What Size Air Compressor for Framing Nailer

Framing nailers are essential for tough construction jobs and home remodeling projects! However, your framing nailer is only as good as the air compressor that’s powering it. Framing nailers receive their power from air compressors. Since air compressors come in numerous shapes and sizes, knowing what size air compressor for framing nailer is crucial for smooth and efficient workflow. So, what size air compressor is needed for a framing nailer?

The size of the air compressor depends on the size of the job. For smaller home projects, you can get by with a 2 to 5 gal air compressor. However, for larger jobs that require more repeated bursts of nails, I recommend that you use at least a 25 to 60 gallon air compressor. This will ensure that you are not constantly waiting for the compressor to fill back up with air.

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This article discusses the relationship between air compressors and framing nailers. What’s the optimum flow rate of an air compressor when paired with a framing nailer? What’s the importance of an air compressor’s PSI? Let’s find out! 

What Size Air Compressor Should You Use for Framing Nailers 

Pneumatic nailers, like framing nailers and sheathing nailers, don’t operate on a constant supply of air. Instead, they utilize short bursts of air every time they’re used.

In most cases, small to mid-sized air compressors are more than sufficient for regular home jobs. If you’re planning to work with the nailer for hours on end, you might benefit from a large air compressor. 

Here’s a list of size recommendations depending on the job scenario: 

Apart from size, there are several other factors and specifications to consider when buying an air compressor. This includes CPM rate, PSI, and HP. 

In the following sections, we’ll take a look at the importance of each and how to select the right rating.  

What Is the Best CFM Rate for Air Compressors 

The optimum flow rate of air compressors is measured by CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute). The CFM rating measures the exact volume of air released within a cubic foot for each passing minute. Simply put, it dictates the compressor’s output. 

If the air compressor’s CFM is lower or higher than the framing nailer’s recommended CFM, the device won’t work efficiently, thus leading to reduced system performance. In the long run, it can even deteriorate the equipment’s internal components.

Intermittently used pneumatic air tools typically require a CFM of between 1 to 5. Large, heavy-weight tools and continuous use tools exceed the 10 CFM mark. The higher the required air volume, the higher the needed CFM.

To calculate your tool’s required CFM, use the formula below formula: 

  • CFM = (tank volume * standard air pressure * cranks per minute)  

In cubic feet, measure the volume of space and fill it up with air. Then, calculate the evacuation time of space before dividing the volume by time. The result should determine the tool’s needed CFM.

The above formula should be used if the required tool doesn’t come with a recommended CFM rating. If your framing gun already has a CFM rating, simply multiply its required CFM by 1.5. That’s it. No guesswork or complicated calculation is needed. 

For instance, if the recommended CFM of your framing nailer is 2.2, simply multiply it by 1.5. 

  • 2.2 * 1.5 = 3.3 CFM

CFM ratings are usually listed in whole numbers. After rounding up the result, the required air compressor CFM is 4.

What About the Air Compressor’s PSI

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PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) determines the pressure exerted on a square inch of space. It indicates the amount of force an air compressor can deliver. Therefore, a PSI of 20 equals 20 pounds of pressure within a square inch of area. 

PSI and CFM usually come hand in hand. For optimal tool performance, CFM (volume of air) and PSI (pressure) must both be sufficiently rated. 

The higher the PSI, the more air the tank carries. Naturally, this allows you to operate the tool for longer durations. However, tank size matters just as much as the PSI rating. For instance, a 1.5-gallon tank rated at 100 PSI contains the same amount of air as a 1-gallon tank rated at 150 PSI.

The PSI rating of framing nailers must always be paired with the recommended CFM. Without the proper PSI, the tool won’t operate correctly. For optimal performance, search for an air compressor with at least 4 CFM and 90 PSI.  

PSI and CFM follow the same mathematical equation. However, instead of multiplying the recommended PSI by 1.5, multiply it by 1.25. 

Does HP Really Matter 

HP, also known as Horsepower, determines the air compressor’s working capacity in a given amount of time. 

Unlike CFM and PSI, higher isn’t always better when it comes to HP. Higher HP doesn’t indicate how fast the compressor will work, either. Newer and more efficient air compressors can do more with less. 

For instance, if a 5 HP air compressor and 10 HP air compressor provide the same PSI at a constant flow rate, the former is much more cost-effective than the latter. Likewise, it’ll also extend the life expectancy of your compressor. 

Typically, small to mid-sized air compressors come with an HP rating of 1.5 to 6.5. Large air compressors, particularly those used for stationary jobs, may sometimes require up to 20 HP to efficiently operate.  

Manufacturers calculate an air compressor’s HP rating in two ways: brake horsepower, which indicates peak performance, and normal operating horsepower. Always consider both. If the recommended HP of your framing nailer is 5, the brake horsepower should be listed at 6 or 6.5. 

Provided that they come with the recommended CFM and PSI for your framing nailer, stick to an air compressor with an HP rating of 5 to 10. 


As you can see, there are multiple factors to consider when buying an air compressor for a framing nailer. Even if you bought an 8–10-gallon compressor, it won’t perform effectively if it doesn’t come with the right CFM, PSI, and HP. Luckily, it’s relatively easy to calculate all three. 

Generally, a 2-to-4-gallon air compressor needs to have a CFM of at least 4, a PSI of at least 90, and a maximum HP of 2. 

For a medium-sized air compressor (4 to 6 gallons), it needs to have a CFM of at least 4, a PSI of at least 115, and an HP of 2. 

Large air compressors for tough jobs need a CFM of at least 5, a PSI of 125, and an HP of 3.5. 

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