How much Air Compressor Does one need

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Forum topic by Lee Imbimbo posted 11-05-2010 05:54 PM 5271 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Lee Imbimbo

69 posts in 2492 days

11-05-2010 05:54 PM

I recently acquired some brand new ridgid finish nailers as a gift, and I figured hey I’ve been wanting to add nailers to my list of tools for a while, so no time like the present.

I currently have the Ridgid 23ga Pinner, and the Palm Nailer

I’m thinking about adding to that the Ridgid 15ga angled finish nailer, and the 18ga Brad Nailer

However, I don’t know what to do about getting an actual compressor for the mess. My first inclination is to get something like the Ridgid Combo Pack, Brad Nailer and Compressor

However, I’m not sure if this kind of compressor is what I need and I seem to find very little literature online as to what kind of compressor is good for what purposes.

I know that one day I may get crazy and want to apply a spray finish to something, and that that will require a lot more capacity, pressure and output. But for now I’m really just looking for a compressor than I can carry around in the back of my car, take around my house and use with these nailers for doing odd ball stuff around my house, and for my projects.

Any ideas from people.

14 replies so far

View Manitario's profile


2393 posts in 2302 days

#1 posted 11-05-2010 06:07 PM

Good question; I have a 5 gallon compressor for my 18 ga brad nailer and 16 ga finish nailer which seems to be sufficient; ie. the compressor doesn’t have to run constantly.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View dbhost's profile


5590 posts in 2651 days

#2 posted 11-05-2010 06:13 PM

Now mind you, my stuff was cheap, but I have a finish nailer, pin nailer, stapler, framing nailer, impact wrench, butterfly impact, die grinder, air hammer, air ratchet, and spray gun, and this is driven with a cheap HF 8 gallon compressor. The die grinder and spray gun kill it, but everything else, as long as I run at a reasonable pace, the compressor doesn’t cycle itself to death.

So far with this compressor I have…

Built a fence.
Built a lattice tower for LOML’s Josephs coat roses.
replaced siding from my eves that got blown off in a wind storm (after Ike).
Rebuilt / lifted the suspension on a ‘98 Jeep Wrangler.
Built 2 large flower boxes.

No problems so far…

-- My workshop blog can be found at

View CharlieM1958's profile


16229 posts in 3638 days

#3 posted 11-05-2010 06:13 PM

Lee, the Ridgid compressor you linked to would do just fine for the pinners/nailers you are talking about. They don’t require a large volume of air.

If you ever decide to get into spray finishes, you can still get by with a small compressor, providing you are willing to deal with some limitations. The key factor in HVLP finishing is that a large volume of air is required. Pressure is not really an issue because any compressor with a tank will deliver enough pressure to drive a spray gun for a short time.

A more powerful compressor is capable of delivering the necessary volume of air at a constant rate. So, theoretically, you could pull the trigger on the gun and spray continuously. With a small compressor, you might only get 30 seconds of continuous spraying before you have to stop for a minute or two to let the volume of pressurized air in the tank build back up.

Bottom line is that using a small compressor for small projects is pretty workable, but you would not want to try spraying a whole set of kitchen cabinets with one.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View ChrisForthofer's profile


150 posts in 2486 days

#4 posted 11-05-2010 07:25 PM

One of these should more than fit the bill, its small enough to be portable for working in the yard or house yet is capable of driving a framing nailer if you ever go that far.

I have one of the porter cable 5 gallon pancakes and they are more than capable of keeping up with a finish nailer (I have the PC 15deg finish nailer its my biggest nail gun) But if I went any bigger I would need more.

Several companies make compressors the same style as the one I linked to below, I know Ingersoll maks some very quality stuff and you do pay for it but I would venture a good guess that it would be the last and only compressor this size you would ever need. In short, you should probably go for a portable capable of driving a framing nailer. That way your cover your needs and then some. Good luck.


-- -Director of slipshod craftsmanship and attention deficit woodworking

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2494 days

#5 posted 11-05-2010 07:28 PM

You really don’t need much compressor capacity for a nailer. I use a basic Husky Scout which costs about $100

It works great and it is small enough to easily take on location.

Advice – The hose that comes with these lower priced compressors sucks. Plan on spending a little to upgrade the hose.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View cabs4less's profile


235 posts in 2182 days

#6 posted 11-05-2010 07:45 PM

i have sprayed entire kitchen with lacquer before using a kobalt 25 gallon now it ran constantly but the finsh ame out nice now i use a 2-1/4 gallon pressure pot from grizzly and wit this you do not have to have a large cofmpressor because the pot keeps itslef pressurized as far as the guns go any thing with at least 4 gallons of air capacity will do the job with no problems as far as a compressor running constantly and burning up yes i did burn the kobalt compressor up after 2 and a half years and about thirty kitchens and countless furniture projects. my rule of thumb is to by semi quality tools ( not meaning name brand just meaning horse power and capacity) if i use them enough to break them then i upgrade. that might sound silly but i normally get enough use out of a mediorce tool to pay for itself and help pay for the upgraded version

-- As Best I Can

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2270 days

#7 posted 11-05-2010 07:57 PM

Oilless compressors are the ones you tend to see lined up at tool repair places. The oil type—traditional piston with a crankshaft that runs in an oil bath—last longer.

