In 2008, I was installing a kitchen every week, on average. As you can probably imagine, I was bringing in a lot of equipment each time to set up shop: miter saw, work bench, table saw, screw guns, levels, and of course nail guns, compressor, hose, and cord—even though there isn’t a lot of need for air guns in kitchen installs, you still need them.
I was installing prefinished trim with Liquid Nails and a 23g pinner, but I also used an 18g brad nailer and a 16g finish nailer—frequently. I had a Senco mini compressor, which was good, but when it got to the restart cycle my 18g brad-nailer would half-fire a brad and I’d have to dig it out—those little compressors, which seem so cool because they’re weightless and take up hardly any space in your truck, are so frustrating! The motor is too small to power the compressor, and they break down easily—what a shame they can’t engineer a compressor that size that’s actually reliable!
I was looking for a solution when, in 2008, I discovered the JACPAC. The JACPAC kit came with a 9-oz. canister, which did not last at all, so I purchased several 20-oz. cans from the local paintball supply store. With two 20-oz. cans, and eventually three, I could install several kitchens before I needed to head back to the paintball store for refills.
I didn’t mind all the trips to the paintball store because it cut down so much on the tools I had to carry in and out of the jobsite—no more compressor or long hose—and on some jobs, it meant stretching a 10g extension cord from a power pole in order to run the compressor.
|I found I only needed to carry a 20-oz. CO2 can and the required guns (16g & 18g), allowing me to cut back significantly on the amount of tools I was hauling into each home.|
Jump ahead to 2013, with 2009 in the rear view mirror. My large compressor, which I take when I am doing a medium-to-large job, broke. I had it repaired, but it never seemed to work as well as it did in the beginning. And that’s how I got the idea to look into a larger CO2 unit.
I began by purchasing the tank adaptor, reserving a rebuilt aluminum tank, and I was going to use a custom regulator with parts from Ruberline—Ruberline is an industrial supplier of hydraulics and industrial rubber products. In the midst of planning my CO2 unit, I was asked to review the Power Tank 10-pound unit. I live in Canada, so the shipping of the unit was around $80.00, and I had to pay taxes and handling fees of $35.00—for a unit that retails at $500, it’s not a cheap investment. For reference, you can find a general-use Makita compressor for about $375 where I live.
|CO2 is a liquid that, as it ‘boils,’ becomes a gas. It’s that gas which powers the tools. The liquid form allows for more storage volume than a compressed air tank.|
|I let the tank warm up because the guns are also supposed to warm up so that the gaskets and o-rings are pliable.|
I take my tank to be filled at the Evan’s Fire Equipment shop here in town, but you can fill CO2 at some welding gas suppliers (just phone ahead!).
I actually have plans to purchase a second tank for this very reason.
If you don’t have a shiny new Power Tank, the units can be exchanged just like your Propane tanks. But the nice thing about having the large 10-lb. Power Tank is that I can use it to refill my older and smaller 20-oz. system, too.
|I was loading my 20-oz. system at the paintball supply store, but now I have a Power Tank fill-up kit and I can handle refills myself.|
|The rigid fill unit requires a feel for loading the units and is much faster and easier to use for the advanced user, as you learn what a full tank feels and sounds like.|
|The hosed unit is a little slower but much easier since you can weigh the tank as you fill it.|
This will be the unit I use for a little while longer, as I’m just starting to get the feel of refilling my tanks.
|Prior to receiving the fill kit I put together my own system for the JACPAC from a Paintball gun hose and CO2 tank adaptor.|
It’s good to have some type of refill system that you can do yourself. Sometimes you run out at an inconvenient time (in my case, the paintball store changed their hours!) and you can’t rely on third-party refills. Once you’ve gotten the system set up, it really pays for itself after twelve refills.
|The 20-oz. tanks come with two different tops, either with a valve or with a pin—the valve units are far superior and will allow the gaskets on the tank to last longer.|
While I was reviewing the 10-pound tank, I also added the Power Tank Sidearm 20-oz. kit to my arsenal.
|This kit happened to contain a coiled hose, which is braded and has actual substance.|
It’s a high-quality hose and, in fact, it’s the first coiled hose I’ve ever kept! It’s extremely handy.
