A compressor can bring a breath of fresh air to your toolbox
Next time you're struggling to hammer up a strip of crown molding by hand, consider this: If you were using a compressor and finish nailer, the nails would move so fast that the trim wouldn't have a chance to shift around or split.
Today's compressors are light, quiet, and compact. More and more come packaged in kits, complete with compatible tools, hoses, and couplings. Bostitch's Trim-Air kit (shown) includes two nailers—a 16-gauge finish nailer and combination brad and staple gun—and a compressor that weighs just 19 ½ pounds.
Compressor: 1.8 cfm at 90 psi; 2.7 cfm at 40 psi; 1.6-gallon tank; 75 decibels (comparable to a handheld vacuum); approximately $179, Bostitch
Powered by nothing more than the hard rush of high-pressure air, compressors can drive nails, sand wood, spray paint, or inflate the kids' pool.
DeWalt's Emglo has a 2-gallon tank and two built-in couplings, allowing a finish-nailing duo to build cabinets with assembly-line efficiency. A large front handle makes it easy to carry this 30-pounder, and at only 10 ½ inches tall, it's convenient to store. The tire inflator has a built-in gauge to check pressure as you fill up.
Compressor: 2.0 cfm at 90 psi; 3.0 cfm at 40 psi; 2-gallon tank; 79 decibels; approximately $200, DewaltTire inflator: Approximately $21, Campbell Hausfeld
The 56-pound Craftsman "pancake" compressor, so called because of its flattened air tank, powers intermittent-draw tools, such as nail guns. It's 6-gallon tank offers enough air volume to feed a 1-quart spray gun for applying thin finishes such as oil-based varnishes, urethanes, or lacquers.
Compressor (includes brad nailer): 3.7 cfm at 40 psi; 2.6 cfm at 90 psi; 2-gallon tank; 82 decibels; approximately $220, SearsShown with spray gun: 2.7 cfm at 40 psi; approximately $20, Chpower
The Rhino Pack's 9-ounce CO2 canister fires about 250 finish nails at 90 psi—enough ammo for a few rooms' worth of crown molding (and then some). The refillable cans are also great for inflating bike tires, working atop a ladder, or for knocking out small nailing jobs that don't quite require a compressor's oomph.
Regulator: $99; spare 9-ounce tank: $24; refill: Approximately $6; all available at Lowe'sShown with Hitachi's 16-gauge finish nailer: Approximately $180, Hitachi Power Tools
Unlike most small compressors, which are self-lubricating, this pump uses oil, which has to be replaced every 300 hours of run time. The extra maintenance pays off because oil-lubricated compressors ultimately last longer, are more easily repaired, and typically pack more power in a smaller package. With its twin 20 gallon tanks, the 77-pound Hitachi capably handles high-demand tools such as paint sprayers, impact drivers and, shown here, the versatile Fein MultiMaster, a detail sander that can scrape, grind, or saw.
Compressor: 5.3 cfm at 40 psi; 4.4 cfm at 90 psi; 83 decibels; $280, Hitachi Power ToolsMultiMaster: 3.0 cfm at 90 psi; $220, Fein
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
3/8-in. ratchet wrench: 4?8
3/8-in. drill: 4?9
Air hammer: 4?11
Straight, fat hoses may be cumbersome to coil, but they deliver more air and are better behaved than "Slinky-style" recoild hoses, which lose pressure, especially over distances of 25 feet or more. Both types of hoses use the universal "quick-connect" couplings that plug into the tools and compressors. Recoil models require you to screw on the couplings, so they're more likely to leak than the built-in couplings on straight hoses. Wrap Teflon tape around the fittings' threads if you feel air escaping.