What Size Air Compressor Do I Need?

To understand the size of air compressor you need, first you need to understand a couple of air compressor basics.

Air tools are typically rated between 30 to 140 CFM (cubic feet per minute), which corresponds to the airflow range of the majority of common air tools on the market. CFM is important because it tells you “how much” or “what size” air compressor you need for it.

But! Don’t fall into the trap that certain manufacturers have made for you about the tank size. The capacity of the compressor cannot be determined just by the size of the tank. Liters do not reveal the full tale; rather, liters per minute explain it. Identify all of the pneumatic machinery and tools that you use in order to estimate the size of the compressor you need. Make a list of all of their CFM needs. The total is what the compressor should be able to provide. While it is not typical to use all of the tools and machinery at the same time, it is preferable to be prepared for the most unlikely of circumstances rather than to be sorry afterwards.

If you need to know the basics about air compressors, read our article about what air compressors are used for.


How much cubic feet per minute (CFM) do you need to operate air tools?

Due to the importance of air volume, every pneumatic tool is labeled with a Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) rating. This rating provides an indication of the kind of compressor that should be used in conjunction with the tool. In order to establish the CFM, however, there are various additional parameters to consider, including the following:

  • Intermittent vs. continuous application
  • Air receiver tank
  • Use of multiple tools

The first step is to calculate the total amount of CFM that will be used by all of the tools that will be running simultaneously on the compressor. If there is just one tool, utilize the CFM rating of that tool. The minimum amount of air that the compressor must deliver is equal to the total CFM multiplied by 1.5.

Consider the following scenario: A drill needs 30CFM at 90PSI, which means that the CFM of the compressor for air tools should be 30*1.5= 45CFM. The ratio of 1.5 ensures that the air compressor is not overworked, allowing it to survive for a longer period of time. Please keep in mind that this figure is based on the assumption that the air compressor operates at a 25 percent duty cycle. For a pneumatic tool that runs constantly, the CFM should be multiplied by 4, resulting in a total of 120CFM of air flow.

What kind of PSI (air pressure) do you need to operate air tools efficiently?

Do you have any doubts about whether a compressor will be sufficient for a large project? The PSI (pounds per square inch) rating of an air compressor is an additional consideration when selecting the optimum air compressor for your air-powered item. A greater PSI allows you to do larger projects in a shorter amount of time.

It is preferable to utilize a compressor that completes the task in a single pass rather than one that must be refilled halfway through. The reason for this is because you will seldom come across a contractor that has a tiny tank and a low PSI air compressor. Such a unit would underperform and, as a result, would lose a significant amount of time and money.

See our article What PSI Air Compressor Do I Need? for more detail on this subject.

What size air compressor do I need

41 Real World Examples of Tools and Uses, and the Air Compressor Size you will require for each

1. Which Air Compressor Should I Get for My Home Shop?

The capacity and pressure of a standard garage air compressor should be sufficient to power all of the common tools that will be required in a home shop. An inflator, which requires just 1 or 2 CFM to produce the 32 PSI required for most passenger tires, will often be included in this package.

You could also have an impact wrench, which will need at least 3 CFM to operate well. However, you may plan ahead based on the specifications of the heaviest air tool you already have (or hope to acquire) in your collection.

The finest air compressors for home usage should be powerful enough to operate all of your equipment while yet being small and portable, making them simple to carry and store.

The PSI rating for residential usage should be at least 150 in order to operate a broad range of tools. 6 gallons should be plenty for most applications in the house and garage, and it should be able to provide you with 1.2 CFM or more.

For more detail, please see our article on this subject: What is The Best Air Compressor for a Home Shop?

2. How Big an Air Compressor Do I Need for an Air Gun?

which size air compressor for an air gun

Given the limited pressure chambers built for high pressure, you’ll need an air compressor that can produce 3,000 PSI or more to operate an air cannon properly.

Because the chambers of most airguns and PCP guns are not particularly large, air volume and CFM are not a concern. However, you will require a high pressure air compressor to load your airguns – a standard 150 PSI portable air compressor will not suffice without a special valve that allows you to gradually increase pressure in the chamber.

Manufacturers also sell specialized air compressors that can produce pressures of up to 4,500 PSI, which are ideal for filling several air guns at the same time.

3. What Size Air Compressor for an Impact Gun?

Depending on the size of the impact cannon, the amount of CFM required to operate it varies significantly. If the pressure is 90 PSI, 3/8-inch impact guns need 3 CFM of air, whereas half-inch impact guns require at least 4 CFM for the same pressure.

