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 Project Garage Part VI: Air Tools

By Sarah Forst

Air tools are not just about busting nuts. Pneumatic tools (pneumatic means containing air) are more efficient than electric tools- they can exert more force using less energy and complete jobs more quickly.  And while you need the space for your air compressor, pneumatic tools themselves tend to be less bulky.  Air tools make working on cars a breeze and just like choosing a car, when choosing air tools you should think convenient (small) sizing, lightweight, and full of torque.  If your impact wrench weighs more than the barbells you use for reps at the gym, it will make working on your car feel more like a weightlifting session. Higher rpm and more torque usually equates to a more powerful tool.  If noise is a factor, also check out the decibel rating.  And not all air tools are reversible which can be important depending on your needs.  Buy air tools that don't require more air than your compressor is capable of supplying. And obviously, take care of your tools. Pneumatic tools last a long time and are fairly maintenance free if you keep them clean and well oiled. 

Air chuck and accessories Air tool oil
Air chuck and blow gun accessories will help you direct air where you need it, whether it's inflating a tire or blowing debris away from your work space.  You wouldn't run your engine without any oil, right?  Don't take any chances with those expensive air tools either!  Most air tool oils also have solvents that break down deposits and rust inhibitors.

Invest in some quick connect couplers. They make changing tools quick and easy. Pick up some handy air tool attachments such as an inflation kit which will inflate anything from blow up dolls (hi Kojima!) to tires. They usually include a blow gun and air chuck. The blow gun blasts air- perfect for a quick cleanup, while the air chuck works well when you discover your tire only has 12 psi of air. Spray gun attachments are good for painting or applying sound deadening liquid material and can also be used to pressure wash your car or engine bay. 

 

Impact wrench
This Ingersoll Rand 2131a has made swapping in winter tires or rotating tires a five minute job.
One of the best air tool investments is an impact wrench. You'd also be surprised what ungodly torque some monkey at a tire store used when mounting your winter tires… Impact wrenches are offered in both inline (straightlined with the output at the end) and pistol grip (obvious...); some allow the output to rotate 90 degrees.  A few things to consider with impact wrenches include drive size and torque requirements, though there isn't really any standardization around how to measure torque so you might find some manufacturers inflating their ratings. There are many different torque specs often cited around air tools. Maximum torque or "nut-busting torque" numbers are what will help you with stubborn bolts or high torque jobs, but working torque is what will deliver a consistent drive.  
 
Impact wrenches are typically offered in 3/8", 1/2", and 3/4" drives but there are drives as large as 4" or more for larger construction jobs. It will sometimes take more torque to loosen a bolt that was fastened awhile back than to tighten it, especially when it is rounded off, rusted, or has been exposed to heat or corrosive liquids. Make sure the torque requirements fit within the tool's recommended range for longer, more reliable performance. If you'll be using the wrench for long periods of time or operating near the high end of its ability, don't open your wallet like you would on a cheap date. You'll end up the same- unsatisfied and with something only worth a night. Pick a torque range that uses up to the cfm your compressor can provide without blowing a circuit- the houses' or yours! 
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Comments
Tony
Tonylink
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 3:33 AM
Love my 3/8" snap on air ratchet (one of the strongest air ratchets in terms of torque on the market) and my blue point 1/4" drive air ratchet as well. Air tools kick ass!

jere
jerelink
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 6:51 AM
This should be tool tip #7, I am going to try this today.
'Spray gun attachments are good for painting or applying sound deadening liquid material and can also be used to pressure wash your car or engine bay. "

Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 8:07 AM
Hate the noise volume but love the bang for your buck with pneumatics, QUALITY pneumatics! Don't forget how much easier it is to repair the pnuematic tools. I say that as comparison to the electric impact tools now starting to make a big push into the market.
isocuda
isocudalink
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 3:31 PM
If you don't like the noise, Go with Aircat/Nitrocat tools.

IR & Snappy tend to blow the muffler out after some use, damn reliable but noisy as hell, specially when working out of your home, I use my aircat stuff for 85% of my work and only bust out the IR for the real heavy duty stuff.
econobox
econoboxlink
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 7:42 PM
This is giving me ideas for my future garage/shop.
It will have a 2 post lift and an air hose reel in a convenient location for the pneumatic tools.

"It will sometimes take more torque to loosen a bolt that was fastened awhile back than to tighten it, especially when it is rounded off, rusted, or has been exposed to heat or corrosive liquids."
^ Yes this is very true, especially cars that endure the Northeastern winters.
Broken bolts and bolts that are rusted/welded to the chassis that after several hours of cussing, spraying WD40 does the bolt finally come out.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Thursday, August 04, 2011 4:42 AM
Cordless electric impact wrenches do have their use, though--they're great for use at autocross or track events.
mx5
mx5link
Thursday, August 04, 2011 7:41 AM
If you want good air tools -> Harbor Freight is your friend.
Check the Earthquake series. The 1/2" impact is less than $100 and outperforms the IR stuff. I stopped using IR once I discovered the Earthquake - it easily losens stuff the IR have trouble with.
HF also have some high quality impact sockets, swivels, extensions, etc. - cheap too.
3 Beam S13
3 Beam S13link
Thursday, March 01, 2012 2:17 AM
When starting with air tools, what are some more of the main tools you should get?
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