HOW DO AIR COMPRESSORS WORK?

HOW DO AIR COMPRESSORS WORK?

Posted by Pressure Pump Solutions Ltd on 2nd Jul 2021

In today’s modern world of pneumatics, air compressors are vital to the operations of factories and workshops across the globe. But they have not always been. Air compressors are a relatively recent invention in the context of machine-age history.

First, air is drawn into the cylinder of the air compressor from here, it is compressed once by a single piston movement within a vacuum system. ..The vacuum pushes the air out of the chamber and into its storage tank. Once the storage tank reaches its maximum air pressure, the compressor turns off. This process is called the duty cycle. The compressor will turn back on when the pressure drops below a specific number. Both types of compressors are typically powered by either an electric or petrol motor, which drives the piston and causes the compression to happen.

Think of it like an open balloon: the compressed air can be used as energy as it is released. Air compressors do not need to have storage tanks, and a few of the smaller options forego them in favour of portability. Shop Best Budget Air Compressor UK here!

Are all piston pumps the same?In theory, all piston compressors work according to the same principle. However, there are major differences in how the compressor puts this principle to use. The main one is the number of stages in which the compression takes place. There are single-stage, double stage, and multi-stage compressors. Dividing the compression over different stages reduces the compressor work and final air temperature (the process then gets closer to an isothermal one). To get the full benefits from multi-stage compression, the air needs to be cooled between the different stages. This can be done with the help of an intercooler.

Piston Air Compressor Functionality

So, how does an air compressor get air? For those that use pistons, it involves two parts: Raising the pressure and reducing the volume of the air. Most compressors use reciprocating piston technology.

  1. An air compressor typically uses:
  2. An electric or Fuel motor.
  3. An inlet and a discharge valve to draw in and release air.
  4. A pump to compress the air.
  5. A storage tank.

Before air compressors, many tools got their power from complicated systems with belts, wheels, and other large components. This machinery was massively heavy and very costly, and typically out of reach for many small operations.

Today, air compressors come in many shapes and sizes, and you can find them on large shop floors, auto workshops and even your neighbour’s garage. In this guide, we will discuss air compressors and how they work.


Over the years air compressors have become smaller and less bulky, making them more usable in a variety of work situations. They are incredibly useful portable machines that power single air tools.

The major advantage of air compressors is that they are much more powerful than regular tools, and they do not require their own bulky motors. Since the only real maintenance that is required of them is a little bit of oiling, a variety of tools can be powered by a single engine that utilizes air pressure for maximum potential.

Their versatility does not just stop at the workbench for drills or sanders; they can be used for anything from inflating a tire (like the ones at your local petrol station) to unblocking the sink at home.

Air compressors are certainly a testament to human imagination. However, it is important to understand how they work so you can choose the right air compressor for the right application.


What are Air Compressors used for?

Air compressors can be used for a wide variety of tasks. They can supply air for filling up objects like tires or inflatable pool toys, or they can supply power for operating tools such as spray-painting, tyre inflation, and nailing, stapling, sanding, drilling, cutting, grinding and air ratchets. The appropriate air compressor can be used not only in professional environments such as garages and spray shops but also for many DIY projects around the home.

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Some of the equipment that works well with compressed air power includes:


Drills - Nail guns – Grinders - Spray guns – Sanders – Staplers - Air Drill - Air Hammer - Air Chisel - Cut Off Tool - Grease Gun – Caulking Gun - Ratchet ½” - Sand Blaster -Impact Wrench ½” - Angle Grinder -Dual Action Sander -Orbital Sander -Spray Gun -Die Grinder -Spray Gun (HVLP)

From drills to AC units, many versatile air-powered tools and machines are responsible for the comfort, shelter, automation, and efficiency of everyday life. The compressors themselves are more compact and lightweight than other integrated power sources. They are also long-lasting, require less maintenance and are easier to move than other old-fashioned machinery.

What Size of Air Compressor Tank Will I Need?

A simple and easy rule for sizing an air receiver tank for a reciprocating air compressor is to take the tool with the highest CFM requirement (at the required PSI), multiply that CFM requirement by 1.25 or 1.5, and then round up to the closest gallon size.

With tank sizes ranging from 6 litres to 500 litres+, choosing the perfect capacity air tank / receiver will seriously affect the performance of your compressor. To find the minimum tank size of the compressor you need multiple your tool’s required SCFM by 6. 4. Oil-less or oil compressor.

Note! When the tank pressure drops below the minimal limit the pump reactivates. Therefore, It is not recommended to use the compressor while the pump is filling the tank so a bigger tank allows for longer use of the pneumatic tool.

Swift Start Guide

Example: if you want to run a spray gun (6 SCFM): 6 SCFM x 1.2 = at least a 7.2 CFM compressor.

