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Finding the Right Air Compressor for Your Shop

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In the modern wood shop, pneumatic nailers have become as commonplace as the saw and hammer. However, in order to power these pneumatic tools appropriately, one needs to have the proper air compressor.

There are many different styles of air compressor, from small, gasoline or electric-powered portable units to comparably large, 80-gallon stationary air compressors. But how do you know which one is best for your shop?

Determining Your Needs:

Before you decide to buy an air compressor, the first thing you should do is determine your needs. Will you be using more than one tool simultaneously? Do you intend to use large-capacity framing-type nailers or are will your usage be limited to less air-hungry narrow-crown staplers, finish nailers and brad nailers?

Will your compressor be used solely within the confines of your wood shop, or do you envision taking it to remote job sites? And will there be electricity readily available at these job sites?

Once you have these answers, you've gone a long way toward isolating the type of compressor you need.

How Much Air Do You Really Need?:

To determine your compressor needs, begin by identifying the types of pneumatic tools you really need. For most wood shops that focus on cabinetry or fine furniture, finish nailers, brad nailers and narrow-crown staplers are the most desired tools. However, when working in construction, framing nailers will be necessary.
Once you've identified the tools you need, find the amount of air that each tool requires in the documentation for that tool. For instance, a tool whose air consumption is 2.5 SCFM - 10 Nails/Minute@90 psig (6.2 bar) will require 2 1/2 cubic feet of compressed air per minute, and will drive 10 nails per minute at 90 psi (pounds per square inch).

Knowing this, you would need an air compressor that will deliver at least this amount of compressed air. If you will be nailing at a faster rate or with more than one tool at a time, you should look for a compressor with a larger tank volume.

Portable or Stationary?:

Another consideration is whether the unit you buy will be used portably or if it will be permanently stationed in your workshop. If the unit is to be utilized on a job site, you should determine whether electricity will be readily available, or whether your compressor should be gasoline-powered.

Other Considerations:

When looking for a compressor, in addition to the size of the tank and the portability factor, there are other features you should consider. Most modern piston-type compressors should be oil-free, which requires little maintenance. The unit should have a pressure gauge and a pressure release valve, as well as an on/off switch which toggles between off and auto-on. Portable units should have a secure carrying handle and stationary units should have secure mounting brackets.
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