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How to Buy an Air Compressor

Don't invest in a new tool and end up leaving it in the garage to collect dust. Follow this criteria to select the right one and you will get years of use out of it.


  • Step 1: Choose a tank size. Higher pressure and air volume will require a larger, stationary tank. Tools that require less power will run perfectly with a smaller, portable one.
  • Step 2: Choose a single- or two-stage pump. A two-stage pump will will have a higher PSI than a single pump but will have a lower cubic-feet-per-minute air flow rating.
  • Step 3: Shop around and compare different models by different manufacturers. Speak to sales representatives that can help you determine the correct size and power for your needs. Now make a good purchase.
  • FACT: James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, was the originator of the term "horsepower." He compared his engines to the strength of horses.
  • TIP: An electric sander will use up to 13 cubic feet per minute of air at 90 pounds per square inch; a nailer only needs about four.
  • Step 4: Consider how many cubic feet per minute of air flow you need and buy a compressor that will handle your most powerful air tool. If using the compressor for more than one tool at a time, add the CPM of each tool and add 30 percent.
  • Step 5: Decide how much horsepower you need to work and the power supply available. Be sure to note the running horsepower, not the peak horsepower.
  • TIP: Most air compressors need a 220 volt circuit for full power.
  • Step 6: Determine how much pressure per square inch is needed to run your power tools.
  • Step 7: Determine what projects you will use the air compressor for and what tools you will use with it.

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