There is quite often a misconception about compressor regulators that we will try to dispel here, as well as giving you lots of information about how to best use your compressed air regulator.
While probably not all, most air compressors that have a tank will come equipped with an air regulator. It is typically located on the discharge line from the tank, upstream from the discharge coupler, which is the coupler into which you plug the connector on your air hose. Depending on the make and model of your air compressor, your compressor regulator will look something like the one in the image.
Your compressor regulator may be a different color. Your regulator may be bigger or smaller, it may have a smaller or larger air gauge or the air gauge may not even be directly attached to the regulator, your regulator adjustment knob may look different, yet all air regulators are basically similar in function to the one shown.
Using Compressor Regulators
Using the regulator is pretty straightforward. If you turn the regulator adjustment knob in a clockwise direction, that normally elevates the regulator pressure setting. Turn the knob counter-clockwise and the regulator setting is reduced.
Whatever pressure is displayed on the regulator gauge – not the tank gauge since your compressor typically has two gauges – is the pressure of the air stream exiting the discharge coupler into your air hose.
Some regulator adjustment knobs lock by either depressing them or pulling them out. If you find that you cannot turn the regulator adjustment knob, try pushing down on it or pulling it up. If it has a built-in adjustment lock, that should unlock it.
About Compressor Regulators Misconception
The most significant misconception about compressor regulators is that they can raise the air pressure!
If your tank pressure is 100 PSI for example, you can increase the discharge pressure by turning the knob in a clockwise direction. If you try to dial the pressure up past the tank pressure of 100 PSI the regulator gauge needle will stop at and display the tank pressure of 100 PSI, and that’s the pressure that will be exiting the discharge coupler to the air hose.
The air regulator can only adjust pressure down. No air regulator can adjust the pressure up past whatever the pressure is in the tank or air mains.
What Good Are Regulators Then?
The compressed air regulator is an important device. Why? Because it allows you to dial the pressure down to the the absolute minimum required by the air tool you are trying to operate.
Running your air tool at the minimum operating pressure extends the life of the air tool, reduces the amount of air used – which cuts down on energy cost to compress the air – and reduces the cycle frequency of the air compressor, which has positive ramifications for the compressor life and maintenance cycle.
Always adjust the air regulator pressure setting to the minimum pressure level required to operate any of your air tools.
Can You Have Multiple Air Regulators?
Absolutely you can. Many industrial plants plumb their compressed air up to a ceiling mounted air main that circulates the plant. The air pressure in the air main is typically the highest pressure that the plant compressor can generate.
Drop lines are installed from the air main down to the shop floor to supply compressed air to various pieces of equipment. Each machine or piece of equipment may have a different minimum operating pressure, so there will be a regulator (and typically a filter too) installed just before each piece of equipment so that the pressure can be set to the optimal performance level.
So too, in your home shop you can adjust the pressure for your air line on the regulator in the discharge line from the tank, and if desired, you can install air regulators anywhere else in the line to be able to further adjust the air pressure if you have multiple uses of compressed air.
Compressor Regulator Maintenance
For most of us DIY type folks with home or small shop air compressors, the regulator that came with the compressor will be a cheap one, mass produced in some foreign land for pennies each, and sold to the compressor assemblers for not much more than that, we expect.
The diaphragm inside the regulator upon which the compressed air presses to control the downstream pressure will crack in time, through high cycle exposure, from contamination of the diaphragm by compressor oils, debris in the air stream, or drying out of the regulator diaphragm over long periods of inactivity. If the regulator diaphragm cracks, your regulator will leak all the time.
The regulator gauge is cheap as well, and over time the innards corrode, or an impact might shatter the gauge-face cover.
Industrial air compressor regulators typically have a good supply chain of spare parts. They are expensive enough to warrant dismantling and repairing rather than tossing them out.
The typical DIY compressor air regulator does not enjoy a good supply of parts. With the price of a new regulator being in the $20 – $30 range, it’s hard to justify buying a kit (if you can find one) for almost that amount of money and spending a couple of hours tearing the regulator down and trying to get it working again.
In other words, the low end regulators are basically disposable when they fail.
You can replace the gauge on a regulator for around $7 – $10, however. If it’s the gauge that goes, do get a replacement.
If the regulator starts to leak, sure, try to find a diaphragm for it and fix it if you can. For us, it’ll be time for a new compressor regulator at that point.
Since most replacement regulators come equipped with a display gauge, if the old gauge is still working, keep it for a spare.
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