Pneumatic tool maintenance
As a service technician, you spend time diagnosing and troubleshooting problems and making repairs on all kinds of equipment and infrastructure. You need tools that perform in any situation.
Pneumatic tools encounter enormous stress in difficult environments, so it’s not uncommon for problems to occur. It may be easy to assume that your air compressor or all-in-one power solution is the problem, but your issues may actually be related to maintenance or the tool’s capabilities.
Get answers to frequently asked questions about service truck and tool performance — to ensure you always have the power to get the job done.
Q: How do pneumatic tool ratings impact performance?
A: Most pneumatic tools are rated at 90 psi. Higher-quality tools better handle more pressure, but it’s still important to pay attention to psi ratings and know the effect that pressure levels have on tool performance. Increasing psi in an effort to get more power can put too much pressure into the tool, and it will eventually damage the tool by overworking the seals, bushings and mechanisms inside. Always know the tool’s psi rating, and check the pressure at the gun connection or end of the hose to avoid over-pressuring the tool.
Q: What are some common problems with pneumatic tools I should look out for?
A: Tools that lack torque or that stall under a significant load are common problems for many techs. The source of these issues is often a lack of maintenance or poor condition of supply components such as filters, regulators, lubricators, connections, hoses and fittings. Be sure to use properly sized hoses to meet flow requirements. Condensation, water buildup, dirt and rust inside the tool or air lines will also cause problems that result in poor performance and shortened tool life.
Q: How do I prevent moisture in pneumatic tools?
A: You may sometimes find moisture coming from the tool. This can happen when water is inside the air compressor tank or the air hoses or lines connected to the tool. This can be quite common since free air contains water vapor that can fill the tank. It’s important to resolve this quickly, since water buildup in the lines is harmful to impact guns, air ratchets and other pneumatic tools. Liquids do not compress, so water that reaches the tool can quickly damage seals and gaskets and shorten tool life. Draining the compressor tank daily helps prevent this.
To remove water from the tank, drain out the water by using the drain valve, which should be in the lowest part of the tank. Installing a water separator or air dryer reduces the chance of water getting in and causing problems.
Q: How do I eliminate dirt and rust in pneumatic tools?
A: When debris gets inside air lines, it can end up inside your tool. This debris might be from rust inside the air tank or from hose couplers that were laying in dirt or oil. These contaminants can quickly destroy the internal components of pneumatic tools, accelerating wear. Most tool manufacturers recommend draining the compressor and air lines daily to prevent water and contaminants from entering the tools. Using hoses on retractable reels reduces grime by keeping the couplers off the ground. Keeping tools clean helps prolong life and maintain performance.
Q: Why is my pneumatic tool running slowly or not at all?
A: Before you begin disassembling the tool, check the pressure gauge at the air source to make sure it’s receiving correct pressure. If there is a lack of pressure, make sure the pressure setting is correct at the compressor and regulator. If you find the air compressor is working properly with correct pressure, the performance issues might be due to a poorly connected or kinked air hose or a hose with too small of a diameter to allow enough flow to meet the tool requirements. If the connections and hoses are good, slow performance could be the result of contaminants inside the tool or a mechanical problem.
When dust and grit enter the tool, they create deposits that can gum up the lubricating oil used in the tool. To get rid of oil deposits and grit, flush the tool with the cleaning agents recommended by the tool manufacturer. Once the tool is cleaned, be sure to lubricate it with appropriate pneumatic tool oil. If the performance issues are caused by a mechanical problem with the tool, it may require repair at a shop. Parts that are prone to wear — and therefore need routine maintenance or replacement — are seals, bearings and the rotor blade inside the motor.
Q: How often should I lubricate pneumatic tools?
A: Poor maintenance is a common cause of sluggish tool performance. When pneumatic tool performance seems weak, the easiest solution to try is proper lubrication. Pneumatic tools should be lubricated with oil on a regular basis to reduce friction and prevent water contamination. Lubricate by putting just a few drops of tool manufacturer-approved pneumatic tool oil into the air inlet connection. Tools that see heavy use should be oiled at least once a day. Be careful to avoid over-lubrication. Oil (like water) won’t compress, so excess oil inside of tools can cause failure or reduced performance. Seals can also be damaged when the wrong oil is used. Different oils and lubricants are recommended by tool manufacturers, so be sure to check the manual.
Q: How should I properly handle the air hose?
A: Taking good care of the air hose helps promote tool performance and reduce maintenance. Use the proper hose for the tool and fittings that are the correct diameter. You can also look for hoses specifically designed to resist abrasion, cutting, crushing or failure from continuous flexing. Here are other air hose tips:
- Choose air supply hoses that have a minimum working pressure rating of 200 psig (pounds per square in gauge) or 150% of the maximum pressure produced in the system, whichever is higher.
- Check hoses regularly for cuts, abrasions and bulges; tag and replace them if damaged.
- Always blow out the air line before connecting a tool. To do this, hold the hose firmly and blow away from yourself and others.
- Make sure that hose connections fit properly and are equipped with a mechanical means of securing the connection, such as a chain, wire or positive locking device.
- Don’t operate the tool at a pressure above the manufacturer’s rating.
- Turn off air pressure to the hose when it’s not in use or when changing power tools.
- Never carry a pneumatic tool by the hose.
Q: What are some tips for using pneumatic tools safely?
A: Safe use of pneumatic tools starts with reviewing the manufacturer’s instructions for the tool. Use only the attachments that the manufacturer recommends for that tool. It’s important to always wear safety glasses or goggles and a face shield when using these tools. Safety shoes or boots and hearing protection may also be necessary in some applications.