Going Mobile With Your Air Tools


If you’ve ever worked with air tools outside of a shop setting, you know that lugging the air hose around can get more and more annoying the further away you are from the compressor. [headsplosive] posted a video (embedded after the break) showing how to go mobile with your air tools.

Air tanks made for paintball are high-pressure in a tiny space, and make a very convenient energy source. In this case, [headsplosive] used a 68 cubic inch, carbon fiber wrapped tank rated at 4500psi. The normal regulator only steps that pressure down to 800psi, so he added a second regulator to hit the 120-140psi that air tools need. He then attached a ‘remote line’, or a coiled high-pressure hose, and added a standard air tool coupler at the end.

The yield is pretty impressive. With a half-charge of the tank, he managed to drive 100 two-inch nails. [headsplosive] has a scuba tank handy, and uses that to recharge the paintball tank. He estimates a scuba tank will last you about 2000 shots from a nailer, and only costs about $7.50 to recharge. Not bad at all. We can’t help but wonder how long you’d get out of an air-powered cutoff wheel, or even a hammer drill. While the parts aren’t terribly cheap unless you buy them used, it will still pay for itself in convenience if you have the need.

34 thoughts on “Going Mobile With Your Air Tools

  1. Very cool. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while for simple things like an air dust or simple sprayer.

    What kind of hardware do you need to be able to refill these at home?

    1. Could you give a link to what you mean by “air dust or simple sprayer”? SCUBA refill stations can be had for a bit over 3000USD. which I suppoose if you use it a ton is worth it. But compressed air is one of the least energetically favorable storage mediums you could possibly use. Unless there’s some driving need(ie high RPM) to use compressed air you’re better off using batteries.

    2. You have to have a high pressure air compressor. I shoot pcp airguns so I have a compressor. You can get the cheap yong heng hpa compressors for under 300$. It has a water pump you have to run to keep it cool. You can get one that doesn’t have to be water cooled for around 1000$

  2. I’ve done the same thing for considerably cheaper. Go to your local fire extinguisher filling station or welding supply shop. They’ll sell or rent you a 5lb tank for cheap money. (and when I say rent, I mean you’re basically paying for the CO2 that’s in it and just borrowing the tank) I think I bought mine for $40 and they fill for $12. Then you buy a regulator from your local 4×4 community (I got mine from poly performance) for another $40. Top it off with an air tool accessory kit for $20 which includes a coiled hose, various fittings/attachments and you’re good to go. As long as you can thread attachments together with some of that white tape then you can make this setup.

  3. We use air powered tools in the fire service. We run them off the same air tanks we breath from in firefighting operations. We have cutoff saws and a neat tool called an air chisel that can cut through a car’s sheet metal like pinking shears. They’re quick to deploy, power independent, and we have abundant tanks of air and the means to refill them.

    1. Brother firefighter here, confirming above statement and adding some details. The SCBA cylinders we use in our breathing apparatus are typically designed to hold either 2250 psi or 4500 psi. In house and on scene, we use a cascade system to refill them, and various compressors to refill the cascade. In house, we use a QRS compressor and our mobile air and light unit houses a 4 stage piston compressor, both made by Mako Inc., both weighing a lot, and both costing untold multitudes of arms and legs.

      Another commenter noted VMAC systems. Additionally, there are booster compressors, which driven only by the air supply fed to them, can boost shop air pressures to 4500 psi, in the field. Picture the following.


  4. I can answer the capacity question.

    This page (http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/air-consumption-tools-d_847.html) lists the air requirements of different tools in CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute)

    The most common scuba tank is an Aluminum 80. It contains 80 cubic feet at its nominal pressure rating.

    Combine the two data points and you get a cut-off wheel should run betwen 8 and 20 minutes. Take away a little fudge factor since the tool will not operate nominally below the minimum operating pressure which is still several atmospheres.

    Personal Anecdote:I have used an impact wrench connected to an 80 by replacing the end on the BC inflator hose with a standard 1/4 inch air tool quick disconnect. This connects to the “intermediate” pressure section of the first stage regulator and outputs 140 psi.

    The tool (A Harbor Freight “Earthquake” impact wrench) worked properly underwater. I oiled it immediately before and after use, and disassembled it for full cleaning within an four hours of the dive. It still works.

    Obviously you should never hook this up to your breathing supply, only to a separate tank. It would be an “unfortunate incident” for the tool to drain your air and force you to do an emergency ascent.

    My scuba tank fills are only $8, but I have to spend twice that in gas to drop off and pick up the (expletive) things.

    1. Talk to a local Fire Department. I benefit because i am on the department but we have had guys driving threw stop and have us fill up. (it costs a one time investment of about 100$ for the adapter to go from SCBA bottle valves to SCUBA valves.) it is still “breathing air” but it is just compressed air no Nitrox (whatever it is)

  5. [A]nd uses that to recharge the paintball tank but with dramatically lower pressure each time. Use 2 tanks, one to fill most of the way and a second to “top off” the pressure.

