Air Compressors

by The Carpenter

Air compressors are an essential part of running all of the tools that are used in a multitude of industries from construction, to automotive, to manufacturing. Being such a critical part of the overall operation of the work you do, it is best to spend the time finding out how to choose the best air compressor for your specific applications.

There are two basic types of air compressors, reciprocating and rotary. The reciprocating air compressors use a piston device to drive pressurized air into the holding tank. For casual applications or occasional home use, these types of air compressors will serve best for the least expense. They are designed for such low-end applications. Even the best of them usually maintain only a 50% duty cycle and some inexpensive ones rank even lower. This duty cycle is the amount of time the compressor can run before requiring a rest stop. Reciprocating air compressors are very versatile in that they came in many sizes and capabilities as well as being small enough to be either portable or permanently installed depending on your specific needs.

If your applications require continuous operation, you will need to investigate the rotary model air compressors. Using a duel screw system for pressurizing the air in the holding tank, they can maintain up to a 100% duty cycle without loss of pressure. These types are larger and more expensive and generally must be permanently installed in the location you will be using them.

Fuel considerations must be looked into. Air compressors are usually either electrically driven or use diesel fuel. If you settle on a diesel fuel air compressor that will be working inside, you must take necessary precautions to vent the fumes and deal with the heat they generate. A large diesel compressor may be mounted outside with the air piped into the work area. Diesel powered air compressors are also best used for mobile situations where it must move from job site to job site. Electric power is best if you have a permanent indoor compressor location.

One extra consideration is that many of the small, portable air compressors are not very powerful so ease of movement may be offset by inability to provide all the required air pressure. This is where you need to research your tools and air compression needs to find a unit that matches your requirements. You should first look at the pounds per square inch (PSI) needs of the tools you will be using. Your highest PSI rated tool equals the absolute minimum requirement on your air compressor.

In addition to air pressure, you must figure on your needed airflow which is measured by cubic feet per minute (CFM). You must add up the CFM airflow requirements of all the tools you will be running simultaneously at any given time and then figure on needing your compressor to be capable of providing half again as much on a continuous basis. Engine horsepower is not nearly as important as tank size. The more compressed air you can store, the less often the engine will need to run to replenish the pressure.

Finally, examine the warranties and compare them with what is covered by the manufacturer and what you will have to pay out of pocket in maintenance and repairs. Like any precision machine, your air compressor will require routine maintenance to keep it in good running order.

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