How Many CFM Do I Need To Run Air Tools?

It can be tough to know how many CFM you need in an air compressor to operate your air tools. Too little CFM and you won’t be able to run your tools continuously—or at all—and too much could mean you’ve overspent on your air compressor.

To help you find the compressor that’s right for you, we’ve developed this helpful air tool consumption chart. But before we get into the CFM consumption chart, let’s talk a little bit about why CFM matters to you…

Pneumatic Tool CFM Requirements

Every pneumatic tool is rated for CFM, or “Cubic Feet Per Minute”, and the same goes for air compressors. Your tools’ CFM requirements give you an idea of what you need your air compressor to do, but it’s not enough to simply match the air tool’s rating and the compressor’s rating 1:1. In this article, we’re going to help you better understand how many CFM you need to run your air tools.

Continuous vs. Intermittent Use

How you’re using the air tool matters. If you’re using an impact wrench, are you continuously holding the trigger down while you work, or are you using it in quick bursts with short breaks in between use, allowing the air compressor to catch up? Are you using a die grinder, which will need air continuously?

Air tools need a CFM that matches the manufacturer’s guidelines. If your application requires you to run air tools for an extended length of time, an air compressor with a 100% duty cycle is recommended so that you can operate your tools continuously. By contrast, tools used intermittently may be able to get away with a less powerful air compressor that uses an air receiver tank, which may save you money.

Multiple Tools

Another common scenario that impacts CFM requirements is using multiple tools at once. Running more than one tool at a time can be a highly efficient way to get things done, especially when you have two or more people working on a single job. However, if you’re running multiple tools at the time, you’ll need to combine the CFM requirements of each of the tools that will be running to determine your total CFM requirement.

Air Receiver Tanks

Air receiver tanks are another factor you should consider when determining your CFM needs. Many air compressors come with an air receiver tank to ensure that tools have enough air to complete your tasks—in fact, this is always the case with reciprocating air compressors, which can run at 100% duty cycle only until the receiver tank runs out of stored air or the compressor overheats from working too hard (but that’s another story…)

In some scenarios, air receiver tanks can help a lower CFM air compressor keep up with a higher CFM demand, and can be a good strategy when you don’t want to invest in a higher CFM air compressor. These air receiver tanks can vary in size from 5 gallons to over 100 gallons.

Air Tool Consumption Chart

Still wondering what this means for you? We’ve put together a handy air tool consumption chart to help give you an idea of how many CFM you need to run your air tools. We’ve also included 6 tips for choosing an air compressor, the average CFM at load (100% duty cycle), the suggested air compressor CFM, and our recommended rotary screw air compressor based on your CFM needs.

Here’s a sneak peek:

30-40 CFM Air Compressor60-70 CFM Air Compressor150 CFM Air Compressor
¾” impact wrench1” impact wrenchTrenchless piercing tools
Chipping hammersSandersPneumatic saws
2” horizontal grindersLarge (3”+) vertical & horizontal grindersPost-pounders
Tire inflationOTR tire inflationRock drills
Die grinders60lb jackhammer90lb jackhammer
Backfill tampersBackfill tampersAir knives

To view the rest of the info, download our full air tool consumption chart here!

VMAC’s Rotary Screw Advantage

Depending on the product, VMAC air compressors deliver anywhere from 30 to 140 CFM at 100% duty cycle, which means you’ll never have to wait for air. VMAC air compressors also don’t require a bulky air receiver tank, thanks to the patented rotary screw technology, which allows them to operate at max efficiency 100% of the time. Not only are VMAC air compressors lighter and smaller, you’ll get jobs done faster, improve productivity, and be more profitable.

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