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What should I look for in an air compressor?

Air Compressor


What should I look for in a new air compressor? I've never used one or owned one before, and I'm planning to buy a finishing nailer for my shop. - Dave Pascoe, Victoria

Begin by thinking about all the possible uses you might have for compressed air. If you won’t be doing anything other than nailing, then a small oil-free compressor will do a great job for you. It’s portable, it plugs into a regular wall outlet and it doesn’t take up much workshop space. I’ve used 2-hp models for everything from fine trim work to one-man framing, and they work great.

If you think you might like to use air-powered sanders or spray equipment some day, then you’ll need a larger compressor. The size required depends on exactly what you want to run. Take the time to look up air consumption figures for all the tools you might buy one day, which are expressed in cubic feet per minute (CFM) and choose a compressor that delivers at least 20 per cent more air than the hungriest tool you’re considering.

Have you thought about a hoseless finishing nailer instead of a compressor? There are some excellent models available today. The Paslode model uses a canister of combustible fuel to drive nails, and DeWalt has a nailer that uses the same kind of rechargeable battery you might find on a cordless drill or impact driver. I know from experience that both these tools work well.

If you do decide to go pneumatic and you think you’ll only be using your nailer for assembly work, take a look at a pin nailer. This tiny, handheld gun shoots needle-thin, 23-gauge headless fasteners. These are almost invisible when flush with wood, and do a great job holding small trim and moulding in place while glue dries.

Regardless of the compressor you choose, be sure to get a hose nozzle to put air in tires and a trigger-operated dusting nozzle to blow out dirty air filters and machine parts. I’m always using my compressor for jobs such as these.

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell lives on Manitoulin Island, Ontario and has worked remotely as technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop since 1990. He uses his experience as a cabinetmaker, carpenter and stonemason to prepare projects for the magazine, to write stories of his own, and to test and review products and tools in his workshop. Steve has a readership of about 2 million people across Canada and the US, and takes photos and creates videos to accompany his work.

When Steve’s not working with words, wood and stone, he likes to spend time gardening, cutting firewood, and showing his five kids how to make things.


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Matthew Pioro

Matthew Pioro

Nov. 11, 2011

6:46 pm

We tried out the Senco F-15 in our March 2011 issue and liked it a lot. Haven't had a chance yet to test one of their compressors.


Nov. 10, 2011

10:11 pm

I believe you also recommended a Senco nailer that you said was superior to all the others.

Senco makes a small compressor. Do you know it, and would you recommend it?

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