Plumbing a Shop for AirA simple system puts access to air where you need it and ends the hassle of tangled hoses
Synopsis: Compressed air, like electricity, is a wonderful source of power, says Roland Johnson. And with the right design, even a small compressed-air system can be efficient, effective, and clean. His precise directions help you choose the correct diameter and length of pipe and install it for an efficient system in your shop.
I’ve used compressed air in my shop for more than 20 years. Originally, I bought a compressor for a spray gun and an airpowered sander, but over the years I’ve added brad and finish nailers, a vacuum-bag veneer press, vacuum clamps, drills and routers. Compressed air, like electricity, is a wonderful source of power.
But many compressed-air systems are inadequate. A good one will supply an ample volume of air at a consistent pressure, free of moisture and particulate matter. With the right design, even a small compressed-air system can be effective, efficient and clean. The diameter and length of the pipe that you use affect the pressure and volume of air it will deliver. You need larger diameters for longer runs to avoid drastic pressure drops in the system. Compressor manufacturers are a great planning resource and offer free charts and tables that you can use to size a system for your shop.
Iron pipe works best
A number of different kinds of pipe will work well to distribute compressed air inside a shop. Copper pipe is relatively inexpensive, but its main drawback is that it requires a plumber’s talent for sweating joints, and you need a torch to do that. In new construction this may be less of a hazard, but in older shops, sawdust settled into hidden crevices can be a real danger. I would never use rigid PVC because a sharp blow from the edge of a board could cause it to rupture and send shrapnel flying.
I chose black iron pipe (3 ⁄4 in. dia. for the main header pipe and 1 ⁄2 in. dia. for the relatively short drops) because it’s the most durable and offers the most flexibility for any future changes to my system. You can buy precut and threaded lengths of pipe and all the necessary fittings at most hardware and home stores.
From Fine Woodworking #160
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