What air tools can I use with my Air Compressor?

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Aug 21, 2003
Central, NJ
Hello, my uncle just gave me an air compressor to use in my garage. It is a 6 gallon pancake style compressor that's 1.6hp(2.0hp peak) with 3.4cfm @40psi and 2.7cfm @ 90psi. I know its not a big compressor and isn't ideal for a garage, but hey it was free! I would like to know what tools I can get by with using this compressor. I am going to get an air nailer or 2 for house work, but as far as the garage, can I use an impact gun and an air ratchet with this compressor? Most of the impacts and ratchets that i have seen on harbor freight etc.. seem to be rated around 5cfm. Can these still be used with a lower rated compressor? Would I only get half the power of these tools using this compressors ratings? Can these tool be use on a compressor that doesn't meet the full air requirements of the tool? I would only be using these tools for general maintenance like tire rotations etc.., so can I by with this compressor using these air tools? My plan is when i refinish my garage down the road i am going to get a bigger 30+ gallon compressor just for the garage and use the pancake one as portable unit, but this is a few years away, so i am hoping i can get some air tools to use for general maintenance on my vehicle until i get the bigger compressor. This is my first compressor and don't know much about them or the air tools yet, so that's why i am posting these questions. thanks for all the help.
The kind of compressor that you are describing is basically a roofing compresor. The pankake style is designed to have a low center of gravity so it isn't easily tipped over. Nothing wrong with them, just letting you know why it was designed that way. That said, you are going to be waiting alot for the compressor to catch up if you want to use an air ratchet. with only 6 gal of reserve you will probably get 10 or 15 seconds on and 15 seconds of wait. I could do the math, but I am lazy. It would work okay with an impact wrench, because they are a little more intermittent in use. Forget about an air orbital sander - aint going to happen at 2.7CFM. I'd probably start with the impact wrench first and see how well it does. I've got an oil type Ingersal Rand that does 5.7CFM at 90PSI with a 30 or 40 gallon upright tank. I paid around $450, but it is nice and quiet. Be sure to drain the tank every once in awhile. I live in the desert and even I get quite a bit of water in there.
Add a 2nd and larger storage tank and you can use many air tools that do not run continuous. Air ratchet and impact and similar should be ok, but an air sander that you use for many minutes at a time would not be good.
Just some advice my father gave me... Air tools are simple and unless you are a professional mechanic, the $150 ingersal rand air ratchet will last several lifetimes. The $20 cheapie from harbor freight will probably last just one lifetime. Not all things are equal (sometimes the $150 tool is going to be balanced better and be more compact), but most of my air tools are cheapies and they have served me well. Just put a few drops of lubricating fluid in them before each use (and use them once a year) and they will do well. Air tools are great - they are lighter and more compact than the electric counterparts (and they sound wicked cool when you use them ) Just to add, you probably could use an air ratchet on that compressor - just intermittently. In reality, that portable one is going to be great for taking out to the cars to fill up for air. Sometimes I wish I had a little one like the one you've got for little tasks - I've got one of those ones that plugs into the ciagarette lighter in the car and it is worthless. That thing takes 5 minutes to fill up a tire.
I have got the (not quite) lightweight one that I can lug around to use with a nail gun. And then I have the old standby, a 5 HP, 2 stage with a 60 gallon tank. Quite a compressor. I hooked it up with a dual retractable air hoses, one for plain air and one for ait with oil in it. I second the Harbor Freight air tools for weekend mechanics. They too have different qualities. I first got a cheapie impact wrench, but it would not take off some frozen lugs on my boat trailer. So I got a more expensive one from them that has more torque and a 1-5 adjustable torque setting. Then I got a 3/4" monster from my Dad. Now I eye the 1" one but not sure I can lift it.
thanks for the replies. Yeah, my uncle is a general contractor and used this one mainly for nailers. He just bought a new one so he gave this one to me. I don't plan on getting any tools that run continuously, like a sander, I am just looking to see if I can use an Impact and maybe even a ratchet with this compressor to hold me over for a few years until i get a larger fixed unit. Since this is my first compressor, i am alittle confused on the numbers and how to match the tools. What are the most important numbers to pay attention to when buying a tool? If I buy an 400 torque Impact gun that is rated at 5cfm@90psi and my compressor is 2.7cfm@90psi, does that it mean it will work but that I will only be able to get around 250 torque out of the impact using this compressor? The whole cfm + psi vs Gallon size is alittle unclear right now. Like I said earlier, I am really just looking for an impact and ratchet for general vehicle maintenance for now with this portable compressor. Also, does the hose have to be a certain diameter to run certain tool? I was think about getting a coiled one, but all i have saw so far are 1/4 ones. I am sure this is fine for tire inflation, but will the air tools need a larger hose? Also I was looking at some tools at Lowes today and they really don't give you the specs on the tools either, so it was hard to determine what it needs. Sorry for all the questions, but I have no manual with this compressor so I want to make sure I get the right stuff and that it works. Thanks again for the help.
Use 3/8 inch hose. This compressor will run a 3/8 inch impact or a 1/4 inch air ratchet intermittently. It will be great for filling up tires or for nailers. It does not have enough CFM output or air capicity for serious garage work. I have a similar compressor in my desert trailer and its great but light duty only.
Add a 2nd and larger storage tank and you can use many air tools that do not run continuous. Air ratchet and impact and similar should be ok, but an air sander that you use for many minutes at a time would not be good.
Do this and you'll be able to run anything you want (at least in the fashion you described). You could use one of those air tanks they sell to fill up tires for example. I have seen people use old hot water heaters too.
However, you then run the risk of burning up the compressor. If it has to contstantly run longer than designed to fill up the extra air tank. Plus it will take a long time to fill up. Tank size is not the only issue--the ability to refill it efficiently is also necessary to run air tools with any regularity.
thanks for the replys. I did alittle researching on the interent and tell me if i got this right. My compressor is a 6 gallon 2.0hp rated at 3.4cfm@40psi and 2.7@90psi. According to a compressor guide on NorthernTool ("Air tools are often rated as “Average CFM.” “Average CFM” is typically based on a 25% duty cycle (15 seconds out of a min.")) So, If I have a 400 torque Impact gun rated at 5.0cfm@90psi since my tank pressure will be atleast 90 psi, I will be able to get the full 400 pounds of torque out of the gun, but I will really only be able to use it for about 7.5 seconds based on the 25% duty cycle mentioned in the guide. Since my compressor is rated at half that required by the tool , i will still get the full torque of the gun, but the time usage is cut in half. Am I correct here, is this how it works? So basically my compressor will run twice as much as a larger one, if I got this right then i can deal with the compressor running more often for a few years until I get a larger one, like i said, I am only going to be using an impact or ratchet every so often for general vehicle maintenance. thanks again for the help
I believe the CFM rating of the compressor is actually what it puts out while running. The avg CFM is what the tool uses based upon the tool running 25% of the time. The complicated piece is that your tank will make up some of the air CFM (that the compressor cannot deliver) until its below 90 PSI (or so) then the whole thing starts to degrade. A larger additional tank will be able to make up air for a longer period of time.
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