Top Tips for Choosing and Using an Air Compressor

Expand your DIY capabilities by using air compressor-powered tools for a wide variety of tasks indoors and outdoors.

By Bob Vila | Updated Dec 29, 2021 10:26 AM

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The Best Portable Air Compressor Option


Paint a house, fix a fender, build a deck, shingle a roof, pump air into your car’s tires — you can do it all with the unmatched power of compressed air.

Air power is clean and there is less potential for fire or electrical damage in the tool itself. Air tools run cooler and smoother, and they require little maintenance. Because air tools are lighter than electric power tools, you’ll find that they’re easier to use over long periods of time.

Choosing an Air Compressor

When choosing a compressor, here are a few things you need to consider.

  • Power/Capacity. How much power and capacity will you need? Choose from 1- to 6-horsepower (HP) motors with 8- to 60-gallon tank capacity. Make sure the compressor is UL listed and ASME certified.
  • Wiring. Is your home or shop wired to handle the compressor you need? Smaller-size compressors can be plugged right into 120-volt household outlets. Larger 3- to 3-1/2-HP models are easily converted to 240 volts. Large 5- and 6-HP models are factory wired for 240-volt circuits.
  • Maintenance. Oil-free compressors are nearly maintenance free. Oil lubricated models require service but perform at higher levels.
  • Plan for the future. Consider what projects you plan to take on in the months and years ahead. You can always grow into a larger-capacity compressor.


Air Compressor Uses

Air compressors have been an essential part of power generation for over a hundred years. An air compressor provides one centrally located, efficient power source for all its tools and accessories. This means each tool and accessory can be less expensive, lighter, more efficient, and more ergonomic. Not having to incorporate a heavy electric motor in each tool allows the designer to create tools that are exactly suited to the job they are asked to perform.

Components of an air power system can be purchased as necessary or desired. This means the system can be expanded as necessary to handle a variety of tasks:

  • Painting. Air sprayers apply a smooth, even coat to houses, cars, vans, trucks, furniture, playground and farm equipment, fences, toys, and hobby modeling.
  • Inflation. Proper inflation extends a tire’s life. Air gauges are ideal for cars, vans, trucks, bikes, and farm equipment, as well as play equipment and sports and camping items.
  • General Purpose. Wrenches, drills, reciprocating saws, high-speed cutters, caulk guns and sanding tools can take on a variety of household and shop projects.
  • Automotive and Mechanical. Provides superior efficiency and steady power to ratchets, grease guns, impact wrenches and air hammers used in brake and muffler work, buffing, and polishing.
  • Refinishing. Rotary, orbital, random orbit, and straight line sanders for refinishing automotive, industrial and farm equipment, furniture, building, and craft projects.
  • Stapling and Nailing. Staplers and nailers have the power to tack down roof shingles, flooring, framing, cabinets, decks, siding, molding, paneling, upholstery, fencing, insulation, acoustical tiles, and more.