If your air tools struggle to live out their warranty or require more maintenance than the manufacturer’s guidelines state, there’s a good chance you are using too much air pressure. This is extremely common and many service operators over-pressurize their pneumatic tools as a standard operating procedure.
The assumption is you get more power out of a tool if you apply more pressure. While this is true some of the time, it doesn’t apply all of the time and—in almost all cases—leads to tool breakage or worse…
In this article, we’ve put together a list of reasons you should always use the proper pressure for your air tools:
5. Reduce Expensive Tool Repairs
Using too much pressure can cause your air tools to wear out or break a lot sooner than they should. Here are the most common pneumatic tool repairs caused by excessive air pressure:
Blown seals: The more pressure you use, the bigger the opportunity for blown seals. You might as well use your shop-vac to suck the extra cash out of your pockets if you don’t protect yourself from blown seals because they result in VERY expensive repair bills.
Anvil breakage: There couldn’t be a better example of “cutting off your nose to spite your face” than anvil breakage, and it’s far too common. Guys apply more pressure to their impact wrench to get more torque, which works. Everyone is happy, the job gets done faster. But then the anvil sees higher stresses and can crack or break and the tool is down for repairs, wasting any time you saved with extra torque and resulting in significant costs for repairs.
Bearing failure: In addition to blown seals and anvil breakage, using too much pressure is one of the most direct causes of bearing failure. If you’ve worked with air tools for awhile, you know bearing failure is an expensive repair and you probably also know that if the bearings go, you already have many more damaged parts to repair. It’s not a good situation!
Vane motor breakdowns: As little as 20 psi of excessive pressure in a vane motor system can half the life of an air tool. Most tools are rated at 90 or 100 psi, so using 120 psi regularly ensures you will be replacing expensive air tools in half the time you should have to.
4. Maintain Your Tools’ Efficiency
In many cases, a broken tool doesn’t happen in an instant. Instead, tools wear down over time until they reach a point of failure. The more a tool is worn down, the less efficient seals and other components become, even if it’s still working. This results in leaked air, which essentially means the tool needs even more air to run than it normally would.
By using the right pressure for your tools, you reduce wear and improve tool efficiency. If you care about getting the best performance out of your tools, stop using too much pressure.
3. Stop Overpaying For New Tools
Tools that break or fail and can’t be repaired will need to be replaced, and we don’t need to tell you that new tool costs add up quickly! It’s an unnecessary expense that could have been reinvested elsewhere.
Consider this: when you buy an air tool from a manufacturer or dealer, they give you a price, and you either agree to pay the price or negotiate a discount. You never ask them to take more money from you. Yet, if you don’t take proper care of your air tools, you might as well do exactly that.
Treat your tools with respect and save your money for better purchases.
2. Prevent Dangerous Accidents
Let’s put the financial impacts aside because you won’t be thinking about expenses when you or one of your employees suffers a devastating or fatal injury. It’s easy to shrug off safety regulations and assume a serious injury would never happen to you or your team, but pressure safety warnings exist in manufacturers’ guidelines for a reason.
We’ve heard stories about tool technicians being killed when an over-pressured grinder explodes, because it’s operating at speeds much higher than the manufacturer’s safety ratings. You don’t want your team to be the one that proves these urban legends are true.
But even if the stories are false, the pneumatic tool manufacturers are concerned enough to include pressure rating warnings in their manuals. For example, here’s what Central Pneumatic says in their ¼” air angle die grinder manual:
“Over pressurizing the tool may cause bursting, abnormal operation, breakage of the tool or serious injury to persons. Use only clean, dry, regulated compressed air at the rated pressure or within the rated pressure range as marked on the tool. Always verify prior to using the tool that the air source has been adjusted to the rated air pressure or within the rated air-pressure range.”
Protect your team and your business by keeping everyone safe. Follow the pressure guidelines and you can prevent serious consequences.
1. Lower Your Fuel Consumption
Last but possibly not least, using the proper pressure will lower your fuel consumption.
The higher the pressure, the higher the volume of air that’s consumed. This is a problem because higher air volumes require more energy, which means you are spending a lot of extra horsepower on wasted air. Further, higher horsepower equals higher fuel consumption, which increases operating costs and throws low emission targets in the trash.
Manufacturing engineers create and test tools using the same psi ranges they publish in the tools’ manuals. If your tool isn’t performing as well as you think it should, the pressure rating isn’t the problem. Instead of cranking up the pressure, take the following steps:
- Reflect on your expectations: Is it possible that you simply want a tool that performs better than it’s supposed to? If so, it may be time to consider why you want more power and whether it’s something you really need…
- Check the power management switch: If your tool has a power management switch, you wouldn’t be the first person to overlook it. Double-check whether your tool has this switch and ensure it’s on the proper setting.
- Check the pressure at the tool: Attach a pressure gauge between the end of your hose and your air tool to confirm whether the air pressure is at the maximum recommended pressure. Each air compressor design is different, and some systems can lose pressure before the air reaches the tool. If the air is losing pressure before it meets the tool, you can try turning up the pressure a bit, but only until it reaches the manufacturer’s psi recommendation.
- Check the hose size: A hose that’s too small can cause pressure drops that are easily remedied by an upgrade. Make sure you’re using the right hose size for your application. We talk more about how hose size impacts airflow in this article.
- Check the size of everything else: Hoses aren’t the only air compressor component that might be too small. Also check the size of your connectors, fittings, filters, regulators, and lubricators, and ensure they are big enough to handle the task at hand.
- Confirm the air compressor’s CFM: An air tool needs the right psi and the right CFM to operate properly. Double-check that the CFM capabilities of your air compressor match the needs of your tools. You can learn more about the CFM needs for your air tools here.
- Consider your air compressor type: A reciprocating air compressor has to build up air and then quickly loses pressure. But if you require higher pressure because you’re trying to hit hard and fast to beat the clock, your air compressor type is likely the problem. Instead, upgrade to a rotary screw air compressor that can maintain CFM and PSI for significant periods of time. Find out more about rotary screw vs. reciprocating air compressors here.
- Call the tool manufacturer: If everything above checks out, call the manufacturer. Their support team will be able to help you troubleshoot performance issues with your tool.
- Upgrade your tool: If you’ve gone through the list above and your tool isn’t getting the job done, it’s likely time for an upgrade. Tools that have enough air and are powerful enough for a job will work properly and efficiently at their recommended psi setting. If your tool isn’t performing under the proper conditions, you need a better tool.
One last tip—don’t use sound when determining if a tool is working. We’ve met operators who think their tool or air compressor is too weak because their tools get quieter after the air has run for a few seconds, even when the tools are operating just fine! Instead of listening, look at how the tool is performing to determine whether it gets the job done in a normal amount of time.
Use The Proper Pressure For Your Air Tools
At the end of the day, too much pressure for your air tools can be a costly mistake. From equipment failure and repair costs to health and safety risks for your team, there are a lot of reasons you should simply use the right pressure.
It’s unlikely all the terrible things in this article will happen to your team and equipment if you use too much pressure. However, it’s probable you’ll encounter at least some of the issues, including the frustration that goes along with them.
By contrast, eliminating the issues caused by too much pressure is easy to do. Use the proper pressure for your air tools and rest assured you’re getting the most out of your tools.