Category: Air Tools

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


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.)


Air Tool Accessory Kit

08/25/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Air Tools, Hot Buys


Air Accessory Kit
Item: Air Tools Accessory Kit
Item number: 42716
Retail price: $9.99
Target price: $7.99 (with 20%-off coupon if necessary)
Item Link

Most air compressors out-of-the-box contain nothing to get you started except the compressor itself. You'll need several other parts to make your new air compressor useful. We recommend that you start with one of the air accessory kits offered by Harbor Freight. Our selection of the particular product reviewed here is based on our intended uses and still leaves you without a necessary air hose. You might consider one of the other kits (e.g., 20-Piece Air Compressor Starter Kit; retail price: $14.99) which includes a coiled hose if your intended use differs for your air compressor. (See below for a brief description of how we use our air compressors.) For most purposes we suggest this air tool accessory kit combined with one of Harbor Freight's 25- or 50-ft rubber hoses.

There are always exceptions: We generally recommend buying this air tool accessory kit and adding a 25- or 50-ft rubber hose for most users. However, if you are buying a lightweight, hand-carried air compressor you may want to purchase an air tool accessory kit that includes a coiled air hose (e.g., 20-Piece Air Compressor Starter Kit). We don't use a coiled air hose very often, but there are a few situations where we find it very useful. (Note that the kits including a coiled hose do not include some of the 'odd' pieces included in this air tool accessory kit which you may find later that you need, and they include fewer quick couplers.)

We have a small, hand-carried (very) portable air compressor that we use for inflating bicycle tires and for blasting debris and dust at various locations. The coiled air hose works great for these applications. We also find the coiled hose useful when we combine it with our air manifold that has several outlets on our larger, medium-sized air compressor. Here we frequently use the coiled air hose with an air gun for blowing debris and dust from bench tools located near our main air compressor.

FYI: Coiled air hoses generally wear out much faster and are subject to damage much easier than are rubber air hoses.

With this sit you receive 4 male quick couplers. Two will be used immediately on your air chuck and on your blow gun, and that leaves only two for your other air tools. The quick release coupler attaches to your air compressor output line. The female quick coupler, 1/4" nipples, and other couplings are likely to remain in your toolbox for a while until you have special needs for them. You could just purchase the couplings (e.g., 5-Piece Solid Brass Quick Coupler Set; retail price: $4.99) but the air blower is very useful and the air chuck a necessity, so you would mostly likely find yourself later purchasing them separately at an increased cost. Moreover, we found use for some of the other 'odd' pieces immediately with our air tools and would have to had paid a couple of dollars each for the other pieces. All-in-all, investing in this low-cost air accessory kit was the right choice for us to get started as we feel it will be for most other novice users. Not only is it likely to save money in the long run (compared with buying each component or set of specific parts separately) but more importantly it saves frustrating trips to the hardware store when we would have been 'short' that one 'odd' little piece to get our tool running.

FYI the obvious or the not-so-obvious if you haven't purchased your first air tool yet: Most air tools come with 1/4" NPT connections and do not have quick coupler fittings or other necessary connectors included. You need to purchase these separately and this kit gets you started with four of these quick couplers. When you need more purchase them in small packages not individually. You'll find that you need more and more as you increase the number of air tools that you use.

Some online reviewers have complained about this set, but we like it for getting you started in the world of air tools or for purchase with your first air compressor. This kit contains the components which are an absolute must for getting started; the complaints have been mainly about the air flow rate through the quick couplers (see below) and are most likely from people who use their air tools more 'seriously' that we do for our applications.

It's all relative and here's our point of reference: We do not use air tools on a regular basis, except perhaps for our blow guns. We do not usually disconnect and connect several tools daily nor even use our air compressor every day. On a busy day with our compressor we only swap air tools several times, and busy days are likely to occur only once or twice each month. Of course on occasion we have used our air tools throughout the day for several successive days; we have tackled a few bigger projects requiring this more serious type of use. But our normal pattern of compressor use is irregular and sporadic, with only several uses each month. Our evaluations are based on this type of use, not sustained regular use of these products. Be advised that professional use may require higher-quality products than those reviewed here. We occasionally use air tools such as our high-speed air cutter, air hammer, die grinder, impact wrench, and air socket. We don't use a paint gun or a sand blaster. We have fun and we save a lot of time on projects for which we use our air tools, but we don't do regular, professional work with an air compressor nor have we tested any of these products under these conditions.

