When setting up your shop air the second most important thing to what compressor you pick is what type and size of air line that you choose to plumb your shop with. If the system feeding your tools aren’t adequately sized and the correct material for you it could decrease the performance of your air tools or cause trouble down the road. Below we discuss the different types of materials and when they may be good to use in your shop air system.
First you need to look at the area you’re routing your air lines and where the compressor itself will be in relation to the air hose outlets. If your tubing needs to make many bends and turns one material may be better than another for its ease of assembly. For many years the standard in air delivery in a shop has been steel pipe. You can get it in most any diameter and it is very strong and durable. It also is the most affordable of the options we’re discussing. Standard “black pipe” can be found at hardware stores or metal supply yard and are available in longer lengths like 20 and 40 feet for long runs. One thing to consider when using steel pipe is rust that can form inside the air lines. If you’re using an oiled compressor you will find that the small traces of oil in the air will keep the inside of the steel pipe from rusting badly. An oil less compressor may have less/no oil in the air, but if it runs often it could put out hot air which will hold moisture. Another thing to consider is the assembly of your air system with steel pipe. The labor involved is great as you need to cut each piece, thread the end for a fitting or bend and then install or hang it. This can get old quick if you’re hanging your system overhead. If you can afford the slight increase in cost you can upgrade to galvanized pipe to avoid rust or corrosion in the air lines.
Stainless steel air lines can be the best for durability and won’t be affected by oil or moisture found in your air lines. Stainless comes at a high cost and if you have a lot of long runs in your runs it can get expensive quick. We suggest using stainless tubing where your air comes from the compressor and before your air filter/dryer system. This air is unfiltered and at it’s hottest. Stainless tubing will last a lifetime in these spots and definitely has its place.
Copper piping has been a favorite choice for many over the years as it won’t rust and is a bit easier to handle since generally will be lighter. The original process of joining copper together tubing was to solder or “sweat” the tubing together. This takes some skill and practice to make air tight joints on the first try and is extremely time consuming. With the recent advances in fittings PTC (push to connect) fittings allow you to just cut the tubing and press your fittings or unions on by hand. This makes cutting and assembly a breeze, but does come with a cost. Don’t be surprised to pay double or triple the price of steel pipe to run the same system out of copper and PTC fittings. Once nice thing is that you can add on to your system or get more material during assembly locally at most any hardware store though.
High Pressure Plastic pipe for air management systems can be a heaven-send with its ease of assembly. PTC elbows and unions make it extremely easy to put your system together and modular kits can be bought if you want to take some guesswork out of the project. The cost of these kits can be higher priced, but they’re more user friendly for a weekend warrior or DIY enthusiast. Also keep in mind that most of the plastic tubing you need for air lines will be harder to find locally and may need to be bought from a supplier. Plastic also won’t be affected by water or rust/corrosion. If you’re using plastic tubing make sure you aren’t using common PVC pipe as it isn’t rated for high pressures and could blow out. Also make sure that your plastic tubing of choice is oil resistant for the traces of oil that could travel in the air through the system. Overall the Plastic tubing is the easiest to assemble and use, but does come with a higher cost similar to copper tubing.
Whichever type of air line you choose make sure that you properly plan the system out and choose the type that matches your needs the most. To find air compressors and management systems visit our website here: https://www.eastwood.com/shop-equipment/air-management.html .