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Air line lubricators are devices used to provide lubricant to a compressed air operated air tool or compressor air driven equipment on oil free or oil lubricated compressors.
They do these by being installed either at the outlet from the air compressor as part of an air line lubricator or further along the air plumbing near equipment needing added lubrication.
Table of Contents
- What Are Air Line Lubricators?
- Air Compressor Air Lubricator Parts
- How Air Line Lubricators Function
- Air Line Lubricator Problems
- It’s FRL folks! Filter – Regulate – Lubricate
- High Cycling Air Tools and Compressed Air Lubricators
- How to Use an Inline Air Tool Oiler
- Reader Questions & Responses
What Are Air Line Lubricators?
Air-line-lubricators usually contain the following parts: the head, an adjusting screw on the head, a bowl to contain the lubricant, and often a bowl drain to allow removal of the lubricating oil when needed.
In the top of the head of typical compressor air line lubricators a small, transparent housing, can be seen. This housing will have an adjusting screw on the top. Turning that adjusting screw will increase or reduce the frequency of drops of lubricating oil . The oil drops fall into the air stream flowing through the lubricator head and out into the air line.
Depending on the air pressure and volume of air passing through a specific air lubricator, the drops of oil can be atomized into smaller air drops that can flow down the air line some distance.
The housing is transparent so that, as you adjust the flow of oil via the flow-adjusting screw, you can monitor the frequency of the lubricating oil drops as you adjust the flow.
Air Compressor Air Lubricator Parts
Identification and descriptions of the various lubricator components follows.
Item 1 – Screw Housing
Item 1 in the image identifies the adjusting screw housing.
Item 2 – Lubricator Head
Item 2 is the lubricator head itself.
Attached to this head will be a bowl that contains the lubricating oil. The bowl will attach to the head with a bayonet style mount or it might be threaded on.
Care must be taken to ensure that the air line, and the lubricator bowl, is void of compressed air before attempting to remove the lubricator bowl.
A lubricator head will typically have an arrow on it displaying the required direction of air flow through the lubricator. You can see the one on the head of the lubricator in the photo.
In the lubricator head there are ports to which the in and out air lines are attached, usually by a threaded fitting.
However, some lubricator manufacturers have modular connecting ports that quick change, allowing one lubricator body and head to be used for a number of different port sizes by simply swapping out the modular connector.
Item 3 – Sight Glass
Item 3 in the picture above is a sight glass to allow an operator to check the oil level in the bowl without having to remove it.
Item 4 – Lubricator Bowl
Item 4 is the lubricator bowl, this one without a drain at the bottom.
How Air Line Lubricators Function
As the air passes through the lubricator head the air path is reduced in size. This results in an increase in the speed of the compressed air through the lubricator head.
In the narrow part of the lubricator head is an outlet for a small tube that extends from the head down into the oil inside the bowl.
Air passing through the venturi inside the head creates faster moving air moving past the orifice to which the small tube is attached. This reduces the air pressure in the oil feed tube creating a partial vacuum, and this vacuum draws oil from the bowl up the tube.
The oil travels up the tube from the bowl, through the transparent housing, past the flow-adjusting screw, and then drips back down into the air stream as long as the air is flowing through the lubricator.
Depending on the style of the venturi and the speed of the air, the oil can be completely “atomized” (reduced into fine droplets), or atomized to differing degrees. This atomized oil is carried out of the lubricator head in the compressed air stream and, providing the lubricator is placed close enough, downstream to the air tool or air component needing lubrication.
There are a number of different styles of lubricators, from a number of different manufacturers. While many of them will function similarly to others, some will atomize the oil even more than others, turning the oil drop into a finer mist or fog. Fog type lubricators claim to be able to lubricate air tools and other devices at a much greater distance from the lubricator than other lubricators that do not atomize the oil as finely.
Air Line Lubricator Problems
Often an air line lubricator is installed in an FRL (Filter – Regulator – Lubricator) set which may be quite some distance from the equipment to be lubricated. The oil-carrying-air has to travel from the lubricator to the application, sometimes through an air valve – without the oil dropping out of suspension.
If the oil drops out of suspension in the air line, which it will do if the distance is too far, then after a while, in a low slung line, the oil will coat, accumulate and eventually could completely fill the air line. In time, once the air line becomes completely blocked, a great slug of oil will be blown downstream to the exhaust port of the valve where it will leak all over the floor. Or, that slug of oil will drip out of the exhaust of the air tool and yup, it will now leak all over the floor there too.
Different manufacturers claim that their lubricators will atomize the oil to different degrees of drop size, so that oil carries farther using their lubricators than those of other manufacturers. Be aware of the distance from the air line lubricators to the air tool being lubricated. It is important!
Rule of thumb: Keep the general purpose lubricator with 2-3 yards of the item to be lubricated. If you can’t locate it that close, it’s possible that little or none of the lubricating oil will reach the air tool. Rather, the oil will simply drop out in the air line between the lubricator and the tool. The amount of oil drop out depends on the distance, the volume of air flow, and the frequency of air moving through the lines. Be aware of this issue, please.
It’s FRL folks! Filter – Regulate – Lubricate
Please note the order of the letters in the acronym F-R-L. The letters are in this order on purpose.
