Air Compressor Basics

There are tons of options nowadays that can overwhelm the customer when buying an air compressor. In the video How to Choose and Use an Air Compressor | This Old House, general contractor Tom Silva goes over what to look for when buying and operating an air compressor.

First thing is to understand how a compressor works. An electric motor connects to a pump that then transfers it to a tank.

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The pressure is shown on the gauge in the tank. The other gauge shows what the output pressure can be from the compressor to the tool you’ll be using. PSI, or pounds per square inch, is the measurement used to determine the pressure. The gauge should be set to the recommended pressure that the tool will be using.

Another measurement is the size of the air compressor tanks. SCFM is the standard cubic feet per minute is an important measurement.

That is the amount of air that the compressor can put out to the tool. The SCFM should be chosen based on what the tool will need. Some tools require a constant stream of air (such as a paint sprayer), while others only need short bursts (like a nail gun).

Price point and size is also an important factor when choosing a compressor. Customers should think about where they would be using the compressor.

Those who need the mobility, should pick smaller units that can easily be transported. However, these can be slightly less capacity. The larger units will be harder to move but are better suited for industrial use since they have a higher storage capacity. Smaller compressor are also cheaper and can be purchased for around $100. Large ones, on the other hand, can be much more expensive like $1800.

There are two types of compressors, oil and oil-less. Oil units need to be maintained on a yearly basis and the oil needs to be replaced. For an oil-less unit, this isn’t necessarily. However, for every unit, it is highly important that the unit is drained to make sure that there isn’t condensation left in the machine. This condensation, if not removed, can lead to rust and further more puncturing of the unit and causing it to explode. It is also important to check the compressor every couple years for any broken springs that could cause long term issues. Taking care of a compressor will ensure that it lasts a long time. The machines are meant to be durable, but only if they are well taken care of.