Good air compressor? Any suggestions? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

After following one of the threads on film spotting, I have fully appreciated the need for high pressure air, ie. greater pressure that comes in the disposable air cans. Can anyone recommend a good air compressor made for photography... ie. oil free? Thank you.

-- Bill Glickman (, May 10, 1999


I have a small..(1.5 HP) compressor in my shop which is oil-free..made by Makita..and most of the similar ones I see advertised, and at Home Depot also seem to be oil-free...but I've never considered using it in my darkroom, it's very noisy. A better idea..althougth these days they may be harder to a compressor made specifically for graphic arts applications..i.e. air brushing

-- C MATTER (, May 10, 1999.

If you are just using the compressed air for cleaning, you might consider getting a SCBA bottle and having a local welding store fill it with nitrogen. Most fire departments have gone from the steel cylinders to aluminium or composite, and you can quite often get the steel cylinders for free. Just have them hydro tested, and get a regulator. The nitrogen from the welding supply store will be far cleaner than the air from a compressor, and it will make no noise at all. It is also easier to store than an air compressor.

-- Gary Helfrich (, May 10, 1999.

As all of you who read this forum know, I am the one who originally started this all thing about dust and how to get rid of it. I too had reached the conclusion of getting myself a good and affordable air compressor, one which will be , hopefully, not to ear-drums-damaging. Is this conbination a realistic one or do I have to go for gold? I mean, can I get a suitable machine(humidity-free and oil-free are paramount) at a reasonable price, available in the Netherlands? Any suggestion welcome. Thanks. Regards.

-- andrea milano (, May 10, 1999.

Gary Gary, thanks for the informative response to my posting. Tell me, what is a SCBA bottle, how big is it? What makes you say that nitrogen is cleaner than air compressor air? Is the nitrogen inexpensive to refill? Great idea, do you use nitrogen? Bill

-- Bill Glickman (, May 10, 1999.

GAST Company makes a full line of compressors, from small, quiet air-brush types to large capacity pumps for printing presses and similar uses. Probably cheaper to order from their distributors than shop at an artist's supply.

-- tony brent (, May 10, 1999.

In days of yore, when we had a four photographer lab, we bought a USED dental compressor from a medical supply store - no oil, no moisture, no noise [well, not enough to bother anyone]. They even supplied the hard rubber end that controlled the on/off for the air flow. There was a small holding tank, so the motor only ran enough to keep the holding tank pressured. The whole things was very cheap.

-- Dick Fish (, May 10, 1999.


SCBA stands for Self Contained Breathing Apparatus. The air bottle used in these devices holds breathing air at between 2500 and 5500psi. The bottles are very similar to SCUBA tanks. You could use SCUBA tanks, but they are going to be more expensive if they can still pass a hydro test. The old steel bottles are about 2 feet long, and 10 inches in diameter. They hold 40 cubic feet of air.

The steel low pressure (2500psi) bottles are becoming obsolete, and many fire departments have a stack of them gathering dust when they replaced them with the lighter composite or aluminum bottles.

Nitrogen from a bulk gas supplier is going to be far purer than air from a compressor because it is seperated from the air by liquifying the air. Of all the industrial gasses, nitrogen is the least expensive. I run a machine shop when I am not exposing film to light, and I use the argon from my welding equipment to clean my holders. Argon is way more expensive than nitrogen, but it is on hand, so that's what I use. The dew point of industrial gasses is way below 0 degrees, which helps with condensation problems.

-- Gary Helfrich (, May 10, 1999.

For years I have used a cylinder of carbon dioxide for airbrushing, it also works great for cleaning fiml holders and camera backs. Many fire extinguisher supply companies have the old steel cylinders from SCBA systems available. You can also purchase a cylinder at a welding or industrial gas supplier. The cylinder I use is what I believe they call a 20 pounder. It is about 2024 inches tall and maybe 8 inch diameter. A regulator with a gauge allows you to set a precise and repeatable pressure (not needed for cleaning but critical for airbrushing). Refilling the cylinder costs about $4 and a cylinder lasts 6 months to a year at my usage rate. The CO2 is dry and clean which is important for both uses. If you use a compressor you will definitely need a moisture filter. Even then I would be cautious about pointing it at my Schneider glass. You may want to consider a desicant air dryer to be sure you don't have water in the air. By the time you add the dryer and deal with the compressor noise and replace the motor after a few years you will come around to the gas cylinder idea.

-- Dave Schneider (, May 11, 1999.

Gary..thanks for the nitrogen a giant, industrial sized Dust-Off..Much better than any compressor

-- C MATTER (, May 13, 1999.

Addendum...Now that I remember it...a while back I shot production stills for car commercials. The car prep guys ran all of their air tools..impact wrenches, etc off of cylinders of CO2..worked great

-- C MATTER (, May 13, 1999.

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