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Recently we were shooting the bull with some friends in the tool business when the following topic arose: Do DIYers (or pros not at work) use air tools — non-fastener tools, like impact wrenches, air ratchets, air chisels, etc. as opposed to nailers or staple guns — at home? And if so, which ones and for what purposes? If you’ve got a sec, drop us a line via email or comment below with a bit of detail about the following:

  1. Do you use air tools at all at home?
  2. If so, which ones?
  3. What type of work do you do with them?
  4. What kind of air compressor do you use?
  5. What’s the minimum tank size, in your opinion, for home air tool use?

We appreciate it, because all of us sitting around the bar had dramatically different views on the subject. One of these days we’re going to set up a full survey engine here on TM. I’d love to be able to do a detailed poll among readers. I’d say we have a hell of a knowledge base here.


27 Responses to Reader Question: What Air Tools Do You Use At Home?

  1. Chris says:

    1. Yes.
    2. Die grinder, 1/2″ impact, angle grinder, tire chuck, blow gun, paint sprayer, 1″ impact.
    3. Automotive, fabrication, etc.
    4. Old 5hp/3P 80 gallon IR.
    5. I used to get by with a 30 gallon but I didn’t run a 1″ impact either. I’d say 20-30 is the minimum for anything that spins or sprays, except an airbrush.

  2. steve says:

    I have some, and I’ve been in situations where I’ve needed them, but I never seem to have the right bits for them.

    The Impact wrench would be absolutely invaluable for automotive stuff though. That’s why I’ve just ordered some new impact sockets. They should pay for themselves pretty quickly.

  3. SharkyTM says:

    1. Yes.
    2. 1/2″ Impact gun, angle grinder, air chuck, blow gun, die grinder, air drill, air sander, finish and framing nailgun.
    3. Automotive, fabrication, home repairs.
    4. 5HP, 80 Gallon Campbell Hausfeld, got it from Lowes on Clearance for $500.
    5. Tank size isn’t the issue. Seriously… its the motor and pump. If the tool uses more air than the pump can supply, you’ll have to wait (and deal with the heat [and water]) that comes with that. To answer the question: 30 gallons is the minimum for fabrication or automotive work. For a home owner, or woodworker, a pancake or twin-tank 5-10 gallon would probably cut it.

  4. Blind says:

    Picked up the Harbor Freight brand 2HP, 8Gallon compressor that they normally sell for $100 and some basic tools for general shop use (generally air rachet and inflating tires, occasional cutting). I bought it because it seemed cheap enough that I could see if I’d get enough use out of it to buy a real set up and just barely capable enough to be useful.

    The air rachet works fine, generally used to pull nuts off of long bolts, and while it does put out more torque than my 1/2 inch impact wrench, it doesn’t torque anything enough that I need to worry about it over tightening. The impact wrench doesn’t have enough air behind it to be worth a damn. The cutting wheel I have works fine, haven’t needed to use the die grinder or drill yet. It’s main use has been in inflating tires and setting beads (for changing motorcycle tires). For that it’s worked pretty well (a bit better than my friend’s 20+ Gallon Craftsman).

    When I find a good deal I’m going to get a bigger/better set up. I’ve heard that 26Gallons is the minimum for real use (And a good size for a home shop) but I’m thinking I want something in the 30’s.

  5. paanta says:

    1. Yes
    2. 1/2″ impact wrench and 3/8″ air ratchet.
    3. Car repairs
    4. ~12 year old Coleman. Loud, but it works fine.
    5. I think my tank is 25 gallons and it’s a tad too small. It didn’t power my IR-231c worth a damn until I just removed the regulator altogether. I suspect it came with a fairly restrictive regulator. Now it’s fine, but cycles on and off a lot.

    I honestly can’t remember life before the impact wrench. It must’ve been terrible, but I’ve blocked that out.