However, in order to get the greatest results with the biggest 3/4 impact guns, at least 7 CFM will be required.

4. Which Air Compressor Size Is Appropriate for a Woodworking Shop?

which size air compressor for a woodworking shop

In a woodshop, air compressors will be required to power a diverse variety of instruments, ranging from orbital sanders to nail guns. They are also quite handy for cleaning up after a party. Some instruments, such as an orbital sander, need a large amount of CFM to operate well, requiring up to 10 CFM on its own.
On the other hand, an air driven disc sander needs at least 20 CFM, and it is just one of many tools that require air flow. The total CFM needs for all of the air tools in your woodshop must be added together if you want to use more than one air tool at the same time.

Mid-sized air compressors for the workshop perform well, with 25 gallon compressors providing the capacity to operate equipment that need a lot of air.

Fixed air compressors with 60-gallon or larger tanks are even more efficient at operating many equipment at the same time, such as sanders and sprayer guns, than portable air compressors.

5. What Size Air Compressor do I need for a Nail Gun?

Most nail guns need an air compressor that can produce roughly 120 PSI of pressure in order for them to function properly, and potentially even more so for the heavier frame nail guns.

Aside from sufficient air pressure, you will also want sufficient flow to keep up with the speed of your nail gun. A small air compressor unit with a 1 HP motor may produce around 2 CFM, which will normally allow you to drive nails with a framing nailer at a pace of approximately 15 per minute using a framing nail gun. In contrast, the same compressor can safely drive a smaller brad gun at speeds of up to 70 nails per minute or more.

The greater the size of the nails you need to drive, the greater the amount of CFM your air compressor may need. If you want to operate more than one gun off of the same unit, be sure to plan for at least twice the capacity, if not more, of the unit.

In order to run your nail gun or nailer at a reasonable speed, you may need anything from 1 CFM to 4 CFM of airflow. Brad nail guns, the smallest of the lot, will need just 1 CFM at 90 PSI, making them the most energy efficient.

Framing nail guns, sheathing staplers, and roofing nail guns, on the other hand, need a minimum of 2.5 CFM to operate and a maximum of 4 CFM for the greatest performance.

For more detailed information and our top recommended air compressors, please see our guide titled What’s The Best Air Compressor for a Nail Gun?

6. Is it Necessary to have a Larger Air Compressor to Operate a Brad Nailer?

No, a brad nailer doesn’t need a large amount of air volume to function — at 90 PSI, you can run a brad nailer with just 1 CFM of air volume. You may also use the smallest brad nailers at a pressure of around 60 PSI.

7. What Size Air Compressor Do You Need for a Coil Nail Gun?

Coil nail guns are heavy-duty industrial guns that can drive framing nails, and you’ll need an air compressor with a flow rate of 2 1/2 or 2 1/2 CFM to operate them at 90 PSI.

8. Which Air Compressor Size Is Appropriate for a Finish Nail Gun?

Most finish nail guns will need 2 CFM to operate at their maximum capacity. In order for your air power tool to function properly, you will also need at least 70 PSI.

9. When Using a Floor Nail Gun, What Size Air Compressor Do You Need?

Similar to finish nailers, pneumatic floor nail guns (also known as flooring nail guns) may be powered by 2 CFM and need a minimum of 70 PSI to operate, much like your standard finish nailer. Some high capacity floor nail guns may need 2.4 CFM or more in order to complete some of the bigger projects.

10. What Size Air Compressor do I need for a Framing Nailer?

what size air compressor do I need for a framing nailer?

In order to keep up with the demands of a fast-paced framing work, framing nail guns and framing nailers will need around 4 CFM.

You’ll need at the very least 2.5 CFM at 90 PSI, and you’ll also need at least 60 PSI to operate your framing gun at the same time.

11. How Do I Determine What Size Air Compressor to Use for Hardwood Flooring?

In order to get the greatest results with hardwood flooring installation, you will need a flooring nail gun that is particularly made for hardwood, as well as a 4 CFM air compressor.

When you have a large volume of air paired with a large capacity, you reduce the likelihood of your air pressure decreasing below appropriate limits, which might result in nails being underdriven, which is undesirable.

12. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for an Impact Wrench?

Despite the fact that air impact wrenches are powerful equipment with widely different air compressor needs, 90 to 100 PSI is usually plenty to get you started with the vast majority of variants.
According to the size of your air impact wrench, you will need a certain amount of air to operate it at a satisfactory speed.

Smaller 3/8 inch impact wrenches may be powered by a 3 CFM air compressor, while a 1/2 inch impact wrench will need 4 CFM – both of these sizes can be powered by a 1 HP portable kit. In contrast, 3/4-inch air impact wrenches will need 7 CFM or more from the larger compressors in order to function properly.

