Understanding how to use an air compressor opens up a vast new world for the avid DIYer and trade contractor — allowing you to utilize a plethora of pneumatic tools that would otherwise be out of reach.
I know that for the uninitiated, these typically large, noisy, and complex machines can at first appear imposing. However, once you grasp how to use them efficiently and safely — they are no more scary than a heat gun or cordless drill.
That’s why this how to use a air compressor is of personal importance — allowing me to demonstrate how effortless these units are to operate, and giving you the ability to use pneumatic accessories such as paint sprayers, drills, staplers, and impact wrenches.
Ready to get started with how to use air compressor? Here we go!
Format of this How to Work Air Compressor Article
The questions I’m most frequently asked about how to operate an air compressor, range from basic inquiries about plugging it in, through to complex queries such as how to connect two air compressors together.
For virgins to the pneumatic world, basic setup and operation are the primary concern — but for guys who know the basics, usage questions will focus on particular nuances.
Hence, I’ve attempted to write this How to Work an Air Compressor article with both parties in mind. Initially, it begins with standard set-up and operation — which should be sufficient for first-time users — then the guide delves into more specific techniques regarding use.
For ease of navigation in this using an air compressor document, here are the quick jump links:
How To Install Air Compressor
While there are 101 uses for a compressor — you can’t attempt any of them while your pneumatic powerhouse remains in its original packaging. Naturally, for any queries regarding using your machine, the manufacturer’s user guide should be your first port of call.
However, let me assume that you’ve already delved into your model’s user guide, and you’re ready to begin. So, rip off the protective cardboard, plastic ties, and bubble wrap — and let’s get down to how to install a compressor in your garage, shed, or workshop.
Step-By-Step How to Hook Up a Compressor
- Decide on the ideal location — consider:
- Sufficient space around the unit for airflow.
- Check you can move around all sides of the machine for maintenance.
- Enough space to work with tools.
- Close to a window, vent, or fan for sufficient ventilation.
- Easy visual access to the pressure gauge.
Ability to drain the oil.
- Position the unit horizontally using a bubble level — especially if an oiled compressor.
- Place the compressor on absorbers or padding to reduce vibration, noise, and ‘walking.’
- Make yourself aware of the position of the on/off button for emergency deactivation.
- Remove any transport locks or spacers that are used to keep the components stationary during delivery.
- If your machine doesn’t arrive with cable glands, use your own. These small components are effortless to install, cheap, and protect electrical wiring and inhibit dust ingress.
- Check the compressor is in the off position and plug into a mains socket — always combining with a sufficiently rated circuit breaker.
- Check the included hoses — if there are any — are of sufficient length to reach your project.
- Attach the hoses and couplings as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Fill with oil — if an oiled machine — with reference to your model’s user guide. If an oil-free unit, you can miss this step.
- That’s it — you now know how to hook up air compressor!
Photo Courtesy of is463940 at pixabay.com
How To Set Up an Air Compressor System
While the different uses for a compressor are vast — generally speaking, it doesn’t matter what your air compressor used for, the before-use prep is largely the same.
Here’s how to set up air compressor for initial use:
Step-By-Step How to Set Up an Air Compressor
- READ THE MANUAL FIRST!
- Locate the air tool you wish to use with your compressor. Ensure it is clean, that any movable parts have free and unrestricted motion, and remove any protective tip shields.
- Select an air hose with a suitable length — allowing you to work freely around your project while tethered to the stationary compressor.
- Check that the air hose isn’t kinked, damaged, and has the correct attachment coupler.
- Connect one end of your hose to your pneumatic tool, and the other to the compressor. Depending on the make and model of your machine(s) — these can be quick-connect, screw fit, or bayonet. So, investigate whether you have a suitable connector or universal adaptor to join everything together.
- Most modern hoses, pneumatic tools, and compressors utilize washers and gaskets to prevent leaks between couplings. If you have a cheaper version, or an older pre-loved tool with no such components — add extra air-tightness with some PTFE tape.
- When you’re content that everything is connected — switch on the compressor, ensuring that you utilize a sufficiently rated circuit breaker.
- Set the pressure level on the compressor to the desired output volume — with reference to your user manual. It may take a few minutes for your pneumatic powerhouse to reach its target level.
- You’re done! You are now ready to put your machine to any of the 101 air compressor uses that make these units so versatile.
Air Compressor Use — Intermediate and Advanced How-To
So, you’ve installed your pneumatic powerhouse, set it up, and enjoyed using the machine for the plethora of uses for air compressor. For many home users and casual DIYers that may be sufficient.
However, if you’re a pro or serious amateur pneumatic enthusiast, you probably want to know more about the more technical aspects of using air compressor. The following sections of this air compressor usage article delve into the more intermediate and advanced procedures of pneumatic operation.
