Pneumatic tools — aka air tools — have brought tremendous advantages to the technician’s life in the shop. Using air supplied by an air compressor, these powerful tools can deliver higher torque and higher rpm to help get the job done faster. Versatile and easily interchangeable, air tools are safe to run and easy to maintain.
With so many options available on the market, finding the right tool for the job at hand is crucial when making the investment in a worthwhile tool.
Options & Advantages
Manufacturers offer high-power impact air wrenches in sizes including 1/4”, 3/8”, 1/2”, 3/4” and 1” drives. Today’s tools feature low-weight composite housings, ergonomically designed grips and triggers that provide ultimate operating comfort. Refined twin hammer mechanisms can increase blow frequency, reduce wear and increase durability. Likewise, air ratchets also come in a variety of sizes, and should be sealed against dirt and debris.
If you’re looking for a reciprocating air saw, go in for one that is compact, lightweight and can get in tight places. Look for one that features an ultra-soft grip, a built-in safety switch, and a built-in air regulator that can be turned up and down and in which the air pressure can be set up. (Note: Remember to always keep the exhaust turned away from you.) Choose one with 360° swivel air fittings, which will allow you to move the saw around freely in very tight situations, as in installing exhaust systems.
George Leung, ASE master technician at Paoli Auto Repair in Paoli, PA, said, he feels “pneumatic tools have an advantage over electric or hand tools in that they move faster and are more powerful. So, if a bolt is very tight, it can loosen it in no time and with little effort.”
He goes on to say, “Whether you are straight out of tech school or have been in the business for a while, having an air-powered die grinder, for example, is very useful for a technician who works on brakes and needs to grind away the rust quickly before putting on a rotor.”
Tool Design & Ergonomics
Ergonomics are an important factor in choosing the right tool. Pneumatic tool manufacturers have different philosophies when it comes to their balance, grip design and trigger mechanisms. Make sure to find the tool or manufacturer that fits you.
“Make sure the tool feels good in your hand, and is lightweight enough to be comfortable when in use for long periods,” recommends Andrew Markel, technical content director with TechShop’s sister publications, Underhood Service, Brake & Front End and ImportCar. “This is especially important if the task at hand is one that requires some time behind the tool.”
With the goal of weight reduction, most pneumatic tool manufacturers incorporate ultra-lightweight metals and ballistic-strength nylon-impregnated plastics in their tool bodies and mechanisms. Better weight distribution can make working in confined spaces less awkward.
Markel also advises techs look for tools with a comfortable rubberized grip that is resistant to tough chemicals around the shop.
Sandy Allen, national sales manager for a global tool manufacturer, offers some sound advice to shops and technicians who are in the market for a pneumatic tool. “Take care to find out where the tool was made. With pneumatic tools, the quality of the internal components is particularly important. That will impact its longevity. If it is an off-shore product, do your research thoroughly. For example, if the tool was made in Japan, the steel must be of good quality since Japan buys its steel from the U.S.”
She further advises technicians to ask plenty of questions about the company’s warranty ratio, meaning what is the percentage of tools that are returned for repair while they are still under warranty — the lower the ratio, the better the quality of the tool. She suggests that it should be at or below 1%. According to Allen, this is particularly important in a repair shop or tire shop scenario where tools are used practically all day. Other questions to ask would be: “How can I get the warranty?” and “How do I buy all the components?”
Brand / Price / Application
Technicians tend to buy their tools based on one of three things: brand name, price or application.
Buying based on brand will work if the manufacturer continues to make the same tool in the same quality over many years. However, that is not always the case. Be aware that manufacturers may change suppliers and all suppliers may not adhere to the same high standards of quality. So in checking out other brands, a tech may find a new tool he or she finds superior to their previous preference.
Buying based on price usually means lower quality unless there is a special being offered. It can be hard to get quality and price at the same time, says Allen.
On the subject of price, Markel says, “Keep in mind, you usually get what you pay for. But, no matter the price of the tool, it won’t last long if you don’t maintain it properly and ensure the air supply is filtered to remove water and other contaminates.”
Leung, who has been working at Paoli Auto Repair for eight years, advises techs to use their discretion. In fact, Leung cautions technicians to the fact that pneumatic tools may deliver more power than necessary — leading to over-torqueing of fasteners or over-tightening of bolts or lug nuts when putting on a wheel. Instead of a job well done, it can result in injury to the technician or damage to the customer’s car.
Besides paying attention to the power capacity of a tool when considering purchasing one, Leung also pays close attention to the weight of the tool. From the practical standpoint, it may get tiring to hold, especially if you use it around the shop all day. As a result, he prefers to buy more recently made tools that are manufactured using synthetic materials that are lighter weight.
Last but not least, be sure to talk to your tool distributor and ask a lot of questions before you make a decision. He or she may offer a loaner tool you can try for a week before putting any money down on a final purchase.