# How Long Does It Take To Fill A Cylinder Math 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 an electric quarter sheet sander, quickly graduated to a random orbit electric disc sander, and finally realized that I could substantially shorten my sanding time with a palm sander. air I settled on a 5″ Dynabrade sander and a Sears 3HP air compressor. It took me less than an hour to realize my mistake: the little compressor I bought couldn’t begin to keep up with the demands of ‘air from the air sander. It would run out of air. the pressure almost immediately and the air sander would slow down to the point of being useless. Then I would have to wait several minutes for the pressure to build up again to get another minute of polishing.

To make matters worse, I hired three people as a sander, so I would have to keep three machines running at full speed all day long. I did some math and found that I would need a ten horsepower air compressor with a large tank to do this. I was lucky enough to find a used one for not too much money, but I needed three phase power and a lot of it. More money was allocated to have an electrician hook it up to the building’s 208-volt three-phase power. The big air compressor was so loud you could hear it all over the building and across the island, but it powered these three sanders from dawn to dusk. The good news is that it paid for itself in saved polishing time very quickly.

Air sanders are aggressive and efficient. They are light in weight compared to their smaller electric cousins. My sanders immediately brought them in and production started. I was as happy as they were. Soon there was another machine besides the air compressor that required having large amounts of air in the shop: an Onsrud inverted pin router. It was also great to be able to blow sawdust off the benches and machine while cleaning the shop at the end of the day. The compressor was also used to spray finishes on finished furniture.

Years later, I built a smaller woodworking shop in my home that only needed one air sander running at a time. For this shop, I bought an air compressor half the size and isolated it in a soundproof room in a corner of the shop. I ran ¾” galvanized pipe under the shop floor to three regulators at three different convenient locations. The machine I purchased for this shop was a 5 HP Ingersoll Rand model with an 80 gallon tank. At 80 PSI required by my Dynabrade sander, the compressor produced enough air all day long. I must say that compressor was very well built. All I had to do was watch the oil level in the sight glass. At the night, I would close the master air valve on the side of the machine, leaving the electricity on, to silence the compressor overnight.

I have to assume that after reading this far you have some interest in using an air compressor to power air tools in your shop. A 2-stage reciprocating air compressor will most likely fill the needs of a small to medium-sized shop. As a general rule, a 5 HP air compressor will power one air sander, a 7.5 HP machine will power two, and a 10 HP machine will be needed for three sanders.

The size of the compressor air tank is an important consideration – the smaller the tank, the more often the compressor will have to cycle on and off, this is hard on both the motor and the compressor pump with the over time and 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 be much more comfortable with an 80 gallon tank.

The type of electrical power an air compressor requires is another consideration. If you have 3-phase power available at your location, fine. Three-phase motors tend to use electricity a little more efficiently than single-phase motors. All large air compressors will require three-phase power, but the 5 HP models come either way. 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 smaller shop. Whether you’re using single-phase or three-phase power, you’ll need 230V AC power for single-phase motors and 208 or 220V AC for the three-phase variety. Be sure to check the voltage and amperage requirements of any air compressor before purchasing. Electricians can be expensive.

A two-stage compressor pump is a must for a machine of this size. Two-stage machines have two cylinders, one larger than the other. Air is first drawn into the large cylinder where it is partially compressed and sent to the smaller cylinder for final compression in the tank. As air is compressed, heat is produced, so a good machine will always have a finned intercooler built into it.

Compression not only produces heat but also extracts water from the air that ends up in the tank. Tanks can rust internally over time and if this is not kept under control, the rusted air tank can eventually explode causing massive damage and even death. That is why it is very important to drain the water tank every day. Most machines are equipped with a drain valve at the lowest point of the tank. If you don’t want to spray water all over the floor under the compressor, you may want to consider routing it from the valve to another location, such as under the floor or down a drain. Piped water will flow upwards into a sink as compressed air pushes it out of the tank.

You will need at least a regulator and water trap in line before. These are not expensive. A regulator allows you to set the correct air pressure for the tool you will be using (eg 80 PSI) rather than the tank pressure (eg 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 put out the same volume of air per minute. This is a function not only of engine power, but also of the efficiency of the compressor pump feeding the engine. The higher the CFM, the less the compressor will have to cycle on and off to keep up with the demands you are placing on it. A small compressor pump in a huge tank will not produce more air than a small tank. The only difference will be the number of times the compressor cycles on and off each hour and the time it takes to recompress the tank each cycle. In the end, you need to pay attention to SCFM (or CFM) rather than motor horsepower or tank size. Airflow is the end product of any compressor and the CFM must be sufficient for the job at hand.

All reciprocating air compressors throw oil out with the air they compress. When the reservoir reaches the maximum designed pounds per square inch, a pressure switch will cut off the electrical power to the motor. Simultaneously, a certain amount of greasy air will be released into the shop environment. You may see oil build up on the wall behind the compressor and also on the pump and compressor over time. This is not a cause for alarm, but periodic cleaning may be necessary.

Reciprocating air compressors (piston type) are noisy and this is something to plan for for the sake of yourself, your workers and others around your location. If peace of mind is an important consideration, you may want to consider spending the extra money for a screw air compressor. Screw compressors have no pistons or cylinders. The air is compressed in the form of a turbine by a large metal screw, which rotates at a very high speed. These compressors only purr compared to the reciprocating type, but they are very expensive. They sound more like a quiet jet engine than a loud truck engine.

I hope this article was helpful to you. Buying an air compressor for your woodworking shop can be quite an expensive investment when you factor in pipes, regulators, hoses, water traps, wiring and electricians. You’ll want to buy a machine that’s equal to the jobs you’ll be doing, but no more than that. Buying the wrong air compressor can be a very costly mistake. My intention in writing this has been to give you the knowledge you will need to select the right one.

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