An Essential Guide to Using an Air Compressor Properly
Nowadays, air compressors are must-have tools for every workshop, building site, or home garage. Thanks to tech advancements and the free global market, these machines come with a wide range of features. Now, you can even keep one in your car trunk. Of course, choosing an air compressor can be quite daunting, especially if you’re not familiar with these tools. Understandably, the abundance of models is overwhelming. Fortunately, there are some essentials to prepare you when buying one.
Arguably, using an air compressor may seem scary at first. However, you’d quickly make it a go-to assistant for a wide array of uses. Whether you’re an expert or a weekend warrior, air compressors will supply plenty of power tools with air. For example, you’d want to pump up your car, bike, or wheelbarrow tires. You can simply blow the debris out of your concrete floor, too. But in most cases, you may want to learn how to use an air compressor with nail guns, drills, and grinders.
That’s why it’s essential to not just buy an air compressor but learn how to use one, too. Perhaps compressed air can be a potent energy source, often comparable to petrol and diesel and electrically-powered counterparts. What’s more, having a few pneumatic power tools in your collection would undoubtedly be of great benefit. For this reason, we’ve taken a look at air compressors and how to use them properly.
What’s an air compressor?
Before you even buy an air compressor, you first need to know how to use one. Of course, we’ll start by deciphering the meaning of the term. In essence, an air compressor converts diesel, petrol, or electric power into compressed air. Consequently, the produced air can power different power tools as well as other devices.
How do air compressors work?
Usually, compressors use the “positive displacement” method of work. In other words, the machine forces air into a tank through a pump. The more air there is, the more compressed it becomes. When the air reaches the maximum limit, the compressor shuts off. Of course, there are different variations of this method:
- Pump piston: There’s a rotating pump piston that forces air into the tank through a one-way valve.
- Rotary screw: This method uses two helical screws that force air into the storage tank by rotating.
- Vane: The vane features varied blades that pull air and force it into the storage tank.
As you can imagine, not everything is so simple. In this regard, air compressors have to deal with the “adiabatic heating” phenomenon. Typically, the process occurs during gas compression, which causes a temperature rise. Since heat is an obsolete product for air compressors, it requires proper control or removal through dissipation. In such cases, there are two effective solutions – air cooling or water cooling.
- Air cooling: This type of cooling dissipates excess heat through cooling fins on the pump housing.
- Water cooling: There’s some form of radiator that cools or removes the water from the water jacket that surrounds the pump.
It’s essential to note that some air compressors use oil for cooling. Of course, the oil itself requires cooling by either water or air.
Essential air compressor measurements
As already mentioned, there are tons of air compressors of different sizes, dimensions, and sources of energy. Therefore, you’d want to carefully choose an air compressor that will fit your needs.
Depending on the job, you’d want to know how much air your compressor can store. Also, you’d like to know how fast it can replenish its storage tank, too. For example, a 100-liter air compressor translates into a maximum of 100 liters of compressed air.
Of course, the motor plays a crucial role in replenishing the air tank. Since it drives the pump that compresses the air, it needs to be fast. That way, you’ll ensure the rapid generation of stored air ready for use. Usually, you can measure this type of motor output in horsepower (HP).
Another important figure for every air compressor is the CFM (cubic feet per minute). This measurement shows the amount of air the machine can output at a particular atmospheric pressure and humidity level.
Essential maintenance tips when using an air compressor
Similar to any other tool, an air compressor requires regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance. In this regard, you’d need to keep an eye on some essential components of your machine.
If you have trouble coping with this part of the process, you can check the instruction manual for your compressor. It contains all the info needed for the proper maintenance and replacement of the compressor’s main parts. Here are some of the standard things you should check regularly:
Keep an eye on the cooling system
As you already know, heat can be a massive problem if you don’t learn how to manage it properly. In this regard, you’d want to know everything about your air compressor’s cooling system. Usually, you’ll see “fins” on top of the pump. As heat travels up on those fins, the fumes expel into the air. Therefore, each fin should be perfectly clean from dust and debris, so it can safely let out heat.
In some cases, the air compressor may have a system that’s more like a radiator. Whatever the setup, you’d want to ensure everything’s working properly at all times. That way, you’ll be able to use your air compressor at its full potential.
Repeat the procedure with the air intake filter
Another crucial part of every air compressor is the air intake filter. Its primary purpose is to ensure that the air that enters the pump is free from dust or debris. Over time, the air intake can accumulate rubbish just like the cooling system. When this happens, the compressor starts working much harder to pull the air in. Consequently, the clogging puts more strain on the motor. Therefore, you should clean or replace the filter regularly to ensure optimal efficiency of your air compressor.
Hoses and valves
Sooner or later, every machine needs hose and valve replacement. In this regard, it doesn’t matter if the airlines running from your compressor are rigid or flexible. Typically, hoses become brittle, and the constant movement causes them to crack and leak air. Similarly, valves also sustain damage over time. That’s why it’s essential to check and replace any worn parts to reduce the possible strain affecting the air compressor.
Check oil levels
Perhaps, you’ve changed your car’s engine oil. Similarly, you’ll have to do the same with your air compressor. For this reason, your machine’s oil level needs checking regularly. Moreover, you’ll have to change it at set periods. Some people check the oil levels before every use. Ultimately, you’d want to do it to ensure it has full lubrication and protection.
