Air compressors can be found almost anywhere in todays world. Once restricted to dedicated crafters and mechanics in their workshops, but now with a wide array of smaller air compressors available, they’re no longer just tools for professionals.

An air compressor can power pneumatic tools used in a wide range of applications. So when using an air compressor, the working environment has to be safe.

I will share my advice and details on how to use an air compressor, safe operations, maintenance and their installation.

Table of Contents

Before Installing an Air Compressor

A reliable air compressor can make a whole world of difference for many of your projects in your garage or workshop. Air compressors have many uses so investing in a good one is always worth your money.

However, before you make this investment into an air compressor, you should be aware of how to use them and certainly how NOT to use them.

Air compressor negligence can be detrimental in that it’s very dangerous and costly. If you ensure the proper maintenance and functionality, you will successfully avoid injury and severe depreciation of the system.

Air compressors convert electrical power into kinetic energy, releasing this energy in the air so that in can be utilized for applications like running pneumatic tools and even cleaning.

So before installing an air compressor in your garage or workshop, please consider the following points:

  • adequate workspace
  • air quality
  • duty cycle
  • making good buying decisions

Adequate Workspace

First of all, it’s imperative to ensure you have enough space for an air compressor, and certainly ensuring the environment is safe to operate in.

Plan out your layout, consider where the compressor will go, where the air tank will go and where the tools will be operated. Avoid placing your compressor in an area that has high humidity and even a dirty environment.

Air Quality

This is a very important factor, ensuring the workspace has sufficient air quality. Air pollution of course will be very high in production plants or other manufacturing environments, giving them very low air quality.

If the atmospheric air contains moisture and dust particles, the air compressor filters will clog up a lot sooner and need replacing or cleaning. Some particulates may not even successfully be removed by the filters and you’ll be left with a damaged air compressor or pneumatic tools.

It is therefore advised to have some form of ventilation in place where you wish to use your air compressor so you’re able to provide the intake with good quality air. Other than ventilation, ensure the workspace is clean and dry!

Duty Cycle

It’s important to understand what air compressor duty cycle means as this is an important rating of every compressor.

So before making a decision, figure out the overall capacity your pneumatic tools require. An air compressor with a duty cycle of 50% indicates that let’s say it worked for 10 minutes, it would then turn off for 10 minutes and so forth. An air compressor with a duty cycle of 100% would be able to operate continuously.

Though, you may think it’s safe or an easy option to get an air compressor with a 100% duty cycle rating, it’s important to be aware that unless they’re industrialised then they’re suitable for limited extended use, but not ALL day.

Making Good Buying Decisions

The last thing you want to do is spend a serious amount of money on a low quality air compressor, therefore you need to make good buying decisions. Question every aspect of the air compressor, consider the air requirement for tools, safety features, pressure ratings etc.

Do you want a portable or stationary air compressor? Understand the size difference and plan ahead for whether you need mobile applications or whether you’re happy to limit yourself to long connections!

Do you require an oil lubricated or oil free compressor? Visit our guide for more information!

How to Use an Air Compressor

How do you use an air compressor for the first time? Here are some very basic instructions for using air compressors, that will be common to almost all models!

Plug in the Compressor

Seems easy enough right? Given that you’ve already decided upon the ideal location for your air compressor. After ensuring the power switch is off, you can plug the power cord into the electrical power supply.

Check the Oil

Depending on whether your compressor takes oil lubrication or not, you should make sure there is sufficient oil within the sump if it does. Check the oil level by looking into the sight glass located at the bottom of the oil sump, or check the dipstick if possible.

If you need, remove the oil filler cap at the top and add compressor oil to bring the oil level up to the correct amount. Ensure you check the oil level after each use of the compressor.

For more information on changing oil check out our summary on changing it, which to use & how much to use guide.

Fill the Air Tank

First of all, make sure the drain valve is securely tightened at the bottom of the air compressor sump. An adjustable wrench can be useful in this instance.

Turn the power switch on and allow the compressor to run for a few minutes. After doing so, check the air pressure gauge that is built into the compressor and make sure that the air compressor shuts off automatically when it reaches its cut-out pressure.

This cut-out pressure typically should be around 100-115 psi, depending on the model of course, I’m just giving you an idea.

Regulate the Air Control Valve

Adjust the air control valve, for otherwise known as the regulator valve, and match the pressure of the system to the pneumatic tool that you will be using.

Do this by turning the pressure regulator knob in whatever direction needed until the air pressure gauge reads the the correct air pressure for your tool.

Connect the Air Hose

Connect an air hose to your compressor, ensuring the length is a suitable length so that you can reach your work area.

