How to choose an air tool

Air tools can feel like a step up for some D.I.Yers. Yet, air tools offer a cheaper, smaller and lighter alternative to corded and battery-operated tools. Constantly connected to an air compressor, air tools offer a more powerful option and their interchangeability can make them a better proposition for some of your future projects.

What are air tools?

An air tool is any tool that’s powered by compressed air, which is delivered by an air compressor. Also known as pneumatic powered tools, air tools have been around since the 1800s but are still totally relevant today. Mention “pneumatic” to someone and, more than likely, they’ll picture a jackhammer but these days there are around 20 different types of air powered tool you can buy.

It’s this wide range of options that make air tools so popular in many D.I.Y. and other home projects. Once you’ve set up an air compressor to power your first air tool, adding others to your toolkit can make a lot of sense as it will you save you time and money in the long run.

The number of air tools you want to use simultaneously will determine the size of the air compressor you need. And the more air tools you want to power the bigger the air compressor will have to be. 

If the types of air tools you want to use require a high volume of continuous compressed air, then you’ll need an air compressor with a larger tank size. Conversely, air tools that are used more intermittently will only need an air compressor with a smaller sized tank.

Why choose an air tool over a corded/battery tool?

Most air tools are cheaper than their electrically charged counterparts. This is especially true over a longer period of time. Because air tools are powered from the same source – an air compressor – the more air tools you have in your collection, the cheaper they’ll become. You always need to factor in the cost of an air compressor, so there will always be greater upfront costs, but this amount can be divided by the number of tools you own, over time.

Another plus for air tools is the amount of punch they pack. Compared to corded and cordless tools they’re remarkably strong. And the amount of torque they deliver can be adjusted up and down via the attached air compressor. But it’s always worth remembering what the task at hand actually is. There’s no point in overinvesting in an air tool/air compressor set-up if you can get the job done with a simple electrical tool.

Air tools are also much lighter and smaller than conventional corded and cordless tools. Air tools will always connect to the air compressor via a hose, which means, in effect, it isn’t cordless. So, the way you like to move around your workplace will determine whether air or electric is the way to go.

Interchangeability is another great advantage of air tools. Once you’ve finished using one air tool, all you have to do is grab your next one from your kit, quickly attach it and you’re ready to go.

What are the different types of air tools?

There are around 20 different types of air tool available. Before buying one, there are a couple of things you must always consider.

All air tools have an air consumption requirement, measured in litres per minute (l/pm). The volume of air that an air compressor can produce is known as the “Free Air Delivery” or FAD.

All air tools also have an operating pressure, which is measured in pound force per square inch (psi) or bars (its metric equivalent). The air compressor you use must be able to reach the operating pressure for each air tool you want to use.

Air tools are available in a range of sub-categories and have different air consumption requirements and operating pressures. Here’s a breakdown:

How to choose an air tool

Guns and staplers

These air tools perform a variety of tasks via a trigger type mechanism. The range in size from higher air consumption applications, like air spray and air blow guns, down to the lower D.I.Y. friendly air nail guns and staplers that can be used for domestic jobs like picture framing.

Spray guns (340-400 l/pm and 90 psi)

Blow guns (340+ l/pm and 115 psi)

Nail guns (80-170 l/pm and 90-115 psi)

Staplers (80-170 l/pm and 60-115 psi)

Grease guns (80 l/pm and 30-115 psi)

• Rivet guns (up to 120 l/pm and 90 psi)

Drills and screwdrivers

Air-powered drills and screwdrivers are high-performing tools and are easy to handle.

Air drills (285 l/pm and 90 psi)

Air screwdrivers (230 l/pm and 90 psi)

Hammers and chisels

These air tools get the job done quicker and pack a serious punch.

Air hammers (285 l/pm and 90 psi) 

Air chisels (285 l/pm and 90 psi) 

Saws, sanders, nibblers and grinders

When it comes to reducing a surface area, this group of air tools can save you time, effort and money.

Air sanders (400 l/pm and 90 psi) 

Air grinders (170-340 l/pm and 90 psi) 

Air nibblers (170 l/pm and 90 psi) 

Air saws (170 l/pm and 90 psi)

Ratchets and wrenches

These air tools will give you greater torque control of any task that requires tightening or loosening.

Air wrenches (240-400 l/pm and 90 psi) 

Air ratchets (115 l/pm and 90 psi)

Inflators

Air inflators are great for those high-volume inflation tasks, which would take an absolute age if you had to do them by hand.

Air inflators (50 l/pm and 90-220 psi)

Find the right air tool for you

If you need more help deciding on the best air tool for your tasks, take a look at our wide range of air tools or speak with one of our helpful team.

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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