Coming Up for Air
Making the leap to air-powered tools
Synopsis: Roland Johnson uses his air compressor for powering many things in his shop: finish nailers, orbital and inflatable drum sanders, die grinders, blow guns, drills, and as a vacuum generator for his veneer press. Almost every electric tool has an air-driven counterpart with the advantages of lighter weight, variable speed, and longer life. He explains here how air compressors work, what tools work well with them, how to buy one, and how to assess ratings (cfm and psi). He says to look for durable materials and practical sizes and explains how to choose hoses. He details couplers and flexible hoses in various grades and sizes and explains how to maintain the compressor and its parts to extend its life.
I launched my woodworking career with a few hand tools, some clamps, a used lathe bought at a garage sale, a borrowed belt sander and a brand-spanking-new 5-hp air compressor with a spray gun. The compressor was an extravagant purchase at the time, but for refinishing furniture, the spray gun gave me a competitive edge over other local refinishers. Twenty-two years later, that compressor is one of the most important tools in my shop.
Nowadays, I use a compressor for more than just spraying finishes. I also use it to power my air-driven finish nailers, orbital and inflatable drum sanders, die grinders, blow guns, drills and a vacuum generator for my veneer press. Almost every electric tool you use has an air-driven counterpart with the advantages of lighter weight variable speed and longer life. To convert to air-powered tools, the most expensive investment you’ll have to make—if you don’t already own one—is a compressor that can handle the demands of delivering enough air.
If you’re planning to buy a new compressor or trying to decide if…