Photo Courtesy of MaFree at pixabay.com
How to Ohm Out a Compressor
If your compressor fails to operate — and you’ve checked the usual causes such as not being connected to the mains, the fail-safe cut-off switch, blown fuse, or activated circuit breaker — your unit typically will have one of the below three electrical issues:
- Shorted wiring — usually when wire insulation fails and touches another exposed wire.
- Open wiring — when a wire has become disconnected.
- Grounded wiring — a shorted wire touches the compressor casing or tank.
Typically these problems arise in older machines, where the wiring and insulation degrade over time. However, it’s an issue that can be witnessed on brand new compressors, if the machine has been incorrectly wired or with inadequate insulation during the manufacturing process.
To test, you need to understand how to ohm a compressor:
- Ensure the compressor is disconnected from the mains.
- With reference to the manufacturer’s safe use air compressor manual, open the electrical housing.
- Inside you will find a number of electrical windings (set of wires), each needs to be checked.
- Grab your multimeter and set it to the ohm setting.
- Position the multimeter contacts at either end of each winding.
- Check the reading.
Here’s how to diagnose and fix your multimeter reading:
- Infinite ohms — this is an open wiring issue, so check the connectors on both ends of the wire as one will be loose or disconnected. If not, there’s a break somewhere in the wire itself, so replace.
- Zero ohms — the wire is shorting. Replace the wire.
If you have neither of these readings, and it displays a normal 2-9 ohms, it could be a grounding issue. Here’s how to check a compressor for grounding:
- Set your multimeter ohms range to the highest setting — use my Guide To Operating a Multimeter if you’re unsure.
- Place one multimeter contact on the metal casing/tank. If it is painted, you may need to scrape away a little to ensure a good contact.
- Position the other contact on one end of a winding — checking each one individually.
- The multimeter display should read as infinite — if it doesn’t it’s a shorted grounding. To solve, investigate where the wire is touching the case and fix or replace wire if required.
How to Connect 2 Air Compressors Together In Parallel
You’re probably wondering why you need to know how to connect two air compressor tanks together, right?
The answer is simple — insufficient output from a single pneumatic unit.
If your air tool has substantial pressure requirements, and your compressor can’t keep up with its demand, you have two choices — buy a new compressor, or connect two lower-powered ones together — that is, if you’re lucky enough to have a pair in your garage.
Here’s how to connect two air compressors, it’s seriously straightforward:
- You need two compressors, three air hoses, and a T-manifold.
- Connect one discharge hose from Tank 1 to an inlet on the manifold, and another discharge hose from Tank 2 onto the opposite side of the manifold.
- Attach the third hose to the outlet on the T-manifold, and then connect the other end to your pneumatic tool.
- Set the pressure setting of both compressors to the desired level and switch on.
- That’s it.
How to Remove Moisture From Compressed Air
While there are multiple uses for an air compressor, the pressure formation remains the same, and can lead to moisture buildup. This natural process isn’t usually an issue — with the compressor filter removing most of the water droplets.
However, environmental conditions can lead to significant H20 creation, such as:
- AC units.
- Nearby water.
- Leaky garage windows and doors.
- Insufficient garage or workshop ventilation.
Excessive water can cause serious issues, for example:
- Damage to the compressor.
- Damage to your pneumatic tools.
- Poor results — depending on your project, for
- example, watery paint and warped wood.
You can avoid these problems by knowing how to dry compressed air. The best methods include:
- Drain the compressor tank.
- Utilize an additional filter and water trap.
- Use a refrigerated atmospheric air dryer.
- Installing a desiccant format air dehumidifier.
- Taking advantage of a deliquescent (liquifying) air demoisture unit.
How to Release Pressure from Air Compressor
Whatever uses of compressed air you put your pneumatic powerhouse to — you’re not going to be using it every day — well, unless you’re a serious trade pro. Keeping your compressor pressurized when not in use, especially for extended periods, can damage the integrity of your machine and encourage moisture formation.
Below is the safe method of depressurizing your unit:
- Ensure the compressor is unplugged.
- Refer to your manufacturer’s instructions to locate the bleeder valve — it will be somewhere on the bottom.
- Don safety gloves and goggles to shield against a blast of air, debris, oil, or moisture.
- Grasp the valve ring with locking pliers and slowly turn in a counterclockwise direction. Once you hear the air escaping, stop, and allow it to drain.
- When you see no more liquid leaving the unit, and the hiss and spitting have stopped, open the valve further to release any remnants.
- When this ceases, rock the tank to dislodge any trapped moisture and wait for 20 minutes for this to drain.
- Retighten the valve. Your work is complete.
