Buy an air compressor that has the CFM (cubic feet per minute) capacity to drive the air tools you want to use. Our brief rundown of compressors tells you the capacity you need for various tools.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:April 2010
Run your brad nailers all day with a low-cost
air compressor. It'll run a framing
nailer, too, but you'll have to wait for the
pressure to rebuild after every few nails.
This .7 CFM compressor is oilless and costs less than $100.
If you're shopping for a new air compressor, consider the ways, and how often, you'll put it to use before buying the cheapest one. Everything depends on how much you'll be
running it, and what you plan to use it
for. Compressors that cost less than
$100 are very portable and will do a
fine job of running a trim nailer, filling
tires or blowing dust off your clothes—but that's about it. You'll have to be
patient; they take a long time to get up
to pressure and to fill tires. If you do
decide on a cheap compressor, consider
it a “throw-away” tool and be prepared
to replace it when it dies. Virtually any
repair will exceed the replacement cost.
A compressor rated for less than 2 CFM will run these tools.
Pony up more money to get a quality
portable oil-lube compressor that's
powerful enough to run all these air tools,
including a framing nailer.
This 4.2 CFM compressor has oil splash lubrication and costs about $300.
If you can afford to spend about
$300, you can get a portable compressor
that'll power most DIY air tools
and last for a couple of decades (see
Photo 2). Look for a compressor with a
cast iron cylinder, oil lubrication and
air output of at least 4 cu. ft. per
minute (cfm). You'll have to change
the oil on schedule to keep it humming.
But the longer life outweighs the
hassle. Also be aware that oil-lubricated
compressors inject a fine oil mist
into the air line. So you'll need to
invest in a separate hose and a filter if
you're going to use a paint sprayer.
You can find less expensive, oilless
compressors ($129 to $199) that will
put out 4 cfm, but don't expect them to
last as long. And you'll need to wear
hearing protection—they're LOUD!
A compressor rated for 4 CFM will run all of the above tools plus lower CFM tools.
Blast big bolts with a powerful impact
wrench and a heavy-duty compressor.
This model has a 20-gallon tank, twin pistons
and a fully cast iron pump.
This 5.5 CFM compressor has oil lubrication and costs about $540.
If you're a serious motorhead, you'll
have to take a larger leap. If you want
to run “air-motor” powered tools like
impact wrenches and ratchets, you'll
have to get serious with a unit that's
capable of at least 5.5 cfm with a sizable
air tank. Just forget about running
air-powered sanders and sandblasters—those guys require almost
9 cfm. Expect to spend
$540 plus for a good one. But the only
thing that makes them portable is the
wheels. They're heavy and bulky.
A 5.5 CFM compressor will operate these tools as well as those requiring fewer CFM.
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