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What Are Pneumatic Tools? How Are They powered? Examples, Safety & More

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Pneumatic tools in recent years have gone from being used by the odd mechanic or factory worker to being found across a wide array of industries. Now, even a lot of people have pneumatic tools at home instead of electric or battery-powered tools to help them complete their do-it-yourself jobs with ease.

This article will provide you with all the relevant information on pneumatic tools, how they’re powered, their benefits, all the safety concerns, and a list of the most used pneumatic tools.

Table of Contents

What are Pneumatic Tools?

Pneumatic tools, or otherwise referred to as air tools, or pneumatic-powered tools, are known for their superior power-to-weight ratio and are easy to use and maintain. Pneumatic tools hold advantages over differently powered tools because they are less prone to circuit shorting, and they rarely self-destruct when jammed.

Pneumatic Tool Benefits

Pneumatic tools can be used for so many different tasks and projects, they are reliable, compact, and efficient amongst so many other benefits. Pneumatic air tools are far easier to operate than their electrical counterpart due to their lightweight and improved mobility. Their compactness allows you to operate in tight spaces, which may not be accessible with other tools.

If an electrical tool was to stool, you must start worrying about the ways in which you can combat a drop in electromotive force without causing a motor burnout of your tool, well, not with air tools!

Pneumatic tools are designed to ensure that all operations are sparkless, which helps with the safety aspects especially in environments that contain dampness, liquids, or are flammable.

How are Pneumatic Tools Powered?

Pneumatic tools are powered by compressed air, typically coming from an air compressor of some sort. There are many variations of air compressors, each providing its own benefits when it comes to power tools. Visit our types of air compressors guide for further information on the variations.

Some will be able to provide continuous airflow for tools that require this, and others will only be able to provide intermittent airflow, typically down to their duty cycle rating, but this is another conversation. Head over to our duty cycle page to gain a better understanding of how this affects your tool’s airflow!

Some variants of pneumatic tools may be driven by compressed carbon dioxide, which is stored inside small cylinders, designed to offer the user great portability. But most pneumatic tools use an air compressor that sucks in air from the atmosphere, reduces the volume of said air and thus, increases the pressure of the air which is then able to provide sufficient power to the pneumatic tools.

Most Common Pneumatic Tools

Pneumatic tools are available in a wide array of different types, and every type has its own specific function or purpose, therefore, you must understand each air tool to know which air tool you need for your job. There are so many different pneumatic tools on the market, and so, I will present to you the most common of them:

  • Air Nailers
  • Die Grinder
  • Impact Wrench
  • Pneumatic Drill
  • Pneumatic Hammer
  • Rivet Gun
  • Sander
  • Spray Gun
  • Staple Gun

Air Nailers

Air nailers are tools used to drive nails into wood or other materials. The two most common types include a brad nailer and a framing nailer.

Brad nailers are typically used to attach lightweight thin trims, boards, and moldings as they’re small enough to not crack the delicate material. With a brad nailer, you can get the job done in a matter of seconds.

Framing nailers on the other hand are suited to more heavy-duty tasks with larger-sized nails. They replace the need to use a regular hammer and amongst speeding up the process, they also provide greater accuracy and leave you less likely to damage the board.

Visit our Types of Nail Guns Guide & Brad Nailer vs Framing Nailer for more information!

Die Grinder

Pneumatic die grinders are very powerful tools used for various grinding, polishing, sharpening, and cutting metal tasks. Pneumatic die grinders can provide greater torque and RPM than their electric counterparts, enabling you to complete large-scale jobs quickly and efficiently. Visit our What Size Air Compressor Do I Need For A Die Grinder? to help you size your air compressor for this tool!

Impact Wrench

Pneumatic impact wrenches can provide high torque values with minimal effort or exertion. For this reason, they are commonly used across the mechanical industries at car garages to remove stubborn nuts, bolts, and pins.

