About Us    Contact Us

How to Use an Air Compressor – Guide to Operating Air Compressors

Published Categorized as How To Guides No Comments on How to Use an Air Compressor – Guide to Operating Air Compressors

Air compressors can be found almost anywhere in today’s 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 it 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 ensure 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 the 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 the 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 industrialized 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 Step-by-Step Guide

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! I’m going to split the instructions into the following 3 parts:

  • Setting Up the Air Compressor
  • Operating the Air Compressor
  • Shutting Off and Maintaining the Air Compressor

Let’s take a look at each stage in more detail!

Setting Up the Air Compressor

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: 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 connecting the air hose, wrap the threaded end of the air hose with PTFE tape or apply PTFE dope, and then thread the hose onto the compressor fitting which is located near the air pressure gauge/regulator valve. Again, an adjustable wrench will help you securely fasten the hose if it’s not a quick-connect.

The PTFE 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.

Step 3: 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.

Step 4: Plug the Compressor In

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.

Find a grounded 3-prong outlet and plug the compressor in. Make sure the compressor’s power switch is turned off before plugging it in and try to avoid using extension cords because they may cause the compressor to overheat.

Instead of using an extension cord, you could attach two hoses together by sliding the plug end of 1 hose into the receiving end of the other hose just like attaching a power tool to the hose or buy a longer hose.

Operating the Air Compressor

Step 1: Put On the Correct PPE

A very important step in order to operate power tools safely is to wear the correct PPE. I would recommend polycarbonate goggles to protect your eyes and a good pair of shoes or boots that shield your toes from any potentially dropped tools.

You should always put on your safety gear before attempting to operate the compressor. Some compressors may be louder than others, or even certain tools, and so, it may be necessary to wear earmuffs/protectors as well.

Step 2: Test the Safety Valve

You should pull on the safety valve to ensure that it is working correctly. Look for a copper-colored plug near the hose line and tug it towards you to release the valve and listen for the hissing of air escaping. Push the valve back into place before starting the compressor.

In most cases, the safety valve will have a ring on it which will make it a lot easier to pull. Air hissing out of the valve is exactly what you want, but if you are able to pull the valve out and put it back securely, it should be in working order.

Step 3: Fill the Air Tank

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

Turn the power switch on and allow the compressor to buzz to life and 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. Or, wait for the needle to stop moving, which will signify that the air inside the compressor has reached its maximum pressure.

The smaller, second gauge near the hose displays the air pressure in the hose. Do not expect this gauge to read anything as it won’t yet, which is expected!

Step 4: Regulate the Air Control Valve

Adjust the air control valve, 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 is needed until the air pressure gauge reads the correct air pressure for your tool.

Check your tool to find how much pressure it needs. This information is usually printed on the tool so look for a sticker or letters on the tool’s underside near the handle. If you can’t find it on the tool then I recommend looking in the owner’s manual!

Typically the manual will provide the minimum and maximum PSI rating that the tool should not exceed as well as the optimum operating pressure. Every tool will have a different rating, so you will need to adjust the pressure every time you use different tools.

Step 5: Operate the Tool

Now that pressurized air is in the hose, the tool is ready for use. Every time you use the tool, the pressure in the tank will drop and begin refilling automatically when it reaches its cut-in pressure. You don’t need to make any adjustments until you switch to using a different tool.

If your pneumatic tool suddenly stops working then you should check the pressure gauge. It’s common for smaller compressors with small tanks to halt operation as the tank has run out of air and needs time to rebuild pressure, especially when accommodating larger tools.

Shutting Off and Maintaining the Air Compressor

Step 1: Drain Moisture After Use

First, it’s very important to drain any moisture in the tank after every use to keep your air compressor functional. It’s probably best to check your owner’s 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.

The valve should be on the underside of the air tank. You should twist the valve counterclockwise so that pressurized air blows out any collected moisture. When all the water has drained from the tank, put the valve back in place by twisting it clockwise to tighten it securely until you can no longer hear any airflow. If you face difficulty twisting the valve manually, try using a pair of pliers.

