How To Outfit Your Garage With an Air Compressor

Add versatility to your garage with a multi-functional air compressor.

Time Needed: 2-plus hours, depending on compressor, Difficulty: Intermediate, Cost: $200-plus

Hand tools are great, but there’s a time when you need more muscle in your home garage. Air compressors and air tools can provide big benefits in these situations, as they offer power, convenience, and flexibility. You’ll first need to find an air compressor and install it at home to reap the benefits.

The good news is that installing an air compressor isn’t the most complicated or expensive garage project, and in most cases you won’t need to modify the structure to accommodate one. You do need to keep safety and usability in mind, however, so Car Bibles’ editors have compiled a guide to help get you started on the right foot.

Let’s get rolling.

A mechanic holds a coiled yellow hose from an air compressor.
Coiled hoses can save space in a tight garage.

The Safety Brief 

  1. If you don’t understand wiring or if you’re unsure about a part of the installation, look for a professional to help. An incorrectly grounded air compressor can shock you or damage itself beyond repair.
  2. Wear eye protection and gloves at all times when the air is running. High-pressure air can pick up dust, debris, sand, and all sorts of nasty stuff and fling it at your face. The safety squint doesn’t work here, so don’t even think about trying it.
  3. Take care to work in a well-ventilated area if you’re using the air compressor to paint or spray a coating. You may even want to take the extra step and wear a mask or respirator to help prevent unintended inhalation of chemicals.
  4. Don’t point the business end of an air hose at yourself, another person, or any other living thing that you don’t want to maim or injure. High-pressure air can act like a knife in some cases and can cause bruising or severe damage in others.

The Tools and Parts You Need 

Depending on the compressor you choose and the space you’re planning to install it, you could need a variety of tools. Head to your local auto parts store or hit Amazon to find:

You may also need wiring kits, a tank stand, and mounting hardware, all of which will be specific to the type and model of air compressor you choose.

The Job: How To Install an Air Compressor

Your actual installation may look a bit different than this, depending on the type you’ve chosen and where it’s installed. Portable air compressors obviously aren’t mounted, but you should still focus on finding a level, safe location to park it, and make sure that it is not able to roll away. Below, we go over the general steps to getting your air compressor hooked up.

  1. Choose your compressor wisely
    • Finding the compressor that not only fits your space but also fits your needs is key. What kinds of tools will you be using? What are their requirements for pounds per square inch (psi) and cubic feet per minute (cfm)? If you only need to fill tires and shoot nails, you won’t need a large compressor, but if you plan to do continuous work with powerful pneumatic tools like an impact driver, sanders, grinders, or polishers, you should look into something with a fairly large tank that provides enough power. 
    • Do you think you’ll want to expand your air-tool usage in the future? Plan ahead and get the compressor that will fit your needs going forward. Remember, overdoing it will give you more leeway than getting something smaller. Campbell Hausfeld Air Compressors states, “Consider the tool that you anticipate using with the highest scfm rating and purchase a compressor with an output of 1.5 times that rating.”
  2. Mount/stand and secure the compressor
    • This is an important step in the process. If you’re selecting a stationary compressor, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve chosen a location that allows you to not only reach a power outlet or wiring location but one that also allows you to power the tools you need without miles of extra hose.
    • Consider your garage’s layout and any foreseeable changes. You want to make sure your air compressor is accessible and out of the way. Air compressors, whether horizontal or vertical, stick out quite a bit, so a corner is a popular location for one. For added convenience, pick a location where you can mount a hose rack and possibly add a storage cabinet for all of your new pneumatic tools, as they’re often quite bulky. If you plan to buy an abrasive-media blasting cabinet, consider that space as well.
    • Check your compressor’s manual for any special mounting or installation requirements. At the very least, you’ll want to supplement your install by mounting or standing the compressor with isolator padding or some kind of base to avoid having it vibrate and skitter across your garage floor.
  3. Set up hoses and fittings
    • Your installation will be unique to your garage, your needs, and your budget. Keep in mind that relying on super-long hoses can cause air loss and may result in a reduced ability to power the tools you need. Coiled or flexible hoses are great, and help reduce clutter when not in use.
    • Make sure that the hose you select has a decent psi capacity. A good rule of thumb is to choose hoses with 150-psi capacity.
    • If you have a small space to work with, you may consider ceiling installation of some of the hoses and junctions, which can help you route air to where you need it without clutter.
  4. Set up add-on equipment
    • Beyond hoses and the compressor itself, you’ll need a few extras to ensure that everything works properly over the long haul. The first add-on is a filter to prevent moisture and other contaminants in the lines. If you’re planning on using the compressor for painting or sandblasting, moisture and other substances such as lubricants can cause big issues.
    • You may also want to consider adding a dryer or separator, which will further protect you from moisture and gunk in the lines.
A person uses an air compressor and paint sprayer to paint a body part red.
Different tools have different compressor requirements.

