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Six (Cheap) Air Tools You Should Buy for Your First Man-Sized Air Compressor

08/26/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Air Tools, Hot Buys

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com/HFRreviews.html

or How I Fell in Love with My Air Compressor After I Figured Out What It can Do . . .

A good air compressor is a central part in almost every serious home or professional workshop. Picking the right components is important for starting off right. Fortunately, you can buy a decent compressor and try a number of air tools without spending a lot of money and upgrade to better quality air tools or even a bigger air compressor as the work demands. Harbor Freight makes the process easy, allowing for one-stop-shopping at the best prices around for good-quality products if you choose wisely.

We have two candidates for medium-sized air compressors. Our review of the first one is completed and we are currently testing the second one.

  1. 2 HP, 8 Gallon, 115 PSI Portable Air Compressor (target price: $79.99; click here for our review)
  2. 3 HP, 21 Gallon, 120 Volt 115 PSI Cast Iron Vertical Air Compressor (target price: $149.99; currently being field tested)

There are three obvious differences between these two air compressors. First, the second one cost about twice as much as the first selection. Second, the second one has 50% more horsepower. And third, the second one has nearly 3-times the air storage capacity.

The horsepower (hp) rating determines how much power is available to drive the air pump and therefore how fast it generates compressed air. Neither of these air compressors generate compressed air fast enough to directly drive most air tools. Enter the second specification: gallons (stored). The gallon capacity refers to how much compressed air is stored in the air tank (bigger is better but bulkier and more difficult to move). This is important for two reasons. First, many quick blows on the air gun or a fast inflation won't even require that the compressor turn on. There is sufficient air stored in its large storage tank for quite a few blasts. Second and most importantly, the air storage is used to provide the air tool with much more air than the compressor can actually make at any given time. It stores up compressed air when the compressed air is being generated faster than needed, and then it dispenses the air as needed. A larger air storage tank means that the air compressor output can exceed its capacity to generate air for a longer duration before the air flow drops abruptly. We believe the air storage capacity is likely to have a better influence on how well our air tools run in our applications than does the horsepower rating of the unit. Finally, although both of these air compressors would be considered by professionals to be too small to run air tools, these air compressors are actually quite good at meeting our demands because we use most of the air tools described below in relatively short bursts (anywhere from 20 seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on the air tool and the task).

Let's start off by defining "man-sized" air compressor. We are referring to medium-sized compressors (men working with air tools professionally would generally consider these small, but there we go again with that "theory of relativity" stuff) such as Harbor Freight's 2-hp, 8 gallon, 115 psi portable air compressor (click here for our review). We like this compressor and think it's a good starter air compressor for anyone who is unsure how far they're going to get into air tools or painting. If you're planning on serious work, you might consider a larger compressor right out of the starting gate, but it's likely you would still find a use for this one if you decide to start small and upgrade later.

The items are listed below in the order of their priority.

  1. air tool accessory kit (target price: $7.99)
  2. rubber air hose (target price: $9.99)
  3. high-speed air cutter (target price: $8.99)
  4. air impact hammer (target price: $8.99)
  5. air blow gun with 2 ft. extension (target price: $1.99)
  6. tire chuck with clip (target price: $0.99

Air Tool Accessory Kit: Don't even leave the store without it. You need this stuff to get started. It contains quick-release couplers that are a must for air tools exchange and a couple of other useful parts such as a spray nozzle, air chuck, and other connectors. Click here for our full review.(We're assuming that you already have a roll of Teflon tape from your other work; if not, you will need to purchase one for use with your air tool couplers.)

Alternatively, you might want to invest a little more initially in buying high-flow air couplers. These have a larger internal diameter than the standard quick couplers allowing high rates of air flow to your tools. They are recommended for most air tools and absolutely necessary for some. To keep the cost of getting started to a minimum, we are content with the standard flow quick connectors provided in the accessory kit. We recommend that when you purchase additional quick couplers that you buy a package of the high-flow air couplers and use them on your air tools with the highest air flow requirements.

4-Piece Hi-Flo Male Plug Set (retail price: $2.99)
2-Piece Brass Hi-Flo Female Air Coupler Set (retail price: $4.99

If you go with this option, note that there have been some complaints with the female coupler not operating after a couple of weeks' use and that you will still need to purchase some of the other components from the air accessory kit.

50-ft Rubber Air Hose: Harbor Freight has some of the best buys anywhere on air hoses. You need at least 25' and 50' actually gives you a much better working distance from your compressor. Anything over 50' is a nuisance and too long to handle for most applications. Rubber hoses are a necessity. They maintain their flexibility and are pretty resistant to scrapes and abrasions that could damage the hose. Click here for our full review.

High-Speed Air Cutter: This is the first real air tool to add to your collection. It's cheap and it's cool. It slices through metal with incredible ease and provides a good introduction to "Air Tools 101." Even if you think you won't use it, buy-it-to-try-it and you may discover how valuable it really is in your arsenal of air tools. Click here for our full review.

Air Impact Hammer: This is a great addition that adds some weight to your air tool collection. It is sold with and without the chisels, so make sure you get the package containing the chisels or you'll be paying as much for these necessary items as you did for the air impact hammer. Click here for our full review.

