View Full Version : What is the benefit of air tools?

08-15-2017, 06:27 AM
I have many electric tools and some air tools. My air tools are a cut off tool, impact wrench, air ratchet, die grinder, air chisel, and the compressor. Is there a performance benefit of pneumatics that makes it more amicable to certain applications? My novice guess would be velocity and stamina? By stamina I mean that an electric motor may easier be bogged down and/or got hot (I'm remembering the crap electric $15 generic angle grinders before I bought better ones). Sometimes I see air drills (handheld), what's with those, are they high speed? Even though my home shop and garage are plumbed for air I seem to have a limited number of air tools. If comparing air vs. electric, performance aside, I would favor the small flexible electric cord vs. a thick air hose. The reason I am asking this is to find out if I should be making better use of my air. Thanks.

Joe Rogers
08-15-2017, 06:42 AM
Your air tool inventory is about normal. Air tools have a greater duty cycle in most cases. Heat is a by product of electric tools either cordless or corded. Heat is what limits their time of use before they quit or you have to turn them off. Air tools are self cooling so the only limit is lubrication. They are generally powerful for the size also. The drawback is the hose.

08-15-2017, 07:06 AM
The biggest differences only come if you have huge industrial size compressor and you need to run same tool for more than one hour per day. Then the air tool is more powerfull, lighter weight and last longer.

Atlas copco has compact pneumatic 5" angle grinders that have more power (3-4hp at shaft) than any of 11" big and clumsy electric angle grinders. But to run one of those beasts needs something like 40hp compressor!

old mart
08-15-2017, 07:35 AM
One advantage of air tools is that you don't have to worry about electrocution. I remember using small orbital sanders wet in a rinse tank to rough up fibreglass circuit board material, no clogging of the paper.
That said, however, I have noticed that the use of cordless battery tools is increasing in automobile assembly lines.
See the comments on the other thread aka cheap air tools.

08-15-2017, 05:10 PM
I have used metal cutters with air tanks there was no electricity.
no charging batteries.

I can remember in the late 50’s and the 60’s people calling some one pneumatic. This changed to air head in the 70’s


08-15-2017, 05:41 PM
Most air tools require a very good air compressor. I find it to make as much sense as a jet drive on a boat.

08-15-2017, 05:44 PM
Another thing in favor of air tools(per manufacturing companys ) thay were not as apt to walk off as the electrical powered ones.Almost everyone has electric power.How ever not as many has a air compressor.

08-15-2017, 05:47 PM
Air tools are great if you aren't concerned with energy cost. They are probably the least efficient eay to get things done, at least in terms oof energy consumption.

08-15-2017, 06:15 PM
There was a time when certain tools were only made in an air powered version. If you wanted a 3/8 air ratchet, line sander or 3/8 impact wrench, riveter or powered hammer you really had no other choice. In addition some power tools are used where there is air available but not electricity of the type needed for electric tools. An aircraft ramp might be an example. Gasoline powered air compressors are available to run air tools long distances form electric power sources or compressed gas (nitrogen) bottles are available where electricity is not. Air tools are generally lighter than electric tools so long use is not as fatiguing.

In a body shop compressed air is needed to spray paint so using it for DA Sanders, line sanders and other air powered tools makes sense.

With new technology electric motors have become more efficient, smaller, lighter and powerful so they now compete with, or best, air powered tools in many areas of use. I suspect that as battery technology and brushless designs continue to improve that corded hand held tools will one day become a thing of the past and air powered tools will diminish in use except where flammable or combustible atmospheres exist or air is already available for other needs.

08-15-2017, 06:16 PM
After having used these for a few years almost exclusively. I find them much safer than electric as they can jam and stop much quicker. The air can bypass and you dont get the full torque at stall. Having a hefty drill grab puts much less strain on your arms/wrists than electric i have found. Same with grinders being they have alot less rotational inertia and loose more of their energy as soon as you let off the trigger. They get cold after a while of constant use. Noisy buggers too. The stream of waste air is great to blow away any swarf and having multiple tools ready on hand makes quick changes easy. They are usually pretty good for explosive environments and dont have that risk of getting zapped if you cut through the lead.

