Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2001   by Dean Askin

Air Tools: Maximum Power

How to Get And Benefit from your Air Tools

While there’s no question that hand tools are still essential, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) recommends using a power tool instead of a hand tool if you’re exerting “frequent and repetitive force to do the job” with a hand tool. That’s because the more force you have to exert, the more you have to twist your wrist – and the greater the chances of sustaining a strain injury.

Air tools can save you a lot of time, effort and strain, and are a must for certain tasks. When you’re purchasing an air tool – whether it’s an air drill, air ratchet, air hammer, impact wrench, sander/polisher, die grinder or cutting tool – there are some important factors to keep in mind. Consider drive size or capacity; torque range; revolutions or blows per minute; tool ergonomics; and how you’ll be using the tool. Make sure the tool meets your needs.

For example, a 1/4″ drive air ratchet may be all right for light-duty applications, but a 1/2″ drive air ratchet may be more likely what you’ll need to withstand heavier-duty maintenance applications. Similarly, a 1/2″ impact wrench with a maximum torque of 550 ft. lbs. may be better than one with 480 ft. lbs. of torque.

Carefully check the specifications in catalogue product descriptions. You don’t want to end up purchasing an air hammer, for example, that delivers only 3,500 blows per minute when you really needed one that can deliver 5,000 blows per minute. Talk with your tool representative about your needs. Perhaps you can try the chosen air tool for a week first, to make sure that it’s right for you.

Today, tool ergonomics are a very important consideration and often the prime concern in the workplace. A poorly designed air tool will do you more harm than good on the job. If, for example, you use an impact wrench a lot during the course of your day, a longer trigger enables you to operate it with two fingers instead of just one. This reduces discomfort, and the risk of “trigger finger” and “trigger thumb” tendonitis that can result from repetitive use of your index finger. Plus, make sure there’s a minimum amount of trigger motion (about 5 mm is ideal) from “off” to full throttle.

Consider an air tool with a paddle-style trigger that lets you depress the trigger with your palm when you grip the handle. Some air ratchets, die grinders, cutting tools and specialty tools have this trigger design. It gives you more precision control, and also reduces the risk of “trigger finger” injuries.

Similarly, try to make sure your air tools have an ergonomic grip. Many air ratchets and impact wrenches are designed with textured rubber handles that improve your grip while reducing vibration, user fatigue, and strain on hands and wrists.

Then there’s the handle colour. Some air tools are available with handle colours such as red, orange, or green. If your workplace has a tool control program, designated colours for different users may be a prime need. Air tools are a major investment, so coloured handles and a tool control program can help you monitor usage, loss and replacement more efficiently.

Once you’ve purchased the right air tool for your needs, it’s important to maintain it properly.

Here is where the air supply comes into play – a clean, dry air supply, with the right amount of pressure. In most cases, the recommended air pressure is 90 PSIG (620 kPa). Make sure your air supply has a working regulator that maintains this precise pressure. Less reduces the efficiency of your air tools; pressure greater than 90 PSIG increases torque and speed beyond a tool’s rated capacity. This can damage the tool and cause other hazards as well.

When you’re connecting your air tools to the air supply, always blow out the line first – this will remove any dirt or moisture that may have collected, and which can damage your air tool. Also, when you’re connecting the tool to the air supply, remember that the handle of your air tool is made of aluminum – be careful not to strip the threads when you’re connecting a hose or a coupler to the tool.

Many air tools are sent in for repair every year because they’re oiled too infrequently and used where there’s water in the air supply. If the manual for your air tool says “oil daily”, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations – and make sure you use the right oil. If you use your air ratchet, every day, grease it at least once a week. You can adjust your lubrication schedule according to the amount of tool use. The same goes for air hammers. If yours is sluggish, flush it with three or four squirts of oil in the air inlet every day before and after you use the tool.

For all your air tools, in addition to the recommended regular lubrication, a once-monthly extra cleaning with 10 drops of varsol or penetrating oil, then running the tool for several seconds, will help expel sludge that reduces the efficiency of your tools.

Superior-quality air tools are engineered to give you years of reliable performance. Sometimes components do fail and you may need to have your air tool repaired to fix a chattering or stalling problem; and eventually all tools wear out from normal use. But if you purchase a quality tool – that’s right for your needs, and maintain it properly, you’ll work more efficiently, get the job done more easily and save yourself a lot of grief and unnecessary replacement expense in the long run.

This article was supplied by Snap-on Tools of Canada Ltd.

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