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Can I run a pneumatic nail gun with a consumption of 4 SCFM max on a small portable 1HP compressor with a SCFM rating of about 3 SCFM @ 90psi? What about tools that with higher SCFM consumption say 5 or 7?

What would I expect if I try to use that setup.

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    Good question. I never really understood why something as intermittent as a nailer would have a SCFM rating at all because it seems like it would only depend on how fast you're nailing. Tools that run as long as you hold the trigger make much more sense with a specific rating. – JPhi1618 Dec 2 '15 at 20:14
  • While the SCFM may not cause too much trouble, as the answers have suggested, consider that there tends to be a correlation with SCFM and the compressor's ability to output large bursts of air at a steady pressure. It's certainly not a 1:1, but as a general rule, lower end models tend to have both a low SCFM and a low output. I ran into this problem with an impact driver, where I should have taken the hint that the SCFM disparity was a suggestion I might not have had enough airflow as well (higher resistances due to smaller air paths). – Cort Ammon Dec 3 '15 at 3:00
  • @CortAmmon, SCFM or Standard cubic feet per minute is the actual measurement of the output capacity of the compressor. It certainly is 1:1, because that's the definition. – JPhi1618 Dec 3 '15 at 14:21
  • @JPhi1618 Really? I thought SCFM was a measure of how much air the compressor could compress, and the output portion going to your hose was not included in that. – Cort Ammon Dec 3 '15 at 15:23
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You can use a smaller SCFM compressor than what your nailer requires the only drawback is you will need to nail at a slower pace or your nail set(how deep they are driven) will not be consistant.

  • Any guidelines on how much larger consumption I can use? Like is there a ratio of tool SCFM to compressor SCFM or tank storage capacity? Would be using this occasionally for minor repairs, not as a full time contractor. The reason I'm primarily asking is because I have a higher scfm consumption nailer that isn't getting nails driven far enough, trying to rule out the compressor as the problem. – OrganicLawnDIY Dec 2 '15 at 21:56
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    @OrganicLawnDIY "Not far enough" is an adjustment on the gun itself, the pressure is too low, or the material is just too hard for the gun to handle. SCFM wouldn't come into play with that particular problem. – JPhi1618 Dec 2 '15 at 22:32
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Nailer

The answer given by Ed is correct in saying that you can use a nailer, but you will have to use it more slowly. It won't recycle as fast as the manufacturer intended. Also a nailer actually needs two bursts of air to work - one to drive the nail and a second one to pull the plunger back into place. If your compressor is so undersized that it can't even supply that much air at a high enough pressure, your nailer may frequently jam. Of course I think that would have to be an exceptionally small compressor being used with a framing nailer.

High SCFM Tools

It will largely depend on the tool, but in general it will work slower or not have as much power. For instance, a friend of mine had a very high performance die grinder he used in the aircraft industry. I used it on a small compressor, and it worked, but not close to its rated speed, and then only in short bursts. I made the cuts I needed, but it took way longer than it should have.

Something like a paint spray gun might fail to work properly at all with the wrong amount of air. Other mechanical tools might also be so under powered that they basically don't work, but that's going to be more rare.

So, in short, if you can borrow a high SCFM tool and see if it "works for you" then have at it, but I wouldn't spend money on a tool knowing it would be crippled at best. There are electric alternatives to most air tools if you don't want to to invest in a large compressor or don't have the room.

Duty Cycle

With all of that said about how a tool would (under) perform, you also have to consider overworking the compressor. Many smaller compressors might be designed for a 50% duty cycle (easy math example, check documentation) which means the motor runs to build pressure in the tank for 45 seconds, and isn't expected to come back on for another 45 seconds. If you're using a higher-than-allowed SCFM tool, the compressor could run almost constantly. This might be OK for a few minutes, but will certainly shorten the life of the compressor if done in excess. Larger compressors have higher SCFM ratings and a higher duty cycle in many cases.

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    I'm primarily concerned about short burst tools such as nailers. – OrganicLawnDIY Dec 2 '15 at 21:07
  • @OrganicLawnDIY Like what though? I'm having a hard time thinking of anything with short bursts other than nailers... Of course we could have different definitions of "short burst". – JPhi1618 Dec 2 '15 at 21:09
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    How about nailers like I asked in the question? :) – OrganicLawnDIY Dec 2 '15 at 21:14
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    FWIW, when I use a tiny compressor like the one described with my framing nailer (PC 350, not that it matters), it doesn't jam, but in very short order drains the tank, thus lowering pressure, thus under-setting nails. Then it's a tiresome wait for the compressor to get back up to steam. – Aloysius Defenestrate Dec 3 '15 at 0:37
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If it puts out 90 psi it should run a good size nailer but slower. Even my framing nailers run well at 80 psi. check and see if there is a depth adjustment keeping it from driving nails all the way. If it is because of air pressure the nailer usually recoils when it drives the nail too slow.

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