Air compressors can be pretty handy tools for powering nail guns and other pneumatic power tools. You can also use them to power air brushes and paint sprayers or fill a flat tire. Finding the right one to meet your needs can be confusing, but understanding how they work can help you know what to look for when you begin your search.
Air compressors work by pressurizing ambient air and then delivering that air on demand. For home and small business use, you’ll be fine with a portable air compressor. A portable air compressor is either small enough and light enough to be easily moved from one location to another or mounted on a wheeled rack that can be rolled around easily.
There are three measurements of an air compressor’s power: horsepower (HP), pounds per square inch (PSI), and deliverable cubic feet per minute (CFM). Basically, when you’re looking for a new air compressor, you can disregard the HP and focus your attention on PSI and CFM, with many experts considering CFM to be the more important of the two. While horsepower does tell you how powerful a motor is, motor power alone doesn’t make a good compressor. What you really want to know is how much air pressure your machine will deliver (CFM) and how powerful that air stream is (PSI) in relation to the job(s) you intend to do. Since different jobs require different CFM and PSI, consider a model that allows you to adjust air-delivery settings if you’ll be doing multiple types of jobs. If you’ll need your air compressor for one type of job only, you can probably spend a little less on a one-setting-only unit.
Typical air compressors store air in an attached tank. The air is pressurized inside this tank. Once that air has been used, the unit will have to stop working long enough to refill. The type of work you’ll be doing will determine how big your tank needs to be to ensure the fewest possible starts and stops. There are models that do not rely on tanks; instead, they pressurize the air on intake. Such models are among the cheapest and lightest, but are also the least powerful. They’re well suited to light-duty applications like airbrushing and also will work well for filling flat tires. They’ll take longer than tanked models to fill a tire, but are very easy to store in your vehicle and can be run on your car’s power supply. Just be sure to find a model that’s compatible with your car’s outlet and power output capability if you want one to keep on hand for filling tires.
Electric and battery-powered air compressors are usually lighter weight and less expensive than gasoline-powered models, but also aren’t usually capable of handling heavy-duty jobs. They also usually need cool-down or recharge time, whereas gasoline-powered compressors will run for as long as there’s gas in the tank. Gasoline-powered models are typically the loudest and do emit exhaust fumes that make them less desirable for indoor jobs than their electric or battery-operated counterparts.
Once you’ve decided how much power and what type of motor you want, you’ll need to decide how much noise is acceptable. Noise levels are given as decibel (dB) ratings. For some reference, a typical refrigerator hums at about 40 dB and a chainsaw comes in at around 110 dB. When looking at noise levels, don’t forget that using any compressor in an enclosed space can make it seem louder than it is.
There are models that are equipped with 2 hoses, allowing you to work with a friend or switch back and forth between two tools with ease. You might pay more for this feature, so you’ll need to decide if the convenience is worth the price tag.
Check out best air compressors online for the pros and cons of some of the top models designed for home use.
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