I had the harbor freight dust collector for a couple years and it was a huge improvement over the shop vac I was using previously. As Scott indicated don't expect it to give you pristine, clean air, a respirator can be used to protect your lungs for around $35.
For me it all depends on what ends up being available and what the prices are. I'd have a preference for thicker stock like 8/4, but would not object to anything down to 4/4. I'd anticipate being in the 50bf - 100bf range if I had to guess.
Looking forward to seeing the progress and final pics. It's funny how QSWO gets so much attention, but it seems that nobody ever talks about Quarter Sawn Cherry when cherry has nice ray flecks as well.
That has always been my experience sanding shellac, the paper corns up in a hurry no matter how long I let it dry. Phil held a spray finishing class and we sprayed lacquer, I was amazed how it powdered up when being sanded less than an hour after spraying.