An air compressor is a helpful piece of machinery that is used by millions of people every day. Considered a vital and versatile machine, air compressors are used in various work situations.

How does an air compressor work? It’s important to know this answer for a few reasons. As powerful a tool as an air compressor is, you need to know how to operate it. Compressors are used for a variety of tasks.

The supply of compressed air can complete simple to difficult tasks like filling an inflatable pool or building an amazing treehouse. Compressed air is or was used in almost every building you pass by every day. Whether it was to sand the wood or paint the walls, compressed air was needed. Even shop floors across the globe use compressed air daily.

Today, compressors are compact and lightweight. They create an easier process for a power source and are long-lasting. But how does an air compressor work?

Air compressors are used for more than just inflating a tire. Drills, sanders, powering air tools, the list is endless. If you’re confused by the various uses of air compressors, this guide is for you.

How Does An Air Compressor Work?

Air compressors function by forcing air into a container and pressurizing that air. As it’s forced through the opening in the tank, pressure continues to build.

The compressed air that is released comes out in the form of energy. The engine inside of an air compressor turns the potential energy that is stored in the tank into kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is usable motion energy that can be transferred through air tools that take advantage of the compressor’s process.

After placing the air compressor on a flat and stable service, make sure the pressure power switch is turned off. Once you’ve plugged in the power cord you can turn on the machine and the pressure gauge should rise. This will indicate that your air compressor is on.

A decrease in pressure will mean the air compressor isn’t working.

There are different kinds of air compressors, but they’re all similar. The main difference comes with the handling of air displacement. They can be categorized by being positive dependent or dynamic displacement.

But let’s start at square one.

Piece by Piece

If you’re wondering how air compressors work you might want to know what it’s made up of. An air compressor has three main components: pump, drive, and tank.

The drive is essential to generate power for an air compressor. This enables other parts of the compressor to function normally. Some compressors are electric and others are gas. This has an effect on the portability of the device as a whole.

As the central part of the compressor, the pump acts as the heart of the machine. Its role is to draw air and compress it using the engine’s power. Some confusion exists between the compressor and pump.

To clarify, a pump takes a liquid or gas and moves it from place to place. The compressor is responsible for squeezing down that gas to a smaller volume and therefore a greater pressure. Then it sends it somewhere else.

A pump can be either reciprocating (moving back and forth) or a rotary-based (spinning). The only difference between these two types of pumps is how the air/fluid is transferred.

Finally, the tank stores all that compressed air and seals it until it’s ready to be used. When it comes to the specifics of an air compressor, what drives the machine forward?

Belt-Driven vs Direct-Drive

Drives inside the compressor are usually belt or direct-drive systems.

Belt-based systems activate the pump in the compressor when the belt turns. This type of system is used the most across all compressor types.

Opposite of that is direct-drive systems. This motor is attached to the crankshaft of the compressor directly. This allows smaller compressors to use this type of system and leads to fewer maintenance issues.

Direct-drive systems aren’t as adjustable. They put out more power than belt-driven systems do because less power is lost during the machine’s transfer of energy.

Accessories of an Air Compressor

Each accessory of an air compressor has a certain use.

If you’re looking for a specific accessory, make sure it’s able to be used by your air compressor safely. There are a few essential air compressor accessories that each machine should have.

This includes a hose, reel, filter, various tool attachments, roll cage, fittings/adapters, air regulator, airline lubricator, and an aftercooler. These accessories can increase the efficiency of work significantly. You should choose accessories based on your needs to cut down the time needed on a project.

If you’re planning on collecting a sizable amount of tool attachments, a blowgun, drill, sander, and nail gun would be a good first purchase. The rest of your potential attachments are needed on a case by case basis but is a good place to start.

Do Nots of Air Compressor Usage

There are a few things you should never do when using an air compressor:

  • Protective glasses and shoes should always be worn during use
  • Damaged air hoses should not be used
  • Know your PSI levels for each piece of machinery
  • Maintain an air compressor (cleaning, leaks, kinks, holes)

Without following these guidelines an air compressor can malfunction. This will lead to a setback for whatever project you’re using the air compressor for. It could even lead to a potential for injury if not used correctly.

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