Air Flow Through Pipe In Cubic Feet Per Min How To Pick An Air Compressor For Your Woodworking Shop

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How To Pick An Air Compressor For Your Woodworking Shop

I started my woodworking career with a quarter-sheet electric sander, quickly graduated to a random orbit electric disc sander, and finally realized that I could significantly reduce sanding time with an air palm sander. I settled on a 5″ Dynabrad sander and a Sears 3HP air compressor. It took me less than an hour to realize my mistake: the small compressor I bought couldn’t keep up with the air demands of the air sander. It would run out of air pressure almost instantly and the air sander would become useless. will slow down. Then I have to wait a few minutes for the pressure to build up to get another minute of sanding.

To make matters worse, I had three people assigned as sanders and so I had to keep three machines running at high speed all day. I did some math and found that to do this I would need a ten horsepower air compressor with a large tank. I was lucky to find a used one for more money but it required three phase power and more. More money went to an electrician to wire the building to 208 volt 3-phase power. The big air compressor was so loud it could be heard throughout the building and down the block but it powered those three sanders from dawn to dusk. The good news is that it paid for itself very quickly in the sanding time saved.

Air sanders are aggressive and efficient. They are lighter in weight compared to their lower electric cousins. My sanders immediately went to them and production began. I was as happy as they were. Another machine soon arrived without an air compressor that required large amounts of shop air: an Onsrud inverted pin router. It was also great to be able to dust the bench and machine while cleaning the shop at the end of the day. A compressor was also used to spray the finish on the finished furniture.

Years later, I built a small woodworking shop in my house that only required running one air sander at a time. For that shop, I bought a half-sized air compressor and isolated it in a corner of the shop in a soundproof room. I ran ¾” galvanized pipe under the shop floor to three regulators at three different convenient locations. The machine I purchased for the shop was a 5 HP Ingersoll Rand model with an 80 gallon tank. At the 80 PSI my Dynabrad sander needs, the compressor will produce enough air for the day. I mean that. That compressor was built very well. I only needed to keep an eye on the oil level in the sight glass. At night I would close the master air valve to quiet the compressor for the night, with the power on at the machine side.

I must assume that, by reading this far, you have some interest in using an air compressor in your shop. Most likely, a 2-stage reciprocating air compressor will meet the needs of a small to medium shop. As a rule of thumb, a 5 HP air compressor will power one air sander, a 7.5 HP machine will power two, and three sanders will require a 10 HP machine.

The size of the compressor’s air tank is an important consideration: the smaller the tank, the more often the compressor has to be turned on and off, which is time-consuming on both the motor and the compressor pump, and it uses more electricity. I wouldn’t even consider an air compressor used to power an air sander with less than a 60 gallon tank and would feel more comfortable with an 80 gallon tank.

Another consideration is the type of electrical power required by the air compressor. If three-phase power is available at your location, fine. Three phase motors use electricity slightly more efficiently than single-phase motors. Larger air compressors require 3-phase power but the 5 HP models come both ways. If you don’t have 3-phase power available, you can make it with a rotary or electronic phase converter like I did in my little shop. Whether you use single or three phase power, you will need 230V AC power for single-phase motors and 208 or 220V AC power for three-phase types. Before purchasing any air compressor, check its voltage and amperage requirements. Electricians can be expensive.

A two-stage compressor pump is required for a machine of this size. A two-stage machine has two cylinders, one larger than the other. Air is first drawn into the larger cylinder where it is partially compressed and sent to the smaller cylinder for final compression in the tank. As air is compressed, heat is generated and therefore a good engine always has a finned intercooler.

Compression not only creates heat but also squeezes water out of the air which ends up in the tank. Tanks can develop internal corrosion over time and if left unchecked, a corroded air tank can explode causing massive damage and even death. That is why it is very important to drain the water tank daily. Most machines are equipped with a drain valve at the lowest point of the tank. If you don’t want to spray the water all over the floor under the compressor, you may want to consider diverting it from a valve to another location, such as under the floor or down the drain. The piped water will move uphill into the sink as it is being pushed out of the tank by compressed air.

You will need at least a regulator and a water trap before that. These are not expensive. The regulator allows you to set the appropriate air pressure for the tool you are using, rather than tank pressure (say, 175 PSI).

The air output of a compressor pump is expressed in standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM) or simply cubic feet per minute (CFM). Not all 5 HP compressors release the same amount of air per minute. It is not only a function of motor horsepower, but also the efficiency of the compressor pump that the motor is powering. The higher the CFM, the less your compressor has to cycle on and off to meet the demands you place on it. A small compressor pump on a large tank will not produce more air than a small tank. The only difference will be the number of times the compressor cycles each hour and the time it takes to recompress the tank on each cycle. Ultimately, you should pay more attention to SCFM (or CFM) than motor horsepower or tank size. Airflow is the end product of any compressor, and CFM must be adequate for the job.

All reciprocating air compressors expel oil along with the air they compress. When the tank reaches the maximum pounds per square inch it is designed for, the pressure switch will interrupt electrical power to the motor. At the same time, a certain amount of oily air will be released in the atmosphere of the shop. You can see oil collecting on the wall behind the compressor and on the pump and compressor as well over time. This is not a cause for alarm but may require periodic cleaning.

Reciprocating (piston type) air compressors make noise and this is something you need to plan for for the benefit of yourself, your workers and others around your location. If quietness is an important criterion, you may want to consider spending the extra money for a screw-type air compressor. Screw-type compressors do not have pistons or cylinders. Air is compressed in a turbine manner by large metal screws, turning at high speed. Compared to the reciprocating type these compressors only purr but are much more expensive. They sound more like a quiet jet engine than a loud truck motor.

I hope this article has been helpful for you. When you factor in piping, regulators, hoses, water traps, wiring and electricians, purchasing an air compressor for your woodworking shop can be a very expensive investment. You may want to buy a machine that is equal to the jobs you do but not more. Buying the wrong air compressor can be a very expensive mistake. My intention in writing this is to give you the knowledge you need to make the right choice.

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