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If you have an air hammer or you’re looking to purchase one for projects at home or in your workshop, you may be wondering what size air compressor do I need for air hammer?

This page will serve as a guide into what size air compressor you need for your air hammer by presenting all the key considerations and relevant information to help you find a solution! For more information about air hammers, visit our Air Hammers Explained – What Are They, How Do They Work, What Are They Used For & Buying Guide.

Table of Contents

Key Considerations – Choosing an Air Compressor for Air Hammers

There are a few very key considerations you must look at when finding an air compressor suitable for an air hammer. These are:

  • Use cycle – continuous vs intermittent use
  • CFM requirements & CFM rating of the air hammer
  • Pressure requirements of the air hammer
  • Duty Cycle of the air compressor
  • CFM delivery capability of the air compressor
  • Air compressor tank size (compressed air storage capacity)
  • Distance you’ll be using the air hammer from the compressor (hose length)

Are You Using the Air Hammer Continuously or Intermittently?

One of the first things you must consider is whether you will require to use the air hammer continuously or intermittently. If you only require intermittent use of your air hammer then a small compressor may suffice but if you require continuous use then the compressor has to have the discharge capacity that the air hammer demands.

A typical use cycle on an air hammer in a non-assembly line environment is likely to be far less than 50% of the time drawing its full CFM rating, and therefore it can comfortably be run intermittently.

What CFM Rating Air Hammer Have You Bought or Are You Considering Buying?

Air hammers come with CFM ratings, often expressed as SCFM ratings (as it’s a standardized unit). This can also be expressed as “Air Consumption”. I will now present to you examples of a few air hammers and their respective CFM ratings.

If you wish to learn more about CFM visit our SCFM vs CFM for Air Tools & Air Compressors GUIDE To Compressor Ratings!

To aid with the understanding of this article, I have described the following tools as “small”, “medium”, and “large” based on their average air consumption ratings.

Example of a Small Air Hammer

Here’s an example of a small/mini air hammer, the WORKPAD WP01125 air hammer which is rated at an average consumption of 3 CFM.

  • CFM: 3.0
  • Blows per minute (BPM): 3500
  • Inlet Size: 1/4″

Example of a Medium Air Hammer

Here is an example of a medium-sized air hammer that has an average consumption of 4 CFM, the Ingersoll Rand Edge Series 114GQC Quick Change Air Hammer.

  • CFM: 4
  • Blows per minute (BPM): 3500
  • Inlet Size: 3/8″

Example of a Large Air Hammer

Here’s an example of a Chicago Pneumatic CP717 Super Duty Air Hammer that requires an average air consumption of 7 CFM.

  • CFM: 7
  • Blows per minute (BPM): 1800
  • Inlet Size: 3/8″

What Pressure Rating Air Hammer Have You Bought or Are You Considering Buying?

All air tools, air Hammer being no exception, have a recommended operating pressure. The different tools listed above each have their own pressure specified by their manufacturers in their respective manuals:

  • The Workpad air hammer has an operating pressure of 90 PSI.
  • The Ingersoll Rand air hammer states that it requires an operating pressure no greater than 90 PSI though users have claimed to comfortably run the tool at 120 PSI.
  • The Chicago Pneumatic air hammer states that the maximum operating pressure is 90 PSI though users have claimed to run the tool up to 160 PSI.

Note: it is important to not exceed the maximum operating pressure or operate on a pressure lower than the minimum, otherwise you will risk hindering your air hammer projects.

Air Compressor Duty Cycle

The duty cycle of an air compressor is normally 50% as can be seen in this Craftsman 919 manual for example. The manual states that the compressor’s maximum pumping time per hour is 30 minutes.

Here’s another example of a product manual that describes the duty cycle of a compressor in these terms:

“INTERMITTENT DUTY FORMULA

Pump-up time should not ordinarily exceed thirty (30) minutes or be less than ten (10) minutes. Shutdown periods between cycles of operation should be at least equal to the pump-up time. Note: When the compressor is regulated by constant speed control, the shutdown period is the time the compressor is operating unloaded.

This basically describes a 50% Duty Cycle. Some compressors may have a 100% duty cycle and be rated for continuous flow, allowing you to work non-stop!

If you want to know more about air compressor duty cycles, how they’re expressed and calculated, you should read our article on air compressor duty cycles here!

CFM Delivery Capability of the Air Compressor

What size air compressor for air hammer will typically come down to the CFM rating of the compressor. CFM ratings of air compressors tend to be based on the output of the air compressor pump.

However, to understand what ability the air compressor has to deliver CFM continuously you need to multiply the CFM rating by the Duty Cycle percentage.

So an Air Compressor CFM rating of 5 CFM with a 50% Duty Cycle would have the ability to deliver:

5 CFM * 50% = 2.5 CFM

Example of a Pancake Air Compressor Suitable for Air Hammers

This very popular Pancake air compressor is capable of delivering 2.6 CFM with a duty-cycled specified in the manual to be 50%, 5 minutes on, and 5 minutes on. Therefore, for a continuous draw of air, this compressor would actually deliver 1.3 CFM (2.6 * 50%).