13. What Size Air Compressor Should I Use for an Air Ratchet?

Air ratchets may simply be powered by an air compressor, as long as the compressor is capable of producing 90 to 100 PSI of air pressure.

When it comes to air ratchets, air volume is typically not a problem since you can operate both the smaller 1/4 inch ratchets and the bigger 1/2 inch tools with only 3 CFM on average.

14. Which Air Compressor Size Should I Use for an Air Hammer?

Pressurized air hammers and air chisels need pressures ranging from 90 to 100 PSI, depending on the size and brand of the air tool in question.
If you have a baseline PSI of 90 from your air compressor, you will also need around 4 CFM in order to be able to operate your air hammer at a reasonable pace as well as other tools.

15. How Big an Air Compressor Do You Need for an Airbrush?

Airbrushes are precise instruments that don’t need a lot of air volume to operate — even the largest airbrushing tasks will only require a little bit more than 1 CFM, even if you’re airbrushing over a van or a truck with the largest nozzles available.

For the tiniest operations, such as painting miniatures or nails, you will only need a little bit more than 0.3 CFM to operate your tiny nozzles, and even that will be a stretch.

16. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for a Paint Gun?

What size air compressor do I need for a paint gun?

A large amount of air volume capacity is required for spray painting in general, and you should anticipate to need at least 9 CFM from your air compressor in order to operate a low volume paint gun.

A large volume paint gun, on the other hand, will need at least 12 CFM in order to provide a decent spread of paint. For most kinds of paint guns, a high pressure rating from your air compressor is not required — 40 to 45 PSI should be sufficient for most applications.

17. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for a Rattle Gun?

In order to operate the smaller 3/8 inch variants of rattle guns or impact wrenches, a minimum of 3 CFM at 90 PSI is required. If you want to obtain decent results with 1/2 inch rattle guns, you will need 4 CFM or more.

The biggest 3/4 rattling guns will need at least 7 CFM – and much more in the case of many rattle guns being operated from the same air compressor.

18. What Size Air Compressor do you need to Paint a Car?

What size air compressor do I need to paint a car?

There is a broad range in the amount of air volume or pressure required in a body shop, with some equipment requiring as little as 1 CFM and others requiring as much as 20 CFM or more.

The typical air compressors used in body shops have pressures ranging from 115 PSI to 145 PSI and even up to 175 PSI.

Paint sprayer guns and a large amount of CFM are required for auto painting – at least 9 to 12 CFM will be sufficient to operate the majority of paint sprayer guns now available. As long as your air compressor can produce at least 9 CFM of air volume, the paint sprayer guns you’ll need for spray painting automobiles may be operated at pressures ranging from 40 to 40 PSI

High-capacity paint sprayer guns will need 12 CFM per gun, and much more if you want to operate many guns at the same time, according to the manufacturer. Airbrushes may easily be powered by a 1 CFM compressor while doing intricate work.

19. Which Air Compressor Size Should You Use for Automotive Air Tools?

To calculate the overall CFM air needs for your automobile air tools, sum up the total CFM air requirements for each tool. Most workshop garages will require a 70 CFM air compressor to support a reasonably comprehensive collection of automotive air tools.

Using 70 CFM, you can simultaneously operate three different sizes of impact wrenches, an oil pump, a grease gun, a tire inflator, and a washer – all of which will depend on the models you choose of course.

For more detail on this topic, please see our guide on The Best Air Compressors for Automotive Air Tools.

20. What Size Air Compressor do I need for an Auto Repair Shop?

For automobile repairs, you’ll need an air compressor powerful enough to power all of your equipment.
Almost every workshop garage will have a 70 CFM air compressor to power all of their air tools, including the air wrenches, oil pumps, washers, and inflators they use on a regular basis.

21. What Size Air Compressor do I Need for Raptor Liner?

In order to operate raptor seal or fluid film sprayers, which are used to undercoat and rustproof automobiles, you will need an air compressor with a minimum volume of 4 CFM – any less and you will have difficulty operating it for the length of time it will take to complete a car. A fluid film sprayer will also need 100 PSI in order to operate properly.

22. How Big Should an Air Compressor Be to Inflate Car Tires?

Depending on the automobile model, the required air pressure for passenger car tires will often range from 32 or maybe 35 PSI on a really chilly day. Most air compressors are capable of producing that much pressure with relative ease.

Due to the fact that vehicle tires have valves as well, CFM is not a problem – which is why you can use bicycle pumps on them as well.

