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Air Tools and Compressors

AIR TOOLS & COMPRESSORS: a buying guide

Get Tough Jobs Done Faster

Air tools and compressors make a day full of tough tasks easier. Their true power lies in their ability to complete large projects in a shorter amount of time. They also help improve the quality of your work by providing a high-quality finish not all hand tools can deliver. With air tools and compressors, you can work faster with greater accuracy and less effort than ever before.

Types of Air Tools

Air tools, also known as pneumatic tools, are driven by compressed air from a compressor. These tools help drive fasteners into wood and other materials without the denting or bashing commonly associated with hammers and other hand tools. Air tools are available for everything from shingling to trim work, to upholstery. Consider the following types to determine what models are best for which jobs:

ROOFING AND FRAMING NAILERS

Coil Roofing NailerClipped-Head Framing Nailer

Roofing and framing nailers are ideal for prolonged, heavy-duty projects such as fastening shingles or framing a new home. Most of these nailers utilize either a strip or coil loading system. Strip-loading nailers have a more compact design and can hold upward of 100 stick nails arranged in strip magazines that are easy to carry (several strips for instance can fit easily into the pocket of a pair of workpants).

Coil-loading nailers, on the other hand, can hold more than individual 300 coil nails that are compiled in spiral magazines. These nailers require less reloads than strip-loading nailers, but their nails may be bulky and heavier to transport.

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FINISHING NAILERS

18-Gauge Brad Nailer

Finishing nailers utilize thin strips of finishing nails (usually 15 and 16-gauge nails up to 2-1/2" long), and are ideal for door casings, trim work, baseboards and crown mouldings, providing a great air tool for those common home improvement projects. Brad nailers function as downsized finishing nailers, generally shooting 18-gauge nails up to 2" long, which makes them an ideal tool for light trim work and moulding.

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PALM NAILERS

Palm Nailer

Palm nailers are compact air-powered tools that fit into the palm of your hand, with a wrist strap to keep the nailer in place while in use. Palm nailers don't use strips or coils of nails, but rather standard nails that fit into the tip. Simply press the unit down on the head using your palm, and the nailer takes charge. These nailers are ideal for work in narrow spaces, such as between wall studs and ceiling joists.

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STAPLERS

Narrow Crown Stapler KitHardwood Flooring Stapler

Finishing staplers are an ideal tool for light fastening tasks, including upholstery work and the installation of thin materials such as vapour barriers. Finishing staplers often use a thin crown staple for such work.

Flooring staplers, on the other hand, are used to consistently drive staples at the correct angle and depth, and are designed specifically for installation of dense flooring materials, such as hardwood flooring.

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Air Tools: At a Glance

Type Ideal Usage Points to consider
Roofing and Framing Nailers
  • All-day jobs
  • Shingling
  • Framing
  • Various construction tasks
  • Coil-loading nailers generally hold the most fasteners per load
  • Strip-loading nailers weigh less than coil nailers but require frequent reloading
  • Ideal for repetitive tasks and serious professionals
Finishing and Brad Nailers
  • Door casing
  • Baseboards
  • Trim work
  • Crown moulding
  • Utilize thin strips of finishing nails
  • Angled tools are easy to use in corners and tight spaces
  • Brad nailers function as downsized finishing nailers
Palm Nailers
  • Between wall studs and ceiling joists
  • Fit in the palm of your hand
  • Ideal for narrow spaces
Finishing and Flooring Staplers
  • Material and fabric 1/4" and thinner
  • Upholstery
  • Vapour barriers
  • Flooring
  • Finishing staplers are ideal for light fastening tasks and use a narrow crown staple
  • Flooring staplers

Compressors

Air compressors help get tough jobs done quickly by placing the power and precision of pneumatic tools in your hands. However, choosing the right compressor means matching the unit with the job demands. Consider the following before making your purchase:

GAS VS. ELECTRIC

4-Gallon Electric Dolly-Style Compressor

Gas-powered compressors provide greater convenience and portability because they don't need to be plugged in to operate. They can also have large tanks (upward of 80 gallons) that can provide plenty of staying power for tackling tough, high-production jobs. However, they can be more expensive than electric models and should be properly vented when used indoors or in tight spaces. Most electric compressors run on standard household voltages (between 110V-120V), but may require higher voltages, such as 240V, for more heavy-duty tasks. Since these units don't emit fumes, they are better suited for indoor or home garage use.

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HORSEPOWER AND AIRFLOW

26-Gallon Vertical Portable Compressor

Most compressor motors range from 3/4 to 6 horsepower. The higher the horsepower, the more pounds per square inch (PSI) it will deliver to carry a heavier workload. Often, a compressor that can deliver 125 to 150 PSI will be sufficient for most tasks. However, also check the cubic feet per minute rating (CFM). Small air tools generally require between 0-5 CFM, and larger tools 10 or more CFM. As a general rule, choose a compressor that provides a CFM output of at 1-1/2 times the requirement of the largest air tool you'll be using.

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SINGLE VS. TWO-STAGE COMPRESSORS

15-Gallon Heavy-Duty Electric Portable Compressor

Single-stage compressors are best for light-duty applications and small work around your home. Two-stage compressors are often heavy-duty, commercial-style air compressors that can deliver over 150 PSI and can power multiple tools simultaneously for a longer period. Two-stage compressors provide greater efficiency for demanding jobs by storing more air and generating less heat when used for prolonged periods.

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TANK STYLE

5-Gallon Mini Wheelbarrow Compressor

Compressors come in a variety of styles, including vertical portable compressors; dolly-style compressors; wheelbarrow compressors; and large and small stationary compressors. Consider if you're going to move your compressor around a lot, or need to transport, and then choose a model that's a good fit.

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