Being the most powerful type of wrench, it comes at a cost, but this cost comes with the ability to perform powerful force to make difficult tasks easy and quick. Visit our Impact Wrench Uses & How To Use An Impact Wrench guide for more information about this tool, along with our guide on the Best Air Compressors For Impact Wrenches!

Pneumatic Drill

Pneumatic drills will enable you to ensure that your holes are straight not crooked and save you some valuable time on the project. Unlike electric drills, pneumatic drills are not prone to overheating as the longer the tool operates, the cooler it gets!

They are a lot safer to use in flammable and explosive environments too. And, for these reasons, pneumatic drills are suitable for heavy-duty hole drilling tasks in automotive work.

Pneumatic Hammer

Pneumatic hammers, or commonly referred to as pneumatic chisels, are used to cut metals and carve stones. They are designed to accept several attachments which enable them to be used for various applications. Pneumatic hammers are, however, pricier than their counterparts but they offer a lot more.

Rivet Gun

Rivet guns, also known as pneumatic riveters, are very common in the aerospace and automotive industries. These lightweight and easy-to-use tools enable operators to propel rivets into place quickly and efficiently.


Sanding is known for being one of the most tiring tasks in woodworking, especially if you’re only using sandpaper. In steps the pneumatic sander, a lightweight efficient, and effective tool that allows you to work fast and produce a great result. Compared to electric sanders, they’re lighter, and so, they offer better control of the tool and cause less strain on your arms and wrists. Visit our Guide To Types Of Sandblasters for more information!

Spray Gun

Spray guns, or pneumatic air sprayers, are a great tool for applying paint to large surfaces and providing a smooth finish, something paint brushes and rollers may struggle with.

Despite having a few drawbacks in that the air provided to them must be treated to ensure it doesn’t affect the quality of the paint job, they can provide better control and atomization compared to other types of paint sprayers. Visit our What Size Air Compressor Do I Need For Spray Painting? guide on how to pick the right compressor for this tool!

Staple Gun

A pneumatic staple gun drives staples into planks of wood or other surfaces without causing any damage. They are commonly used for applications like house wrap and insulation. They’re very easy to use and will enable you to complete your tasks faster than using a manual or electric staple gun.

It’s important to note that these are all but a few of the pneumatic tools readily available on today’s market. Please conduct your own research to find the pneumatic tool suitable for your projects if it has not been listed here. The opportunities are endless!

Pneumatic Tool Safety Guidance

When it comes to the safety behind using pneumatic tools, there are several precautionary steps you can take to ensure that dangers are kept to a minimum.

Most Common Dangers Associated with Pneumatic Tools

But first, I would like to address the most common dangers that are associated with pneumatic tools. These include but are not limited to:

  • Accidental Activation of Tool
  • Attachments Flying Off Course
  • Dangerous Noise Levels
  • Ergonomics
  • Trip Hazards

Accidental Activation of Tool

This can be caused by several reasons, for instance, your tool may have a faulty trigger, or it was naturally a human error. If this happens it could lead to a serious injury, therefore, it is imperative to disconnect all pneumatic tools when they are not being used.

Attachments Flying Off Course

Probably the most common danger associated with pneumatic tools are the likelihood of getting hit or injured from the nail, rivet, staple or other fasteners which are attached to the specific tool. These attachments can fly off course at significantly high speeds which can easily and quickly penetrate the human body, resulting in injuries most commonly to fingers and hands.

Dangerous Noise Levels

Pneumatic tools tend not to be muffled and so, they are liable to generate high levels, often dangerous, of noise. If the noise exceeds the permissible exposure limit (PEL) then it might cause damage to your ears. To avoid this, it is advised that some form of ear protection be worn when handling pneumatic tools such as earmuffs or earplugs.


Ergonomic hazards like excessive vibration and awkward postures are very common with the regular use of pneumatic-powered tools. Steps you can take include wearing anti-vibration gloves or using mats that absorb some of the vibrations.

Trip Hazards

It’s important to make sure that hoses running from the air compressor to your pneumatic tools aren’t left out and are instead put away after each use.