This compressor is merely suitable for the air hammers presented in this article, but I am providing it an example of a small air compressor because you may obtain a small air hammer with a CFM rating below that of the compressor.

If the medium Ingersoll Rand air hammer was only used intermittently, say 25% of the cycle, their required CFM’s would become 1 CFM (4 * 25%), and so, the compressor would be able to provide this amount of airflow.

Example of a Portable Air Compressor Suitable for Air Hammers

Here’s an example of a portable air compressor that delivers 2.4 CFM – and the product manual describes what would be determined as a 50% duty cycle. Therefore the compressor would actually deliver 1.2 CFM (2.4 CFM * 50%) if you require continuous airflow.

This compressor would only be suitable for the air Workpad and Ingersoll Rand air hammer unless they’re used intermittently, say only 25% of the time (15 minutes per hour cycle). Their required CFM’s would become 0.75 CFM (3 * 25%) and 1 CFM (4 * 25%) respectively.

Example of a Wheelbarrow Air Compressor Suitable for a Air Hammers

Here’s an example of a wheelbarrow air compressor that is rated 5.30 CFM. Although the product manual does not describe the duty cycle, a customer Q&A response has declared that the compressor has a 70/30 (70%) duty cycle, which would be determined as needing 18 minutes of rest during each hour cycle.

Therefore, this wheelbarrow air compressor is actually capable of delivering 3.71 CFM (5.3 * 70%). Making it capable of powering the Workpad air hammer continuously, and the Ingersoll Rand and Chicago Pneumatic air hammers intermittently. Their required CFM’s would become 2 CFM (4 * 50%) and 3.5 CFM (7 * 50%) respectively.

It is possible that you acquire an air hammer that requires a CFM greater than the 3.71 of this compressor. I picked out examples I found on Amazon, but of course, there are hundreds if not thousands of various versions of air hammers, all with varying CFM requirements.

In this case, this compressor may be slightly undersized for your requirement and so you would require a larger compressor.

Example of a Twin Pontoon Air Compressor Suitable for Air Hammers

Here’s an example of a twin pontoon Air compressor, the Ingersoll-Rand 8 Gallon twin compressor capable of delivering 11.5 CFM with a 100% continuous duty cycle.

This compressor is capable of powering all the air hammers presented in this article continuously. It could even power two of them simultaneously (3 + 4 = 7 CFM, 3 + 7 = 10, 4 + 7 = 11).

If this compressor were to have a 50% duty cycle, and therefore would provide 5.75 CFM (11.5 * 50%) it would still be able to power the Workpad and Ingersoll rand air hammers continuously. You get the idea now!

Air Compressor Tank Size (Compressed Air Storage Capacity)

The tank size will determine how much air is available to be drawn at any time. This is also a key enabler in keeping a compressor within its duty cycle.

If you have a small tank, the air hammer will quickly pull the pressure down below the level needed to activate the compressor. While a larger capacity tank will allow the compressor to run less frequently.

Therefore a 12 CFM compressor with a 50% Duty Cycle can be used to run an air hammer that’s rated at 12 CFM – if used intermittently with a sufficiently large air tank.

To keep a compressor running for at least 10 minutes with an air hammer consuming 12 Cubic Feet of air per minute for 50% of the time, the storage capacity would be:

12 CFM * 10 minutes * 50% = 60 Cubic Feet of air (at atmospheric pressure – 15PSI)

As atmospheric pressure is 15 PSI and the output pressure is 90 PSI and pressure and volume are inversely proportional 15 PSI / 90 PSI = 6

Therefore, you need 1/6th the volume of air at 90 PSI

60 Cubic Feet * 1/6th = 10 Cubic Feet

10 Cubic Feet = 283 Liters

Note: This is just a simplified example to provide you with a basic idea of the tank capacity that is needed.

Distance You’ll be Using the Air Hammer From the Compressor (Hose Length)

Long hoses will result in pressure drop, which is certainly undesirable. I could not find any recommendations in any of the air hammer manuals, but it can generally be recommended that you should not exceed a hose length that is just long enough to serve the working area.

Any hose length greater than 25 feet will result in a pressure drop that will need to be compensated for by the compressor to ensure that the air hammer is receiving the right operating pressure.

For further information on air hoses visit our Air Compressor Hose & Tube Guide here!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What size air compressor do I need for air hammer?

Air hammers typically run on pressures of around 90 PSI, depending on the size and model of the air hammer. If you have the baseline PSI of 90 from your air compressor, then you will also need around 4 CFM to be able to run your air hammer at a good rate as well.

How many CFM do I need for air hammer?

An air hammer will typically require around 4 CFM on average, but some may require up to around 10 CFM or even more. It is important to have an air compressor that can comfortably deliver your tool’s CFM requirements so that the tool functions effectively.

Additional CFM reading:

What size air compressor:


If you have any questions regarding what size air compressor you need for an air hammer, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!