Extend the Life of Your Air tools
Keep Your Air Lines Dry
Kevin M. Padden
AZ School of Rock &
KM Padden Consulting

Ok by the title of this article, I am not advocating the elimination of alcoholic beverages from all US domestic air carriers. I just wanted to clarify that, so those of you who do consume "adult beverages" on airplane flights can rest easy.

As some of you may know, I have been working feverishly on setting up a new fabrication shop here in Phoenix, where AZ School of Rock will be holding its classes starting in October of 2011.

I have the extreme luxury to have an abundance of compressed air available for shop use. There is so much compressed air, in fact, that we could incorporate all of our tools and any that we want to add in the conceivable future, to go to air power.

Combining my recent experience with the fact that I have been getting a lot of inquiries as to compressed air systems from client companies and students of AZ School of Rock, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share and review one of the most important pieces of advice that was given to me 10 years ago when I set up my first shop for someone other than myself.

I have been "preaching" this message for the last 10 years, and I thought it would be good to re-visit it for the sake of my friends who are going to air systems for their shops.

When implementing compressed air into your fabrication operation, it's important to understand the "mechanics" of what happens to air as it gets compressed. It's also very important to understand and know what needs to be done in order to keep your machines and air tools running well and to be able to get the most "working service life" out of them.

The number one reason why air tools fail (outside of physically dropping them and breakage) is water in the lines getting into the working guts of the tool and creating rust.

But Kevin, you ask, my air compressor does not have a water line attached to it. How can water get into my air tools? The answer is pretty simple. We need to look at simple physics, and then it will be clear. Air has moisture in it. You can't always see it but it's known as humidity. When you can see the moisture in the air, it's known as fog.

When air is compressed, so is the moisture at whatever the relative humidity percentage is. The higher the humidity level, the faster you will accumulate moisture in the air that's been compressed, because you are condensing the air from a cubic foot of gas, into a cubic centimeter or even smaller. As the air gets compressed, so does the moisture, going from a gas to a "condensate" or a liquid.

This liquid then "accumulates" from tiny droplets into a stream of water that has to go somewhere. Remember that water "finds its own level" so where ever your air lines run, just look for the natural path for the water in the lines to follow, and you'll find where the water will collect.

Add in a plug in where you can attach an air polisher, and the water will find it's way into the tool, starting the rusting pricess. Do you notice every time you run your air polisher the air coming out of the exhaust manifold is wet or feels damp? This means you have a problem in the making.

Ways to Keep Your Air Dry

1. Attach a "drier" to your compressor. Most people install driers right next to the compressor, in between the compressor and their storage tank if they have one. This will help to prevent moist compressed air from being stored in the tank and allowing water to accumulate in the tank (not good).

2. Run "moisture traps" in your air delivery lines. This is a very easy step that anyone with half a brain (IMO) can do. However, sadly, many guys overlook this crucial element in physically preventing moisture from finding its way into a tool or machine.

3. Add "moisture drops" at every point that you would plug in your tools into an airline. This adds to your ability to prevent moisture from reaching the working "guts" of the tool or machine. Add a ball valve on the end of the line and manually open each valve a few times a day for 5 seconds to evacuate any accumulated moisture in the "drop." Do this at the start and again at the end of the day to ensure that any accumulated moisture is expelled.

A couple of other things to be aware of when doing your airlines, especially if you have never done them before and are attempting to design and install your system yourself:

A. Never use PVC plastic for your compressed air lines ever! Over time, PVC will weaken and eventually explode if you run compressed air through it. PVC is designed for running water and other liquids through it not compressed air.

B. The larger the diameter of the pipe you use will help act as a "storage" feature. Many guys use copper, galvanized steel or cast iron as their airlines. I prefer copper as it's easy to install and you can work it with minimal tools.

C. Use a looped system versus a branched circuit. This helps in creating an even pressure distribution of your compressed air.

D. Add a Dixon fitting between your compressor and your drier. This acts as a "spare tire," so to speak, so that when (notice I didn't write "If") your compressor "goes down" for maintenance or repairs, you can bring in a rental compressor, and hook it up to your air line delivery system and not miss a beat from fabricating. The cost in lost production will always exceed the cost of the repair due to your inability to function. Why make yourself vulnerable? A Dixon fitting costs less than $20, and can be installed in about an hour. It just makes good common sense to have one, so that when the day comes that you'll need it, you'll have it.

At the end of the day, if you implement these simple things into your air system, your tools will last longer, your machines that require compressed air will function better, and you'll have time to focus on fabricating stone, as opposed to being a building maintenance man.

Until next month Best Regards and Happy Fabricating!

"Air Systems and Keeping Your Air Tools Dry" is a hands on topic that is taught each month at AZ School of Rock find out more at the web site: www.azschoolofrock.com .

Moisture in the air line is the biggest foe of an airtool, and a major contributor to tool failure.

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