Taking the plunge into air powered tools is a little like taking the plunge into cordless tools. With two exceptions: you still have a cord (the air hose), and your battery (the compressor) is freaking huge and loud. Other than that, air tools can be a big help on certain kinds of projects such as rough or finish carpentry or mechanical repairs. Air impact ratchets and drivers are definite speed boosters for mechanical work, that’s why the pros use them. While there are some cordless electric nail guns, they are usually finish or brad nailers and not rough in nailers. Besides their being the tool of choice for banksters to commit “suicide”, nail guns are a huge time saver in building anything. I have a finish nail gun that I’ve used to build some shelves and to nail pre-finished molding on a bathroom remodel. It is so quick and easy, and the nail head is even recessed into the molding and ready for some color matched fill.
The compressor you choose has to take into consideration what kinds of tools you are powering. Air tools all have to main requirements that you will see on the box or stamped on the tool: CFM – Cubic Feet of air per Minute, and PSI – Pounds per Square Inch of air pressure required for a particular tool. Air compressor have a regulator valve that you can use to control the amount of air pressure or PSI, but all compressors have a MAX PSI that you need to take into account. The bigger issue in my mind is CFM. Big or powerful tools need lots of air. If you run out of air quickly, then you’ll just be sitting there waiting for the tank to fill again.
CFM is a factor of both tank size and pump capacity to keep the tank full. I see roofers getting by with squatty little 5 gallon gas powered compressors, but you don’t want one of those. Get at least a 20 gallon tank that has a rated CFM that is above any tool that you have or plan to purchase down the road.
Compressors are loud, but some, like a certain Sears Craftsman that I have, are ear bleeding loud. I hate my compressor and wear my shooting ear protection when using it in the garage. You can clearly hear the thing from every room in the house. Mine is a direct drive vs. belt driven compressor, and I think that has something to do with the noise level. My dad had a belt driven compressor like the one above that was not nearly as loud, so find out the decibel level on your choices and go with the quieter one as long as PSI and CFM meet your needs.
Naturally you will need hoses with quick disconnects. I would go with at least a 50 foot hose. That way you can get anywhere in your garage or driveway to air up a tire. Quick connects come in different sizes so you need to keep an eye on that, but they are easy to swap out the male side on your tools to get ones that work. Be sure to use Teflon tape around the threads to minimize air leaks.
While nearly all compressors come with a regulator, many do not come with a water trap. The water in the air you breath gets compressed too, and pretty soon you will have water in your tools. Not good. Buy a water trap and put it on your compressor. Most are designed like this one below with a little water release valve at the bottom. Most hardware stores have short lengths of pre-threaded pipe that you can use to splice this in between your regulator and quick connect.
I got by for years without a hose reel, but the are really great for keeping hoses from getting tangled up. Most of them have a ratcheting function so that you can reel out a certain length, and when done, just give a short tug and it will retract the entire hose back onto the reel. I got mine on sale at Northern tool for about $90.
Air tools are a big step, but if you do any regular car repair work on your own, you won’t regret getting it! Plus, being able to air you tires at home is a plus. It’s getting harder and harder to find pumps in public, and they are often pitifully weak and take forever to fill your tires. Here is just a short list of things you can do with air:
- Clean and blow dry parts or floors.
- Sandblast or shotblast rust off of things.
- Paint sprayers, but be sure to have a water trap (I learned the hard way).
- Air impact driver for quickly removing lug nuts for quick tire changes.
- Finish nailer for touch up work on trim and cabinetry around the house.
- Air hammer and/or chisel to break, cut or remove stuck parts. Or for removing tile off of floors.
- Hand held grinders, or metal scissors for quickly and cleanly cutting sheet metal.
- Take a look at Grainger’s website for all the different kinds of air tools there are.