A Guide to Air Compressors
Take a look at these great tips that'll show you how to get the most from your compressor, and and check out some brilliant accessories as well.
Building with compressors
What’s to know about compressors? Fire them up, plug in a hose and away you go—right?
Wrong! We talked with an engineer who designs compressors for a large tool company and a bunch of pros who have spent thousands of hours working with compressors. They shared some great tips on how to get the most out of this indispensable tool (and they shared a few horror stories as well).
Keep hose connections clean
Your hoses will inevitably get dragged through the dirt and mud. It’s important to keep those hose connections clean because dirt in the couplers will eventually lead to dirt in the hoses, and then there’s only one place for that dirt to go—into your expensive air tools.
Debris in tools is a major cause of piston and O-ring damage, and dragging hose splitters with an unused port across the ground is almost a sure bet to pollute your hoses and tools. Hang hose connections from a sawhorse or anything handy that’s off the ground, or set them on a clean surface. Your tools will thank you.
Carry extra parts
A bad valve or cut hose can cost you lots of money in downtime. Avoid that by keeping a cache of spare parts, including coupler bodies, coupler plugs, pressure gauges, Teflon tape, and hose repair parts.
Protect finished surfaces
Metal couplers can scratch and dent wood floors and baseboards. Wrap duct tape around the couplers to avoid damaging finished surfaces. If you do a lot of finish work, consider investing in non-marring composite couplers.
Keep ’em quiet
Nobody wants to work around a noisy compressor all day. Here are the most common tricks to achieve a little job-site peace and quiet:
- Set compressors behind a board propped up on a sawhorse.
- Hide them on the other side of a vehicle or around the corner.
- Keep them outside when you’re working inside.
- Put them in a closet (Don't do this with gas models!).
Keep hoses and tools dry with a filter
Not everyone needs to run a moisture filter, but you should consider it if you’re working in extremely hot, humid conditions. The compressor will cause the water vapor in humid air to condense. Excess water in the line will ultimately reach the tool, which could cause permanent stains on unfinished wood. Water will also reduce the effectiveness of the oil in tools, which will increase harmful friction and promote rusting.
Lock-on air chuck
Here’s a trick for you pros with heavy-duty truck and trailer tires. It’s important to check tire pressure regularly when you’re hauling heavy loads, and it can take quite a while to add just 5 pounds to a tire that requires 75 psi. Save yourself some time with a lock-on air chuck. Just set the pressure valve on your compressor to the correct setting, lock the chuck onto the valve stem and walk away. Then you can spend your time productively instead of hunched over eight tires for 20 minutes.
Hang hoses from scaffolding
Even lightweight polyurethane hoses get heavy if you’re working 20 ft. off the ground. Stop hauling around the weight of a whole length of hose by hanging most of it on a scaffold peg or roof vent. Keep the knot loose so you don’t damage the hose. A spring clamp attached to a fascia, vent or pipe stack also works well. Never secure a hose to the ladder you used to access a roof because an unintentional tug on the hose could send the ladder down to terra firma, leaving you stranded.
Always connect the two coupler ends to each other to keep out dirt and dust. Velcro straps are ideal for keeping your hoses from getting tangled.
Eliminate flailing hoses
One pro we talked to had disconnected a hose from a compressor and had the pressurized hose go wild, smack him in the face and shatter his eyeglasses! Avoid nicknames like “One-Eyed Joe” by installing a safety coupler. This one has a push button. Push the button once, and air escapes the line. The second push releases the tool from the coupler. Depressurizing the tank before uncoupling also works, but that’s only convenient at the end of the day. Manufacturers don’t recommend using the pressure release valve to depressurize because it’s a safety feature and not intended for regular use.
Cold weather start-up
Compressor motors draw a lot of power, especially on start-up. And cold weather makes things worse because the oil gets thick, adding to the power required to get things moving. If it’s cold and your compressor is sluggish when it starts or if you keep blowing breakers on the compressor or the electrical panel, try leaving the drain plug open. That might reduce the draw on the motor enough to get things moving. Leave the plug open until the motor warms up. If this trick doesn’t work, you’ll have to warm up the compressor indoors before starting.
Adjust your pressure
Pay attention to the recommended pressure requirements of whichever tool you’re using. Our engineer consultant encounters too many pros who crank up the pressure on the compressor and then dial back the fastener depth setting on the tool they’re using. Too much pressure will shorten the life of the tool.
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