Homeowner Air Compressor Tips

It’s time for another Handyguys tool challenge. On this show, the Handyguys take two very different compressors and run them through their paces. The listeners get to hear the difference between a small Makita MAC700 2 HP 2.6-gallon “hot dog” compressor and an older Porter-Cable compressor similar to the CPF4515 . Both compressors do a good job shooting framing nails into wood, but that is where the similarities end.

But does a handyguy or handygal really need a compressor? Is this something you need around the house? It all depends on the kind of work you will be doing. A compressor and pneumatic nailer are invaluable for trim work, crown molding, and framing. If you are going to finish your basement or have significant trim work around the house to complete, get a compressor. It will save a lot of time and hassle. For those weekend warriors, a compressor can’t be beat.

There are two basic varieties of compressors: oiled and oil-less. The advantage of an oil-less compressor is simpler maintenance — no oil or oil filter changes and no mess! However, the oil-less compressors are generally very loud. While the oiled compressor is easier on the ear, they must be kept close to level at all times so the piston can be lubricated properly.

The other major differences between compressors is the tank size. The larger tank compressors can power tools that require large volumes of continuous air such as impact wrenches, grinders, and some paint sprayers. Pneumatic nailers use air in short bursts and can normally function well with smaller tanks. The smaller tanks are also much easier to move around. A large 20-gallon tank will not be very handy to move around the house to nail in baseboard trim.

So for about 90% of most household projects, the Makita MAC700 is the compressor to get. It is built like a tank, yet it does not blast your ear drums when the motor kicks in.

Once you get a compressor, you will need to get some pneumatic tools. There are hundreds of options. Normally you can just add some air tools as you need them. Typically you will start with a finish or framing nailer. For framing nailers, we like the full head framing nailer from Porter-Cable. There are generally two kinds of framing nails — clipped heads and round heads. The clipped heads have a “D” shape and allow you to get more nails within a clip. The downside is that some local codes do not allow the clipped heads. This is particularly true in hurricane prone areas. The round head nails look like typical nails.

Typical finish nailers include the 15-gauge angle nailer, the 16-gauge, and the 18-gauge. These nailers are great for baseboard trim, window casing, and crown molding. In addition, the 15-gauge can be used for hanging doors. The 15-gauge is the biggest, and it has a larger rectangular head which provides better holding power. Unfortunately it leaves a more drastic hole and requires more putty and sanding to hide the mark. The 18-gauge is the thinnest of the three and barely leaves a mark when it is nailed into finish trim. As a result you will not want to use it on heavy wood such as large crown molding.

For more information on compressors and nailers, tune in to this week’s Handyguys podcast.

11 thoughts on “Homeowner Air Compressor Tips

  1. Well written article, fellows.

    At one time I would have opted for an oil lubed compressor too, but now that they are comparably priced with the oil-less, and frankly, they are all loud, I’d certainly opt for an oil-less if I were buying another one now.

    You might remind your readers that you want to use a long air hose to get to your tools, and not a long extension cord to move the compressor to the workplace, if not in the garage. There’s a sort of “pressure loss” over a long extension cord that can have negative effects on the compressor motor. Better to have pressure drop through an air hose than under-power you compressor motor, with the subsequent maintenance issues.

    I publish http://www.about-air-compressors.com, an information website for the maintenance and D.I.Y compressed air user. Lots of information there for your visitors too.



    1. Bill, Thanks for the info and link to a great compressor resource. I too prefer to use a long hose versus and extension cord. If an extension cord is too small a gauge you may have breaker trip issues. I also like the little bit of extra volume of air stored in the hose. Maybe its not enough to matter but it seems like it could.

      1. Exactly, in cases like this it’s better to use a long hose instead of a long extension cord.. especially because nailers don’t use compressed air continuously.. only in short ‘bursts’, so there is time in between nails to ‘recharge’ the hose.

        If you use equipment that use air continuously though, it’s better to have a shorter hose, because the pressure drop will be significant.

        A long extension cord is not always a problem, as long as the wires are thick enough. The thicker the wires, the lower the resistance and the lower the voltage drop.

        I too happen to have a website about air compressor at http://www.air-compressor-guide.com 🙂 It’s mostly about large industrial air compressors, but there is lots of useful information for ‘handy guys’ as well.

  2. We had air compression hoses all over the place where I used to work. They really come in handy when you want to cut through metal or put bolts on something in a hurry. Just make sure you wear hearing protection because they are loud.

  3. Oiled vs. Oil-less Air Compressors
    Air compressors draw air in with a piston. The air is then compressed into a storage tank. For maximum efficiency, the piston chamber needs adequate lubrication, for which oil is used. These are oil air compressors. However, in oil-free compressors, the cylinder is pre-lubricated (mostly with Teflon) for permanent lubrication. The Teflon coating protects the pump. That’s the major difference. While oil compressors need regular oiling, the latter doesn’t require any lubrication.

  4. Oil-less compressor are low-maintenance devices that does not need oil for its running. Although these compressors are easily affordable because of low-expense but they have a low durability. Engines of such models are burned quickly, they are louder and their servicing is a bit difficult. Oil-free compressors are ideal for household use as they are cheaper and suitable for small applications.

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