Multitasking air compressor?
February 24, 2014 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking into buying an air compressor that will work equally well with an airbrush and a framing nailer. Does such a thing exist?

I’d like this to be used for a number of tasks:

Airbrushing of plastic models.
Various tasks around the shop: air cleaning, brad nailing, tire inflating.
Occasional use with a framing nailer. I won’t be building a house but plan to frame a room in my basement within the next year.

Is there a compressor that will work well with all these tasks? I understand I’ll probably need an adapter and a pressure regulator for the airbrush.

This will live in a basement of a house and may occasionally be used elsewhere in the yard. Nailing would be done during the day but airbrushing might be done at night. Noise is a concern but if it doesn’t need to recharge much during airbrushing I shouldn’t need it to be whisper-quiet.

I have never used an airbrush before but have used a nailer. I get that a nailer requires a lot of power whereas the airbrush doesn’t. I’m ok with needing the tank to recharge occasionally while using a nailer.

Noise is more of an issue than cost. I’d prefer to buy locally (Boston area: Sears, Harbor Freight, HD, Lowes all local) in case I need to deal with a problem. I have seen this Senco model recommended but I fear it might be too small for the nailer.

Should I just go buy whatever Sears has on sale this week? Should I not try to get an all-in-one and just split the cost between different devices?
posted by bondcliff to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
all compressors are loud.

You need to know what the flow-rate is for the airbrush (nb: I know pneumatic sanders, not airbrushes, but assume they have a CFM requirement as well), and at what PSI the flow-rate should be.

You need to know what the PSI range is for the nailer, and how many nails you really want to be driving. If it's 5-10 nails every once and a while vs actually roofing.

You need to know the duty cycle of the compressor, and what CFM it can supply at various cycles, and it's max PSI.

Is there one that can meet the CFM and PSI ? Most definitely, but you need to do your homework first.

All that to say, it sounds like a generic 5 gal pancake compressor (electric, no need for cooling etc) should do what you need. Most have a "tank PSI" gauge, and a spring loaded regulator "hose PSI" to adjust as needed for whatever you plug in.
posted by k5.user at 9:26 AM on February 24, 2014

Any of the small Craftsman-branded compressors should work fine. My $99 Sears compressor has its own regulator built-in, so you'd just need to add the adapter and maybe a moisture filter.

Nailers require higher pressures than do air brushes, but they don't use large volumes of air. Sandblasting requires a lot of air, as do pneumatic sanders and grinders and impact wrenches. But any old homeowner-type compressor can handle a nailer and an airbrush, and fill your tires too.
posted by jon1270 at 9:27 AM on February 24, 2014

I have a Porter Cable pancake unit that I use strictly as a woodworking tool. I got it as part of a bundle at Home Depot when it was on mega sale - I got a combo that was compressor, brad nailer and sander for ~$129. I think Porter Cable realized that nobody wanted to buy an air compressor powered sander. I certainly didn't want one and I haven't taken mine out of the box yet, but the price of the the trio was less than the compressor/nailer combo (!!).

It has worked well and I've had no problems with it. It has a pressure regulator that likely will go down to the range needed for airbrushing. Likely.


It is a real noisy mofo. I wear hearing protection when I'm in my shop and if I'm using the compressor, I leave the shop while it reaches stable tank pressure. It's loud. Loud, loud, loud. It is the loudest tool I own. Louder than the table saw under load, louder than the planer, loud, loud, loud. Loud with ear protection in loud. When I was putting in some baseboard and crown molding in my house, I put it out on the deck and was really happy that I had ample hose to reach where I needed. Because loud.
posted by plinth at 9:32 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I wear hearing protection when I'm in my shop and if I'm using the compressor, I leave the shop while it reaches stable tank pressure.

Yeah, that's sort of what I'm trying to avoid. I get that these things are LOUD, but if I can find one on the quieter end of LOUD, I'd prefer to.
posted by bondcliff at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2014

As k5.user said, match the air output (CFMs at a given pressure usually 90PSI) of the compressor to the tool. You may even look at a list of tools, and the CFM of air they require to make sure your compressor will handle any future tool purchases. An impact wrench out in the garage is really nice for working on cars. Don't be swayed by tank size or motor horsepower, because air output is the best indicator of a compressor's performance for the class of compressors you will be looking at.

A belt driven compressor will usually not be as loud as an oil-less compressor, but belt driven compressors are usually less portable. In this modern age, hoses are cheap. Set the compressor outside from where you work, and run a longer hose to the work area. If you are in your workshop or garage, set up the compressor outside around the corner if you plan to be working for a while. I have a stationary compressor in my garage with a 60 gallon tank, and I have 50ft and 100ft hoses that I can connect together to take almost any where in the house. They came in handy to spray texture in the bedrooms. I wish I could put it out in my shed, but I do not have power there.

