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Gas Air Compressor

Updated on January 10, 2010

A workshop of any size shouldn’t be without a high quality gas air compressor. Powered by a gasoline engine, these compressors are suited for a variety of jobs ranging from automotive to construction. The larger the tank, the more compressed air you will have access to at any given time. Horsepower plays a large role in how much PSI can be generated inside the chamber and how quickly air can be compressed. These compressors come with single or dual tanks made of durable cast iron to contain the enormous pressure. Oil levels must be properly maintained to keep the pump system healthy and prevent jams. Units with a belt driven pump last longer because wear is placed on the replaceable belt and not on moving hardware.

What Is CFM?

You will come across a stat called “CFM” in your search for a gas powered air compressor. This is known as Cubic Feet per Minute and measures how much air volume the compressor can output at a given PSI. This is an important capability to consider because different air tools have different requirements to operate correctly. For example, the Campbell Grease Gun needs 1 CFM at 90 PSI to work right. A compressor like the Northstar GX160 can output 13.2 CFM at 90 PSI, which is more than capable of operating that tool. A tool like a pneumatic screwdriver will require more CFM to operate, which is why you must make sure your compressor is capable of that volume output.


An aluminum block is going to give you a unit that weighs a lot less than a steel block of the same size. If you need portability and ease of use, go for the aluminum engine block models. The engine connects to the pump system with either mechanical components or a belt system. Belts are easier to replace and extend the life of the unit by reducing vibration and moving parts. Once the engine compresses the tanks to full level, it will idle down to save gas. Just in case you forget to keep the oil topped off, many units feature an oil shutoff mechanism that cuts power when oil runs low. To maintain communication at the workplace and to save on the hassle of earplugs, consider a unit with a noise reducing muffler.


Most gasoline powered compressors can run tools like nail guns, impact wrenches, sanders, screwdrivers, ratchets and more. More pressure means that you can run longer hoses to the worksite. Several tools can be used at the same time depending on the power you have available. The compressor may or may not include the hoses needed to use your tools. Be sure to obtain the right coupling and hose diameter so it will connect properly to the tool and your compressor.


Gas air compressors are naturally heavier than their electric counterparts. To aid in their transport, manufacturers have built in wheels and handles into their units. The wheelbarrow design is the most common and consists of a pneumatic tire up front and two handles in the back. Lighter units (around 70 pounds) have a well placed handle on the top. You don’t want to break your back moving these so make sure to get assistance if necessary.

Pneumatic Throttle Control

An important safety feature to consider is pneumatic throttle control. This system uses air instead of a cable to adjust the throttle. This eliminates the common failure of cable throttles which can crimp and snap. An air controlled throttle has no moving parts and therefore cannot break. If the throttle were to break while the unit was on, the system can over compress and become dangerous.  Safety comes first when operating any form of heavy machinery.

Product Highlights

Thomas TG-400HST 4 Horsepower

The Thomas 400HST is one of the few gasoline compressors that can be easily carried by one person. At 77 pounds, it is lightweight yet powerful. It can operate three nail guns simultaneously with 5.4 CFM at 100 PSI air delivery. It can run practically all day long on a single tank of gas and is very quiet compared to most compressors. A low oil indicator will cut power when oil levels get too low. The noise eliminating muffler keeps sound levels acceptable.

Senco PC2017 5.5 Horsepower

This gas air compressor by Senco has a wheelbarrow design to easily move it around. Twin air tanks evenly distribute the weight to prevent toppling. The cast aluminum engine block further reduces the weight to a manageable 185 pounds. The 5.5 horsepower engine features an oil splash pump to increase engine lifespan. The 8 gallon tank can achieve a max pressure of 125 PSI to accommodate tough jobs. After reaching max pressure, the engine will idle down to save fuel.


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