Step 2: Drain the Air Pressure

Leave the hose in place until you twist the pressure regulator knob near the hose to shut off the hose’s air supply. Then you can turn off the compressor and wait for the pressure to leave the system. Pull on the pressure relief valve to speed up the draining process. Once there is no more air exiting the system, you can pull the pressure relief valve to speed up the process.

Step 3: Remove the Hose and Store the Compressor

You can now unplug the compressor from the wall and remove the air compressor’s hose with ease, as it should slide right out without pressure in the tank. Proceed to place and store in a dry, temperature-controlled area like a closet or cupboard.

Step 4: Replace the Oil

If you have an oil-filled air compressor then you should replace the oil at least yearly. Clean oil is integral for the operation of any machine. This is typically done by using a socket wrench to remove the plugs on the oil tank and then catching the old oil in a container, before funneling the new compressor oil in.

You should consult your owner’s manual for more specific instructions or visit our How To Change Air Compressor Oil – Guide to Replacing Compressor Oil guide!

These are all but a few maintenance steps you can take to ensure that the compressor remains healthy and in good working condition. For more information visit our Air Compressor Maintenance – How To GUIDE – Preventative & Ongoing article!

How to Use an Air Compressor for Home Use

From any small handheld and portable air compressor to the 50+ stationary tank models, you will be able to find all sorts of ways people are using compressed air for fun and to get work or DIY projects done around the house. Here’s a list of the little and big hobbies, maintenance, or repairs that may use compressed air:

Pumping Tires and Inflatables

Compressed air pumps may be simple in design, but they can provide superior airflow for every day pumping activities that include:

  • Adding air to tires on bikes, cars, and trucks
  • Blowing up balloons or inflatable pool accessories
  • Inflating air mattresses at home or on a camping trip
  • Topping off sports equipment like balls that has deflated

How to Use an Air Compressor to Fill a Tire

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 putting it to the side. You must make sure you don’t misplace this.

Plug the air compressor and turn it on, allowing for a couple of 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.

How to Use an Air Compressor to Inflate a Pool

First, you will need to set up the air compressor by allowing the tank to build pressure. Connect the air hose to the air filling valve on the pool and then activate the compressor to fill the pool until it’s properly inflated.

Replace the cap on the pool’s air filling valve then turn the air compressor off. For more detailed instructions, visit our How To Inflate A Pool With An Air Compressor + Inflating Pool Toys guide!

How to Use an Air Compressor to Inflate Balls

Setup the air compressor with the correct attachments, typically an inflation kit. Insert the fill probe through the rubber gasket of the ball. Toggle the lever on the air valve to start compressed air flow through the needle valve and then monitor the pressure on the gauge and the ball.

When the ball is filled to a satisfactory pressure level, use the valve lever to turn off the valve, remove the fill-probe from the ball’s rubber fill-gasket. For more information, please visit our Using an Air Compressor to Inflate Balls guide!

How to Use an Air Compressor to Fill Truck Tires

If you have a suitable air compressor, which can reach the desired air pressure for your truck tires, with the help of a tire inflator kit you will be able to fill all your tires to their required pressure with ease.

Visit our What Size Air Compressor for Truck Tires? Guide for more information on the air compressors suitable for this task!

Pressure Washing

Pressure washers can be equipped with an air compressor to force out the pressurized water. With variations in size and tank capacity, compressed air pressure washers are great for a number of uses which include:

  • Cleaning siding, brick and sidewalks on residential properties
  • Refreshing the appearance of decks and patios
  • Replacing harsh chemicals or cleaning treatments
  • Washing cars and other vehicles

How to Use an Air Compressor for Pressure Washing

By purchasing a water jet cleaning gun or high-pressure wand and attaching it to an air compressor along with the handle being attached to the garden hose water supply.