Before connect the air hose, wrap the threaded end of the air hose with teflon tape or apply teflon dope, and then thread the hose onto the compressor fitting which is located near the air pressure gauge. Again, an adjustable wrench will help you securely fasten the hose.

The teflon dope/tape is essential in ensuring the thread between the hose and compressor is air tight. Some compressors may have quick-connect hose fittings that can connect to the air tank.

Connect the Pneumatic Tool

You can now connect your air tool to the other end of the hose. As the hose will have a quick-connect fitting, you can pull back the spring loaded collar and push it firmly onto the air intake of the pneumatic tool. You can then release the collar to secure the connection.

Simply pull back on the collar while pulling the tool to disconnect the pneumatic tool off the air hose.

Drain Moisture After Use

Finally it’s very important to drain any moisture in the tank after use. It’s probably best to check your owners manual for recommendations on this, but generally you should be able to loosen and remove the drain valve at the bottom of the tank by hand.

When all the water has drained from the tank, replace the drain valve and tighten it securely.

Ensuring Safety When Using an Air Compressor

You don’t want to put yourself, others or your equipment in danger when using an air compressor. Therefore, it is important to take these safety measures every time you operate your air compressor. These measures are:

  • Ensure Safe Operations
  • Wear PPE (personal protective equipment)
  • Keep Combustible Materials Away From Air Compressors
  • Conduct Regular Checks

Ensure Safe Operations

You should ensure you’re not exposing any electrical parts of the air compressor to water, this can not only cause you shock but also damage the wires. A useful idea is to keep electric drain valves away from humid or moist areas.

If you’re using a gas-powered air compressors, I will advice not to refuel or change oil when the compressor is active as this can cause you safety hazards. So instead, wait until the machine has cooled down.

Typically it can be advised not to let the inlet of your pneumatic tool exceed an air pressure of 90 psi because high pressures can significantly damage your tools. It is important to know the air requirement for your tools or applications and ensure you regulate the pressure so it does not exceed the requirment.

Fine-tune the tools operations to meet the torque output of your air compressor so you’re able to avoid damages to the tools or air hose. It’s important when running the air compressor, that you do not block the vents otherwise it will overheat.

Air compressor systems vibrate significantly during operation, therefore you should consistently check the fittings, connectors etc. for loose bolts, screws or nuts and tighten them if necessary.

Do not place your hands on hot parts of the machine and ensure you have a fire extinguisher at a strategic place near to the air compressor.

Wear PPE

Before operating an air compressor you should ensue you wear the correct PPE (personal protective equipment). PPE for operating an air compressor can include gloves, hard hats, safety goggles, ear muffs and steel toe cap boots.

If anything were to go wrong, PPE can help reduce the severity of injuries on your body.

Keep Combustible Materials Away from Air Compressors

As pneumatic tools and equipment like air compressors are known to create static energy. They send electrical charges that may ignite combustible materials like explosives and fuel.

Therefore, it is imperative to keep these flammable materials well clear of you and your operation if you have any in your workspace!

Conduct Regular Checks

It’s so important to conduct checks regularly not only on the oil, but on all components of the air compressor and its air tank. It is recommended that the separator elements within the system should be replaced after around 1000 hours of running.

If you’re operating air compressors in a dusty or dirty environment, then you will need to clean or replace the intake valves regularly. Without checking your air compressor filters, it’s possible that they can become blocked and stop allowing the required amount of air flow through them to your pneumatic tools.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do you inflate a tire with an air compressor?

First of all, know the tire pressure you’re wanting to inflate your tire with. This can probably be found in the vehicle’s manual. This is an important step, so you do not put too much in and experience any performance issues.

Now prepare the tire by unscrewing and removing the stem cap on the valve and put it to the side. Note: make sure you don’t misplace this.

Plug the air compressor and turn it on, allow for a couple minutes for it to accumulate with air and reach pressure. Attach the air hose to the compressor and include the quick couple at the end, now secure the fastener to the valve stem and turn on the machine.

Filling may take some time depending on how flat your tire is of course. Many air compressors have gauges that guide you, and others turn off automatically when the desired pressure is reached. Check the tire pressure regularly, and if you add too much then simply push down on the tire gauge to release some of the air.

Finally, detach the hose when you have the desired amount of air pressure and put the stem cap back on the valve.

What pressure should my air compressor be set at?

This of course depends upon the pneumatic tools you’re using and what pressure they operate at. Most air tools require anywhere between 70 and 90 PSI.

The majority of light to medium air compressors which you can obtain at home, can easily handle 90 PSI BUT, you will always want the compressor to supply more flow than is needed, to ensure the tool operates successfully.