If you’re venturing into the world of power tools, it’s essential to understand the ins and outs of using an air compressor. This often overlooked tool plays a vital role in various construction, machinery, and paint applications. In this edition of our “Train an Apprentice” series, we’ll take you through the basics, ensuring you have all the knowledge you need to operate an air compressor effectively.
Table of Contents
- How to Use an Air Compressor – Initial Setup
- Fuel is required to use a gas-powered air compressor
- When using an electric air compressor, be careful with the cord length
- Connect the hose to the regulator
- Test the safety valve
- Turn on the compressor and fill up the water tank
- Adjust the air regulator
- Know Your Duty Cycle Rating
- Maintain Your Air Compressor
How to Use an Air Compressor – Initial Setup
Let’s begin with the essential first step – checking the oil. While most modern small air compressors no longer require oil, larger ones might. Refer to the manual to confirm whether your compressor needs oil and where to add it. Look for the dipstick at the bottom of one of the compressor ends. Similar to checking your car’s oil, ensure the oil level is sufficient. If it’s running low, add more. Some compressors, like the 80-gallon NorthStar model, have a convenient oil window, making it easy to monitor the oil level. Compressor oil can be easily found at hardware stores, auto parts stores, and home improvement stores.
If the oil in your compressor oil window appears milky, it’s time for a replacement.
Fuel is required to use a gas-powered air compressor
When using a gas-powered air compressor, it’s crucial to select the right type of fuel for optimal performance and longevity. Consider choosing ethanol-free gasoline or TruFuel premix, as they tend to be more beneficial for your compressor’s overall lifespan. If you must use regular gasoline, add an ethanol-specific fuel stabilizer, like Stabil, to minimize any potential issues. Additionally, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended break-in period, typically involving running the compressor with the drain open for about 30 minutes.
When using an electric air compressor, be careful with the cord length
For electric air compressors, ensure you have access to a nearby power outlet. Whenever possible, avoid using extension cords, as they may cause the compressor to overheat. If you must resort to an extension cord, refer to our extension cord size chart for guidance on selecting the appropriate cord. To cover a greater distance, you can also connect multiple air hoses together to supply air to your tools.
Connect the hose to the regulator
To get started, connect the hose to the regulator valve, conveniently located next to the pressure gauge on the compressor. Matching the male connector on the hose with the female connector on the compressor, slide the coupler’s moving part to lock the hose in place. You may feel a release of air as you connect the hose, which is normal. Similarly, the other end of the hose will have a female plug that connects to the male stem of your desired tool via an adapter.
Test the safety valve
Before starting the compressor, it’s crucial to test the safety valve’s functionality. Located near the hose, simply pull the valve and listen for a hissing sound, indicating that the air is escaping correctly. Push the valve back in place before proceeding. If you don’t hear any air escaping but can firmly reposition the valve, there’s no need to worry.
Turn on the compressor and fill up the water tank
After completing the initial setup, it’s time to turn on the compressor and allow the tank to fill up. You’ll know the tank is ready when the needle on the tank pressure gauge stops moving forward, and the motor ceases running. To ensure optimal performance, determine the air pressure your tool needs to operate effectively. Look for this information on the bottom of your tool or consult the manual. Each tool requires a specific PSI rating, and you may need to adjust the hose pressure accordingly when switching between tools.
Adjust the air regulator
At this stage, it’s essential to adjust the air regulator knob. Clockwise rotation increases the pressure, while counterclockwise decreases it. Allow a few seconds for the compressor to stabilize after each adjustment. Don’t hesitate to make small tweaks until you achieve the desired pressure.
Remember that every time you use a power tool, the tank pressure decreases as compressed air flows through the hose. Once the tank pressure drops too low, the compressor will automatically restart to refill it.
Know Your Duty Cycle Rating
Familiarize yourself with your compressor’s duty cycle rating, which indicates its operational endurance. Some compressors boast a 100% duty cycle, allowing non-stop usage, while others may have a 50% duty cycle. If your compressor falls into the latter category, remember to allow it to rest for the same amount of time as its runtime. For example, if you operate it for five minutes, it should rest for five minutes before use again. The duration of rest periods may vary, so consult your manual for specific recommendations.
Maintain Your Air Compressor
Just like you need breaks during the day, your air compressor requires decompression and proper maintenance. Follow these steps to ensure its longevity:
Drain the tank
After use, open the drain valve located at the tank’s bottom to release any collected water. This step is crucial as water and metal don’t mix well, potentially leading to rust. Pay extra attention if you live in a coastal area with high salt content in the air, as rusting can accelerate. Before opening the drain valve, turn off the compressor to prevent any accidents. As you open the valve, any trapped moisture around the tank’s bottom will be expelled along with the air. Alternatively, you can close the pressure adjustment knob to stop the air supply to the hose and then shut off the compressor. Waiting for the pressure to release naturally, you can speed up the process by pulling the relief valve.
Watch out for air filters
Regularly check your air filter to ensure optimal performance. Excessive dirt buildup can strain the motor and lead to malfunctioning. Replace the air filter whenever you notice significant deposits accumulating on it.
Check the oil again
When storing the hose, take a moment to check the oil level once more. If it appears low, top it up. Additionally, consider performing a complete oil change annually. Consult your manual for detailed instructions on this procedure.
Air tank life
Keep in mind that air compressor oil tanks have a limited lifespan. While draining the tank increases its longevity, it may still eventually require replacement. Consult the data label on your compressor to determine its expected lifespan.
Remember, your insight is valuable to us! If you have any tips or tricks to share regarding air compressor usage, feel free to share them in the comments section below.