Furthermore, you’d want to do the same if your compressor uses oil for cooling. Always check the oil level before use to avoid overheating. Otherwise, you risk causing your air compressor massive damage. If you’re unsure how to inspect and top up the engine and cooling system oils, check your product’s manual.
Replace the drive belts on time
Similar to hoses and valves, rubber drive belts have a limited lifetime. In some cases, they may even snap. If you want to prevent such accidents, you may have to check them from time to time. Replace them if needed, so the motor drives the pump properly at all times.
Remove moisture and condensate
One of the most significant problems of air compressors is moisture and condensation. Since the machine pulls outside air into the storage tank, water starts accumulating immediately. Consequently, it reduces the total capacity of the tank itself. For this reason, you’d have to drain it off regularly through the dedicated valve. Just make sure you release any compressed air first.
Apply proper lubrication
Last but not least, don’t forget that every machine requires proper lubrication to remain in tip-top condition. As with most power tools, you can drop lubricating oil down into the instrument’s hose connection point. Also, it’s a good idea to do the same with all moving external parts.
Safety aspects to consider
Just like any other tool, air compressors are no different in terms of safety. Apart from all moving parts, the tank full of compressed air is like a ticking bomb. Any puncture or damage can make it go off in the nick of time. There’s no need to explain the importance of wearing protective clothing around your air compressor. Essentially, you must wear goggles, gloves, and other protective equipment when operating an air compressor.
When using power tools like grinders and saws, be wary of high-speed debris. Such devices often produce high RPM, so they can sling larger waste pieces that may cause injuries. Therefore, never use your air compressor and power tools without proper equipment. Moreover, don’t forget to de-pressurize your machines and hoses before disconnecting or connecting them.
When using power tools with your air compressor, make sure you always operate a given machine at the recommended pressure. Also, never use extension cords, as this may lead to overheating and potential fire.
How to use an air compressor the right way
After you’ve learned the essentials, it’s time to learn how to use your air compressor. Perhaps, using one can look a bit daunting at first. However, learning the ropes may open up quite a few opportunities before you. Here are the steps to using an air compressor the right way:
Connect a hose and a power tool
Firstly, you have to connect everything, so it’s ready for use. Arguably, you’d want to position your compressor so that it’s level and flat. Moreover, there must be ample space around it. Then, you’re ready to plug the hose into the filter, regulator, or lubricator (FRL). Either one of the tools will help to filter the air and regulate the air pressure.
If you have a small air compressor, you may only have a regulator valve. In turn, you may benefit from purchasing a separate FRL valve to prolong your compressor and tools’ life. Whatever the case, you must connect the hose by taking the female connection end and pushing it onto your unit’s male connector.
You must use the spring-loaded locking collar on each end to lock the hose firmly. Proceed with connecting your power tool in the same manner and make sure everything’s secure.
Turn on the air compressor
After you’ve checked all hoses, pressure release valves, and condensate drains, you can turn on your machine. Some models may have a main power switch, so you’d want to turn it on, too. You’ll see the air tank filling up as soon as you start the unit. Depending on your air compressor’s size and type, it may take some time until the automatic shut off switch kicks in.
Check the operating pressure
Perhaps, the air compressor is ready for use, so you can safely check the operating pressure for the tool you plan on using. Usually, manufacturers measure it in PSI (pounds per square inch), e.g., 80 to 90 PSI. After you find out your power tool’s operating pressure, you can modify the pressure regulator valve. Ultimately, the pressure must match the tool’s requirement. Simply look at the small gauge next to the regulator to check the level of tension in the hose.
Complete your task
After you’ve set everything up, you can start working on your task. Of course, there are a few factors that will affect the quality of your work. Typically, the amount of time and power your tool uses depends on the size and type of air compressor you use. In other words, you’ll need a much larger storage tank if you plan on using your compressor for longer. For example, an air sander may require prolonged use for you to sand an entire car panel.
Luckily, the air compressor will start to replenish the used-up air as soon as there’s a pressure drop. Therefore, using a compressor with a large storage tank will ensure you have enough air in reserve. Ultimately, you’ll be able to keep working without losing pressure. Units with small storage capacity put you at the risk of draining the air faster than it can be replaced. In such cases, you have to stop and wait until the air reserve reloads.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to think of the tools you plan on using before purchasing an air compressor. After all, a large unit will allow you to adjust the regulator accordingly so that you supply the correct pressure for every tool.
Pack away the unit
At last, you’ve completed your task. Now, it’s time to turn off the compressor at the mains and pull out the plug. Don’t forget to wrap it up nicely and hang it over the unit handle, so it remains tidy.
Next, you must turn off the regulator valve and run the connected tool to de-pressurize it. Only then can you safely disconnect the hose from the compressor. Make sure you ravel the hose neatly and hang it somewhere safe.
Finally, don’t forget to drain off the remaining air in the compressor tank. Moreover, you should empty out any condensate leftovers in it. While most compressors may naturally expel the remaining pressure gradually, some do not. In turn, you’ll have to release the tension manually through the release valve. Simply open it a little at a time to prevent unexpected blowups.
Now that you have more knowledge on the matter, you can safely start using your air compressor. Moreover, you’ll give it proper and regular maintenance to prolong its life. After all, operating with confidence requires some essential understanding of how a tool works. In this regard, it’s safe to say that you can make the most out of your air compressor unit.