How Many CFM Do I Need to Run Air Tools? – Air Tool CFM Chart


It can be tough to know how many CFM you need in an air compressor to operate your air tools most effectively. Too little CFM and you won’t be able to run your tools continuously—or at all!—and too much CFM 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 about why CFM matters to you…

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Pneumatic Tool CFM Requirements

Every pneumatic tool is rated for CFM, or “Cubic Feet Per Minute,” and the same goes for air compressors. CFM represents the volume of air produced by your air compressor or required by your air tool.

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 most effectively.

Continuous vs. Intermittent Use

Air tools need a CFM that matches the manufacturer’s guidelines, but what air tool you have and how you use them matters. For example, if you’re using an impact wrench, are you:

  1. continuously holding the trigger down while you work, or
  2. are you using it in quick bursts with short breaks in between use, allowing the air compressor to catch up?

In other words, do you use any of your tools for lengthy periods? Or are all your tools only used for a few seconds here and there? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself when determining your CFM needs.

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 you can operate your tools continuously.

By contrast, tools only 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 same time, you’ll need to combine the CFM requirements of each of the tools that will be running to determine your total CFM requirement.

For example, let’s say your team uses the same air compressor to power a ½” drill that requires 30 CFM and a grinder that requires 60 CFM. If you use these tools at the same time, you would add 30 CFM + 60 CFM for a total demand of 90 CFM. Therefore, when choosing equipment, you would likely need an air compressor that reliably produces 90 CFM of air.

Air Receiver Tanks

Air receiver tanks are another factor you should consider when determining your CFM needs. Many air compressors require an air receiver tank—and this is always the case with reciprocating air compressors. “Recips” need an air receiver tank and can only run at 100% duty cycle 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 Compressor
@100% Duty Cycle
60-70 CFM Air Compressor
@100% Duty Cycle
100-140 CFM Air Compressor
@100% Duty Cycle
¾” impact wrench1” impact wrenchTrenchless piercing tools
Chipping hammersSandersPneumatic saws
2” horizontal grindersLarge (3”+) vertical & horizontal grindersPost-pounders
Tire inflationOTR tire inflationRock drills
Die grinders60 lb jackhammer90 lb 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 and application, VMAC air compressors deliver anywhere from 30 to 140 CFM at 100% duty cycle, which means you’ll never have to wait for air again. VMAC air compressors also don’t require a bulky air receiver tank, thanks to the 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 efficiency, and be more profitable.

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