Air Tool Maintenance – Oil, Filters and Thread Tape
Air tools are pretty simple, right? Plug in an air hose to a compressor on one end, turn the compressor on and hook your air tool up to the other end of the hose. Or is it that simple? Being more of a cordless and electric power tool guy myself, I had to do some asking around to get the answer to that. So now that I have the answers, I’ll share those with you.
Most people know that cars need an oil change every 3,000 miles. I’d also say that most people don’t change their oil quite that often. But most of us understand that the pistons generate a lot of friction inside of a car motor, and the rings wear out faster without proper lubrication. So what’s that have to do with air tools? A lot.
Inside of an air tool, there are pistons and rings as well. The rings aren’t metal like they are in a car motor – instead they’re rubber o-rings. But the piston itself still needs some lubrication. It is essential that the metal to metal surfaces get something slippery between them so that they don’t generate excessive heat and friction, which would cause premature wear.
Oiling an air tool is pretty simple. Before you use it, just add a couple of drops of air tool oil to the tool through the air fitting. For tools that get used once every now and then, just once before using it for the day is good enough. If it is a tool getting heavy use, it would be a good idea to add a few drops a few times through the day.
Most air tools don’t require a filter, and most don’t include one, but it is such a good idea that Coilhose Pneumatics came out with that we’re recommending them for everyone. A few manufacturers, such as Milwaukee nailers and Max Tools, are including filters on the tools themselves. For everyone else, adding a filtered air fitting can keep dust and debris out of the piston chamber.
Again, automobiles use air filters to keep dirt and rocks out of the combustion chamber and away from the moving pistons. Air tools have a similar piston setup, so keeping dirt and debris out of the chamber of an air tool is just as important. Air compressors include filters for the incoming air, but some dirt will still make its way through and into the hose. For under $10, these filters are an inexpensive insurance policy for a long too life.
Once you install one, you just need to remove the hose every so often to let the pressure inside the tool release and blow out the filter. They don’t need to be replaced every 10,000 nails or so many miles of shingles. The fitting will keep working just fine if you allow it to get blown out every few uses. Of course, most air tools get disconnected fairly often anyway so it shouldn’t ever be something you’ll need to think about.
Not really maintenance, but still a necessary item is teflon tape. Taping your air fittings seals the threads, which prevents leaks and makes your compressor run less frequently. Less frequent running will lead to longer life, but it also means there is less of a chance that it’ll pull more dirt in to blow into your air tool.
The tape seems simple enough, but applying it properly is really an art form. We got a good chuckle at our Milwaukee rep when he first brought in their pneumatics. He hadn’t ever applied tape before, so it sure didn’t come out looking pretty like the picture to the right. I’m sure he’ll figure it out soon enough, but until then Matt has some photo evidence of his first attempt. To his credit, he did come to us to learn about air tools instead of trying to figure them out himself.
Basically, all you really need to do is get 2 – 3 full clockwise wraps around the threads. Clockwise makes it so that as you screw the fitting in it doesn’t come off, the 2 – 3 wraps gets just enough thickness so it’ll properly seal without being so thick that it won’t fully screw in.
But wait – There’s more!
There is a bit more to maintaining an air tool, such as o-rings, cleaning, driver blades and jam clearing. But the basics above are the only ones that really apply equally to every air tool. If you’ve got questions on a specific tool, leave a comment or send an email and I’ll either reply directly or do an entirely new post (giving a link, of course).