Regardless of the top end, you can always improve your air system by adding air storage with an additional tank. It gives you more cushion before the compressor comes back on during use, which adds up to longer compressor life. The upfront cost—loading the tank in the morning—is only a downside if your system has a leak.

That said, it would be easy to plumb in such a tank with ball valves so you could choose to include it in the system or exclude it on a given day in the shop.

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View GaryL's profile


1094 posts in 2250 days

#8 posted 11-05-2010 08:01 PM

If you want to spend a little more for a unit that will last a lifetime look into RolAir compressors. This one is a nice 2hp pancake style.

I have had one of these for 20 years on construction sites being abused beyond belief. We would nail entire floor decks and roof sheeting with this little compressor (My gas compressor had gone up in flames previously, another story). It would run nonstop for hours. I had to put a $17 headgasket on the pump about three years ago and still going strong. The design is nearly identical to my 20 yr old version. I guess if it works, don’t mess with it.

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View Lee Imbimbo's profile

Lee Imbimbo

69 posts in 2492 days

#9 posted 11-08-2010 12:43 AM

So from what maybe you guys can clue me into what the different measurements on a compressor mean and how they relate to different tools.

This is how I understand them:
PSI is the amount of pressure that the valve is rated to release, the amount of CFM released is dependent on the CFM, and the ability to hold PSI for a period of time is dependent on capacity. Directly affects nailers, as they utilize PSI in short bursts to propel the nailers hammer forward and the nail into the finish piece.

CFM (AKA cubic feet per minute) is a measurement of the volume of air moved in a minute. This seems to be a bigger issue for tools that will require constant pressure (AKA sprayers and grinders), rather than nailers that will utilize shot bursts of air. SCFM seems to be a standardize form of measuring this rating, however, some people online have stated that this is an easily skewed rating.

Capacity, seems to only be dependent on how much work you are trying to accomplish. So if you are going to be spray finishing a lot of cabinetry then you would need a lot of capacity, but if you are just a hobby guy doing some molding work around the house and small projects, then you don’t really need that much.

It would seem that form the advise given above that the nailer I was originally interested in would suit my needs just fine, and that if I wanted to get into spray finishing later on that I could buy a compressor specifically designed for this, or just take it slow when actually finishing.

Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve done a lot of reading online, but I for some reason I always feel like it leaves me feeling like I don’t quite have all the information.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2403 days

#10 posted 11-08-2010 01:13 AM

The best way to answer your question of how much air compressor you need. Depends on what the CMF usage your tools have. Most tools will give you a CMF rating at 90 PSI, for most nail guns, paint sprayers, drills require not many CMF’s so most compressors are capable of handling these tools. Air sanders and other like tools tend to be air hogs that require a lot of CMF’s to operate. My compressor handles up to 12 or 14 CMF’s at 90 PSI which allows me to use with just about all tools on the market.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View traupmann's profile


124 posts in 2207 days

#11 posted 11-08-2010 01:32 AM

Hey you got a lot of good answers here. I bought a 5.5 hp 25 gal Craftsman compressor 15 years ago, I put it in a sound deadening cabinet in the corner ( the refrig is above it). Occasionally I make sure there is no water in the tank, and it is ‘on’ 24/7. I have one blower that leaks so it will recharge the tank once during the night (to my wife’s dismay), if I forget to unhook it. I have all the nailers, etc mentioned above and use them frequently.
The compressor has never needed a moment’s problem. I only open the door to adjust the regulator pressure or drain water. I highly recommend at least a 25 gal if you want a stationary system. If you are going to haul it around to job sites, this is too big – I tried it, and bought an inexpensive unit from Rigid to take out.

-- chas -- looking for Serta sponsorship to go Pro...

View GaryL's profile


1094 posts in 2250 days

#12 posted 11-08-2010 01:36 AM

One thing to consider if you are thinking of spraying, unfortunately, spraying slowly is not always an option. In order to get the correct spray pattern for a certain tip or viscocity, you have to have the CFM capacity to back it up. With slower drying thinners or reducers for lacquers or urethanes you can slow down a bit and still have the finish lay down properly, but I would not rely on this with an underpowered compressor.
Your main concern right now seems to be for trim nailers. Nearly any compressor on the market will easily keep up with one guy yielding one trim gun. Of course, not including tankless compressors. The choice would boil down to price, quality, and noise levels. As Lee said, oil compressors tend to be quieter and last longer. They run at a lower RPM I believe.

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2270 days

#13 posted 11-08-2010 01:54 AM

traupmann brings up an important point: draining the tank to get the water out. It is amazing how much can accumulate there.

If the compressor is a relatively permanent fixture, you’d contribute to its long life by adding a little plumbing at the bottom so it’s easy to get at the petcock to drain it. It’s a one-trip-to-the-hardware-store project and an excellent investment.

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View twiceisnice's profile


95 posts in 2246 days

#14 posted 11-08-2010 07:55 AM


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