Selecting the Right Air Compressor for Your Air Tool

What to Look For When Buying an Air Compressor for Your Air Tools

By Mark J. Donovan

One of the best decisions I made as a DIY homeowner was to buy a pneumatic nail gun and air compressor. Whether it’s installing baseboard trim or nailing down decking boards, my nail gun dramatically shortens the amount of time I spend nailing lumber. It also helps to do a neater nailing job, and automatically countersinks the nails for me.

Besides a nail gun, there are a host of other air compressor driven air tools including paint sprayers, drills, air sanders, air hammers, and wrenches. Like the nail gun, with all of these tools they enable their respective purpose to be done faster and better.

Besides accomplishing their function faster and better, air tools also provide much more power than electrical power tools. For example, with pneumatic drills they provide higher rotational speeds (RPM), which helps to achieve faster and cleaner cuts, or to remove material more quickly if using an air sander. Similarly, with air wrenches, they provide much more torque than the regular hand wrench. Air tools are also much lighter since they do not contain electric motors, and in general are cheaper over the long haul than electric power tools. Finally they typically last longer since they have less electro-mechanical parts to fail, e.g. there are no electric motors to burn out in them.

When selecting an air compressor always select one that can serve multiple air tools. For example, if you’re considering buying a pancake air compressor and a finished nail gun to install some trim moulding, think twice before settling on the pancake air compressor.

Once you actually experience the benefits of an air tool and compressor it’s hard to turn back. Consequently you’ll find yourself eventually wanting to buy that framing nail gun, or air wrench and with these air tools you’ll find yourself needing a much larger air compressor than a pancake type.

Learn How to Quickly Install Crown Molding

When deciding upon an air compressor it’s important that you buy one that can support the CFM (Cubic Foot per Minute) rate at a specified PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) level of the specific air tools you expect to use with it. Also, if you plan to run more than one tool off of the air compressor at any one time, you’ll want to make sure that the air compressor has a large enough volume to support the total CFM rate, at their required PSI level, for the multiple tools.

Otherwise the air compressor will either constantly be cycling on and off, which will become annoying in short order, and/or it won’t produce enough power to support, for example, two nail guns simultaneously. Also what winds up happening when operating two nail guns on too small of an air compressor is that the nails are not properly sunk into the wood material and you find yourself going back and sinking them with a hammer. If planning to operate 2 framing nail guns off an air compressor I would highly recommend buying at least a 15 gallon air compressor.

Most air tools require CFM rates between 0 and 5 CFM, however there are a few larger air tools such as sanders that can require up to 20CFM. Also, as is the case with most air tools, framing nail guns typically require a PSI level of 90 PSI. To determine how many tools you can run on an air compressor simultaneously just add up the specific CFM rates of the tools and compare it to the rating of the air compressor. My recommendation is that the total number of CFMs required of the air tools should be less than 75% of the CFM rating for the air compressor.

In regards to the size of air compressor tank to go with, I suggest the larger the better, to a point. Again, I find a 15 or 20 gallon air compressor to handle my typical diy projects adequately, however I am not a framing contractor nailing up exterior sheathing or subfloors every day. I have personally found a 15 gallon air compressor to be sufficient for operating one or two framing nail guns simultaneously at a moderate nailing rate.

Keep in mind that the larger the air compressor tank the less often it has to cycle on and off which cuts down on the noise around the job site. This said, a large air compressor can be difficult to store when not using it, so keep that in mind when deciding upon an air compressor. I would also recommend the horizontal air compressor as they are more portable than the vertical types. The 15 to 20 gallon horizontal ones usually come on wheels and have a handle to roll them around.

Gasoline vs Electrical Air Compressor

If you are a DIY homeowner then I would recommend the electrical air compressor. For most diy homeowners they have electricity on the job site. Also, there are no dangerous fumes with electrical air compressors. If you are a contractor on the other hand, or know you are going to be working on a job site without electricity or without at least a generator, then I would suggest buying a gasoline air compressor.

Dress Up Your Home with Crown Molding – For specific instructions on installing crown molding see the “Installing Crown Molding Ebook“.  The “Installing Crown Molding Ebook” will show you how to properly measure, select, cut and install crown molding like a professional carpenter.  It provides detailed instructions on every step in the process of installing crown molding and includes 28 instructional pictures! Order and Immediately Download today!. 100% Money-Back Guarantee if you are not satisfied.

For information on installing Window and Door trim see’s  Installing Interior Window Trim Ebook and  Installing Interior Door Trim Ebook.  These Ebooks are loaded with pictures and provide easy to understand, step-by-step instructions, on how to install interior window and door trim.

Related Information

Additional Finish Carpentry Resources from

Free Home Addition Price Quotes with No Obligation!

Fill out our 3-5 minute quick and easy form, and receive a free price quote on a house addition from one of our prescreened and licensed home addition contractors. This process is free and there is no obligation to continue once you receive your house addition price estimate.