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What Size Air Compressor Do I Need For My Tool?

If you're using pneumatic tools, there's no avoiding the need for an air compressor. But when it comes to compressors, you'll find they come in a variety of shapes and sizes - so how much compressor do you really need? Use these simple guidelines to determine which air compressor suits your needs best.

In most scenarios, a portable hand-carry compressor will provide more than enough power to keep your pneumatic fastening tool up and running. Take this for instance - a small 1HP portable unit (delivering 2.0 CFM – cubic feet of air per minute) allows a large nail gun to operate at about 15 nail drives per minute. That same compressor will run a medium-size finishing nailer at about 30 nail drives per minute, and will run a small brad nailer at over 70 drives per minute. So as you can see, the specs of the tool will ultimately dictate the air compressor's performance.

Senco PC1131 Workshop

Each tool takes a “breath” of compressed air, which then provides the driving force necessary to sink each fastener. The larger the pneumatic tool, the more air it requires to operate, which is also known as “air consumption per cycle”.

PRO TIP: If you divide the air consumption per cycle into the CFM of any given air compressor, you will determine the possible drives per minute. This simple calculation should tell you if the compressor is able to properly power the tool you are intending to use.

Senco Compressors

All that's left to do is determine how quickly you're planning to run the tool. A professional construction contractor may need the extra juice to operate one - or more - large tools at a high rate of speed. In this instance, a wheelbarrow compressor (either gasoline wheeled or electric wheeled compressor depending on preferred power source) will provide the necessary power required. If similar output is required, but the application is in a fixed location (think assembly line), a large stationary compressor may also work.

For those running one or two smaller air tools, a portable electric compressor should provide more than enough energy - especially if used with an additional expansion (holding) tank of air. If you are running several small to medium-size air tools, you'll want a compressor rated for 4.0+ CFM. If you're looking to run a finish and trim tool (or similar) individually, a 2.0+ CFM compressor should provide ample power.

For easy reference, we've included this handy chart below, provided by Senco.

Senco Compressor Chart

Which compressor will best suit your project?


~The Nail Gun Depot Team

Leave a Reply


  • chris April 27, 2018 at 10:10 AM

    Hi im looking for a small compressor for woodwork brad nails etc can u advise

    • Nail Gun Depot April 30, 2018 at 8:33 AM

      The Senco PC1010 is very popular for light work, such as finish woodwork. Generally speaking, a 1HP to 1.5HP compressor should be sufficient for what you're looking to do.

  • Ethan Hansen February 14, 2019 at 10:37 AM

    I found it interesting how you mentioned how the larger the pneumatic tool you use, the more air it requires to operate. My wife and I are in the process of building our new home and I have been looking into buying a compressor to use with bigger tools so I can get the job done faster. I will keep this in mind as I continue the search for a good air cannon!

  • edward mattus March 1, 2019 at 6:06 AM

    I don't know much about air compressors but I'm looking for something portable that can keep up with 2 Roofing guns or 2 framing guns at the same time we are not the fastest nailers in the world but using 2 at a moderate pace

  • Shayne Mcknight March 7, 2019 at 10:23 AM

    hi whats the best compressor for stapling sheets of hardboard. i probably staple 4 per second

  • Jocelyn McDonald June 3, 2019 at 7:24 AM

    My husband and I want to fix our damaged roof on our own, and your article had great tips for choosing an air compressor for the nail gun we'll use to make these repairs. I liked how you said if we're only running one or two smaller air tools, we can consider a smaller, portable air compressor. Thanks; we'll keep this in mind when choosing an air compressor for our nail gun.

  • Ricky April 3, 2020 at 8:42 PM


    What compressor would you recommend for stock fencing?



    • Nail Gun Depot April 6, 2020 at 6:03 AM


      It's not necessarily the project that dictates the compressor, as much as it is the tool being used. If you're running one tool, a RolAir JC20 should provide ample power, delivering 4+ CFM @ 90 PSI.

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