Air Blow Gun with 2 Ft. Extension: This seemed rather silly when I first spotted it, but for $1.99 on sale I decided I would buy-it-and-try-it. It probably set around for over a month before one day I figured out how I could use it. Since that time, it's remained attached to my compressor most of the time in regular daily use. Click here for our full review.

Tire Chuck with Clip: One of my favorite little tools that is simple yet does a big job. Set your air compressor to the desired inflation pressure and clip this air chuck on your tire valve. It will automatically stop inflating once the desired pressure is reached. Of course for better accuracy you should use a hand-held air pressure gauge to guide fine adjustment to your correct air pressure, but this method is accurate enough with most compressors for most applications. It's particularly nice when the air compressor doesn't 'match' the tire well. For example, a large air compressor inflating bicycle tires is precarious at times, easily over inflating and perhaps even exploding a few tires. The pre-set air pressure regulator makes over filling very unlikely. Of course you could use the pre-set method with a hand-held tire air chuck, but that kind of takes the fun out of it. Where the clip-on air chuck really shines is when the air compressor is much smaller than appropriate for filling the tire. Here, you pre-set your compressor air pressure regulator, clip on the air chuck, and come back when it's finished -- cool. Perhaps since we're limiting our first list to only six items we're wasting a 'wish' here, but we just love cheap (as in 99 cents) tools that are very useful. Click here for our full review.

OK, you just spent $38.94 if you purchased everything at our target prices, and you now have things that can spray (air), inflate, cut, and pound -- what do you want to do next? Well, when you get ready to spend a few more bucks on a couple of higher priced items, you should consider gradually building up your air tools with the next half dozen items.

  1. impact wrench and/or ratchet (click here for an example)
  2. air nailer/stapler (click here for an example)
  3. die grinder kit (click here for our choice)
  4. air filter/automatic tool oiler (click here for catalog listing)
  5. spark-plug cleaner (click here for catalog listing)
  6. low-pressure, low-volume paint sprayer (click here for an example)

Admittedly it won't save you much money, but the spark plug cleaner included in the second list of six could help save the planet. With automobile spark plugs now running 100,000 miles before they are scheduled to be replaced on many vehicles, you won't be using this spark plug cleaner on those spark plugs very often. (I would personally discard any spark plug that survived 100,000 miles.) However, if you use gasoline-powered lawn-care equipment such as a yard tractor, lawnmower, or weed trimmer or if you use a gasoline-powered snow-blower (a very popular winter pastime here in Buffalo ;)), those spark plugs are likely to become fouled more often by old gasoline, poor carburetor adjustments, dirty air filters, and other factors. Cleaning and reusing small engine spark plugs may not save a lot of money, but it does decrease the landfill burden while keeping your engine running cleaner and less polluting. It's obviously not a big step, but our view is that lots of people taking lots of small steps can have a big impact and help to restore a healthy planetary ecology. So clean for green and help save our planet. (For more information about our perspective here at Harbor Freight Reviews on recycling through reuse and reclamation, click here.)

And of course there's some other stuff that we just presumed you had so we didn't add it to our list of top 12 air tools and accessories:

  1. Teflon thread tape (retail price: $3.99/10 rolls)
  2. quick couplers (retail price: $2.99/4-pack)
  3. air compressor oil (SAE 30-weight, non-detergent oil)
  4. air tool oil (retail price: $2.99)

Here's a short list of what you shouldn't buy. Your medium-size air compressor won't run these tools except in very short spurts if at all, and very short spurts are especially bad for painting.

  1. high-speed metal saw (this item is junk, at least the unit we tested)
  2. high pressure paint gun (your compressor won't run this)
  3. sand blaster (ditto above)
  4. sand blasting cabinet (and ditto again)

The last three items above are all air tools that require considerably more output that what a medium-sized air compressor can handle. For this work, you need to move up a notch or two on your compressor size. Harbor Freight handles these products too, but we haven't reviewed any of them. We'll end this commentary with a couple of samples from their professional-size air compressors just in case you're considering the upgrade.

  1. 5-HP, 60 Gallon, 165 PSI Two Stage Air Compressor (retail price: $849.99)
  2. 7.5 HP, 80 Gallon, 175 PSI Air Compressor (retail price: $1399.99)
  3. Recon 13 Horsepower, 30 Gallon, 175 PSI Gas Powered Two-Stage Air Compressor (retail price: $1349.99)

Bottom line: almost every home workshop needs a good air compressor. If you're doing much work and have the workspace, one of Harbor Freight's medium-sized air compressors should fit the bill. And very importantly, every air compressor needs the right air tools and accessories to get good-value-for-your-money.

Copyright 2010 Beaux Arts USA (Share but be fair -- cite the source.)

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This review and discussion forum was created for those of us who love Harbor Freight(tm). It's well known to those who frequent the store that the prices are always cycling up and down, and most of us usually accept it as a personal challenge to get the lowest price possible. It's also well appreciated that some products at Harbor Freight are good, even very good, but that many others are also substandard, yes, even junk. This review and discussion forum is dedicated to the savvy Harbor Freight shopper and is intended to provide some guidance to the best and the worse buys. Similar products from other retailers will also be reviewed from time-to-time. Please be advised that everyone's experience is unique, and what works well (or doesn't work at all) for the reviewers here may or may not suit your personal needs. With this caveat and with notification that Harbor Freight Reviews assumes no liability for the accuracy of information provided here for educational purposes, enjoy the forum and good 'sa(i)ling' at Harbor Freight!

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