppose you could go to the supply house and load up on reducers, expanders, and new hoses, but with these two tools you're ready for action right out of the box.

Drywall dust. The Love-Less Ash vac is your tool if you find yourself cleaning up after your drywallers. It has a three-stage filter systema disposable filter bag with primary and secondary fabric filters–that keeps dust from coughing back into the room better than any other tool I tested. This system is more complex and time-consuming to clean out than the simpler pleated-paper cartridges, but it's the way to go if the white stuff is your primary target. The Love-Less model also has a brass toggle that the company says shakes the filter clean for extended runtime. However, it only bought me an extra minute or two–once the filters are caked, they're caked, and it's time to blow them out with the compressor.

The Fein and Love-Less models ship with disposable vacuum bags for cleaning fine materials; Fein's are made of paper and Love-Less's are fabric. Both bags hold dust well. Once they were full, I junked them and put in new ones. The bags cost money, but they keep you moving because the dust goes in the bag and doesn't clog the filter. The rest of the vacs don't come with vacuum bags (though Shop-Vac offers them as an after-market accessory), but their pleated-paper filtration systems all performed well in drywall dust and all lasted nearly the same amount of time.

Bulk pick-up. The Ridgid vac has a nearly insatiable appetite for junk. It gobbled everything on site through its stiff, 2 1/2-inch hose. Its pleated-paper filter cartridge is easy to remove and clean. The Love-Less Ash unit is not quite as hungry for junk, partly because its long, flexible hose sags, causing a bend that's hard for junk to get past. The Shop-Vac is the next hungriest tool, followed by the Craftsman, Fein, and Love-Less models.

A locking hose is handy during bulk pick-up, too. As you use the vacuum, a flexible hose can sag between you and the canister. During my test, nails, wire, and heavier stuff collected there. With a locking hose, all you have to do is lift the hose and "drain" it into the canister. With a non-locking hose, you risk loosening your connection or just pulling the hose right out.