The Car Bibles Air Compressor Questionnaire 

You have the questions, Car Bibles has the answers.

Q: What do psi and cfm mean?

A: Pounds per square inch, or psi, is a measure of the pressure at which air flows from the compressor. This is important because some tools require higher pressures than others. Cubic feet per minute, or cfm, is the most important number associated with a compressor. It’s the measurement of air that the compressor can supply and put out. 

Q: What are the cfm requirements for some common tools?

A: Your air compressor can do some pretty impressive things, but you’ll need to make sure it’s up for the job. Some of the most common applications require the following:

  • Impact wrench: 2.5 to 10 cfm, depending on the size
  • Pneumatic shears: 8 to 16 cfm
  • Paint sprayer: 5 to 20 cfm, depending on the quality and size of sprayer
  • Bead breaker: 12 to 20 cfm
  • Nail gun or stapler: 2 to 4 cfm
  • Orbital sander: 12 cfm
  • Pneumatic clamps: up to 200 cfm, depending on the application

Q: What size air compressor is best for my garage?

A: This will largely depend on your garage and what you’ll be using the compressor for. Common sizes for home compressors range from 2.5 to 20 gallons. Consider which projects you will be tackling in the next five to 10 years and plan for the highest power output you’ll need.

Q: Do air compressor tanks expire?

A: Yes, over time, the barrel can degrade and lose some of its integrity. You should be able to find a label on the side of the unit that indicates its date of manufacture and expiration date.

Q: Is an air compressor required for home wrenching and basic mechanical work?

A: Absolutely not, but it will make your life a bit easier. You don’t need an air compressor to work under the hood of your car, change wheels, or perform other maintenance or upgrades, but for paintwork and other major projects, having air tools on hand is a major benefit.

Q: Can I operate tools that are beyond my compressor’s psi rating?

A: We’re not going to say it’s impossible, but it’s not a good idea. You could end up damaging your equipment or causing an injury. Tools that are designed to run on a certain psi are engineered to work safely at that level, and any deviation from it can cause issues with operation.

Q: Does my garage need to be heated to install an air compressor?

A: While it’s easy to find handfuls of people on the internet who say that they run their compressors during bleak midwinter nights in northern Saskatchewan, most compressors have an ideal temperature range for peak performance. Somewhere between 40 and 95 degrees is best, but check your compressor manufacturer’s manual to be sure you’re not going to damage it in hot or cold weather. 

Video Tutorial on Outfitting a Garage With an Air Compressor

Best Places To Buy Tools and Parts to Outfit a Garage With an Air Compressor

Even after you’ve picked out an air compressor and installed it, you might find that you missed a few key supplies and tools. Car Bibles’ editors are here to help with a few of our favorite products to help keep you in business. They include Mechanix Gloves, DeWalt Safety Glasses, and the Craftsman 20-piece air accessory kit.

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