  6. bdstevens says:

    1: Yes
    2: 1/2″ impact, 3/8″ air ratchet, 1/4″ air ratchet, angle grinder, die grinder, eraser wheel, brad nailer, finish nailer, air chuck, blow gun
    3: General auto maintenance, home improvements
    4: IR 7.5HP 60 gal & Makita MAC2400 2.5HP 4.2 gal
    5: I wish I had an 80 gal rather than 60. I would not do IR again, I’d get a PC/Delta/Blackmax etc. 80 gal for 2/3 the cost of an IR. I got tired of waiting for the IR to “spin up” for small stuff so I got a Makita MAC1700 (hotdog). I thought it was a little small to run my 1/2″ impact, so after it was stolen, I replaced it with a Makita MAC2400. When that also didn’t run my 1/2″ impact, I switched from a “coiled” air hose to a “regular” (3/8 rubber) one, and the tool worked great. Moral: don’t use those “coiled” air hoses except for airing tires and blowing stuff off. I REALLY like the 60 gal (though I wish it was 80) for large blowing jobs (like cleaning myself off after woodworking) and for air hungry tools like grinders. I also really like having the small one for airing up tires.

  7. Jim German says:

    1. Yes
    2. Impact wrench, chisel, grinder, spray gun
    3. Car work, general house stuff
    4. 1939 Kellogg, two stage, looks to be about 40-gallon tank. Do I win for oldest air compressor?
    5. Mines plenty big enough for those tools, although if I frequently used the spray gun I’d want one with more CFM.

  8. techieman33 says:

    1/2″ impact, 3/8 air ratchet, angle grinder, air hammer. Use them for working on cars mostly. Have a 26 gallon harbor freight compressor, and go to a friends house that has an 80 gallon porter cable if I’m going to do a lot of work with them.

  9. Toolaremia says:

    Now you’ve gone an opened up a can of worms… 🙂

    1. Yes, but I’m thinking rechargable electric tools may replace them in the future.*

    2. 1/2″ impact, 3/8″ ratchet, air chisel, die grinder, cutoff wheel, grease gun, blow gun, air chuck, orbital sander.

    3. RACE CARS! And the tow vehicle…

    4. Ancient 220 Volt horizontal 20 gallon DeVilbiss belt-drive that puts out 10.2 CFM at 90 PSI. I have another horizontal 22 gallon tank from a defunct oilless (PTOOIE!) compressor connected in parallel for 42 gallon total air capacity.

    5. CFM MATTERS JUST AS MUCH! If you have an 80 gallon tank but a wheezing 3 CFM pump, you are in a world of hurt. For small-time work, 20 gallons is enough if you man-up and get a 220 Volt 10+ CFM compressor. For serious work the bigger, the better. For home shops 60 gallons (with 220 Volt compressor!) is plenty. But 80 gallons never hurts if you have the space and lucre. I don’t own my house and never know how long I’ll be in it, so I stick with the two 20 gallon tanks on wheels.

    * I just replaced my air chuck with a Craftsman “C3″ automatic electronic inflator. That thing is cool and was under $40 on-sale with Craftsman Club discount. I love the set-it-and-forget-it inflation. I also saw they just came out with C3 1/2″ and 3/8″ impact guns. The 1/2” C3 may shortly replace my Goodyear 24 Volt impact I bought a couple of years ago (as featured here on Toolmonger). Given the ever-increasing selection of good quality and cheap rechargeable tools that have been air-powered in the past, I’m seriously wondering if I even need air any more or if I can escape with just battery power. Still missing a couple pieces yet like the air chisel and cutoff wheel as-yet. It sure would save some space in the garage and the hassle of air hoses. Maybe that’s the next Toolmonger Reader Question?

  10. fred says:

    1. Yes – but limited – mostly ones you excluded from the inquiry (nail guns, pinners and staplers)
    2. The others include Spray Guns ( have progressed to using SATA equipment) and cheap blow guns
    3. Lacquer and Sprayed-on furniture finishing – in jury-rigged garage spray booth
    4. Ingersoll Rand – 2 stage – 208V – turns out about 14CFM @175psi
    5. Mine has 80 gallon which seemed right when I bought it thinking I was going to do air sanding (never did) – but less might easily do

  11. Eddie says:

    1. No (only nail guns at this time)

    2. NA (If I did, it would be an impact driver or air chisel)

    3. NA

    4. Campbell Hausfeld

    5. 5 gallon.