If you are going to be doing much painting with this compressor, you will also want to look into an air drier / filter. The air that comes out of a consumer compressor will be fairly moist, and might have some oil in it. You need clean air to paint with.

Also be sure to buy some quality quick disconnect fittings. It is extremely annoying to listen to a leaky air hose, because of a junk fitting. Also, drain your tank often. Over time it will fill up with water, and start to corrode the tank. You may never get enough use out of the compressor to make that big of a difference, but it only takes a second after each use.
posted by ohjonboy at 10:26 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Neither a framing nailer nor an air brush require a whole lot of volume, so any air compressor will work. As ohjonboy mentions, for an air brush you're going to want a good regulator and dryer, and yo may want a little auxiliary air storage to smooth out the pulses from the compressor, keep them from making their way on to the paper. The little Paasche compressor, specifically for air brushing from an art store, that I used for a while was awful this way. I'd also done a bunch of air brushing with my Dad's big tank compressor, but when the compressor started up I usually jumped. Started watching the tank pressure carefully...

I currently have a Thomas basic twin tube compressor I got off craigslist, and when I had a copper pipe fail on it, before I simply went down to the hardware store and got a new fitting to fix it I had fantasies of replacing it with a RolAir JC10: 60db. Here's a video review, and if I had to buy one right now it'd be that one.
posted by straw at 10:38 AM on February 24, 2014

To add to my comment before on the topic of sound level, cast iron pumps will be quieter than aluminum, but are usually only found in larger compressors. Also, a dual stage compressor will be quieter, but again this is usually reserved for larger stationary compressors. You might be able to find a vertical 30 gallon compressor that is belt driven with a cast iron pump on wheels.

Quite honestly it will not make much difference. My compressor is by no means anything special, but it is on the higher end of consumer compressors. I have to wear ear plugs if I am near it while it is running or it starts wearing me down.
posted by ohjonboy at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2014

Any compressor that will power your nailer will do the airbrush perfectly. All you need is a regulator that will keep the pressure down to 15 to 30 PSI. You should probably use a moisture trap also.
posted by Drasher at 10:51 AM on February 24, 2014

I have a larger compressor than you'll need but I keep mine in a baffle to keep the noise down. It's basically just a box that surrounds the compressor. Google compressor baffle box and you'll find lots of videos and webpages.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:01 AM on February 24, 2014

If you get an air pig you can fill it during the day and use it to run your air brush at night without any noise, they're just pressure tanks with a gauge and fittings on 'em. You can keep the dryer and filter on the pig since you don't need them for the nailer. You can also hook it right to the compressor to add capacity and keep it from cycling so much. Usually they're on sale for 20$ or so.
posted by glip at 11:14 AM on February 24, 2014

An impact wrench out in the garage is really nice for working on cars.

There's a big step up between compressors that can handle a nailer and those that can handle an impact gun. Here's a quick summary of the airflow requirements for some standard air tools. A compressor that can handle a nailer will run you around $100, but to run an impact gun reliably you're looking at $3-500.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:15 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to run my airbrushes using a standard Campbell-Hausfeld 5-gallon compressor and tank. Loud, but reliable.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2014

Smaller compressors will recharge more often than larger compressors and maybe interrupt your process. And wear out sooner. You can always turn the pressure down to accomodate an airbrush.

"Should I not try to get an all-in-one and just split the cost between different devices?"

Buy one, not two.

This is like a lot of computer questions - It depends on your usage. Larger and more expensive tank if you are doing more nailing, smaller and less expensive tank if you are doing more airbrushing.

I've never heard someone complain that they purchased a too-large compressor - I have heard people complain about removing the compressor from the back of truck and dragging it to where it is useful.
posted by vapidave at 2:54 PM on February 24, 2014

I bought a ~ $100 2-tube compressor at Costco, and use it for all kinds of things, some requiring a lot of volume, like an air grinder, and others not so much. It's not so loud as to make me wear earmuffs, and I do wear them (or plugs) for stuff like lawnmowers and snowblowers. It's fairly portable (has a carry-handle; weighs about 40 pounds), and I could move it around the house without much trouble.

The main thing you have to do is install a good regulator, a moisture trap, and a filter on the line to the airbrush. Moisture or dirt can ruin your painting job. If the air to the brush is clean, dry, and at a good pressure, it doesn't care what kind of a brute compressor is supplying it.

Since it's going in the basement, put a pan under the compressor, and drain the moisture out frequently.

Not that you asked or would consider it, but I've seen some people thinking about running an airbrush off of one of those little compressors made for carrying around in a car trunk. Bad idea - they don't create much air volume, and the pressures they claim to produce are wildly inflated. (Heh.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:24 PM on February 24, 2014

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