You can purchase different air couplers that are rated for high air flow (i.e., 4-Piece Hi-Flo Male Plug Set; retail price: $2.99). They have a larger internal diameter than do the standard couplers included in this set and the quick couplers used by many (most?) people. These high-flow air couplers permit higher levels of air flow to your air tool thus increasing its power. However, we find that for our uses the standard couplers work just fine. In fact, we have a medium-sized compressor that runs out of high-pressure air long before we might have problems with its rate of air delivery influenced by any constriction in our air line. In other words, our compressor can't really handle the sustained high air flow that some tools require and that the high-flow couplers are designed to permit. So who cares? The standard couplers work quite well for us.

How much would you like to pay? Amazon (who has consistently been beating eBay on prices for new items) sells a very similar accessory kit for $29.99 marked down from a list price of $44.99. You do get a case for that price, but most of the items in our air tool accessory kit are being used around the shop, so the case would pretty much be empty. At our target price, the equivalent item from Harbor Freight is less than a third of the price at Amazon! Click here to view the product sold by Amazon.

FYI: We like Amazon and have bought lots of items from them over the years. We recommend them for many other products, but they just can't touch Harbor Freight's prices.

As you build your arsenal of air tools you will quickly need additional quick couplers. For your next purchase, we recommend you do invest in a set of high-flow male connectors (i.e., 4-Piece Hi-Flo Male Plug Set; retail price: $2.99). The price is great and you might as well invest in the higher flow rate just in case it does eventually make a difference. Of course to make full use of the high-flow connectors you would need to also purchase high-flow female connectors too (i.e., 2-Piece Brass Hi-Flo Female Air Coupler Set; retail price: $4.99). Be forewarned that some users have reported problems with the female couplers failing and you may need to invest in a more expensive female coupler purchased elsewhere.

Bottom line: This low-priced air accessory kit from Harbor Freight is one of several possibilities for getting you started with your new compressor. Don't leave the shop without it or without a similar accessory kit, or you'll find that the only thing your new air compressor does is blow air in the garage.


Air Blow Gun with 2-ft. Extension

08/25/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Air Tools, Hot Buys


Air Blow Gun with Extension
Item: Air Blow Gun with 2-ft. Extension
Item number: 35226
Retail price: $4.99
Frequent sale price: $2.99
Target price: $2.99
Best price: $1.99
Item Link

OK, I've used these long wands for cleaning automotive engines and other items with steam and even water, but I just didn't envision air being able to perform the same task. So why the long wand? Well, for cleaning things you wouldn't use steam or water to clean.:)) OK, that's a really obvious come-back, but seriously, what's this good for?

For most of our uses here at Harbor Freight Reviews this is simply a type of high-pressure air sweeper. Not a vacuum -- it blows the dust and debris out not sucks it up. We use it to clean the air handler filters on our HVAC, we blow away the saw dust from our compound sliding miter saw, bench sander, drill press, and other tools, and we reach those hard to sweep nooks and crannies throughout our shop. It's very good for work below your waist ;) -- getting the blow below your knees, thus saving you from bending over to reach low objects that need cleaning. In other words, getting the air to where you want it with minimal effort.

In our first edition of this product review, we're not going to elaborate on all the places where you might find this tool useful. Suffice it to say, try it at our target price and you'll probably find lots of uses around your own home or shop. We did and we only bought it originally because it was on sale very, very cheap at its best price.

Like all of your powerful long tools, enjoy using it but use it wisely. Remember that this tool is operating at a high air pressure that can not only dislodge particles that your vacuum cleaner can't suck but also propel some debris into the air. We are careful to set-back the air-pressure regulator on the compressor appropriately whenever cleaning filters and mindful of possible blow-back from injecting air into our various 'nooks and crannies.'

Bottom line: A useful tool at the right price and our target price is right. This is a good buy-it-to-try-it tool for anyone with an air compressor in their shop or garage.


