What’s an Air Compressor?

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An air compressor compresses and stores air under pressure, used to operate pneumatic tools, inflate tires and toys, and power paint tools. It comes in various sizes and types, with a pressure-sensitive switch to prevent overpressurization. Two-stage superchargers are used for more airflow.

An air compressor, or air compressor as it is also called, is a device used to compress and store air under pressure. Commonly consisting of an electric or gasoline motor, compressor, and storage tank, an air compressor is used to provide air pressure to operate pneumatic tools, supply air to inflate tires and air-filled toys, and to power paint tools. The typical air compressor uses a pressure sensitive gauge to shut off the compressor motor when the desired air pressure within the pressure vessel has been reached. This switch prevents accidental explosions due to overpressurization during proper operation.

The air compressor is available from very small to very large sizes, with each size working on the same principle. An air compressor works with a motor that spins a compressor while driving all of the compressed air into a storage tank. The type of engine can vary greatly, from a small electric version to a large diesel engine. Small, single stage compressors are common on household compressors, while large screw compressors are used on industrial size air compressor units. These larger compressors are often used in manufacturing plants where a large amount of air is required.

For the home mechanic or hobbyist who also requires more airflow, a two-stage supercharger is typically used. The two-stage, commonly a reciprocating type compressor or pump, uses two cylinders to create a pressure rise and constant airflow in the compressor unit. The first cylinder of a two-stage is considered the first stage. The first stage pushes the compressed air into the second cylinder or second stage where it is compressed even more before being sent to the reserve tank. This higher pressure gives the two-stage compressor the ability to run air tools longer and at higher pressure than a comparably sized single-stage compressor.

A modern air compressor uses a pressure sensitive switch to control the entry of compressed air into the pressure vessel. If left unchecked, the supercharger could potentially pump compressed air into the pressure tank until the tank bursts at the seams. This is a potentially fatal scenario which is controlled by shutting down the compressor motor and pump at a predetermined point and pressure. When the pressure drops below another predetermined point, the compressor turns back on and resumes pumping air into the pressure vessel.

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