It is a great time to be alive if you’re a DIYer! No matter the scale of your project, getting your hands on some high-quality tools is not an issue nowadays. Home repair, house renovation, air-brushing, or simple developing of a hobby, everything can be supported by air tools, and there are many reasons why.
The most significant 2 factors are accessibility and safety. Air tools are light and portable, making them extra handy in tricky situations, and above all, they do not break easily due to their simplicity. The other important factor is safety. This means no sparks or fire in case of jamming, and we all know that lack of concerns is more than welcome with any tool out there.
So, what are air tools, how do they work, and most importantly, what are the types of air tools you can get to upgrade your tool shed? Stick around and find out!
What is an Air Tool?
As the name suggests, these tools use air as the driving force. Also known as pneumatic tools, air tools vary from small, .5-pound handheld machines, to large, powerful turbines, with every type of tool variation you can imagine.
Now, to better understand the topic, we can divide air tools into two separate groups: air compressors (source) and air tools (utilization). In the tool world, when a term air tool is used, people usually refer to both groups, with air tools that utilize compressed air are the majority.
1. Air Compressors
In a nutshell, air compressors are pneumatic motors which compress air into an air tank. This air is later used to power the tools which focus it in a more concise direction. What’s important to notice is that you do not exactly need a tool to use an air compressor, even though it is written off as a source only. Air compressors without any tools are used for cleaning electronics, or other delicate and hard-to-reach places. Some can be used to inflate beach gear or even car tires.
2. Air Tools (Utility)
Here lies the bread and butter of any DIYer: the air powered tools, aka pneumatic tools. These tools use compressed air linearly or circularly to reach a particular goal. This goal can be painting, drilling, sanding, nailing, hammering, thumping, etc. The tools that utilize air are lighter because they lack electronic parts and wiring. Often connected through a hose with the source, a large number of air tools have some sort of gauge to control the output.
Working Mechanism of Air Tools?
To best understand the mechanics behind air tools, we would like to suggest a simple thought experiment. In this experiment, all we need is a small-diameter tube and a fully inflated balloon. Imagine deflating the balloon through the tube. In this case, the balloon is our air compressor, and a tube is a tool. How this tool can be applied depends on its purpose. If you put a nail in the tube, it can be shot and driven into a surface. If you put some paint inside the tube before balloon deflation, you can spray the paint with little to no effort. You get the idea.
Air compressors are there to store as much air, using sturdy steel or aluminum air tanks, and air tools are there to utilize the pressurized air to perform an action. By the type of action, air tools are separated into 2 groups: linear and circular.
Linear air tools are the ones that perform repetitive actions, in a fast manner. Nail guns, jackhammers, saws, blow guns and similar are representatives of this group. Linear air tools are able to perform this single action an enormous amount of times, depending on the pressure provided.
Circular air tools, on the other hand, are used whenever a rotary action is needed. Air saw, die grinders, sanders, screwdrivers, and similar tools belong to this group. The more pressurized air you allow through the tool, the faster it will rotate. It all depends on the compressor and the application of the tool.
Who Needs Air Tools?
The short answer is everyone! Now, do not get us wrong, we are aware that there are some powerful electric tools out there, but there is a reason why the air tool industry bloomed in the 21st century. These tools found their spot in any household. From industrial contractors and civil engineers to people who need their beach gear inflated, the purposes are so numerous that they became hard to track.
Air tools are especially recommended to hobbyists and DIYers because of the learning curve. They are easy to handle, and not that hard when it comes to maintenance. Another great thing that any handyman respects is simplicity. Air tools are known for being less complicated than their electric counterparts. Without complicated circuitry, you do not have to worry about humidity, electric cords, and electrical safety.
However, this does not mean that you should ignore safety gear. Air tools are powerful and dangerous if not handled properly. Let us not forget that we are talking about air strong enough to pierce wood with a nail.
Lastly, air tools have found their way in art shops and car-painting parlors. Airbrushes and air spray painters have become popular due to their reliability, especially when larger surfaces need to be covered. Airbrushes with different width, and different pressure gauges can provide you both strength and precision needed to paint on metal and other hard surfaces.
Now that we have gone through the basics of air tools, it is time to see what kind of air compressors and air power tools are there. Let’s dive into it!
Air Tool Types
1. Air Compressors
The main unit that every air tool requires is a well-built air compressor. The essential principle of this part of your tool arsenal is transforming power (produced by a motor – gas, diesel or electric) into potential energy. This potential energy is stored in the form of pressurized (or compressed) air, contained in highly-durable air tanks.
When a tool needs this stored energy, it draws the air through a hose, and turns it into kinetic energy, giving the tool necessary rotary or linear speed (as we mentioned in the sections above). The most popular air compressor types, judging by energy source, are electric, simply due to the fact that you can use them inside. They are, however, a bit less powerful than their gas and diesel counterparts.
Even though they vary in shape and size, all air compressors have 3 things in common: a motor to pressurize the air, a tank to store the air, and an outlet that makes utilizing the stored air possible. If you plan to get a more powerful air compressing unit, do not forget that it will probably require more space, and it will stay stationary most of the time.
