We've even heard of air tools being used underwater to work on ships’ hulls. Just don’t expect the warranty to cover tools that look like a rusty anchor. Sounds too good, but is there a catch? Well sort of…they are useless unless you connect them to an air compressor.
So, will any air compressor power any air tool? Sorry, but the answer is "no." A $99 two-gallon model may be great for air brushing or filling a car tire, but using it to paint your car is a no-go. It can produce the necessary pressure (psi), but it can’t keep up with the tool’s air flow requirements.
An air tool requires air flow to work. Think of a windmill. A slight breeze lacks the power to turn the blades. However, a strong, steady wind like a storm front will turn that same windmill fast enough to generate a substantial amount of electricity.
Some air tools consume more air than others. Nailers and staplers require a puff of air. Sandblasters and sanders need massive gusts.
So, you basically want to know how fast the air comes out of the compressor. The air flow is measured in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM). The greater the flow, the greater the power.
You simply select an air compressor that exceeds the CFM of your most powerful air tool. If the flow isn't strong enough, the air tool simply won’t perform properly.
Intermittent tools like nailers or staplers use a short blast of pressurized air. Even impact & ratchet wrenches are normally in operation for only a few seconds, just long enough to remove or tighten lug nuts or bolts. However, other tools can be operated continuously, for example: sanders, sand blasters, cut-off tools, grinders & paint spray guns. For those tools, we recommend sizing the compressor at least 1.25-1.5 times the CFM of your tool for continuous operation. If the compressor does not produce enough air volume, CFM, then the pressure will drop leaving the tool of no practical use.
A 120V AC electric air compressor can only produce about 5-6 CFM @ 90 psi so it is limited to intermittent use air tools. A 240V AC or gasoline engine driven air compressor is necessary to produce the 10+ CFM required to operate continuous air tools.
Pairing a 120V pump/motor on a larger tank or even daisy chaining multiple tanks together does not solve the problem. It does increase the air storage & lengthens the time until the psi drops, but it also overworks the pump beyond what it was designed to do. This will cause premature failure of the pump & the pump is the most expensive part of an air compressor.