Mark Hunter, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
How to Make Air Compressor Faster
Your compressor is designed to run at a particular PSI output and CFM — cubic feet per minute — so you can’t actually make it run any faster.
However, over time your pneumatic machine will lose efficiency — and there are a few tricks you can employ to restore it to its former awesome glory, and ensure you get the best from your unit.
- Keep the Atmospheric Air CoolCompressing warm air takes longer than pressurizing cooler air and drinks up more energy — so keep the ambient temperature as low as possible to speed up the compression process.
- Use a Suitably Sized CompressorChoose a compressor that’s suitable for the PSI and CFM demands of your pneumatic tools — but no larger than is required. You might love showing off your mammoth-sized 60-gallon mother-of-all compressors — but if all you’re running is a tiny paint sprayer, it’s massive overkill.
Larger compressors are more expensive, take longer to fill the tank with compressed air, and use more gasoline or electricity than their smaller counterparts.
- Keep Air Hoses as Short as PossibleAs compressed air travels from your pneumatic powerhouse through the airline to your tool — the pressure slightly drops. The further the air has to travel, the more friction it experiences, which reduces pressure efficiency.
Therefore, keep your air hose as short as is practically possible to ensure the most efficient transference.
- Use a Narrow Diameter HoseThe wider the airline, the harder the compressor has to work to keep up the pressure. Utilizing narrow hoses, such as 0.375-inch, keeps efficiency high.
- Regular MaintenanceAt frequent intervals clean the compressor, change air filters, replace oil, and lubricate moving parts to ensure maximum productivity.
How to Change a Compressor
If you’re wondering how to change air compressor — and by that, I mean upgrade to a more suitable or newer model — the best way is to check out my compressor top picks.
However, if you’re planning on switching a broken or damaged pressure unit in an AC unit or refrigerator — that’s a technical job that, in truth, should be carried out by an HVAC professional. That said, the basic process is as follows:
- Test the refrigerant for acidity.
- Thoroughly flush out the system.
- Check and replace the oil.
- Remove old refrigerant with a pump.
- Install the new compressor.
- Replace the refrigerant.
- Perform a system check.
Johan Fredriksson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Best Way to Clean Air Compressor Tank Inside
Ensuring that the inside of your air reservoir is clean increases efficiency and reduces the likelihood of damage to the compressor itself and your pneumatic tool.
The best way how to clean air compressor tank is as follows:
- Release the pressure and drain as described in ‘How To Release Pressure’ explained above.
- Mix one part phosphoric acid with five parts fresh water and add to the tank. This helps to remove any rust formation inside the reservoir.
- Swish the acid-water mix around the tank by carefully raising and lowering one end of the reservoir, then repeat on the opposite side.
- Thoroughly drain as described earlier.
- Fill with fresh water — swish and drain again.
- Repeat step 5 until the water runs clear and is free of any acidic smells.
That is the simplest method of how to clean out air compressor tank.
How to Connect Air Compressor Fittings
Air compressor fittings permit you to attach pneumatic tools to your compressor. The vast majority follow NPT (National Pipe Thread Tapered) standards, meaning that virtually all off-the-shelf connectors are universal across compressor units.
When joining your tool to the air hose, and the air hose to the compressor, you will utilize a coupler. These clever feats of engineering permit pressurized airflow while connected, but seal-off once disconnected.
So, if you detach your nail gun while the compressor is activated, you will not experience a blast of pure air to your face.
How to Use a 12V Air Compressor
A 12-volt compressor is an ideal machine for small inflation projects such as filling children’s toys, car tires, and sports balls. Typically they’re distinguishable from standard compressors in that they are small, feature an automotive plug attachment, and lack a reservoir.
Here are the steps to follow when using your 12-volt unit:
- Check the PSI requirement of the item you wish to inflate.
- If your machine has a pressure-setting cut-off, set it to the PSI as required by your project. If not, you will need to keep a watchful eye on the pressure gauge while filling to prevent over-pressurizing.
- Fit a suitable connector to your air hose to suit your football, inflatable unicorn, or tire.
- Switch on the compressor.
- Attach the connector to the inlet valve on your target item.
- Fill with air.
- Stop when the machine automatically cuts off or you reach the desired pressure as indicated on the gauge.
How to Clean Aircon Compressor
Unless you’re an HVAC technician, you shouldn’t undertake cleaning an air-con compressor. These units require specialized chemical treatment, so refer your unit to a professional.
However, while I can’t tell you how to clean AC compressor, I can explain the correct method for refreshing an AC condenser — which in many circumstances will troubleshoot most cooling issues.
- Disconnect your AC unit from the mains.
- Using a wrench or screwdriver, remove the front and rear louver panels.