  12. BobH says:

    1. Yes
    2. 1/4 ratchet, 3/8 impact, 3/8 ratchet, 1/2 impact, die grinder, air hammer
    3. Automotive
    4.10(?)Gal/2 imported;) HP
    5. The above is big enough for what I do, but if you need bodywork(spray, sand), you’re gonna have to go bigger.

  13. techieman33 says:

    it think it’ll be a while before battery powered stuff totally replaces air tools. The battery life just isn’t there yet. I can count on my impact to go all day if I need it to. Can’t count on a battery powered one to do that without having a few batteries to rotate. One of my other problems is the big battery on the bottom that can get in the way at times.

  14. Chris says:

    1. Yes
    2. 4000rpm palm drill, rivet gun, blower
    3. Aircraft assembly
    4. Campbell Hausfeld VT6271 (220V, 26 gallon, 10SCFM@90psi)
    5. This works, but the pump runs continuously when I use the drill — and it is noisy! (I’m told that oilless compressors are louder — hard to believe people put up with that…)

  15. ray says:

    1. Yes
    2. 1/2 inch Impact / 3/8 butterfly wrenches, body saw (bought it cheap, use it way more than I thought I would), chisel, critter sprayer, various fastening tools.
    3. Auto maintenance/wood working/home improvement.
    4. C/H 3hp (BS Rating) 6 cfm 5 gal portable augmented with two additional 5 gal tanks I picked up over the years.
    5. I would prefer a much bigger tank (<25 gal.) I bought my current compressor when I was living in a rented townhouse and space was tight.

  16. DaveD says:

    1. Yes.
    2. Tire chuck, brad nailer
    3. Not much….
    4. Small generic pancake.

    While I know that I should get a 220V compressor for the garage (and I really want to), I haven’t looked into the cost of getting 220V ran to my detached two car block garage (where burial would require digging up my driveway). So, if I’m stuck with 110, what can I do?
    I’m thinking of picking up an IR Garage Mate P1.5IU-A9 since it is rated for continuous duty and then buying a tank off craigslist (40-60 gallon) and piping them together. Hopefully this would suffice for running impact guns, die grinders and maybe soda blasters for auto work and motorcycle restoration?
    What do the fellow mongers think?

  17. Dave says:

    5 hp 80 gallon – I use it for spaying finish and the rare car repaint. I also use a 1/2″ air wrench, a die grinder, and an air chisel. I have a pneumatic caulk gun but haven’t even tried it out yet. I alos use this thing to inflate tires, but I realize it’s a waste of energy to fill the tank just for that.

  18. KaiserM715 says:

    1. Yes
    2. 1/2″ Impact, 3/8″ air ratchet, blow gun, tire chuck (saving up for die grinder)
    3. General auto repair/maintenance/modification and lawn equipment repair/maintenance
    4. Kobalt cast-iron, oiled compressor w/ 30 gallon tank
    5. Depends. I agree with several above that if it sprays or spins, 30 gal min (depending on flow-rate of compressor) and that the small pancakes, etc. are fine for nailers.

  19. matthew says:

    1. Heck yea!
    2. 1/2″ Impact wrench, cut off wheel, die grinder, 3/8″ air ratchet, blow gun, engine cleaner (degreaser+high pressure spray), tire chuck.
    3. Working on cars, that is about it.
    4. Kobalt Kobalt K7045, 45 gallon.
    5. No clue, but I wouldn’t want anything smaller.

  20. MeasureOnceCutTwice says:

    Yup – in order of frequency of use: air gun, abrasive disk cutoff wheel, tire chuck, (trim nailer, 1/2″ impact, 3/8″ ratchet, 1/4″ ratchet,3/8″ butterfly, recip saw, {at work} riveter, pressure washer). Use them for general shop work – cars, wood, cleaning the shower, etc.
    I have a good old fashioned, oil sump Sears 5 HP 20 gallon compressor plumbed all over the basement, garage, and out to the deck. Considered plumbing it to the bathroom (for cleaning), but drew the line there. That’s the minimum I would want for my use, but I could well see somebody being happy with a little pancake unit that is easy to store, etc. Others would want more I’m sure.

