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In its untouched bare-wood form, a garage is a blank slate awaiting change. That empty space can be transformed into a number of different things. Add a squat rack, and it’s a gym. Add a desk, and it’s an office. Add a car and some boxes, and it’s a multi-year storage facility and dust collector. Our interest, however, focuses on turning that space into a workshop equipped to handle just about any automotive task.
To accomplish this goal, one of our primary purchases would be an air compressor, as it’s not a true summer day until you hear the lawnmowers and compressors booting up around the block. These devices turn air into phenomenal cosmic power that motivates dozens of different types of tools.
For those who haven’t been initiated into the Compressor Club, air tools range from soft-touch polishers to metal-eating nibblers, and various others in between. Learn more about the tools you can use with your air compressor and why they might be superior to their electric alternatives below with The Drive’s guide to the different types of compress tools.
What Is an Air Tool?
An air tool, also known as a pneumatic tool, is a type of power tool that sources its energy from compressed air out of an air compressor.
How Air Is Converted Into Power
Most air tools use what is known as a pneumatic motor, or air motor. Although there are other types, the most common type of air motor used will be an air vane motor. In layman’s terms, the air is funneled to the vanes, and the vanes spin. That piece of the tool is then connected directly to a drift shaft, like in a die grinder, or to another mechanism, like in an impact drill. So, when the vanes spin, the shaft then spins. The airflow is controlled by a valve that is connected to a lever or switch on the device.
Benefits of Air Tools
There are numerous positives to using tools that get their power from an air compressor.
They Won’t Die On the Job
Many electric power tools run on batteries these days. And if you didn’t charge your extra batteries the night before, or don’t have any, then you will be stopped right in the middle of a job. As long as you have the proper air compressor for your job, you can work with air tools uninterrupted until the mission is complete.
Ever spent time drilling something above your head? Then you understand how even a little bit of weight can start to feel heavy after a while. Air tools are generally lighter than electric tools, which should help your endurance during the job.
It’s not always true, but air tools are often more powerful than their electric equals.
Low Risk Factor
Air tools incur a low risk of overheating, fire, and or spark. Neat.
Air tools generally have fewer moving parts and are less complicated than their electric counterparts.
Can electricity fill up your tires? No. There are a variety of air tools that offer capabilities that electric tools cannot.
Helpful Tools To Pair With Your Air Compressor
Any power tool you could think of likely has a pneumatic cousin. Here is a basic list of the most common air tools used with garage workshop air compressors.
Impact Drill and Driver
Impact drills and drivers work with drill and driver bits and make dozens of jobs simpler with power operation.
We know you’re as strong as Thor, but imagine having that type of handheld power without exerting any energy? Think of this as Mjolnir.
Air Die Grinder
Die grinders use a variety of small rotating tips to grind, sand, machine, or polish.
An angle grinder can be used to cut, sand, or machine various surfaces, primarily metal.
Air Blow Gun
A blow gun is perfect for removing dust, dirt, leaves, sawdust, or any other contaminants from an area like an engine bay.
Random-Orbit, Dual-Action, Belt Sanders
One of the most tedious automotive-related tasks is sanding. Depending on the job, one panel could take hours, but not if you have a pneumatic sander. Though they all serve different purposes, air-powered random-orbit, dual-action, and belt sanders will quickly become one of your garage MVPs. We highly recommend.
After you’re done sanding and prepping your surface, you’re going to need a paint sprayer to paint like the pros. This makes even coverage a much simpler task.
After you sand, paint, sand, paint, sand, paint, you’ll need to polish. Your elbow will thank you for choosing to do so with a rotating polisher that works the polish in without any hard work.
With the power of air, you can rivet sheet metal with little to no effort.
A nibbler is essentially a combination of a saw and a punch. Rather than cutting through metal, a nibbler slowly eats it away by “biting” pieces off.
Air Needle Scaler
A needle scaler is perfect for agitating and breaking off rust on various parts of the car like the frame.
Air Cutting Tools and Saws
Cutting through sheet metal or other parts of a car is made simple with a pneumatic saw.
Impact Wrench and Ratchet
Every single car on the planet has stubborn nuts and bolts. An impact wrench and/or ratchet will make short work of those.
You could manually dispense grease, or you could use an air dispenser to keep things easy, clean, and simple.
Using compressed air, media blasting is often used to clean and remove surface paint, hardened grime, and/or rust.
Air Punch and Flange
A punch will cut through and create holes in a variety of surfaces, primarily metal.
A scarifier can be used for surface removal or surface texturing.
Air Staplers and Nailers
Though not specifically intended for cars, nailers and staplers are some of the most common and most useful pneumatic tools you can keep in your arsenal for home projects.
You'll never need to go back to a gas station to fill your tires if you have an air compressor at home.
FAQs About Tools for Your Air Compressor
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q: How big of an air compressor do I need to run air tools?
A: As a general rule, Campbell Hausfield recommends, “consider the tool that you anticipate using with the highest scfm rating and purchase a compressor with an output of 1.5 times that rating.”
Q: How do I connect my compressor to my air tools?
A: Air tools connect to the compressor through several couplings, many of which are of the quick-connect variety, and hoses. Before you start any job, always make sure the hose is securely connected to the compressor and the air tool is securely connected to the air tool.
Q: What do CFM and SCFM stand for?
A: These are measurements of airflow from the compressor to the air tool. CFM stands for cubic feet per minute, while SCFM stands for standard cubic feet per minute. A primary difference between the two is that CFM is measured while the air is under pressure, while SCFM is measured after the air is expanded and takes temperature and humidity into account. Therefore, SCFM is measured against a standard.
Q: How big of an air compressor do I need to sandblast?
A: This will depend on the type of nozzle and type of sandblaster, so read the specifics of the sandblaster before buying and/or using. Pay attention to volume, pressure (PSI) and CFM.
Q: What is the best air compressor for a home garage?
A: The answer to this question will vary depending on priorities, usage, budget, space, and travel requirements. If your main concern is filling up tires, you don't need anything too big. If you plan to use it for a full gamut of tools, you might consider a larger option.
Learn more about air tools with this helpful video from Eastwood.
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