- Remove dust and dirt from the internal fins with a soft wire brush or a gentle spray hose.
- Clean in the opposite direction to the fins to avoid pushing the dirt inside the unit. So, for vertical fins, brush up and down.
- If you used water to clean, allow it to dry thoroughly.
- Replace the louver panels.
How to Refill Compressed Air Can
If you don’t have a compressor and utilize a proprietary disposable air gun for cleaning such as an Air Duster — it’s possible to repressurize the unit. That said, results are likely to be mixed, and for the time, effort, and expense involved, it might be worth simply buying a new one or considering purchasing a small home compressor.
However, if you’re intent on recycling, here’s how to compress air in a bottle:
- Ensure the can is completely empty — you really don’t want to be puncturing the bottle while it’s still pressurized.
- Drill a 0.375-inch hole in the base of the can.
- Thread a bicycle tire pump valve into the hole, using washers, silicone, or PTFE tape to prevent leaks.
- For belt-and-braces, shield further with liquid metal epoxy.
- Connect a cycle pump to the valve and begin to inflate.
- Don’t fill past 60 PSI.
- Disconnect the pump, and you’re ready to go.
How to Fill a Compressed Air Tank
A carry tank is a portable air reservoir that allows you to transport pressurized air for use away from a compressor. The use of compressor stand-alone tanks offers a light option for small pneumatic tool use in-the-field such as air guns, and are often found in RVs to pump up tires.
The method of how to fill compressed air tank is a simple two-step process. And, if you don’t own your own compressor, most garages will replenish it on your behalf for a small charge. Always ensure you refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on how to refill air tank before pressurizing any reservoir.
Here’s how to fill a pressure tank:
- Put your tank on a level surface and attach the air hose to the inlet valve.
- Activate the compressor and fill to the recommended pressure as indicated by the manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Switch off the compressor and disconnect from the inlet valve.
I hope you enjoyed this article. It was important for me to show how, with a little knowledge, anyone can use a pneumatic powerhouse.
If you feel that one of your DIY buddies or work colleagues would benefit from this How to Use an Air Compressor 101 — please feel free to share.
Air Compressor How to Use FAQs
Q: How Do You Use an Air Compressor?
Using an air compressor is remarkably straightforward. Plug it in, switch it on, and the attached tank fills with pressurized air. You can then use this reservoir of pneumatic power to drive a plethora of tools from paint sprayers though to nail guns. For more information, check out my guide to How a Compressor Works.
Q: What Do You Use an Air Compressor For?
The uses for compressed air are vast. You can draw on this pressurized power to drive:
- Nail guns.
- Paint sprayers.
- Staple guns.
- Impact wrenches.
- Air guns.
Q: How Much Is a Small Air Compressor?
Small air compressors are ideal for homeowners and DIYers with low-pressure demands or insufficient space for a full-sized unit. You can get your hands on one of these machines usually for less than $50.
Check out my ultimate small compressor top picks.
Q: How Big of an Air Compressor Do I Need for Air Tools?
There is no definitive answer to how big of an air compressor do I need to run air tools — as different pneumatic accessories have a variety of pressure requirements. That said, a compressor that can deliver around 5 CFM at 70-90 PSI will be suitable for most air tools.
Q: How to Connect Air Compressor To a Paint Sprayer?
All you need to connect your compressor to a paint sprayer is a coupler and a 0.375-inch NPT air hose.
Q: What Are Air Compressors Used For In DIY Situations?
You can use an air compressor at home to spray paint, drill holes in concrete, fill car tires, and drive staples into plywood.
Q: What Can I Use an Air Compressor For In Construction?
Compressors are the ideal tool accessory for construction work — being able to drive tools that can nail into timber, demolish concrete, and tighten steel frame bolts.
Q: What Is a Compressor Used For In an Automotive Garage?
Most commonly, compressors are used in auto situations to respray, inflate tires, and tighten wheel nuts.
Q: What Is an Air Compressor Used For In An Air Conditioning Unit?
In AC units, the compressor carries the responsibility of transporting the liquid refrigerant from the in-built evaporator through to the condenser coil system.
Q: How To Refill Air Compressor Oil?
Most compressors have a filling nipple, allowing you to easily replenish the oil as it depletes or degrades. Refer to your machine’s manufacturer’s instructions to locate this oil inlet.
Q: How To Fill an Air Tank With Water For Cleaning?
Some units boast an easy-access inlet pipe designed for filling with H20. On other machines, you will need to remove the NPT air hose coupler and fill through this aperture.
Q: My Compressor Isn’t Working — What Should I Do?
If your pneumatic machine fails to operate or isn’t working correctly, check out my Compressor Troubleshooting Guide.