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    Protecting your Air Tool Investment – Impact Guns and other Air Tools

    Lubricating Air Ratchet

    DennisB © Summary: When it comes to ROI (Return on Investment) not too many people think about automotive tools. That is unless you are an auto technician. Time is money and having the right tools can make virtually impossible tasks possible and make any job easier by eliminating hand wrenching. Needless to say, air tools (like impact wrenches, air ratchets, air chisels, die grinders, cut off tools) are one of the best investments a technician can make. As a flat rate auto technician for many years myself, I can honestly say that my impact wrenches and air ratchets have by far saved me the most time over any other tools I’ve owned. Unlike some tools, I used air tools everyday. Some specialty tools are only used once in a blue moon… not so with air tools. And they are stronger than most of the cordless models and they NEVER need new batteries. Don’t take me wrong I had some cordless tools that I loved. But, it was always frustrating when the time came that the tools were fine but I needed new expensive replacement batteries.

    So what causes the most problems with air tools?

    1. Condensation (water buildup) in air lines is the most harmful to impact guns air ratchets and other air tools. If pure water reaches the air tool it can be damaged pretty quickly. Air tools are NOT designed to handle extreme amounts of water. Liquids are not compressible so seals and gaskets can be damaged causing performance issues. And draining the compressor everyday helps, but then there’s the rust/corrosion  issue.
    2. Foreign debris (dirt and rust) that is inside the lines and may end up in air tools. This can be in the form of rust from the inside of the compressor. Or it could be from dirty air hose couplers that were lying in dirt or oil dry on the shop’s floor.

    The air powered motor in pneumatic tools have machined and polished surfaces similar to an automobile’s engine. We know what happens to a cars engine when the inside gets something abrasive inside like dirt, rust or other metallic particles like from worn components. So it’s easy to see when we look at it in those terms. Contaminants like these can quickly destroy the smooth internal components which in turn accelerates wear. Most air tool manufacturers like Ingersoll Rand and Chicago Pneumatic recommend not only draining the compressor regularly but also draining the air lines near the work area to help prevent water and trash from entering the tools.

    Help eliminate grime from getting embedded in air couplers by keeping them off the floor. This is best done by using retractable hose reels and paying special attention to not allow the couplers to touch the floor. Kind of obvious if you think about it. It’s a “hard easy” or “easy hard” scenario. It’s a little harder to keep the couplers clean but it will be easier to keep the inside of the air tool clean which will prolong the life and maintain the performance. So being more careful not to use dirty couplers now will save the trouble that dirt inside the air tools will cause later.

    Some air tool aficionados like a technical trainer from Ingersoll Rand, Gary Potterpin recommends lubricating your air tools three times a day. I think that may be a little obsessive and excessive, because I have seen guys over oil their tools blowing out seals fairly quickly. Which leads to the question; Can an impact or other air tool be “over oiled” ? Many will say no, the excess just blows out the exhaust. But, I believe that air tools can be damaged with excess lubrication. In fact many user guides for air tools say “Excessive amounts of oil should be avoided“. Seals can be damaged when the incorrect oil is used also. Distortion of seals can cause poor performance. If detergent oils are used, wear will be accelerated. I do think that air tools that see heavy use should be oiled at least once a day. Maybe a second time in the evening if the shop air tends to have moisture in the lines. Another issue can be when an air compressor is failing and it’s oil gets into the air lines. Too much oil, can be devastating to the seals. I had a neighbor that continued to use his impact wrench when he knew his small compressor in his garage was spewing it’s lubricating oil into the air tank and therefore into the air hose. Oil like water, will not compress. Get too much in air tools and it will cause them to fail or at least degrade their performance. That’s what happened to his air gun. I gave him a spare air wrench but advised him NOT to use it until he replaced his malfunctioning, oil dumping air compressor. He replaced the compressor. But, I feel a little sorry for the guy that ended up with his old one (he sold it on Craigslist).

    • Most air tool motors have a gap (or clearance) between the air rotor and the motor itself. Therefore lubrication will not only reduce friction it prevents water condensation and air loss.
    • Lubricate the mechanism on both ends of the tool internally and externally.
    • Many air tools have grease fittings. Look for them on yours and check the manual if you’re unsure if yours has one (or possibly more).
    • Different oils and lubricants are recommended by the manufacturer’s sometimes depending on if the case is metallic (Aluminum) or composite (similar to hard plastic). When in doubt check the manual out.
    • If an air tool seems to be weak, the easiest thing to try is proper lubrication. You may be surprised. Proper oiling can fill the spaces between the rotors and housing restoring internal pressure and power.
    • Make sure hoses are kept off the the shop floor by using a convenient time saving hose reel.
    • Invest in air line products that help prevent air from reaching valuable air tools like an air line desiccant dryer.
    • Purchase a side mount oil dispenser like the Steck 16600 (check out the video on the Steck 16600 product listing). As the video shows, the Steck 16600 makes regular air tool lubrication a breeze.


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