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How to Choose and Use Air Compressors

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva explains how air compressors work


  1. Tom shares a couple of tips for using and maintaining different air compressors. In general, he explains that proper usage and maintenance of an air compressor will allow it work efficiently for a long period of time.
  2. Before using any tool, check the recommended PSI label on the tool. Set the air compressor to that PSI using the output valve.
  3. Change the air filter regularly, about once a month. If the air compressor has a belt or uses oil, be sure to keep an eye on their condition and maintain them as needed.
  4. At the end of every day, drain the air compressor of water using the spout at the bottom. Water naturally forms from compressing the air and it can cause the bottom of the tank to rust if left undrained.
  5. Check each tool you plan to use with the air compressor to determine what size compressor you need. Tools with a small scfm (standard cubic feet per minute) can work just fine with a small, lightweight compressor.

Tom discusses a variety of different air compressors that can be used for air tools. In general, he recommends making sure that the air compressor has enough PSI to handle all the different tools you plan to use with it. He also underscores the importance of both maintaining the air filter regularly and draining the air compressor every day to make it last for a long time.

All the air compressors and air tools Tom demonstrated in the segment, including the air sander, nail gun, and sprayer, can all be found at home centers.