1.1 Portable Air Compressors
However, if you decide to go with a less bulky option, and a model you can relocate, a portable air compressor might be the ideal solution. These compressors are there to support you through all your DIY endeavors without setbacks, or at least almost without setbacks. The only thing that a portable air compressor cannot provide to your air tools is non-stop operation. Portable units store 4 to 6 gallons of air on average, which is not a small amount by any chance. It’s just the fact that they need to recharge if you plan to work all day.
In essence, portable air compressors are almost always electric, and are separated into different groups based on tank shape and size, with the most popular being: pancake compressor (4 to 6 gallons), twin-stack aka hotdog (2 to 6 gallons), pontoon compressor (2 to 3 gallons) and a wheelbarrow portable air compressor type (size varies, but it can handle larger tanks).
Due to their portability and compact design, portable air compressors are simple to use, and usually, do not offer any special features. You should expect a barometer for inlet and outlet pressure, and maybe some indicator lights, which is more than enough to get the job done.
1.2 Air Compressors for Car Tires
Also known as tire inflators, car tire air compressors are somewhat different than the other models. They are always powered electrically, however not necessarily from the outlet. Yes, there are battery-powered models, which only strengthens their purpose. Air compressors for car tires are known to be the most portable models, but that comes with a price: they are not suitable for much else. That is all they are. Inflators.
Do not fear, though, because tire inflators come with adequate technology. By this, we mean the automatic pressure meters that allow you the luxury to leave them working, with a guarantee that the compressor will turn off when the car tire reaches the wanted pressure. A lot of models have detailed barometers, analog or digital, to help you determine the current state of your tires.
Car tire air compressors are usually built with a shorter hose, and you will have to put keep them working beside the car. This may seem like a disadvantage, but a shorter hose means less pressure loss due to air travel, and by extension, the inflating process is faster. Some models even come with different extensions for beach gear, bicycle tires, and sports gear inflation. All in all, this a useful tool to have in the trunk of your car.
1.3 Quiet Air Compressors
This type of air compressor is made for home handymen and DIYers out there. Quiet air compressors are somewhat similar to portable air compressing units, but they come with a twist. This twist is a combination of systems designed to make the compressor motor as quiet as possible. Never forget that standard air compressors make a lot of noise because they are basically engines that pump air into a tank.
Now, quiet air compressors have several things to help you keep working even during the night. The main feature that makes them quiet is the body that holds the motor. It is made of a small number of parts, and it is rubberized wherever possible, because: the smaller the number of parts, the smaller the chances something will get slightly loose and vibrate, making more noise.
Another thing to keep in mind is that quietest air compressors cannot pack a lot of power. Their air tank sizes average between 3 and 6 gallons, similar to standard portable air compressing models. So, keep working through the night and through the after-lunch nap time, and bother no one while you’re at it.
1.4 Gas Air Compressors
Ah yes, the most powerful air compressors belong to this group. Gas-guzzling engines help pressurize air faster and at larger quantities, enabling you to connect more than one tool at a time. That is why, naturally, gas air compressors found their place on construction sites and similar scenarios. They burn gasoline, which powers a large (compared to electric motors) internal combustion engine, all in order to power the tools you need.
However, that kind of power comes with a price. Like every other gas machine out there, gas air compressors are not safe to operate inside, or near the living area of your house. You need to find adequate positions because exhaust gases need to go away as fast as possible. These machines do not consume a lot of gas though, so refilling while you work will not be necessary.
The combustion engine eliminates the need for an electric cord, so despite the size of gas air compressors, this gives them some mobility and portability. There are more portable versions of gas compressors as well, but they do not deliver the same powerful punch as the large models do. The conclusion is simple: if you need a LOT of power, an air compressor is the best way to go for sure!
1.5 12V Air Compressors
If you are in a setting that requires optimized energy efficiency, or you travel a lot, a 12V air compressors should present a serious consideration. Why? Well, as you probably already know, 12V appliances are made for two reasons: supporting a DC grid and traveling. While the first reason is rare, people who travel need air inflation tools more often than you think. Campers and nature enthusiasts can benefit from a good 12V model for multiple reasons, and the main one being a flat tire, of course.
12V models have the option of your car battery as a power source, which is a life-saver more often than not. Though you should not expect a lot of power from these models, their price is usually lower than the other types. When you combine that kind of affordability, with the small frame 12V air compressors come with, there is no reason not to have one as an emergency backup.
Besides being a part of a car emergency kit, these air compressors found their place in workshops that deal with sensitive electronics, or cleaning the electronics to be more precise. Pressurized air is used to clean computer and smartphone parts with ease while keeping the integrity of them intact.
2. Air Hammers
Regardless of their name, air hammers are more versatile than one might think. These compressed air utilizing tools are made to help you carve stone, cut metal parts and metal pipes, and ultimately separate ball joints. From this alone, you have surely concluded that we are talking about heavy-duty tools, and air hammers are one of the most necessary tools when it comes to reshaping metal, or fixing tight joints on metal constructions.