When it comes to filling automobile tires, a portable 1 or 2 CFM compressor operating at 90 PSI should enough. In order to operate a tire changing machine, however, you will want around 4 CFM of air flow.

23. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need To Change A Tire?

what size air compressor do I need for an auto repair shop?

When it comes to replacing automobile tires, you’ll need an inflator as well as maybe a number of impact wrenches to help the task go more quickly.

A 1 CFM air compressor is sufficient to power an inflator, but 7CFM is required to power the largest 3/4-inch impact wrenches. When it comes to a comprehensive tire changing solution, a unit with an air flow rate of 8 CFM at 90 PSI should be sufficient.

24. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for a Tire Changer?

If you are looking at purchasing a portable tire changer with an inflator, you will need an air compressor that can produce 4 CFM at the standard 90 PSI to match the output of the tire changer.

25. How Do I Determine What Size Air Compressor to Use for Lug Nuts?

The use of an air impact wrench with sufficient torque for the operation – coupled with a 4 CFM air compressor – is required in order to break off lug nuts.

Those specifications are for a 1/2-inch impact wrench, which can handle the majority of automobile lug nuts; if you have lug nuts that need a 3/4-inch impact wrench, you’ll need a bigger air compressor with a flow rate of 7 cubic feet per minute.

26. Which Air Compressor Should I Use for a Motorcycle Lift?

A decent motorcycle lift will need an air compressor with a flow rate of 5 CFM and an air pressure of 100 PSI, as specified by the manufacturer.

At the absolute least, you should be able to get by with 3 CFM at 30 PSI — at this air supply level, you should be able to deactivate the safety lock mechanisms of most motorcycle lifts and lower the motorcycle lift back to its original position.

27. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for a Plasma Cutter?

The requirements for a plasma cutter vary significantly depending on the brand, however you will normally want 6 CFM of volume at the standard 90 PSI. It also depends on the amount of cutting you need to do.

In order to cut through a lot of thick plate, it’s a good idea to invest in a compressor that has a capacity of 1.5 to twice the rated minimum of the tool you’ll be using.

28. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for Sandblasting?

If you are sandblasting in a blast cabinet, you will need to prepare for the biggest nozzles you have available – you should anticipate to require roughly 20 CFM at 100 PSI for the bigger blast cabinet nozzles – and plan accordingly.

Sand blasters for outdoor usage need much more power, with a typical #4 nozzle requiring at least 70 CFM at 90 PSI to function well.

29. What Size Air Compressor for a Sandblasting Enclosure?

If you’re just utilizing one nozzle from your set for your sandblasting cabinet, you’ll need to prepare for the largest nozzle, which means you’ll need an air compressor that can provide 20 CFM at 100 PSI.

For those who are operating numerous nozzles at the same time, you just sum up the needs for all of the nozzles that you will be running at once. Smaller sandblasting nozzles need just 10 CFM, whilst larger ones require 15 CFM to function properly.

30. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for Soda Blasting?

Soda blasting is similar to sand blasting, with the difference being that baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is used in lieu of sand in the process. In order to operate the biggest nozzles at 100 PSI, 20 CFM will be required, and most soda blasting projects will need anything from 25 to 100 PSI.

31. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for Cerakote?

You don’t need to invest in a huge air compressor to set up your own Cerakote station — a 20 gallon compressor with a maximum PSI of 150 will be plenty for holding down the spray nozzle for an extended period of time, for example.

32. Which Air Compressor is the Proper Size for an Air Grinder?

What size air compressor do you need for an air grinder?

In order to operate a pneumatic angle grinder at around 90 PSI, you will want 6 to 6.5 CFM. You will need somewhat less for a die grinder, which you can consistently operate at 5 CFM – and you can also run a die grinder at 70 PSI – but you will still need a little more for a die grinder.

33. When Buying a Hopper Gun, What Size Air Compressor Do You Need?

A hopper gun is a kind of paint spray gun that is used to create texture to walls. Just like any other type of paint spray gun, you will need the appropriate air compressor for the job.

A hopper gun and an air compressor with a flow rate of at least 2.4 CFM at 90 PSI are required for spray texturing using a hopper gun and an air compressor.

More volume, such as 5 CFM or more, will be quite beneficial for large projects.

34. What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for a Staple Gun?

Heavy duty staple guns, such as those used for fastening sheathing around the outside of a house, will need at least 4 CFM at 90 PSI or more to function well. Making ensuring you have adequate air volume is critical for maintaining constant air pressure, which helps to avoid under-driving staples.