First comes the Filter, then the Regulator and then the Lubricator. Putting the air line lubricator before the filter will simply fill the filter bowl with oil, and none will get downstream. And, you don’t want oil flowing through regulator either, so the lubricator should always be downstream of the regulator which is always installed after the filter so clean air can flow through that device too.
Many air valves and air cylinders come from the factory well lubricated for the life of that item. It’s only in really high cycles that lubricant may need to be added. Check with the cylinder or linear slide manufacturer for lubricating requirements for their tool. An error will lead to maintenance issues before their normal use cycle would indicate.
If a lubricator is installed in an air line feeding items that are already factory lubricated, this results in the new oil tending to wash out the factory lube, and from then on, you will then have to continuously provide external lubrication for the life of the item. Check with the vendor of that air tool or component to be sure if it needs additional lubrication.
High Cycling Air Tools and Compressed Air Lubricators
Air tools that have high use rates usually need external lubrication. You can plumb a small lubricator a few feet (one meter or so) up the air line from the tool, ensuring that lubricant is getting to the air tool as needed.
Air tools used infrequently, and for short periods, can normally be adequately lubricated by dripping 2-3 drops of air tool oil into the in-port of the tool just before use, and then another 2-3 drops with a quick burst of air before putting the tool away until next use.
What AirLine Lubricator Oil?
When I used to sell lubricating oil for air line lubricators, by the multiple-gallons, I might add, it was always a light, air tool oil.
Visit the OIL ISSUES page on this website to find links to recommendations and to a short video about compressor oil.
Although there is another page on this site that has the air line lubricators forum, I have added a form here so that if you have a question you can add it here instead.
How to Use an Inline Air Tool Oiler
To install and use an inline air tool oiler you will typically follow these steps. Though, please be aware that they’re only a rough guide:
- Apply a small amount of thread sealant compound to the lubricators male thread
- Hand tighten the male connector into the female inlet of the air tool
- Hand tighten male air supply outlet into female inlet of the lubricator
- Wrench tighten both connections until air tight seals are formed
- Remove oil fill cap on lubricator and fill reservoir with lubricant (leaving a small amount of space for air)
- Replace and tighten the oil fill cap until air tight
- Connect air supply
- Activate air tool several times to set needle valve into action
Tip: adding a 6″ snubber/whip hose between the air tool and lubricator will provide a safer and longer lasting installation.
I have picked out a couple useful youtube demonstrations on how to install and use an inline air tool oiler for you!
Reader Questions & Responses
Setting Up and Operating An Air Line Lubricator
(Palm Desert, Ca USA)
Hi, I received a printing machine that has an air filter/ lubricator on the side of the machine. The manual says to put oil in it, but it doesn’t say how or where or what kind of oil. How to set up and operate an air line lubricator?
All I can tell is there is a rotating dial on the top of the unit and a flat head screw.
I have no idea what either of these do, nor do I know how to put oil in the glass container, and how much to put in.
Thanks for any help.
Steve, thanks writing in.
Make sure that the air supply to the machine is gone; turned off and vented to atmosphere.
I suspect that the flat head screw is either a fill port, or the flow adjustment for the lubricator. By carefully backing out that screw – if it is captured, that is it will not come out, then it is likely the flow adjustment. If it comes out and you can see clearly down into the bowl, then it it probably a fill access.
If so, you can use this to fill the bowl or, at this point you should be able to unscrew the bowl of the lubricator fairly easily by turning the bowl counter-clockwise.
Regardless of how you do so, fill the bowl with the appropriate lubricating oil (whatever air components you are lubricating will have lube specifications ) and screw the bowl back into the head of the lubricator or put the flat head screw back in.
The “bubble” on top of your lubricator is a sight glass enabling you to see, while compressed air is flowing through the lubricator, how much oil is being pulled into the air stream by the passing air. There should be a drop of oil coming out of the pitot tube every 2-3 minutes at most, again though, depending on the cycle speed of the components being lubricated.
Make sure that the air flow to the machine enters the Air Filter / Air Regulator first, then to the lubricator, and then to the machine components.
See the lubricator page on this site for additional info.
Auto refilling of air line lubricators?
(Memphis, TN USA)
I want to automatically refill multiple pneumatic lubricators on an assembly. who has the equipment and how is it done?
Billy, that’s a great question.
Over the years I’ve seen, and installed, equipment to automatically lubricate bearings and such, but have not run into equipment to auto fill multiple lubricators at the same time.
You would need some sort of injector fitting to get lubricating oil into a lubricator that is charged with compressed air against the air pressure.
Master Pneumatic has injectors but not in the volume that you would need. Yet, they are experts in the field, so why not contact them?
You will want to know how many lubricators you want to fill, the capacity for each, and I would suspect some sort of idea how often.
I would appreciate some feedback for others if you are able to come up with solutions.
If you have any questions regarding air line lubricators, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!
I’m curious on a FLR combo are you able to completely turn the lubricator off In case your painting or just blow air and not using air tools?
(Post moved to this page. Moderator)
Not really. there will be residual in the connector, at best.
The short story is keep oiled lines far away from paint and blow gun lines.
Doug’s point is valid. Some lubricators actually can be shut off by dialing the drop speed back to zero. But… there will always be oil in the line and at the coupler for a long time after the oil has been shut off. Better to take a “feed” from the air line before the FRL, and then, add an F/R in that feed to filter the air and adjust the pressure to the paint application. You might also consider a coalescent filter before the paint gun to remove any trace of any oil. Good luck.