I Get Email #06: Air Compressors

I get email. I get a lot of email. Some of which can be beneficial to a larger audience so I had the idea to create a simple, informal video series to answer those questions on a regular basis. Check out the video above to view today’s topic.

I also thought it would be fun to bring along one of my good friends Shawn Stone of Stone and Sons. If you haven’t already, check out his website.

Today’s question:

I am looking to buy a new air compressor for woodworking only and wonder what size I need. -Dave Carpenter

This is definitely a question that doesn’t have a “one size fits all” answer. Bottom line, you need to size your compressor based upon your needs. Here’s the quick and dirty answers:

  1. if you only use brad nailers, staplers, or have an occasional need to air up a tire then a small one or two gallon air compressor will fit your needs.
  2. If you plan on using compressed air for everything listed above plus a gravity fed HVLP spray gun I’d recommend something around the size of a 5hp 20 gallon unit.
  3. If you plan on using compressed air for everything listed above plus high air volume tools like multiple impact guns, air sanders, or to clean out a shop space I’d recommend a larger unit around the 50-60 gallon range.

Beyond that, the most accurate way to determine what size air compressor is perfect for you is to do the following:

  1. Find out the CFM (cubic feet of air per minute) usage of each tool you plan on using.
  2. Add up the CFM numbers of all the tools you think would be in use at the same time. If you know that only one tool will be used at a time just use the highest CFM number you found. If you plan on getting another air powered tool in the future make sure you know it’s approximate CFM requirements and take that into consideration as well. Then add 25% or so to allow future-proofing and other possible long term changes.
  3. Find an air compressor that meets your CFM requirements and verify that the max PSI (pounds of pressure per square inch) on the air compressor meets the requirements of your tools.

Things to consider before you purchase:

  1. Would a horizontal or vertical unit fit my space better?
  2. Do I need something portable with wheels or will it be a stationary item?
  3. Is noise going to be an issue? The majority of oil-less air compressors are really loud.


  1. Hola Jay
    Tus videos son muy interesantes, no hablo inglés, es por eso que le solicito si pudiera traducir sus videos en español.
    Seguramente me recomendadas poner los subtitulo en español, pero pondría atención a los subtitulos y no a lo que estas realizando.
    Gracias y felicitaciones por lo que enseñas

  2. I also recently purchased a California Air Tools 1HP 8 Gallon compressor. So much quieter! I love it!

    As far as HVLP, if you are thinking of getting a sprayer that requires an air compressor, it might just make sense to get a HVLP system that doesn’t require an air compressor. The Rockler HVLP Finishing Sprayer that I purchased recently works great and the coats are much more even than the air compressor style sprayers I’ve used (albeit those were cheap quality). At $149, it is probably cheaper than a good compressor and HVLP sprayer anyway.

  3. Both Billy and Stephen I agree 100% I haven’t heard of eagle brand. But I did a ton of research on air compressors for my needs and the California Air at about $150.00 for the wood shop and like Shawn said the occasional tires. I have 10 gallon oil air compressor already and this thing is just to loud inside even with my hearings protection. Thank You guys.

  4. Good show on air compressor. You didn’t mention anything about hoses. I bought the Porter Cable 150 PSI 6 gallon with some air guns and HAVE BEEN FRUSTRATED with the stiff hose. Do these companies not realize we are consumers in small garages and that, even at a cost, we would like a flexible hose. Can these be swapped out?

  5. I also have a California Air Tools 5gal that I use for nail guns and general shop cleanup. Super quiet, no need for hearing protection. Quick to refill. Several friends of mine also have them.
    I highly recommend them.
    Jay, if memory serves me from watching your video of Wayne Brown’s shop tour, he also has a California Air.

  6. Enjoyed your video – I guess I am the weird one. I have had many small compressors over the years and had problems when running air tools and spray guns. It was a constant frustration, so I installed a 60 gallon, real 4 HP compressor when I moved into my current house in 2000. It delivers 15 CFM at 90 PSI, so I don’t have to worry about running out of air when spraying. It isn’t as noisy as the smaller 20 gallon oil-less compressors that make a huge, annoying racket, but you do know when it comes on. Sounds like a big gas station compressor from back when gas stations actually worked on cars.

    The neat part about this compressor is it sits in the corner and gets ignored most of the time. I can put in hundreds of brads before it fires up to refill, but when I need the capacity to spray finish or work on my car, I have it. I did spend a little bit of time and ran copper plumbing to the places I needed an outlet and added three reels for the hoses. I just have to reach over and pull the hose out, then let it retract when done.

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