35. When it Comes to Blast Cabinets, What Size Air Compressor do you need?

The capacity required for a conventional sandblasting enclosure, also known as a blast cabinet, is determined by the nozzle used; plan on 20 CFM at 100 PSI. Smaller nozzles will need as little as 10 CFM at 80 PSI, but bigger nozzles would require 15 CFM or perhaps more.

The majority of blast cabinet users depend on 5 horsepower multiple stage air compressors to maintain a constant supply of air.

36. Which Air Compressor Size Is Appropriate for a Jackhammer?

In terms of CFM requirements, the full-size versions of jackhammers have significantly different requirements depending on their size – however even the most compact chipping hammers will often need at least 35 to 40 CFM.

There are additional 60-pound breakers that need 60 CFM, as well as 90-pound breakers that require 90 CFM. The majority of air compressors intended to operate jackhammers are also capable of running several jackhammers at the same time. Air compressors of various sizes are available, with the most common being the 185 CFM model.

Depending on its size, this air compressor can power two 90 CFM jackhammers, three 60 CFM jackhammers, or four 45 CFM jackhammers at the same time.

37. Which Air Compressor Size Is Appropriate for Texture Guns?

When it comes to texture guns and texturizing hopper guns, you’ll need at least 2 to 2.4 CFM at 90 PSI for the majority of the nozzles you’ll be using. Having stated that, there is a broad variety of spray texturing guns available, each of which has a different air supply specification.

When using a texture gun, it’s usually a good idea to start with a setting of 70 PSI so that you can have a decent sense of the texture you will receive based on the paint, nozzle, and air pressure that you are using at the time. Then gradually increase the pressure by 5 PSI at a time, until the texture gun nozzle produces the texture you want, then stop.

38. Which Air Compressor Size Is Appropriate for Trim Work?

Various instruments will be required for trim work, which may include a pneumatic saw and finishing nail gun, among other things. When operating at 90 PSI, an air saw will need 4 CFM, and a finishing nailer will require 2 CFM when installing the trim.

Using multiple trim work tools at the same time means you’ll need an air compressor with enough capacity to run them all. To figure out how much capacity you’ll need, add up all of the CFM requirements of your tools and add a 5 CFM allowance on top of that to get a good estimate of your air compressor requirements.

39. How Large Should a Compressor Be for an Air Fed Mask?

Air fed masks, often known as respirators, are beneficial for welders who use their equipment continuously throughout the day, and most welders will need an air compressor regardless of whether they use air fed masks. The same is true for contractors that do a significant amount of bodywork painting.

Air fed masks need an air source with a flow rate of 6 to 15 CFM and a pressure of 65 to 100 PSI in order to function properly. You will also need the right air filters to guarantee that the air that is supplied into the air feed masks is of a high enough quality.

40. Which Size Air Compressor do I need to Blow Out Sprinklers?

What size air compressor do I need to blow out sprinkler?

You may calculate the CFM required to blow out individual sprinkler heads by taking the gallons per minute (GPM) of the sprinkler head and dividing it by 7.5. This will give you the GPM required to blow out that sprinkler head.

For a standard 3 GPM sprinkler head, that’s less than 0.4 CFM. However, it gives you a reasonable sense of how much air volume you’ll need for a zone of sprinklers.

When it comes to blowing out a full sprinkler system at once or one zone at a time, a decent 10 CFM air compressor with an 80 PSI working pressure will suffice.

Keep in mind, too, that standard polyethylene pipes can only withstand a certain amount of pressure – it’s a good idea to start with 50 PSI from the compressor‘s air pressure regulator to avoid damaging the pipes.

41. Do I Need a Large or Small Air Compressor for Winterizing?

Blowing out the water from pool lines, sprinkler systems, and other forms of plumbing will be part of your winterizing responsibilities. It is dependent on the item you are attempting to winterize while doing these types of operations.

You may need an air compressor with a capacity of 10 CFM and an air hose to match in order to properly winterize a standard pool or sprinkler system, depending on the size of the pool or system. Of course, if you are working with a huge pool or a sprinkler system that is quite extensive, you will want a larger air compressor.

An RV or a mobile home may be winterized using a one gallon compressor, albeit the process may take a little longer than you’d want because of the size of the compressor.

However, a 3 gallon portable air compressor will do the work more quickly, even at lower pressure levels, such as 35 PSI, because of its larger capacity.

Jeff Stelling

Jeff Stelling is an air compressor obsessive who has been working with compressors for over 25 years, since he was an apprentice engineer in the mid 90’s. He designed Aircompressorcompare.com to offer technical guidance and buying advice for compressors.

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