Choosing the Right Air Compressor

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Air compressors are essential power tools that offer DIYers and pros a wide range of usage. From cleaning dust out of a computer, filling up your car tires, powering an impact wrench and even grinding or sanding; an air compressor is a very convenient tool to have! In addition, when paired with an air powered tool, you can work faster, become more efficient, and get less fatigued as pneumatic tools are lighter compared to electrical or gas powered tools.

One common problem with air compressors is that choosing the right one for your needs is no a walk in the park. Choosing the right air compressor for your needs can actually can be frustrating, but fear no more! Mighty Power Tools is here to help by going over what you need to know to help you choose the right air compressor.

How to Choose the Right Air Compressor!

My multi-use indoor/outdoor air compressor. (4CFM 150 psi 2 HP 8 gallon)

First ask yourself what do you need an air compressor for? Do I need an air compressor to power up a nail gun or do I need it to run a sander? Or do I need an air compressor to clean something. It would also be wise to predict what you plan to do with an air compressor in the future so you don’t need to upgrade. Finally, you need to know where you’ll be using your air compressor.

If you can answer the first question, you can determine what type of pneumatic tools to use, how much power you need, and so one.  For example, do you plan to use an air compressor to power up a nail gun or do you need it to run a sander? Or do you need an air compressor to simply clean something. Before buying an air compressor, you need to know what you want to do or what you plan to do with it in the future. Knowing what you want will save you tons for the long run.

“If you purchase an air compressor that doesn’t meet the pressure requirements of a pneumatic tool you want to use, you will get poor or useless output from the air tool.”

A really good air compressor can be a very powerful source for running many types of pneumatic tools.

To understand the types of applications you can perform, here is a list of air powered tools:

  • a pneumatic nail gun
  • an air hammer
  • air impact wrench
  • Air ratchet
  • Airbrush
  • A blow Gun
  • a air-powered jackhammer
  • pneumatic based angle grinders
  • pneumatic drills
  • sandblasters
  • air saws
  • riveters
  • riveting hammers
  • sanders
  • spraying paint

Hopefully from the list above, you can see why an air compressor can be used for many types of applications. However each tool will have different pressure requirements and that if you purchase a pneumatic tool that doesn’t meet the pressure requirements, this will result in not being able to use pneumatic tools effectively and efficiently. Therefore, you need to understand the basic listed specifications and the 3 commonly used technical terms that differentiate air compressors. Knowing this will not only save you money but will help you choose the right air compressor for your needs!

The duster… the most used pneumatic tool for air compressors.

So let’s go over the most used technical terms in choosing the right air compressor for their needs.




CFM

CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute). If you’re on the metric, it’s regarded as LM or liters per minute.

CFM is very important because in the simplest of terms, CFM is the measure of airflow delivered by your compressor and therefore is probably the most important factor to most for selecting an air compressor. Why?

CFM determines the overall power capacity for your air compressor. If you’re going to use an air compressor as a dust blower, you might not really care about CFM; but if you plan to use a pneumatic tools, you need to pay attention to the CFM ratings of your air compressor. Remember that the higher the CFM, the more types of pneumatic tools you’ll be able to use because pneumatic tools have their own CFM requirements. A continuous tool such as a sander will require a ton of CFM but when compared to a non-continuous tool such as a nail gun, you won’t need a lot of CFM. If you have a compressor with CFMs lower than what your tool requires, you’re not going to be very productive. Therefore, if in doubt, I would suggest you by a compressor with the highest CFM you can afford.

PSI

PSI or Pounds per Square Inch is another important factor when choosing an air compressor. If you’re on the metric, this would be known as Bar or mPa (mega Pascal). As noted above, every type of pneumatic tool requires its own CFM at a required PSI level (pounds per square inch) rating. For most garage types of jobs, a compressor with 150 psi would be enough as most tools require around 90 psi.

Note: when purchasing an air compressor, the specifications will provide CFM at the most common pressure level 90 psi (pounds per square inch). This is because most air powered tools run at 90 psi. 

Horsepower

Horsepower or HP is the measure of output power coming from the air compressor’s motor. Although horsepower correlates with higher CFM, one should not rely heavily on horsepower. Check this research about Horsepower and air compressors…   As a rule of thumb, compressors with high HP are more flexible as they have high CFM. For me, my electrical powered air compressors are within 1.5 to 2.0 HPs. From personal experience, 2 horsepower is just right for my needs. Also, use any kind of , I don’t want to trip any circuit breakers at home. Just an FYI, 1 HP equals around 750 watts so 2 HPs is about 1500 watts.

Now to the second question we need to answer…

“Where” will you be using your air compressor?

Answering “where” will help you determine what size and type of air compressor you need. Will you need a portable or a stationary air compressor? Will you be working indoors or outdoors? These are important questions to consider as they will help you determine another important factor such as size and the style of your air compressor.

See Best-Selling Air Compressors

Now you must determine the style of your air compressor.

Now its all matter of how you will apply the air compressor for your working convenience.

Check these styles out:

Pancake compressors: Compact and portable. Makes most of us hungry as the name and shape implies.

Twin Stack compressors: are also compact and portable. Twin tanks save floor space wile adding power. My favorite style!