Top Safety Tips for Pneumatic Tools

Now let’s dig deeper into some safety tips which will help you keep yourself and others away from danger. The tips I will discuss are:

  • Always read the user manual
  • Carry tool by the tool not the hose
  • Disconnect tool from air supply
  • Do not modify your tool
  • Do not point tool at people
  • Follow air pressure guidelines
  • Know your trigger
  • Use quick-connect couplers
  • Use recommended air compressor CFM
  • Wear appropriate PPE

Always Read the User Manual

Before you begin any project with your air compressor and pneumatic tool, you should carefully read the user’s manual to understand any specific operating instructions. Each manufacturer will specify how you should handle the tool, any safety concerns you need to be aware of, and maintenance procedures with how regularly they should be conducted. Following your user’s manual will ensure that you are using the tool in the safest manner.

Carry the Tool by the Tool Not the Hose

It seems straightforward and common sense right, but you’d be surprised at how many accidents are caused by someone holding the hose and putting undue pressure and stress on it which eventually leads to failure and injury.

Disconnect Tool from Air Supply

When you have finished using the tool it’s important to disconnect any magazine from the tool and disconnect the tool from the air supply. This will help to prevent accidental discharge when you’re not with the tool.

Do Not Modify Your Tool

I know we all have this desire as a do-it-yourself persona to want to constantly improve and modify anything we see and touch, but please don’t modify your pneumatic tools! Any slight form of tampering to the tool, its trigger, or other components is likely to greatly increase the chance of an injury.

Do Not Point Tool at People

A very common reason for accidental injury is people pointing tools at themselves or other people or using them in a way that they’re not designed for. Yeah, it might be a joke but what if the tool was to accidentally fire? The results could be dangerous if not deadly!

Follow Air Pressure Guidelines

It’s important that you do not exceed the recommended operating or maximum pressure of the tool. This will generally be part of you reading the user manual, as the manufacturer will specify the pressure at which you should operate the tool, as well as a pressure that you should not exceed.

Know Your Trigger

There are several different types of triggers and so it is important to know what type you have and how to safely use it. Again, this information should be specified in the user’s manual. For example, some triggers may discharge multiple nails at a time while others will just discharge singular nails.

Use Quick-Connect Couplers

Quick-connect couplers work by you pulling down a sleeve that allows the pneumatic tool to be disconnected from your air hose with ease. This can allow you to quickly disconnect the tools after use, eliminating accidental discharge.

CFM (cubic feet per minute) is another important rating of both your tool and air compressor that you should be aware of along with pressure. Your tool will require a certain amount of CFM and you should ensure that your compressor can deliver this adequately and safely.

Wear Appropriate PPE

Now, as I briefly touched on earlier, there are several common dangers that can be reduced or avoided by wearing the correct PPE (personal protective equipment). Some basic PPE includes safety shoes, hard hats, hearing protection, high-impact eye protection, and gloves.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What are pneumatic tools examples?

Some of the most common pneumatic tools include sanders, drills, impact wrenches, spray guns, die grinders, rivet guns, and nailers. But, there are so many more!

What are the tools of pneumatic tools?

The tools of pneumatic tools, or in other words their attachments, include various items depending on the pneumatic tool itself. For example, different sized drill bits to attach to your pneumatic drill or variations of nails to be used with your brad nailer.

What is pneumatic tools and equipment?

Pneumatic tools and equipment are powered by compressed air and are capable of being used for a wide array of applications across various industries. Pneumatic tools and equipment offer various benefits in that they are reliable, compact, and efficient, which has led them to the forefront of industries in recent years.

What is the difference between power tools and pneumatic tools?

Power tools are typically powered by electricity, cordless, or via a battery. In contrast, pneumatic tools are powered by compressed air, and so, they need an air compressor of some sort to be able to function sufficiently. Though pneumatic tools have the additional cost of an air compressor, they have in recent years become the far more popular of the two for a number of reasons including their greater reliability, higher efficiency, and their compact and lightweight designs.

If you have any questions about pneumatic tools, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

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

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