They are also pretty tough. Seen them dragged by the hose across the concrete plenty of times, the aluminium body is a different animal to a plastic electric tool. If i was to open a shop with >5 guys they would be on the list with a nice screw compressor. Have used a regulator on a drill when driving machine screws as a torque device to ensure consistency and not to over tighten. Yes i was too cheap to buy my own cordless tools :rolleyes:

08-16-2017, 12:59 AM
Use 'em and decide for yourself.

Today I used a "die grinder" fitted with a cut wheel, a "jig saw" and a "jab saw" , all air powered. Light and powerful. Also used was a B-D 4 1/2" side grinder. electric. CUMBERSOME in comparison. But Powerful in grinding out a welded connection to rework.

In the shop, I never use the electric drill motors. air every time. But the rechargeable impact driver (Makita)sees a lot of use.

After today, I NEED a small air angle grinder. But I won't be buying one for $20! I like nicer things.

08-16-2017, 03:02 AM
After today, I NEED a small air angle grinder. But I won't be buying one for $20! I like nicer things.
So you probably mean something smaller than this? https://www.aptoolsltd.co.uk/air-tools/pneumatic-air-grinders/atlas-angle-grinders/atlas-copco-tools-gtg40-f085-18-angle-turbine-grinder-8423290010-detail
Maybe 5" one http://www.merga.ca/en/atlas-copco-8423-2525-01-gtg25-f120-13-angle-turbine-grinder-gtg25-f120-13 :rolleyes:

08-16-2017, 03:20 AM
So you probably mean something smaller than this? https://www.aptoolsltd.co.uk/air-tools/pneumatic-air-grinders/atlas-angle-grinders/atlas-copco-tools-gtg40-f085-18-angle-turbine-grinder-8423290010-detail
Maybe 5" one http://www.merga.ca/en/atlas-copco-8423-2525-01-gtg25-f120-13-angle-turbine-grinder-gtg25-f120-13 :rolleyes:

Think ..



08-16-2017, 08:31 AM
Air is safer around water
If working at home electric is better less noise and does not need a air compress running


A.K. Boomer
08-16-2017, 08:55 AM
Everyone has pretty much covered the pro's and cons but I will add with things like an air gun (the kind you use to loosen car wheel lugs) the electric models are clumsy awkward and huge in comparison to the air powered ones,

and air hammers are the bomb for certain applications -- actually have never seen a small electric air hammer,

but the efficiency of the air tool sucks, alls one has to do to realize this is run a air gun all out till a mid size compressor kicks on - it will never "catch up" and shut back off - so here's this 3hp motor falling short of powering this little hand held tool... if you are planning on continuing use of an air tool you might want to check out their CFS ratings - could end up saving you a bundle in the long haul as not all air tools are created equal...

air tools have a nice cooling effect in the summer months - but they can suck to use in the winter if you keep a cold shop, not fun working with insulated mittens on...

Iv never owned an air drill but they are very small and compact although the direct drive older ones seems to lack torque,

the new little cordless e drills are incredible so besides the extra size of the small battery pack I don't think there's too many places where the air drill will be a must have anymore - of course the second you say that is the time you will need one...

08-16-2017, 09:46 AM
Back in the 90's a friend who ports cylinder heads introduced me to the use of router speed controls with die grinders. I love the torque and control at low speeds.

I find it invaluable when using wire brushes, tootsie rolls, stones, pretty much everything. I find it essential when using carbide cutters in confined areas, where if the cutter grabs, you tend to lose control and it bounces around. At lower speeds that doesn't tend to happen. The lower speeds also allow more pressure to be used on the cutter, which gives more feel.

This also works with most angle grinders.

Not all router speed controls are equal.

