Air compressors come in a multitude of sizes and builds, ranging from a tiny compressor for rare usage, a 60 gallon air compressor for when you’re thinking of some bigger projects, to massive 80, or even 120 gallon air compressors for when you’re doing seriously heavy duty stuff. But, it wasn’t always this way.
Back in the day, mechanics shops would draw their power from a single, central point in the building – a massive construct of gears and power that would provide the necessary kinetic movement to operate machinery. That central point has been condensed into the modern air compressor, an essential machine for any handyman, and a must-have for anyone who enjoys DIY work.
An air compressor, as the name implies, takes atmospheric “free” air, and compresses it by means of a piston, making it more volatile. This volatile, compressed air then quickly expands when given the chance, that expansion being what powers various machines found commonly in any workshop, ranging from painting guns to tire pumps.
The way this happens, is that a piston within the air compressor continuously moves by way of either a crankshaft or some other mechanism. When the piston pulls down, the inlet valve of the air compressor is forced open by way of a created vacuum in the piston chamber – air is sucked into the chamber, and as the piston pushes back up, the inlet valve is forced shut, and the discharge valve is forced open, along with compressed air. The air get stored in a tank where, as more and more air gets packed into it, the compressor’s pressure per square inch (psi) increases. Machines that run on air power require a set amount of psi to function properly, and most compressors are built with regulators in them to ensure that the electric/gas motor turns on and off depending on whether there is or isn’t enough pressure in the tank. This is how electricity is turned into kinetic energy.
- Back in the day, this process required either each machine to have its own hulking motor, or a giant system. Today, however, air compressors can be so tiny that you can keep them stored in the trunk of your car without you really ever noticing that it’s there until you need it. A 60 gallon air compressor is a great companion to have in your garage if you’re the type who regularly works on his house, or if you’re planning a large carpentry project – but most people aren’t going to be taking full advantage of it.
- On the other hand, if you’re running a shop, then a 60 gallon air compressor may not actually be enough for you. You see, the gallons marks the volume of the air tank, in which the air gets compressed. The larger it is, the more you can use it between having to wait for the motor to recompress air.
Getting more distinctive with the different mechanisms present in air compressors, you’ll notice that some keep their pistons lubricated through an oil-bath, whereas others use oil rings, or permanently lubricated bearings. This is important, since some jobs can’t be done with a 60 gallon air compressor lubricated with an oil bath, since there’s always the possibility of some oil escaping through the discharge valve, which can ruin woodworking. A solution would be to install an oil filter, or just get another, smaller compressor for those jobs.