The results will not be as expected, you will not have the same capabilities as a pressure washer. Your air compressor can be used as a maintenance pressure washer, it won’t be able to completely wash filthy jobs but it will be able to remove some amount of dirt, especially when fresh. For more information visit our Using An Air Compressor as A Pressure Washer

Woodworking Projects

From seasoned woodworkers to woodworking beginners, carpentry would certainly be more challenging without the help of compressed air. Air compressors are used in woodworking and metalwork for many tasks which include:

  • Sanding in woodworking to prepare surfaces for treatment
  • Powering pneumatic tools like nail guns
  • Eliminating imperfections from wood and metal
  • Removing excess rust or dust from the workstation
  • Performing continuous or detailed work on wood materials

How to Use an Air Compressor for Sandblasting

Firstly, the compressor is set up and turned on to reach maximum pressure. When the air enters the attached sandblaster tool, a vacuum is formed, and the airflow draws in the sand that is in the small tank. These abrasive particles are accelerated up to 40 m/s as they exit through the nozzle from the gun and impact the treated surface.

For more information on Sandblasting, visit our How Does A Sandblaster Work? Guide To Types Of Sandblasters & What Size Air Compressor For Sandblasting? [GUIDE] CFM For Sandblasting guides!

Check out this DIY sandblaster demonstration below on YouTube if you fancy making your own sandblaster.

How to Use an Air Compressor for Nailing

When it comes to using an air compressor for any type of nail gun, it’s simple. Setup the air compressor and allow it to build pressure. Regulate the pressure to the required amount of the nail gun you’re using before attaching the nail gun. When ready, you can start firing the nails from your nail gun into your woodwork!

We have a number of pages available on our site relating to nail guns. If interested, please have a read:

Crafting Projects

Compressed air crafting tools are often typically portable and lightweight so that they are easy to use around the home. Common uses for compressed air in daily life include the following:

  • Painting with an airbrush for small precision projects
  • Using paint sprayers on larger surfaces like bikes and the bodies of cars
  • Using various pneumatic tools for home projects
  • Powering air-blow guns for final project cleanup

How to Use an Air Compressor Paint Sprayer

With the right compressor, suitably clean air, and pressure, an air compressor along with a spray gun can be ideal for a number of projects. By setting up the air compressor, along with correct filtration, you will be able to regulate the pressure for a perfect finish on various surfaces. The YouTube demonstration below describes perfectly how to set up and use a paint spray gun with your air compressor.

If you’re wondering What Size Air Compressor Do I Need For Spray Painting? visit our guide!

Other Projects

Crafty homeowners can follow in the footsteps of others who have found ways to find home projects to work more efficiently with air compressors. There are a number of possibilities inside and outside of your home, these include:

  • Cleaning crevices and tight spaces on equipment like computers or other durable items with directed air pressure
  • Moving puddles of water that have pooled in inconvenient places outside the house
  • Sweeping leaves and debris from the yard
  • Spreading weed killers for larger gardens

How to Use an Air Compressor for Cleaning PC

First of all, you will need to turn the computer off and then use the compressor to clear dust from the components. Be careful not to damage parts like the motherboard or fan blades. You can then use rubbing alcohol to wipe all surfaces before blowing the dust off the PC, cleaning the heatsink, and cleaning the ports with compressed air.

For more information on suitable compressors and the full method, visit our How to Use an Air Compressor for Cleaning PC and Computer guide!

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 gas-powered air compressors, I will advise you not to refuel or change the 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 requirements.

Fine-tune the tool’s 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 the air compressor.

Wear PPE

Before operating an air compressor you should ensure you wear the correct PPE (personal protective equipment). PPE for operating an air compressor can include gloves, hard hats, safety goggles, earmuffs, 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 airflow through them to your pneumatic tools.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

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.

If you have any questions about how to use an air compressor, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help!

By Aidan Weeks

A passionate Mechanical Engineer with endless enthusiasm for fluid power - building off the back of over 18 years of high quality contribution and discussion stimulated by Bill Wade here at About Air Compressors. With both practical and theoretical experience in pneumatics and hydraulics, I'm putting my knowledge to work - and working my grey-matter through my research, assistance and publishing work here at About Air Compressors. Feel free to reach out any time! P.S. A HUGE shout out to Doug who really offers such great value to all visitors to About Air Compressors - once again, feeling like I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS by getting to work alongside such a great community

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments