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Powered By Air | Spring 2006 Out Here Magazine

Air-powered tools can make nearly any job go faster and easier.

Save your strength and let the tools do the work

By Noble Sprayberry

Photography courtesy of Campbell Hausfeld

Faced with the chore of installing a garage door, former contractor Leon Frechette turned to lessons learned when working with air-powered nail guns — let the tool do the work.

He chose an air-powered wrench and impact driver to help with the job, and he appreciates the utility of the air-powered tools.

"I'm 51 years old and I look at tools differently now," he says. And, any air tools that make our work easier are worth investigating."

Frechette, known as the Tool Guy, writes a column for the Spokane, WA, newspaper and manages a tool-oriented website.

Choices fall in two broad categories: construction tools and mechanical tools, Frechette says.

Construction tools include options such as nail guns, staple guns, and finish nailers. The other broad category includes mechanical tools, such as wrenches, ratchets, and impact drivers, Frechette says. A subset includes options for automotive bodywork, such as sanders.

For many jobs, there's no comparing the efficiency of an air tool to hand tools. "If you're comparing a hammer versus an air finisher, you can put a nail in faster than you can blink as opposed to hitting it with a hammer and then setting it," he says. "It replaces all of the energy that you would apply manually."

While the air tools can accomplish many jobs, an air compressor makes the whole system work.

The compressor, which is often heavy, must match the work environment, Frechette says.Someone working in a shop might choose a large stationary compressor, while anyone working on a job site should consider a compressor with wheels or a dolly system for simple transport, he says.

Systems with larger air tanks do offer an advantage, allowing a deeper reservoir of compressed air ready for immediate use, Frechette says.

Also consider the application. With one person using an air tool, consider portable, single-stage compressors, recommends Campbell Hausfeld, a company that manufactures compressors and many air tools. Contractor air compressors are recommended when weight, portability, and low maintenance are key. Turn to stationary, single-stage compressors for small shops.

Fittings and air hoses complete air-powered systems and each element must work together, Frechette says, and each fitting, hose, and tool should interchange to eliminate frustration.

Don't forget maintenance. Condensation can build in the compressor, which must be drained after each use, Frechette says.

In addition to equipment upkeep, consider safety. Compressors include a safety valve to relieve pressure if the tank exceeds its limits. Campbell Hausfeld emphasizes keeping the valve clean and clear of clogs.

Also, air compressors can prove noisy, particularly when running indoors. Campbell Hausfeld suggests hearing protection such, as foam rubber earplugs or earmuffs.

And when you're using a tool such as a nailer, always wear eye protection.

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance writer in Dallas.