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Some homeowners who use air compressor tools only need a small, portable compressor unit that pushes about five cubic feet of air per minute. The air tools powered by compressors of this size include impact wrenches and brad nailers, good for plenty of jobs in the garage and in the house. If you need larger air tools such as polishers and sanders, you'll need a larger air compressor that can push at least ten cubic feet per minute or CFM. When picking an air compressor to power your air tools, be sure to check the PSI (pounds per square inch) as well as the cubic feet per minute. Larger tools may require a compressor capable of up to 120 PSI. When deciding on the compressor, check your tools first, then check the capacity of the compressor. You'll save yourself a trip or two back to the hardware store if you write down the CFM and PSI needs of your air tools before shopping.
When dealing with air tools, you will run into the phrase "duty cycle" quite often. This refers to how long the compressor motor is engaged when you are getting air supply to your air tools. There is a common 50/50 duty cycle, which means the motor runs half the time, and the other 50 percent is air supplied from the pressurized air tank. It's important to pay attention to how quickly your tools drain off the air during the "engine off" part of the cycle. If your tools drain the tank too quickly it can lead to excessive wear and premature breakdown of the compressor motor. This is true even for gasoline powered units where the engine runs constantly. Even though the engine is running, it is not always engaged and pushing air.
Many are tempted to join the ranks of those who have switched to air tools, but if you are unsure if "converting to air" is right for you, it can be very beneficial to rent an air compressor to test out an air tool. You can buy or borrow an air tool to test with the rental compressor. The rental will give you the chance to try out air tools in your shop or home with little risk, and if you are pleased with the amount of time and elbow grease you saved with the help of the air compressor, you can always continue to rent until you find a model that fits your needs. You can find plenty of tool rental centers in your local phone book or by doing a Google search on "air tool rental" and your zip code.
One of the most important things to know about air compressors is how big or small they should go. The best way to start answering this question is to examine the tools you want to use. Are you interested in an air compressor for tools that use short bursts of air such as a nail gun? Or are you in need of continuous air for tools like drills and sandblasters? If you need continuous air, you should get something with more power. Short blasts of air don't require as much power, so you can safely go smaller for impact tools and nail guns. Take a good look at your plans for the air tools before deciding which size compressor to buy.
Did you know you can buy tune-up, repair, and modification kits for your air tools? These come in a wide variety of applications, including "right angle conversion" kits for items such as ratchet air tools, motor tune ups, and individual components of air tools. Those components include crankshafts, anvil retainer clips, and bearings. If you are considering a do-it-yourself repair of your air tool, it's very important to have a working knowledge of the tool before attempting to fix it. Otherwise you are better off finding a professional who can properly disassemble and identify problems with the tool.
There are plenty of ways to accessorize your air tool kit. Some of your more immediate needs will include an air pressure gauge, spare connectors and a replacement hose. You can also purchase kits that include plenty of small items you may not think of right away, but can't live without once the originals have gone bad. Air tool accessory kits often include replacement air guns, water separators, air regulators, and much more. One important thing to remember when buying your accessories is your compressor's PSI rating. Many accessory kits are labelled with the pressure rating of the equipment. Match the PSI rating of the accessories with that of your compressor.
Air tools must be powered by an air compressor that can provide enough pressure and volume. For many small home applications, a low-horsepower compressor can be plugged in to any available 120 volt wall socket. These compressors can go up to three horsepower or higher. Models rated at five horsepower and above are hard-wired for use in 240 volt systems. Chances are, your home applications won't require such a powerful machine, but if you aren't sure whether your home or shop can handle the load, double check the voltage requirements on the compressor and get some advice from your local power company if you need more voltage than your current electrical system can provide.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|