Air Tools, The Basics

B000UVR4W6-closeupThe basics of Air tools

In this report we are going to look at the basics of air tools, mainly what to look for when buying them. We wanted to look at some of the most useful, and worth while tools you should have, as well as what to look for in compressors. Air tools are invaluable in the garage, as anyone lucky enough to have them will tell you. The options for air tools are endless, any tool you can need by hand is usually available in an air setup. However are a hand full of tools you will need more then others. We will look at the “must haves” for any DIYer. So where to start. Well compressors seem like a good place to kick off, because they are the driver behind your work force. Compressors come in many sizes and have many different features. Picking the right one can be a bit overwhelming, but in really there are few key things to remember when looking for a compressor. We have broken down the main points below.

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Air compressors come in many sizes and shapes. Sizing the compressors air capacity can be the easy way to get started. The air capacity is measured in gallons, and the more gallons the compressor is, the longer or more air you can use without recharge periods. Typical job site or portable compressors range from 5 to 20ish gallons. These compact and easily transported compressors make for good small task projects. They are often used on job sites for wood work or similar small burst operations. The next class of size ranges from 30 to 60 gallons, these units are less portable and most will need to be installed in one place. They make good work of small DIY projects like coilovers or brakes. Some of the larger ones will work for more continuous use projects like painting. The next class up are the 80 to 100 plus gallon compressors. These guys are heavy lifters and are not portable. They are found in garages and painting shops because of their output capacity. These large compressors will make quick work of almost everything you can throw at them, and are ideal for long continuous like spraying a car or multiple people using air tools. However they are on the expensive side and take up a larger amount of space. For the avid DIYer a 60 gallon tank will take care of most of the things you would need to do. It would perform well with the basic “short burst” tools typically used. Even a good portable 20 gallon compressor would be able to handle the basic tool operations. However size is not everything, as we will explain next.

CFM and PSI:

You will hear these two terms a lot while shopping for compressors, especially CFM. CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute and is the measure of the power behind a compressor. It is arguably the most important factor is purchasing an air compressor. Every air tool has a minimum CFM requirement to operate the tool effectively, and in turn every compressor has a rated CFM output. For example if a compressor has a CFM of 15, it would be able to run up to three tools while still remaining effective at each. (The average air tool uses about 5CFM at 90psi) Now, while we as DIYers may never need to run three tools at once, the other advantage to a good CFM is power. The better the CFM, the better the tool would be able to perform and the longer you would be able to use it. This leads us into PSI. (Pounds per square inch) If CFM is power, PSI is the measure of storage, or how much air you can cram into your tank. The typical single stroke compressor will max out around 135psi, while the stronger two stroke compressors will reach as high as 175psi. Two strokes are the industry standard for garages and commercial applications. However they also offer longer run times for air tools, which is important for applications such as painting or grinding. These sorts of tools are seen as “long use” or “continuous use” tools. A good compressor will be able to pack a good punch in as small a space as possible, so look for high number when it comes to both CFM and PSI.


The last category of consideration is the maintenance and quality of a compressor. It goes without saying that tools are investments where quality is paramount. So picking a good low maintenance compressor made by a quality brand is a good move. This rings true with compressors especially because they are the driving force behind your tools. Remember, compressors, like cars, require care and maintenance for their engines. The motors driving the compression are repeated used throughout the course of a project and will break quickly if not cared for. Make sure you go with a good brand that offers a strong warranty program.

Air tools 1

Next we will look at some of the basic tools that can be used with air. The most common being the air gun, air ratchet and air grinder. These are the must haves for any air tool kit, and can be used in almost every project. There are still many more tools out there, and if it involves metal working, there is most likely an air tool for it. (Except welding) The air gun, or impact wrench, is the most common tool and is great for removing old parts or taking things apart. Its more versatile brother, the ratchet, is a great tool for removing or installing bolts, nuts, etc. Finally the grinder is great cutting tool, and let’s face it, we all need those from time to time. Again just like the compressor, investing in quality is important here, the sweetness of low cost is quickly forgotten when the tools break. So invest is quality and make sure to read up on the various kits out there. We will examine painting tools another time, as that alone is a subject in itself. Happy wrenching!

-CA Staff


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