When you tap your brakes or watch an excavator reach out and scoop up a bucket full of earth, do you ever think about what makes them work? Do you ever wonder how a flat sheet of metal can become a gutter or a duct? Learn about pneumatic and hydraulic tools. Who uses them, and how?
Table of Contents
The Differences Between Pneumatic and Hydraulic Tools
Key differences define pneumatic vs. hydraulic tools. First, pneumatic tools use compressed air to provide force. Hydraulic tools use pressurized fluids to drive rams, cylinders, and pistons. These and other differences influence who uses each type of power for tools and machines and for what purposes.
Speed: Pneumatic tools are generally faster and more convenient to use because of their light weight and ability to exert force quickly. Hydraulic tools are slower but more precise, offering greater control.
Strength: Hydraulic tools provide significantly more force compared to their pneumatic counterparts, making them more suitable for heavy-duty tasks like bending thick metal or moving heavy objects.
Environmental Impact/Hygiene: Pneumatic tools are cleaner; if they leak, they typically leak only air, so they are less likely to cause environmental damage. Hydraulic tools use oils and fluids that may be toxic, and if spilled, they can create environmental hazards and contamination.
Safety: Pneumatic tools are generally safer because of their lighter weight and their reduced risk of fire and exposure to potentially toxic pressurized fluids, which can be a hazard with hydraulic tools.
Maintenance: Pneumatic tools require lower maintenance, while hydraulic tools may necessitate routine checks for corrosion, leaks, oil levels, and pressure.
What Industries Use Which Type of Tool?
A variety of industries and professions use either pneumatic or hydraulic tools or some combination of both types.
Construction: Carpenters, roofers, floor installers, and other types of construction workers often use pneumatic tools, such as nail guns and staplers.
Large construction projects use heavy equipment that have hydraulics to extend arms and tilt buckets attached to excavators, bulldozers, and other types of heavy equipment attachments.
Transportation: Mechanics use pneumatic tools like impact wrenches, air ratchets, and grinders to perform repairs quickly and efficiently. Automakers use hydraulics in transmissions. Buses and trucks use pneumatic (air) brakes.
Metal Fabrication: Press brakes use either pneumatic or hydraulic force to bend, shear, and punch metal parts. Choosing one type of machine over the other is largely a matter of the type and thickness of the metal.
Pneumatic and Hydraulic Power for DIY
Pneumatic and hydraulic tools are not just reserved for professionals! Tools used for DIY projects may have pneumatic or hydraulic force. These could include air-powered nail guns, hydraulic jacks that lift vehicles or even mobile homes for repairs, and pumps that may use both pneumatic and hydraulic power.
A New Perspective
Now you know that multiple industries and professions use pneumatic and hydraulic tools for a variety of purposes from bending sheet metal to driving nails for framing walls or attaching roof shingles. You may even have an air-powered nail gun or stapler in your toolshed. The next time you hear that distinctive psshsh sound when a truck or bus stops next to you, you’ll know you’re hearing pneumatic brakes in action, and when you watch an excavator at a construction site, you’ll know that it’s hydraulics that make those big scoopers go.