How to Choose and Use an Air Compressor – This Old House


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There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to air compressors, so what should you look for when choosing a new air compressor?

How does an air compressor work?

As explained in the episode of This Old House, an air compressor is an electric motor pump that takes in air and forces it under pressure into a tank. A gauge on the device measures the pressure in the tank. There is another gauge showing how much pressure can be distributed. You can change the pressure from the gauge as well.

Choosing an air compressor

  • Decide the size: Air compressors come in different sizes and are measured in gallons. Some compressors have one tank; others have two. So decide what size you want based on how much you plan to use it and how big your jobs will be. For example, if you need a compressor for tasks that can be completed quickly, a small tank size is likely the ideal choice for you. On the other hand, bigger tanks are more suitable for heavy-duty purposes. Just remember, the longer your job with the air compressor will take, the higher the gallons you will need.
  • Determine your CFM: CFM refers to Cubic Feet per Minute. Your CFM will depend on your unit’s PSI range. When you calculate two units’ CFM measurements, they both must have the same psi level. If they are different, your calculation will not be accurate. CFM range can determine how much air pressure the air compressor delivers each minute. This rating is vital because it lets you know the air output for any unit’s proper performance. To calculate CFM, take the tank Volume in Cubic Feet x Standard Pressure (ATM) During a Cycle x Cranks per Minute.
  • Maintain your air compressor: Some compressors will need oil changes, while others are oil-less. If your model has oil, you should change it at least once a year. No matter what unit you have, you must drain out the condensation water that has collected from the previous use. If you don’t, your machine will rust and can even explode.

Air compressor uses

Air compressors can be used for a wide variety of tasks and jobs. Air compressors can supply air for filling up objects like tires or inflatable pool toys or supply power for operating tools. Some of the equipment that works well with compressed air power includes:

  • Drills
  • Nail guns
  • Grinders
  • Spray guns
  • Staplers
  • Sanders

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