tips for assessing appropriate psi levels
Photo: Ted Morrison
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Decoding the Label

The critical measurement of a compressor's capability is how much air it can move, expressed in cubic feet per minute (cfm). Its label will specify a cfm at 90 psi, the pressure needed to run most tools, and a cfm at 40 psi for low-pressure tools, such as paint sprayers. Make sure the cfm requirement of an air tool is at least 10 percent less than the compressor's output. Otherwise, the pump will wear out a whole lot sooner. Higher-horsepower pumps fill the tank faster (but weigh more). Compressors with bigger-gallon tanks hold pressure longer (and consume more power). But when it comes to performance, cfm is still the bottom line.

CFM Ranges (@90 psi) For Common Air Tools:

Brad/pin/finish nailer: 0.3?2
Dusting gun: 1?3
Spray-paint gun: 2?3
Framing nailer: 2?3
Sander: 3?15
3/8-in. ratchet wrench: 4?8
3/8-in. drill: 4?9
Air hammer: 4?11

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