  6. What sort of inspection is needed with the paintball tanks?
    i.e. how often or is it how many pressure cycles or strictly a by calender thing?
    Any concise reading to link that gives (real world scenarios ) care and usage of the tanks.

    Are certifications tied to a manufacturer or distributor that could go out of business and
    somehow leave you with a non-refillable rig?
    reason for asking this is,
    I once read of some troubles the 4×4 guys had with loosing RE-use of propane tanks over something
    that seemed to be tied to the original manufacturer.
    thus they couldn’t seem to get inspected and filled anymore (or at least in a realistic, affordable fashion)
    Sorry if i’m missing some pertinent details, but then that’s my reason for asking.

    1. Careful buying second hand paintball tanks if you do decide to do this. Having played paintball for many years those tanks take a lot of knocks and yes they ‘should be’ tested. I believe its every 3 years but that might be wrong (I’ve been out of paintball for about 3 years now) The company that tested used to be called HPAC in the UK dunno about in the states though.
      I’ve seen a couple of tanks fail when filling (guys at training being too cheap to get tanks re-tested and its not fun) so please, please just make sure you get the bottle tested before buying as even an ‘In Test’ bottle might have just been landed on when a player slid to a bunker. Dont want any injuries :) as its a lot of pressure to be playing with.

      1. Ah yes, another consideration. one can imagine the battle scenes offering a few bumps & scrapes.
        I actually been pondering all the many ways a tool rig could be crash landed during work.
        lots of hard corners and protrusions often around for extra adventure!!

        *Especially* thinking about the harder (penetrating) projectiles in use too.
        jeeeze Luise… look at all the nail in a skull or hand or elsewhere in the body, stories online.

        not looking to be a safety nag, just really thinking of longevity of the investment in your tools.
        Just sorta coincidental that not having mishaps tends to enhance the service life of the tools
        (and the user) is all. { insert appropriate emoticon here }

    2. Theyre stamped with a certification date, after that date the refil houses are not supposed to refil them until theyve been re-certified and restamped.
      The cert houses hydro test them if your curious, that is fill them with a non compressible liquid and bring them up to a multiple of the max working pressure and see if they split. If they do, because its liquid there isnt lots of stored energy to disperse and potentially kill people.

      I have ran airtools off compressed air or co2 sources in bottles for quite a few years, even more convienient the local garages here have portable airtanks made from various things that they charge up with the main tank then roll out the job in hand to save trailing a big airhose across the compound. A few of them also use large co2 cylinders on trollies the same way.

  7. I’m a firefighter, and we have both 30 minute and 60 minute breathing air bottles which are larger but similar to what is shown. We have an adapter kit on our Heavy Rescue that lets us use air tools with these bottles. We also have a kit that uses the bottles to fill lifting bags which use air pressure to raise tremendous loads a few inches at a time to help stabilize a scene or extricate people from vehicles, collapsed structures, or whatever.

  8. Another firefighter here. This looks just like one of the small escape tanks used with supplied air hazmat suits.

    I’m surprised to learn this is technology is used in paintball. 4500psi is no joke – you should really have some experience/training before messing with it. Refilling can be dangerous. Compressing gas to 4.5kpsi creates a lot of heat (remember PV=nRT?) so you must do it slowly and carefully. On the rescue truck and back at HQ the cascade systems have a big metal tube that the tank sits in while being refilled – in case it explodes and tries to kill you.

    1. Wanna be really surprised/scared? The average fill time for a 68ci bottle in the paintball world is less than 10 seconds. The process is usually hook up and dump full pressure into it. They definitely get warm, but not hot enough to cause a problem.

      Fields that run remote refills (no compressor on site) will use the cascade method, filling off the first set of tanks to whatever pressure, and stepping up until finally topping off with a full pressure tank in order to make them last longer.

  9. As far as the ability to refill these tanks yourself, if you do it a lot, check out http://www.shoeboxcompressor.com/

    You can get a 4500PSI compressor starting at only $650 which for what it is, is a steal.

    Made by Tom Kaye, the man who pioneered using HPA tanks (sourced from firefighters) in the sport of paintball. He is also the guy responsible for the standard tank threading that is found on the CO2 and HPA tanks. My personal favorite is all the work at Airgun Designs (his company) that made such amazing markers as the X-Mag. He’s an archaeologist as well, along with other things. Really a cool guy.

  10. Instead of using a normal air pressure regulator, which wastes a lot of pressurized energy (like a 7805), is there some kind of switched mode air pressure converter, so i can have more use of that expensive pressurized air?

  11. A few years back, Kobalt tools (sold through Lowe’s Home Improvement) was marketing a portable CO2 driven system like this. The kit included a full 9oz tank, regulator, coil hose, and some other knick knacks for about $100. There are still other versions I have found on ebay and amazon, though I cannot remember the brand name.

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