J Tiers
08-16-2017, 10:02 AM
There are impact wrenches and impact wrenches.... I have an air one that can't do squat. it just rattled trying to loosen some stuck lug nuts. But my nice old IR electric has a heck of an impact to it, and shifts nearly anything

A.K. Boomer
08-16-2017, 11:45 AM
Sure ---- but skip past the lemons, im talking your best quality of both - the electrics are like I said, bulky and pack less punch for their size and weight,,, in fact they sound like a toy...

find a square to square 1/2" collar and I will mount up my cornwell to any electric of the same weight and size - set my compressor to 150 psi, attach my high volume/flow coupling to the hose and gun - set both guns in forward and I will either snap the shank off the electric or fry it's motor as I drag it backwards under full load,,, all whilst my air motors getting cooler and cooler... :cool:

08-16-2017, 12:26 PM
If you happen to be working around flammable vapors, grain dust, etc air tools will lessen the likelihood of an explosion. That little spark in the windings of an electric tool is all you would need in the wrong situation.

08-16-2017, 02:06 PM
They have their benefits, although advancements in electric tools seems to be eroding any edge air has except in specialized situations.
I am noise averse ( I know I know)..nothing drives me crazier than sound of a leaky quick connect hose. Then the compressor.. space, noise, maintenance, plumbing. I try and raise as little dust/particulate as possible. Electric is better for that.

08-16-2017, 06:50 PM
Air guns in shop
In my shop never use air around any machine tools
If I was working for some one else I use air It was there machine tools not mind


08-19-2017, 03:49 AM
...The reason I am asking this is to find out if I should be making better use of my air. Thanks.

I bought pretty much one of most things air powered, a mix of quality and junk... few get used. Cordless is now generally my go-to choice when possible. That said, to answer your question, here's what I do use:

1) impact wrench... A halfway decent one to rattle off the rusty bolts. Love it; use it all the time.

2) (edit) forgot the air nailers and staplers... use them all the time on the woodworking side of things.

3) impact hammer... A decent long barrel IR. But, I bought it because even a cheap piece of garbage impact hammer is very useful, when I think to use it. With the right chisel, they rip through sheetmetal like nothing. Noisy enough to drive you and the neighbours crazy, makes a mess of whatever you're ripping apart, but if you don't care about either then it's likely the fastest way to get 'er done. Seriously, take that $10 impact hammer out... you know, the one you've never used, and put that split-tip chisel thing on it. Amazing.

4) air shear and nibblers... mostly because I don't have electric versions. The air ones I have are cheap but get the job done. They are likely cheaper than the cheapest electric you could buy.

5) an angle 3/8 drill... because if it won't fit in the space you have to drill the hole, not much else will. Probably only used it a half-dozen times in a quarter century, but I was glad I had it when I did. I now have a cordless angle drill, Milwaukee M12 so it's small, but not near as small as the pneumatic.

But, that said, 99% of the time my use for shop-air is just a blow gun, and that's pretty much used all the time. From flipping used nitrile gloves right-side out while drying out the sweat, to gently blowing swarf out of a deep aluminium milling cut, to cleaning the dust off my glasses, to dusting the rafters when cleaning the shop, to cleaning off a tap or endmill before I put it away, to blowing the sawdust out of the bin or box of whatever I forgot to cover, to teasing errant wasps... I hate trying to get anything done without air.

Oh... they say you can wet-sand with the pneumatic sanders, just dunk the entire thing in a bucket of water... not something I'd want to try with electric. But, I hate bodywork and never use those tools anyway.


08-19-2017, 05:05 AM
If you don't already have a good air supply or some need for a tool not available in an electric version I can't see why any amateur would want air tools.
Having good air in the shop and a past life as a panel beater I have air tools and wouldn't part with them as I find they are lighter and more compact for a given power, don't get hot if you use them all day and are easier and cheaper to repair and service on the very rare occasion when anything does go amiss.

08-19-2017, 07:13 AM
We're probably 50/50 on had held tools,elect vs air.And it would take several contractor sized wheelbarrows to haul them all out of the shop.....so no,small investment.

Reason for post however;on one of our roll around fabrication stations,bolted on the side within EASY reach is a 1/2 dz nice IR die grinders.Stuck in a rack,nipple down,each with obviously a different head.IF...I find a tooling change required,I'll put a new one on the shopping list.They are for us,by far the fastest way to "hit" and run when making money.I love our big electric belt grinders,saws,drill motors,yadayada....but that rack of die grinders is indispensible.