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PSI - pounds per square inch
CFM - cubic feet per minute
An air compressor is a type of power tool that is used to pressurize air for the operation of other air tools. Painting, drilling or sanding are common air tool applications that require a compressor.

The primary components of a compressor are the piston and cylinder. The suction stroke draws air in through the inlet valve from the air tank. In the discharge stroke, trapped air is compressed as the piston moves down, and then released through a discharge valve into a tank. A motor drives the piston arm.

As air is forced into the air tank, it becomes pressurized. The pressurized air functions like a battery. Its stored energy is used to run power tools such as sanders, paint sprayers or drills.

The volume of compressed air in the tank is measured in cubic feet (even though the air tank is measured in gallons). The rate at which the compressor moves air is called its capacity or flow, measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM).

The pressure created as the compressor squeezes air into the tank is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). When you attach an air tool to the compressor, the tool’s flow is measured at the recommended operating pressure. 

In a single-stage air compressor, the air is compressed in one stroke. In a two-stage air compressor, the air is compressed to an intermediate pressure in the first stage, cooled through an intercooler, and compressed again to a higher pressure in a second stage. Two-stage compressors are larger machines suitable for simultaneous use by multiple users because of their higher CFM output and working pressure.

What Power Tools Do You Need the Compressor for?

The air output (CFM) of the compressor determines what air tools can be used with a compressor. If a compressor produces 5.7 CFM at 90 PSI, it can operate any tool or tools with a combined air requirement up to 5.7 CFM efficiently.

Safety come first