In its essence, with its shape, an air hammer resembles a gun. It is connected to the air compressor hose on its lower side, and on the place where the end of the gun barrel should be, there’s a slot for air hammer extensions. These extensions are there to help you adapt the air hammer for the task at hand, ranging from simple rods to specified metal cutting edges. Also called chisels, the extensions are usually provided with the model you get, but it is important to remember to get a set for the job you are usually doing.
Nowadays, there is no construction site without an air hammer in some shape or form, not only because of their utility power but because of the wide range of situations you might find them useful.
3. Pneumatic Nail Gun
There is no carpenter or construction worker in the housing sector without a nail gun in his arsenal. Pneumatic (or air) nail gun is the type of tool that changed how houses are built when it was invented, with the exceptional ability to drive nails through hard materials, with a simple push of a button.
Even though the nail gun found its place on construction sites around the world, any type of woodworking can benefit from it. If you are into making or repairing furniture, a nail gun will prove useful, especially during the final stages of the process.
Pneumatic guns use pressurized air from a compressor to launch a nail into the surface the gun is aimed at. There are lots of different types, separated into groups based on the usage, with the most popular being:
- Farming nail guns for heavy construction work and nailing wood poles,
- Roofing nail guns for shorter nails with larger heads used on rooftops,
- Flooring nail guns for hardwood floors and even synthetic materials
- Finishing nail guns for lighter works and repairs.
Some models even have magazines that can hold a large number of nails, so you do not have to reload the gun every now and again.
4. Pneumatic Die Grinder
One of the most-used rotary type pneumatic tools in a workshop is a die grinder. It is another air tool with a slightly misleading name because it does not help you press or cut into the metal. A die grinder uses pressurized air from the compressor to fulfill actions like grinding, sanding, polishing, honing or any sort of machining that involves metal materials (and sometimes plastics too).
Most of this process is automated with CNC machines, but when it comes to manual touches, that’s where the pneumatic die grinder comes in. With different extensions, you can do different metal transformations. Their strong suit is getting into those hard-to-reach places, making the die you want without having to rearrange the whole setup.
Usually, a die grinder will come with a set of rotary burrs (extensions) which allow you to adapt the tool to the job at hand.
5. Air Impact Wrench
Air impact wrenches are your helpers when nuts refuse to loosen, and no other tool seems to be showing results. Powered by air compressors, these units are able to store energy in a rotating mass, as they can deliver high torque in order to loosen stuck nuts and bolts. Whether you’re dealing with assemble or disassemble projects, these wrenches will prove to be very effective thanks to the strong power bursts used to deal with stubborn nuts. You don’t need much effort to operate them either – you just have to pull a trigger, and the unit will unleash its force.
6. Pneumatic Grease Gun
There is no mechanic or person that works in similar domains that do not have a pneumatic (also referred to as “air-powered”) grease gun in his toolbox. Whereas other grease guns are perfect for small residential projects, the pneumatic version allows you to lubricate your bearings much faster – all while preventing waste. Using air pressure to send the grease through the hose and the apertures, these kinds of grease guns provide better control, prolonging the life of your precious bearings. They also use the power of the compressor to ensure that both the grease and the airflow are under control.
7. Pneumatic Brad Nailer
If you have a delicate nailing job to do, then a pneumatic brad nailer should be just the right tool for you. These units are perfect if you have an eye for detail. With the ability to shoot 18-gauge nails, they leave smaller holes behind – which in most cases, won’t even need to be covered. It’s a great option if you want to attach some molding and trimming, or to add some finishing touches in your home. Plus, since they use the power of compressed air, they are also lightweight and affordable – making them perfect for the carpenter on a budget.
8. Pneumatic Framing Nailer
Pneumatic framing nailers are amazing air-powered units that can offer you a hand when you’re working with nails and wood for various projects. Using an air compressor as their power source, these machines will shoot nails into the wood as you press a trigger – and will make sure the surfaces stick together. They work as a replacement for hammers, as they make the task quicker and easier to perform. Therefore, this tool can be used to build fences, frames, sheath wood, or side wood. These products have a magazine where nails are being held, so you don’t have to carry the nails separately.
Final Thought Before You Go
Pneumatic tools are considered heavy-duty, making them dangerous if not handled with care. Because of this fact, we would like to advise you, no matter the skill level you have around the workshop, to wear protective gear at all times. Especially while working with nail guns, die grinders and air hammers. These air tools deal with a lot of pressurized air, that, if left unchecked can do a lot of damage to your property. So, the saying “better safe than sorry” applies strongly here!
The technology of today made these amazing tools possible and available to anyone that dares to try. And we do encourage you to not only try air tools but to master them and see the efficiency rise yourself. Ask any handyman or construction worker, and they will tell you that when it’s time for serious business, they bust out the pneumatic/air tools.
Air tools are convenient and handy, and air compressors can prove useful in countless situations. It all depends on your preferences and experience, but there is no limit to what you can achieve with a good set of air tools and a matching air compressor. From house building to furniture making and painting, air tools will provide a valuable ally.
We hope that we have provided you a better insight into what air tools have to bring to the tool shack, and if you have anything to ask or add, feel free to do it in the comment section below.