Air compressors are an essential machine for any serious DIY-er or handyman. Whether you use them to fill the air in your car tire or fix up old furniture, air compressors are very versatile machines that can be used for practically anything.
While industrial air compressors are huge and have very high power and cfm, personal-use air compressors are much smaller and some are even portable.
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When buying an air compressor, you have to consider numerous factors. The size, mobility, and purpose play a major role, but even beyond that, the cfm value is the main determinant of the amount of power your air compressor will provide. For now, we’re going to be focusing on the maximum amount of cfm you can get for a 110V air compressor.
What is a CFM?
CFM, which stands for cubic feet per minute, is the standard measure of the flow rate of air being pushed out by an air compressor. It is a measure of the mass of air being pushed out, not just the volume. This value impacts what the air compressor can be used for and hence plays a pivotal role when you’re deciding which model to buy.
If you’re using your air compressor to power other tools, you’ll notice that some tools require a continuous supply of high cfm air. Some such tools include power saws and pressure washers.
Other tools, such as a drill or a nail gun require short, sharp bursts of power and can easily function with a lower cfm.
How Do You Gauge the CFM of an Air Compressor?
Although every brand labels the air compressor with the amount of cfm it offers, this may not be 100% accurate. A simple formula can be used to calculate the cfm value:
Cfm= tank volume (cubic feet) * pressure during cycle (atm) * crank time/minute
How Much CFM Do You Need?
If you intend to use your air compressor with a number of tools, check the cfm (or scfm) of the tool with the highest power. The cfm of your air compressor should be at least 1.5 times that of the most powerful tool. For instance, if you intend to use an impact gun with a cfm of 6.8, your air compressor should have a minimum cfm of around 10. If you plan to use multiple tools hooked up to the air compressor simultaneously, you’ll need to combine their cfm values and multiply it by 1.5 to know the cfm of the required air compressor.
How Much CFM Will You Get Out of a 110V Air Compressor?
The maximum amount of cfm obtained from a 110 Volt air compressor is usually between 5-6 cfm at 90 psi. However, any air compressor with less than 10 cfm is very restricted in use and can only be used for small, basic jobs, such as pumping car tires, powering a spray gun to paint a wall, or using a standard nail gun. For tools such as power saws, a cfm of 5-6 is not sufficient. Similarly, you can’t use multiple tools simultaneously with such a low cfm value.
One way to increase the cfm is to attach the air compressor to a larger air tank, which will allow you to use a number of tools simultaneously with a consistent cfm supply.
Some CFM Requirements of Basic Household Tools
All values below are at a psi of 90:
- Framing nail gun- 2.2 cfm
- Grinder 4-7 cfm
- Grease gun- 4 cfm
- Orbit sander- 6-9 cfm
- Power saw- 5 cfm
- Pneumatic hammer- 3-11 cfm (varies based on the size of the hammer)
- Impact gun- 4-5 cfm
Some of the smaller 110-volt air compressors offer a cfm of around 2.6. These are usually the portable models, which you can store in the trunk of your car and use to fill up a tire if you get stranded with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.
How Much CFM Is Ideal?
There is no such thing as one specific cfm value that is ideal for all purposes. Most personal air compressors have a cfm of around 5-6 and some high-powered ones go up to around 10. The thing to look out for here, especially if your only option is a 110V air compressor, you need to consider more than just the cfm. You also have to look at:
- The type of usage: do you only use an air compressor for minor tasks such as powering a nailer, or are you also likely to use it for tasks, such as powering a saw to construct a shed in your backyard?
- Your usage will also determine whether you end up buying a portable or cable-operated air compressor. The portable ones are very compact and can be stowed in the back of your car, but they also offer a very low cfm value (around 2.6), whereas the cable-operated ones offer at least 5-6 cfm.
- How many tools do you need to power at once? If you’re working on a project that requires a nailer, a drill and a saw, all of which are air-powered tools, you don’t have the time to wait after you use each tool, allow the air compressor to cool down and then plug in the next tool. In this case, you need an air compressor with a significantly high cfm.
There are some high-powered 110V air compressors that can provide up to 9.2-10.8 cfm and also feature a portable design! They are a bit more costly with prices entering triple and quadruple digits. One such model is the SIP Airmate Protech. Although it is quite expensive, the compact, sleek design and the ability to hook it up to multiple small tools at the same time make it ideal for someone who is frequently involved in DIY projects.
The Ideal Air Compressor for the Average Homeowner
While most basic pneumatic tools require a cfm of around 3 or at most 7, some tools such as hammers require up to 11. A 110V air compressor will give you a cfm of at most 10, but if you want to power more heavy-duty tools, you’ll need an air compressor of more than 110V.
Many professionals recommend a 220V air compressor for tasks that require operating power tools, such as hammers and saws, which require a continuous flow of air with a high cfm value. If you’re just operating a paint spray gun or the occasional nailer, a 110V air compressor is the right fit for you.