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How To Maximize Air Tool Performance Part #1 | Pressure & Flow

How To Maximize Air Tool Performance Part #1 | Pressure & Flow

Posted by Mark Schieber on 14th May 2020

On any given day, we receive calls from customers all over the country asking which is the best “brand” of air tool. This is almost always a loaded question and rather than engage them in the Ford versus Chevy debate, further questioning usually reveals dissatisfaction with the performance of one of their existing tools. While in almost all cases, industrial production grade air tools are going to provide better performance than an automotive / maintenance style tool, there are some sure fire ways to ensure optimal performance regardless of the brand of tool selected. In this brief article, we will focus on the two most important factors in air tool performance: air pressure and flow.

Proper Air Pressure (PSI)

The vast majority of air tools are designed to run on 90 pounds per square inch of pressure, commonly referred to as PSI. The misconception is that a 2-1/2″ drive impact wrench requires more air pressure than a small right angle die grinder. The reality is that both of these tools are designed to run optimally on the industry standard 90 PSI. Exceeding the manufacturer's recommended air pressure can damage components, shorten tool life, and create a potentially dangerous situation by compromising the integrity of the accessory in use. To be certain that you are getting 90 PSI of pressure to the tool; use an air regulator to gauge the dynamic air pressure while the tool is running wide open. If the needle reads 90 PSI when the throttle of the tool is closed but dips below that when the tool is engaged; you need more pressure. Most air tools are designed to run at 90 PSI and will underperform drastically if under pressurized.

Air Flow (CFM)

What varies widely from tool to tool is their required air flow rate, which is measured in Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM). Before selecting an air tool for any application, be sure that your air compressor can generate the necessary CFM required. As a general rule of thumb, you can conclude that for every one horse power that your compressor puts out, you will receive 3 to 4 CFM. To put it in perspective, a small right angle die grinder uses about 25 CFM while a 1″ impact wrench requires 60 CFM. In addition to verifying that your compressor has the guts to power the tool in question, make sure you aren’t starving the tool by restricting air flow through the use of a small diameter air hose. Never use reducers to adapt a tool with a 3/8″ or 1/2″ air inlet to a 1/4″ air line. In fact, if you can avoid it, try not using 1/4″ air lines at all. Free unrestricted air flow is paramount to maximizing air tool performance and it’s better to error on the side of too large a hose rather than choke the tool. Nothing will sabotage your performance faster than an under-powered air tool.

In the next installment of this series we will look at why every air tool deserves to be paired with a good filter regulator lubricator.

Click Here to Read Part #2 | Proper Conditioning of Compressed Air

If you have technical questions or would like to discuss your particular application, feel free to reach out to us at 800-608-5210 or email

Thanks for reading…

Mark Schieber


International Air Tool and Industrial Supply Co.