For example, if you run an impact wrench (8 SCFM): 8 SCFM x 6 = at least a 48-litre compressor tank.

Here we have listed the REQUIRED CFM FOR AIR TOOLS

Nailing Gun: 1 CFM

Air Drill: 4 CFM

Air Hammer / Chisel: 4 CFM

Cut Off Tool: 4 CFM

Grease/Caulking Gun: 4 CFM

High Speed Grinder: 4 CFM

Ratchet ½”: 4 CFM

Sand Blaster: 4 CFM

Impact Wrench ½”:5 CFM

Angle Grinder: 6 CFM

Dual Action Sander: 6 CFM

Orbital Sander: 6 CFM

Spray Gun: 6 CFM

Die Grinder: 8 CFM

Spray Gun (HVLP): 14 CFM

What Is the Difference Between a Pump and a Compressor?

Sometimes the words “pump” and “compressor” are used interchangeably. They may seem similar but there is a difference between them.

Pumps move fluids between places while air compressors squeeze the volume of the gas and often transport it elsewhere. Any project involving a liquid, like pumping a pool, utilizes a pump. On the other hand, compressed air is utilized for energy to perform different tasks, such as sandblasting.

Understanding that difference between the two terms and methods of distribution can help you figure out what you need for your project.

Air compressors are useful tools in any construction project. From spray painting to fixing a flat tire, they can make a job that much easier. No two air compressors are the same and finding out how they work allows you to make informed decisions for the project you are working on.

Air compressor Safety Tips

It is known that air compressors are commonly used in workplaces that require the use of pressurized air. Typically, air compressors are classified as either low-pressure, medium-pressure or high-pressure. Low-pressure air compressors discharge pressure at 150 psi or less. Medium-pressure air compressors discharge air at 151 to 1,000 psi. High-pressure air compressors discharge air at over 1,000 psi.

As with any powered machinery, it is important to follow some basic safety tips when using an air compressor to prevent bodily injury.

Use Fuel Powered Air Compressors Outdoors

Unless it is powered electrically, you should always use an air compressor outdoors. Gas air compressors should never be used indoors, as they produce toxic fumes in the form of carbon monoxide.

Wear Safety Goggles and Gloves

For personal protective equipment (PPE), you should wear impact-resistant eyewear and gloves. There have been numerous reports of workers sustaining serious eye injury because of pressurized air. Something as simple as impact-resistant goggles or glasses, however, can protect against such injury.

Use a Self-Retracting Cord

Ideally, you should use an air compressor with a self-retracting cord. Allowing long cords to lie on the floor creates a serious tripping hazard. If a worker accidentally trips on the cord, he or she may injure themselves. With a self-retracting cord, excess cordage is consolidated into a bundle instead of being lain on the floor.

Check for Oil and Air Leaks

Try to get into the habit of checking your air compressor for both oil and air leaks each time before using it. Even if a leak is small, using the air compressor could cause the hose or other components to blow due to the change in pressure. If you find a leak -- either oil or air -- do not use the air compressor until it has been fixed.

Follow Manufacturer's Recommended Maintenance

Be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding maintenance for your air compressor. This maintenance may include some of the steps listed here. Additionally, it may also include checking for safe operating temperature, changing the oil, checking for differentiate pressure in the air filter, etc.

Setting Up a New Compressor for Spray Painting

Here we talk about setting up a new compressor for paint spraying, we shall cover the correct spray gun air pressure that is needed for that ultimate paint job, we shall touch on HVLP, LVLP spray guns and air compressors.Please bear in mind we talk about air pressure; we do not mean air cap pressure.

We are referring to air pressure at the neck of your spray gun dial, once you pull the trigger,

HVLP Air Pressure Setting for Base Coat Clear Coat (High Volume Low Pressure)

When spraying base coat clear coat systems, you want to spray at 26-29 PSI. You measure this PSI by pulling the trigger and letting air flow through the tip of your gun with your dial or digital readout saying 26-29 PSI.

When spraying clear coat, I usually like to up the pressure 2-3 psi for a little more atomization and better flow rate. 28-29 PSI being the right setting.

Most HVLP spray guns will use up 10-14 scfm (air volume) at 40 psi. (Volume of air pressure per cubic foot).

(LVLP) Air Pressure Setting (Low Volume Low Pressure) 10-15 psi when trigger is pulled for base coat is what most say to set your gun at.

We are told that most spray at about 17 psi when spraying base coat and 20-25 for clear coat using the low volume low pressure spray guns.

The normal scfm consumption for LVLP guns is about 5-7 scfm (square cubic foot per minute) and volume of air used at 40 PSI.

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