An air compressor can supply a single source of power for a wide variety of tools. Explore our selection and find the one that suits your needs.
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Air Compressor Performance Ratings
The most important rating to consider when matching a pneumatic tool's requirements to an air compressor’s capabilities is how much air the compressor can deliver. This is measured in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM). Tools powered by air compressors also have CFM ratings, which indicate the airflow required for optimal operation.
The actual CFM changes depending on the pressure of the air in the compressor (represented as pounds per square inch, or psi). Look for the “CFM at 90psi” number when comparing CFM ratings.
Smaller tools often require between 0-5 CFM, while larger tools can require 10 or more CFM. To gauge the minimum compressor CFM rating you need, examine the CFM requirements of all the tools intended for use. Multiply the highest tool rating by 1.5 to get the minimum compressor CFM required. This gives you a buffer, which is important as actual CFM can vary at points during compressor operation.
If you are expecting to operate multiple pneumatic tools at the same time, more power will be needed. In this case, calculate the minimum CFM compressor rating by adding up the CFM requirements for each tool that will be used simultaneously. Most light-duty home compressors are designed to power only one tool at a time, but larger professional-grade compressors can handle multiple tools.
The air pressure generated inside the tank is measured in Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI). Light-duty compressors generally have 90 psi, as the majority of pneumatic tools require this amount to operate properly. More powerful compressors may generate 150 psi or higher.
While not as important as the CFM rating, a compressor’s horsepower (HP) rating can reveal a relative sense of the model’s power. Horsepower indicates how powerful the motor is, while the CFM rating shows how much power the compressor actually provides to the tools.
The size of a compressor’s tank determines how long tools can run before the compressor turns back on. Tank sizes are rated in gallons, and range from 1 to 120 gallons.
If you will be using tools that require a high volume of air for continuous use, consider a larger tank. If intending to use the tool for intermittent periods, the compressor can have a smaller tank size. Having a large enough tank with a compressor pump that exceeds the CFM requirement of the tools will allow the compressor time to cool between cycles.
Tools that require only quick bursts of air, like pneumatic brad nailers, drain the tank slowly. For these tasks, tank sizes between 2-6 gallons are sufficient.
Single Stage vs. Two Stage
The main difference between single and two-stage compressors is the number of times that air is compressed between the inlet valve and the tool nozzle. In a single stage compressor, the air is compressed one time; in a two stage compressor, the air is compressed twice for double the pressure.
Single stage compressors are also known as piston compressors. The process that takes place within a single stage compressor goes as follows:
- Air is sucked into a cylinder
- The trapped air is compressed in a single stroke with a piston at a high pressure
- The compressed air is moved onward to a storage tank
In the storage tank, the compressed air serves as energy for the assortment of tools that a single stage compressor is built to accommodate.
The process within a two-stage compressor — alternately referred to as a dual stage compressor — is similar to that of a single stage, but with one variation: the compressed air isn’t sent to a storage tank; it’s instead sent to a smaller piston for a second stroke, compressing the air at an even higher pressure. From there, the double–pressurized air is cooled and delivered to a storage tank, where it serves as energy for a variety of power equipment and tools.
Air compressors can typically be sorted into two broad categories: portable and stationary.
Portable air compressors are typically available in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are smaller models that are light enough to carry, while larger portable compressors include wheels to transport them. Portable air compressors are also typically available with different sized tanks, ranging anywhere from 2 - 30 gallons. This allows them to perform light or demanding jobs for the home and workspace.
Stationary air compressors are designed to be bolted into a fixed area and wired directly to a building’s electrical outlet/circuit. They typically feature 60-80 gallon tanks and 4 - 10 horsepower motors. They are ideal for garages, job sites, and industrial workshops.
Oil-Free vs. Oiled Pumps
Pumps create friction and heat. Oil-free pumps use coatings that reduce friction such as Teflon. These pumps have a lighter weight and can operate at any angle as there is no risk of spilled oil. Pumps that use oil typically run cooler and have a longer lifespan, but the oil has to be maintained. The unit must also be kept in an upright position to prevent oil from leaking out.