What is a Pneumatic Tool?

Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen

A pneumatic tool is a device that is typically powered by compressed air instead of by electricity or other means. They may also be operated by carbon dioxide (CO2) in certain portable applications. In most other situations, they operate off of an air compressor. Most tools that use electricity can also have pneumatic versions, including impact wrenches, drills, grinders, and sanders. Pneumatic tools are typically lighter than electric versions of a similar weight.

Another name for pneumatic tool is air tool, due to the fact that they are typically operated by compressed air. In many industrial, manufacturing, and commercial settings, a large compressor will often power a great number of tools and devices. This may be achieved by connecting a network of pipes and outlets to the compressor. A central compressor unit can provide air pressure to the entire network, and a variety of devices may be connected to the different outlets.

Each pneumatic tool typically requires a particular air pressure to operate properly. Without enough pressure, the tool may not rotate fast enough to work correctly. In order to provide a constant level of pressure, most air compressors come equipped with a tank. These tanks are typically pressure vessels that are capable of containing a particular volume of compressed air, after which the compressor will shut off. If too many tools are operated at once the tank may empty out, at which point the compressor must be allowed time to refill it.

Portable air compressors are also available to operate one pneumatic tool at a time. These portable compressors typically have pressurized tanks as well, so that they can operate a pneumatic tool for an extended period of time without the motor running constantly. In many cases, a portable unit will provide less air pressure than a larger dedicated units, which can cause issues with certain pneumatic tools. Other pneumatic tools can operate on the pressure provided by portable compressors.

An air impact wrench is one pneumatic tool that typically requires a high level of pressure to operate correctly. These tools are typically used in high torque applications, such as the removal of large bolts or wheel lug nuts. If the air pressure provided by an air compressor is insufficient, an air impact wrench may be incapable of delivering the necessary torque to break loose larger bolts. Other tools, such as sanders or grinders, may also under perform if the pressure is not high enough, though usually they take longer to accomplish a job, rather than being unable to do it at all.

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