Air Tools

Once confined to commercial use, air tools are now being offered for home and farm applications. The tools offer long, relatively maintenance-free life.


Compressors come with and without storage tanks. The smaller compressors, usually termed compact compressors, generally utilize a diaphragm-type compression pump powered by an electric motor.

These compact compressors are primarily used for hobby and light spray painting since their capacity is more limited than piston-type compressors, which have a storage tank. However, the compact compressors will also run caulking and glue guns, inflate sports equipment and low-pressure tires.

Since there is no reserve tank on diaphragm-type compact compressors, the unit must run continuously to supply air. However, one plus is an oil-free air supply since diaphragm compressors use connecting rods sealed in oil-free bearings.

Piston-type compressors are designed like the cylinder/piston mechanism of an auto. An electric or gasoline motor is used to drive the pump unit, which can have either one or two cylinders, depending upon the compressor’s size.

Compact compressors commonly have a 1/2-hp engine and weigh approximately 30 lbs. These models have wheels and a handle for easy pulling.

Piston compressors usually offer greater durability and more work capacity. In the past, piston-types required lubrication for the piston and cylinder, but some oil-free piston compressors with self-lubricating parts perform as well as or better than conventional lubricated compressors.

Horsepower ratings on compressors pertain to the electric motor or gasoline engine that powers the pump unit. As a rule of thumb, increased horsepower means a more powerful compressor and greater work capacity.

Other ratings include cubic feet per minute (cfm) which equals the volume of air that the compressor supplies to the sprayer or air tool. Larger jobs require higher cfm ratings.

Psi or pounds-per-square-inch rating measures the amount of air pressure generated by the compressor. Tools also have psi ratings, and these must be considered when matching the tool to the compressor.

To run a representative assortment of air tools, a 1-hp electric unit is needed. Storage tank size would run from 7 gals. and up.

Gasoline-powered compressors are desirable for use on farms where tools might have to be used away from sources of electricity.

Eye protection should always be worn where air-powered staplers or nailers are in use.


Typical applications include 1/4″ drill, caulking gun, sander, chisel, stapler, nailer, impact wrench, tire chuck, grease gun, blow gun, sand blast gun and tank. Spraygun kits are also used with the compressors. 3/8″- and 1/2″-square drive impact drills are most common. Ratchet wrenches are also available. Air hammers and sanders are other popular tools.

Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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