How To Maximize Air Tool Performance Part #1 | Pressure and Flow

San Diego, CA – April 21st, 2013

Throughout the course of our daily operations, we often receive calls from customers asking which is the best “brand” of air tool. This is almost always a loaded question and rather than engage them in the Ford versus Chevy debate, a little further questioning usually reveals dissatisfaction with the performance of one of their tools. While in almost all cases an industrial production grade air tool is going to provide better performance than an automotive / maintenance style tool, there are some sure fire ways to ensure optimal performance regardless of the quality of the tool selected. In this article we will focus on the two most important factors in air tool performance, these being pressure and flow.

Proper Air Pressure (PSI) – The vast majority of air tools on the market are designed to run on 90 pounds per square inch of pressure, commonly known as PSI. The misconception is that a 2-1/2″ drive impact wrench requires more air pressure than a small right angle die grinder. The reality is that both of these tools are designed to run optimally on the industry standard 90 PSI. Exceeding the manufacturers recommended air pressure can actually damage components, shortening tool life and creating a potentially dangerous situation by compromising the burr, wheel, or other accessory in use. Furthermore, you want to be sure that you are getting 90 PSI of pressure when the air tool (or tools if working with multiple stations) is running. Use an air regulator to gauge the pressure while the tool is wide open. If the needle reads 90 PSI when the throttle of the tool is closed but dips below that when the tool is engaged you need more pressure. Again, most air tools are designed to run at 90 PSI and will underperform if under pressurized.

Air Flow (CFM) – What varies widely from tool to tool is the required air flow rate which is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). Before selecting an air tool for any application be sure that your air compressor can generate the necessary CFM. As a very generalized rule of thumb you can conclude that for every one horse power that your compressor puts out, you will receive 3 to 4 CFM. To put it in perspective a small right angle die grinder uses about 25 CFM while a 1″ impact wrench requires 60 CFM. In addition to verifying that your compressor has the guts to power the tool on hand, make sure you aren’t starving the tool by restricting air flow through the use of a small diameter air hose. Never use reducers to adapt a 3/8″ NPT or 1/2″ NPT to a 1/4″ air line. In fact, if you can avoid it try not using 1/4″ air lines at all. Free unrestricted air flow is paramount to maximizing air tool performance and it’s better to error on the side of too large a hose rather than choke the tool. Nothing will sabotage your project faster than an underpowered tool and lack of flow is definitely a deal breaker.

In the next installment of this five part series we will look at why every air tool deserves to be paired with a good filter, regulator, lubricator.

Thanks for reading…

Mark Schieber

About the author:

Mark Schieber is an air tool entrepreneur, international business fanatic, internet marketer, and avid surfer. He is the owner of International Air Tool & Industrial Supply Company and is passionate about helping his customers maximize productivity related to air tools and their applications. For questions about this topic or anything else air tool related that might be on your mind email