A Stacked Air Compressor

Wheeled air compressors: These compressors are either set vertically or horizontally and have wheels attached to a pontoon styled tank that make them easy to move around. Although they do not save floor space, they pack a lot of power and are cheaper.

A typical wheeled type of compressor.

The Tank Size

Remember that an air compressor’s job is to fill tank with air. How large a tank is will affect the efficiency especially when you work with air powered tools. Furthermore, the larger an air tank, the heavier your set up will be.

When a large air tank is full with highly compressed air, the motors of the air compressor will not have to work as much as a smaller air tank. When the air pressure inside the tank decreases to a certain threshold (due to usage or leaks), the motors of the air compressor will activate to add pressure and volume into the tank. Large tanks are generally the best option as they hold more volume and because they can accompany tools that utilize continuous running air. Smaller tanks are still useful in that they can adequately handle pneumatic tools that are used intermittently.

As with choosing the best tank size, there is no one size fits all. Know what you’ll be doing and get what you need. Also remember that you’ll have more air volume than the size of your tank because the air will be compressed inside. That’s what air compressors do… they compress air to fit inside a tank with lots of pressure.

Oil-less or Oil air compressors?

These days, more air compressors are being made as oil-less. If you were to choose, I would suggest to go with oil-less especially if you are mainly home-based. If you need an air compressor for commercial usage, oiled air compressors are no doubt the way to go because of the long hours and punishment it will most likely go through!

Likewise, and oiled and oil-free compressor has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, oil-free air compressors are lighter, run with lesser parts, and produce much better air quality. The best part is that oil-less compressors don’t need that much maintenance at all. However, the downside is that they are a bit louder and may not last as long as an oiled compressor.

Air compressors that need oil are much better for heavy duty usage. Heavy duty by definition means long continuous usage ( e.g. using air powered sanders or grinders for a really long time). The great thing about oiled compressors is that they are much more durable and quieter than oil-less air compressors but as with life this is debatable. Personally, I believe that oiled compressors last longer because the can be replaced. You can’t change the lubrication so easily with an oil-less design.  This makes sense as mechanical parts for any type of machine need oil for lubrication that prevents wear from friction.

The main drawback is that because they are oiled, you need to constantly watch the oil levels and replace or add oil when needed. In other words you need to provide constant maintenance or else the parts will wear down. But the benefit is that if you properly maintain your oiled air compressor, they will last a long time. Actually any machine that is properly oiled will last a long time. Maintaining all your work equipment is part of being a professional.

Another drawback with oiled air compressors is that some mist in the form of oil will egress during usage. Although this is not really a big problem as you can use oil filters and separators, oiled compressors are typically not ideal for sensitive types of applications e.g. for medical use, places where air quality and purity matters, or with tools that can’t be contaminated with oil.

Which type of oil compressor will have a longer lifespan?

Oiled air compressors will have a longer lifespan because wear will be much higher in an oil-less air compressor. The oil-less design however is much cheaper and most people will not use an air compressor at home like how the pros for commercial purposes. Therefore, to my opinion, oiled air compressors will last a lot longer than oil-less air compressors.

What Do I Personally Use?

I personally own a 2 horsepower air compressor with a wheeled 8 gallon tank (30 liters). This air compressor is actually my first oil-less type. The CFM is 3.8 (108 liters per minute) at 90 psi. The max psi the tank will hold is 150 psi ( or 1 megapascal). The motor runs on two large pistons that not only provide faster air delivery but make the motor run relatively quiet (67 db).

Under the table in the workshop.

I won’t be using it too long. The most I will probably ever used my compressor will be around 3 hours a week.

Aesthetically, I do not like the style of my compressor but it really packs a punch for its size and cheap price. My compressor fits most of my common needs and is probably more than enough for a majority of people. The only thing I can’t do well is run a sander or a grinder with it.  But this was well planned for because I prefer to use electrically powered sanders and grinders. For less than 200 bucks… it was a very good deal!

Taking Care of an Air Compressor?

Taking care of an air compressor is easy.

First: After each and every use, make sure you empty and drain the water out of the tank. Tilt your air compressor while you are at it.

Condensation will form inside an air tank when used. If the water is not drained out properly, the possibility of corrosion of the air tank is high and can jeopardize the tank’s structural integrity. When corrosion does occur, your air tank can become a hazardous tool to the user.

Second: keep it clean. Make sure you dust out your air compressors whenever you can. It’s funny how many people use air compressors to clean other tools yet neglect the tool that provides the dusting.

Third: If you own an air compressor that needs oil, always check the oil levels before you start it up. You should also replace the oil based on the manufacturers instructions.

Four: If you have an oil-less, don’t overuse it. Overuse will cause overheat and thus damage with seals and coatings. As a rule of thumb to prevent the motors from won’t continually running, make sure that the CFM of the air compressor exceeds the max CFM of the pneumatic tools you use it with.

These simple 4 simple tips will add years to your air compressor.

A Wise Home Investment

All households should possess a good air compressor. Air compressors can be a very useful power tool that has the ability to give users a wide range of usage. From paint brushing model airplanes models of air, filling up your car tires, using it on impact wrenches and much more. The only thing to be aware of is to not buy a weak air compressor. These are junk and a waste your money.  If you can afford to buy a decent compressor, by all means, do so!

See Best-Selling Air Compressors

If you have an questions about air compressors, please feel free to drop a question below!

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