Tire Chuck with Clip (#42443/46788)

07/13/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Air Tools, Hot Buys, Cycling, MoHo/RV, Novel Uses


Clip-on Tire Chuck
Item: Tire Chuck with Clip
Item number: 46788/42443?)
Retail Price: $0.77 (hum, this is interesting!?)
Target price: $0.99
Item Link

Whenever I use to inflate my bicycle tires, I was constantly adding a bit of air, checking the pressure with a tire pressure gauge, and then adding a bit more until I finally reached the desired tire pressure. (I often found it more convenient to over-inflate the tire and let out a bit of pressure.) Sure, I could use one of those tire chucks with a built-in pressure gauge, but I've always found these to be inaccurate or unreliable at best. With most compressors, the air output pressure can be limited by a simple dial set with a built-in pressure gauge. This provides an easy method of making sure that your tires are inflated to the proper pressure each time without constantly removing the inflating chuck and manually checking the tire's pressure: simply preset the maximum air pressure output to the desired tire pressure. This is especially helpful with high-pressure, low volume bicycle tires which are easy to over inflate and possibly blow.

So why would you want a clip-on tire chuck for quickly inflating tires? Well, it's real simple: set your compressor pressure output to the desired inflating pressure and bingo, you have a quick and easy, fool-proof inflation to the high pressures used in bicycle tires. My road bike likes 70psi, while my winter bike uses 55 psi inflation pressure. I keep my small, hand-portable compressor near my bike stop at the front door and top up the tire pressure frequently during my rides to ensure easy pedaling. Turn on the compressor, attach the clip-on tire chuck, and come-back when it's inflated. (FYI: My small compressor slowly leaks air from the tank, so it usually requires a few minutes running time each day to reach the relatively high pressures used for inflating bicycle tires; hence, the "attach the clip-on chuck and come back" a few minutes later when the compressor has reached the proper pressure and inflated the first tire.)

Of course the output regulator on a compressor is not as accurate as a tire pressure gauge, so you might want to adjust the actual setting on the compressor to match the desired tire pressure measured by a hand-held gauge. And the pressure output on the compressor may vary by a few psi from day-to-day, but we're not talking about rocket science here, simply keeping the tires topped up to (around) the proper pressure. There is a big difference pedaling 10 or more psi under pressure, and this convenient, no-brainer for keeping the tires inflated makes a big difference in my daily compute to work.

FYI: I'm pretty much non-functional in the morning, so trying to read a tire pressure gauge while navigating my first cup of coffee is an arduous task, likely to blow the tire off the rim if I'm not careful. Presetting the compressor output to the desired tire pressure, turning on the compressor and attaching the clip-on tire chuck is easy enough for even me in the morning and it keeps my tires inflated to the proper pressure, thus minimizing the energy required for my morning commute.

Bottom line: A must have item for the cyclist and others frequently inflating tires to preset pressures. Provides a quick and easy method to reach preset tire inflation pressures without constantly checking with a pressure gauge!


High Speed Metal Saw #91753/113

02/23/09 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Air Tools, The Junk


High-Speed Metal Saw
Item: High Speed Metal Saw
Item no. 91753/113
Retail price: $29.99
Frequent sale price: $17.99
Best price: $12.99 (with coupon)
Item Link

Another junk-is-junk item, probably my worse all-time purchase from my favorite retailer, Harbor Freight. The blade in this air saw travels more like a cork screw than a saw blade. It won't even cut through butter; it mangles the butter to death.

I originally purchased this "metal saw" with the idea of quickly cutting through a few pieces of electrical conduit. I even paid $3 more than the current sale price and thought I still got a bargain. I attached the metal cutting blade, fired up the compressor, and zing-zang-kaboom it wobbled and skated all over the piece of conduit. If I wanted to shred some paper, it might have been great. Cutting the conduit with this corkscrew-like-saw, however, was quickly abandoned in favor of a few quick strokes with a manual hacksaw. How do others cut through sheet metal and other material? I haven't the slightest idea. Mine wouldn't cut its way out of its own box. I'm hoping that someone can help me out and will be happy to revise my opinion if YOU can get it to work for ME.

This is number two of what I hope to be a short "junk list." Perhaps I received a defective item; it's more likely that I'm doing something wrong in attaching the blade; or perhaps it is just junk. If your experience is different with this item, please let me know by posting your comment here or through direct e-mail contact. I would like to have this work 'as advertised.' It sounded great--it just didn't work for me!

Bottom line: A do-not-buy piece of junk :( best left in the store. Other comments welcomed.


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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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