  21. Nate says:

    1. Of course
    2. nailer & impact by far the most used tools in my house/garage. then ratchet, die grinder, and sander. (i’m not a painter.
    3. Trim work with the nailer, ok i actually haven’t broken down and bought one yet, i borrow my friends (any suggestions here?). Garage tools for general auto work.
    4. Ingersoll Rand 3hp 60 gallon
    5. 30 gallon min. But again as has been said before, it depends on what you use it for and how much air your compressor can put out. I could buy a 200hp rotary compressor and I wouldn’t need a tank period. But that wouldn’t be very economical…so I suggest a 60 gallon tank and a compressor that can put out at least 12cfm at 90psi and you’ll be set for 99% of DIY applications.

  22. AggieMike says:

    1) yes
    2)1/2 impact, 3/8 air ratchet, HVLP spray gun, die grinder, 90 degree offset die grinder, blow gun
    3)Restoring a 1968 Camaro and a 1976 Chevy truck, general auto work, rotating tires etc.
    4)Craftsman 40 gal oilless, provides about 7cfm
    5)Minimum tank size is 30 to run these tools without the compressor kicking on all the time.

  23. ambush says:

    I’m surprised at the number of people that replied to this, I too use air tools at home. I use more at work though. I primarily use a blowgun and a tirechuck at home sometimes I’ll bring my impact home if I have to do something annoying like remove a crank pulley bolt or something. And I have a couple of cheap airtools besides, the most useful of which is a palm nailer. I mostly do auto work with them. I use a 20 gallon 120/240 volt compressor currently wired for 120. cfm is about 5.4 @90 psi max pressure is 150. I changed some of the plumbing so there is an outlet for instant tank pressure as well as one controlled by the regulator. In my opinion CFM is more important than tank size. And the size depends on what you are doing with it. A 1 gallon 100 psi max unit is fine for car tires or a blowgun but airing up light truck tires will be difficult and medium or heavy truck tires impossible. If you want to run air tools a 150 max psi unit will perform better. If you want to run a sander, grinder, drill or any other tool which is operated continuously you will want a very powerful compressor, probably 30 CFM or better. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the air requirements of a tool by 4 to get the continuous rating, multiply it again by 2 because you want your compressor running about half the time and you quickly need a very powerful compressor to run a tool continuously.

  24. ambush says:

    Oh I almost forgot, belt drive units are muck quieter, Only the inexpensive units are direct drive anyway though.

  25. Phil says:

    1: Yes.

    2: Blast cabinet and pressure-fed sandblaster, HVLP and standard spray guns, 3/4, 1/2. 1/4″ impacts, air ratchets, chisels, needle scaler, cutoff tools, die grinders (straight and RA), sanders and grinders, plasma cutter, etc. Pretty much a full line, I’ve been using the stuff for over 35 years.

    3: Car repair and restoration, other metals restoration, metal fabrication, painting and finishing.

    4: 80 gal Dayton 5HP 2-stage that’s been running strong for 22 years.

    5: Depends on the tools that will be used. For things like impacts, nailers, ratchets and other intermittent use tools, a small tank 15 gal or so will be sufficient when coupled with a (true) 1.5HP compressor. For long-draw items like grinders/sanders, spray guns, blasting, etc, 60 gal and at least 5 (true) HP.

  26. kyle says:

    2. Impact,air ratchet, gringers, air drill, air file, cut off wheel, air chisel, paint guns, blow gun,DA,Dynabrade mudhog,brad nailer
    3. Automotive body and mechanical repair, trim instalation
    4. An old cambell hausfeled 5hp 2 stage 60 gallon
    5. I would consider 60 gallons the minmum for anything more than inflating tires and nail gun usage for that about 15 gallons because oiled pupms are avalible on these compresser and are much quieter.

  27. TL says:

    1. Yes.
    2. Aside from the nailers and staplers… 1/2″ impact wrench, 3/8″ ratchet, air chisel, die grinder.
    3. Auto repair, home maintenance / repair, minor foundry work. Would hate to do a lot of my projects without it.
    4. DeWalt 200 psi 25 gallon which is the equivelant of about a 30 gal standard compressor (higher pressure, smaller tank)
    5. Works fine for nailers and such as well as the impact wrench or ratchet. Not enough reserve to keep the die grinder from triggering the pump almost continuously. That said, this particular motor is about half the sound level of the Husky one it replaced.

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