Choosing the Right Air Compressor


Even if you've never used an air compressor in your life, you probably realize how helpful and even necessary they can be. Simply driving down your street, you probably notice every other house with their garage open has some type of air compressor inside. Go by a construction site and of course you will see a variety of shapes and sizes of compressors in use. Go to your mechanic or local tire shop and you can hear the large industrial air compressors working in the background. This article is intended to help those that need to purchase a compressor but have no idea where to start.

How Does an Air Compressor Work?

As complicated as some may look, an air compressor is really one of the simplest forms of machinery. A motor, or engine in case of larger compressors, pushes air into a metal storage tank. The air inside this tank is compressed to a certain level. When the air from the tank is released, the pressure is used to either power various sorts of pneumatic tools (nail gun, impact wrench, paint sprayer, etc.) or simply expelled through a nozzle to inflate tires and dust off surfaces. When enough air in the tank is released and the pressure drops to a certain level, the motor starts back up to refill the tank and the process starts all over again. For a more detailed explanation, read Popular Mechanic's take on it.

Grades of Air Compressors

All air compressors are categorized into one of three grades: consumer, contractor, and commercial (or industrial). Note: Click on a specific subheading below once you determine that's the type you need.

Consumer Grade

Probably the most common type and typically the most portable, these are your basic units mainly intended for small jobs around the house and in the garage. They are designed to be user friendly and require little to no maintenance. Common uses include inflating tires, toys, and sporting goods, as well as running air tools without the requirements of high airflow. Brad nailers, staple guns, and small disc grinders are typical tools which work well for this category.

Contractor Grade

Contractor grade air compressors are designed for professionals at the job site or garage. This type has more power than the consumer grade, is heavier, has a larger air tank, and is more durable. They are portable by way of hand carrying by handle, rolled on wheels, or even attached to the back of a vehicle. More demanding tools such as framing nailers and impact wrenches are able to be powered by this type. In addition, most contractor grade compressors allow for multiple tools to be run off of one compressor allowing either more than one user or multitasking by a single person.

Industrial Grade

With the best performance and state-of-the-art technology, industrial (or commercial) grade air compressors are made for heavy duty use. Most commonly found repair shops, auto body shops, manufacturing plants, and even oil rigs, these tough compressors provide large amounts of compressed air for long periods of time. Their high performance has a price tag to match.

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