When shopping for an air compressor, it’s important to know what kinds of tools you’ll be using with the compressor. This is how you determine whether a given compressor will be adequate for your needs. After all, not all compressors will provide enough airflow and/or pressure for every air tool. And some of the most common tools used with compressors are nail guns. So it’s common for people to wonder what size air compressor they’ll need for nail guns.
Compressor size and CFM ratings required for nail guns will vary depending on the type of nail guns used. Frame nailing, for instance, will require a higher flow rate than finish nailing. To generalize, a 6-gallon compressor can operate most nail guns easily, which require 0.5 to 4 CFM @ 90 PSI.
However, this doesn’t mean you should buy the first 6-gallon air compressor you find. You’ll want to make sure that the compressor you’ll be buying can deliver enough air at a high enough pressure that the nail guns will work. And we’ll explain how to determine that in this article!
What To Look For in a Nail Gun Compressor
Size isn’t actually the most important thing when it comes to buying a compressor for use with nail guns. Since nail guns don’t require continuous airflow, the size of the compressor tank is less important than other air tools. Nail guns only require a single blast of compressed air per nail. This gives the compressor time to recover, so you don’t generally need to worry about running out of air when nailing.
Instead of size, it’s best to start with Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and Pounds per Square Inch (PSI). These are the two crucial indicators that will tell you whether a compressor is good for a nail gun.
CFM for Nail Guns
CFM is a measure of flow when it comes to air compressors and air tools. It’s the measure of how much air the compressor can deliver to the air tool. Most nail guns require between 0.5 and 4 CFM to run properly.
You’ll also see this in terms of SCFM, which stands for Standard Cubic Feet per Minute. This is simply the measure of CFM under ideal conditions since this can be affected by ambient temperature, atmospheric pressure, and humidity.
PSI for Nail Guns
PSI is the amount of pressure that’s required for a nail gun to work properly. The vast majority of air compressors on the market provide enough pressure (PSI) to operate all nail guns. You’ll find that many compressors have a max PSI rating of between 135 and 175. The max operating pressure of even the most demanding nail guns is around 115 PSI.
You’ll see that CFM and PSI are mentioned together. And while CFM is the more important of the two numbers for nail guns, you’ll still want to pay attention to both. They often look like this:
Compressor X: 2.8 SCFM @ 90 PSI
This means that compressor X has been rated by the manufacturer to deliver 2.8 standard cubic feet per minute at 90 pounds per square inch.
Determining CFM and PSI
It’s pretty easy to determine the required CFM and PSI for your nail gun. All air tools come with recommended operating specs that feature both CFM and PSI.
What you’ll want to do is find the nail gun with the highest CFM requirement and multiply that number by 1.5. Take that number and make sure the compressor you’re looking at is rated at or above the number.
Brad nailer: Requires 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI
2.0 * 1.5 = 3 CFM
The compressor needs to be capable of at least 3 CFM @ 90 PSI
So, using the example above, let’s work this out. In this example, the brad nailer would be the air tool with the highest CFM requirement that you’ll use. All other air tools will have requirements equal to or less than 2.0 CFM.
Multiplying that number by 1.5 allows you some wiggle room in terms of airflow. You don’t want to purchase a compressor that matches exactly the requirements of your air tools. There will always be some lost pressure, so you want to counteract that by getting a compressor that’s capable of more than your most demanding air tool. Plus, you’re likely to wear out a compressor quickly if it has to work at its peak capacity to meet your requirements.
Nail Guns and Their Requirements
Now, let’s look at the different nail guns on the market and their requirements in terms of CFM, PSI, and tank size. Keep in mind that different tools for the same job may have slightly different requirements. What materials you’re nailing through can also affect CFM requirements.
Brad nailers don’t require much. Brad nails don’t have much of a head and aren’t very thick, so they don’t require much air. Brad nailers generally operate at 0.5 to 1 CFM and require between 60 and 90 PSI. Your compressor should be capable of delivering 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI and have a minimum 2-gallon tank.
Framing nailers require a higher CFM rating than some of the other nailers on this list. They generally need around 2.5 CFM @ 90 PSI. This means you’ll be fine with a compressor capable of 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI. A 6- to 8-gallon tank will be fine for a framing nailer.
Most finish nailers don’t require much more air than brad nailers. You’ll be fine getting a compressor that’s capable of 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI and with a 2-gallon tank.
Palm nailers are great for those hard-to-reach places. Luckily, they don’t need a lot of pressure or a high CFM flow rate to operate. You can operate most palm nailers with a compressor that’s capable of 3.0 CFM @ 90 PSI with a minimum 3-gallon tank.
Most flooring nailers require around 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI. So if you get an air compressor that’s capable of 3.0 CFM @ 90 PSI with a 3-gallon tank (or larger), you’ll be able to operate this and smaller air tools.
Most roofing nailers require around 2.2 to 2.5 CFM. If you have a compressor that’s able to deliver 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI, you’ll be good to go. Most compressors this size have a 6-gallon tank, which is enough for operating a roofing nailer.
Pin nailers don’t require much power or a large compressor tank. They usually require less than 1 CFM to operate. So a 2-gallon compressor that’s capable of delivering 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI will work just fine.
Siding nailers are similar to framing nailers in their requirements. They generally need between 2.5 and 3.5 CFM @ 90 PSI. So these usually require a slightly larger compressor than many other nailers. A compressor that’s capable of 5.5 CFM @ 90 PSI will work fine for a siding nailer. Generally, these compressors have tanks around 8 to 10 gallons in size.
Most staplers don’t have high requirements when it comes to cubic feet per minute. They operate fine under 1 CFM, so a small compressor that’s capable of delivering 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI is more than enough for these air tools.
What Size Air Compressor Do You Need for Nail Guns Chart
|Type of Nail Gun||CFM Requirements||Pressure||Min. Compressor Requirements|
|Brad Nailer||0.5 to 1 CFM||60 to 90 PSI||2-Gallon Compressor Capable of 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Framing Nailer||~2.5 CFM||90 PSI||6 to 8-Gallon Compressor Capable of 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Finish Nailer||0.5 to 1 CFM||60 to 90 PSI||2-Gallon Compressor Capable of 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Palm Nailer||1 to 2 CFM||70 to 90 PSI||3-Gallon Compressor Capable of 3.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Flooring Nailer||~2.0 CFM||90 PSI||3-Gallon Compressor Capable of 3.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Roofing Nailer||2.2 to 2.5 CFM||90 PSI||6-Gallon Compressor Capable of 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Pin Nailer||0.5 to 1 CFM||60 to 90 PSI||2-Gallon Compressor Capable of 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Siding Nailer||2.5 and 3.5 CFM||90 PSI||8-Gallon Compressor Capable of 5.5 CFM @ 90 PSI|
|Stapler||0.5 to 1 CFM||60 to 90 PSI||2-Gallon Compressor Capable of 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI|
There are many factors that can affect how much air a nail gun needs. If you’re working very fast with another person, you could run the risk of depleting the compressor’s air before it has a chance to recharge if it has a small tank. However, most nail guns will function fine with smaller compressors without running out of air.
The most important thing is to pay attention to the CFM of the compressor and the tools you’ll be using with it. And if you plan on running more than one nail gun off the same compressor, you’ll likely need a bigger tank and a more powerful compressor. But you’ll find that a compressor around 6 to 8-gallons in size will work fine for the majority of nail guns out there.