I have been working on developing a protocol to help determine which unit I use where: The 10-pound tank is best for a larger job that will require more than one day. I can bring in the tank and leave it overnight, since most of my work is in occupied homes. I would not suggest this on a new build. The 20-oz. is best for the half-day jobs, punch lists, or ‘while you’re here’ jobs. Believe me, the 20-oz kit makes me feel like I’m not even carrying nail guns onto the job.
But in truth, I’m also finding that even the 10-pound tank, which actually weighs around 20 pounds, is much lighter and more ergonomic with the handle than my compressor ever was. And I’m growing increasingly sensitive to carrying weight. As I have matured like a fine wine, weight has become an issue! The 20-oz. tanks are still in the tote that they were shipped in, and the air guns for the day get thrown in that bag and brought into the house, making the job easier.
I am really looking forward to getting a larger trim package for a new-construction job. I see a huge advantage for the CO2 tank as the power is often on a power pole—everyone has to bring their power into the house via extension cords, and each trade has one circuit as a rule. The CO2 doesn’t need any power, so while you are cutting trim on the chop saw you don’t have to worry about the compressor kicking in and blowing that circuit, which requires a trip to the power pole—in the cold and snow—to throw the breaker back on. I plan to put a manifold on the tank so that my partner and I can use the one unit and have a second tank out in the truck.
I have been using the 10-pound unit for approximately six months now, and part of that time I was away doing a non-carpentry job. I just made sure the main valve was shut off, and put the tank in my basement. When I came back two weeks later I needed it for an onsite door installation and not a beat was missed.
|While I haven’t kept the best record of my usage of the 10-pounder, I was able to install baseboard in a 1,500-square foot condo and 1,600 lineal feet of crown on a single fill-up.|
|There were a few small jobs in between, and of course mileage would vary depending on the size of the gun you use and if your gun has any leaks.|
Like I said earlier, the 20-oz. unit is definitely my go-to system for typical jobs. I’ve been using a version of it since mid-2008, and it’s ideal for a single kitchen install. On one job, I used that small system to trim out a personal elevator—a simple panel unit—where I was gluing and 23g-pinning to the walls. The holster was on one side of my belt and the gun was hanging off of my hammer loop, which worked very well as I ran back and forth to the saw. I’ve also used this unit for a job where I was hanging school cabinets. The shop wanted us to use 18g brads to hold on the filler strips, so I left the tank and gun on my cart as I moved from room to room.
There are a few unexpected advantages for the CO2 system. For example, my guns are running much better with a lot less moisture in the line and less oil. I don’t have to wait for the compressor to kick in and build up pressure before firing a nail—there’s always pressure, so there are never any misfires or nails that stand proud. Even when I run out of CO2, I’ve found that the last shot is always a good one, and then there’s just nothing left.
On one job, I was trimming out the upstairs of a home and the homeowner was around the whole time, working from a home office. Trust me, it was nice not having a noisy compressor running in that house. The CO2 worked quietly all day so I hardly disturbed them. I also managed to get myself into a condo on a Saturday. The building had a no-contractors-allowed-on-weekends-rule, but I was able to set the chop-saw on the wall furthest from the adjoining condo, and I did my work without getting in trouble with security.
Sure, there are other options, but I haven’t found one I like more than the C02 tank. Several nail gun manufacturers offer portable guns that operate on a combination of lithium batteries and different types of onboard energy systems, but the guns are heavy and aren’t reliable, especially for firing nails into hardwood. And there’s also gas-powered guns, but they’re really noisy and they give me a headache, plus the gas cylinders have expiration dates—use them or lose them.
When I’m doing finish work, it’s nice to have a quiet environment—at least when the table saw and miter saw aren’t running. And when I fire a nail, I want it to fire perfectly, every time—no misfires, no partial fires. And besides, no one makes a portable 23g pin nailer, so I need air for that anyway!
Several years ago I built a horse shed. I had 100 feet of cord and then another 75 of air hose to run the strap shot putting in hurricane ties. I think the 10-pound tank would have been great, a 25-foot hose and shooting in all those hurricane ties with my Bostitch Strap shot…
I began a career as a carpenter during my first summer in university working for the maintenance department. Leon Parker was the old, wise, traditional carpenter who could do anything and do it fast. I was teamed up with him and we took on the university for several years. His favorite way of teaching was to ask me to do something, and then half way through he’d say, “You want to see the easy way?” I gained a lot of experience through him and had a lot of fun. As I moved on in my education I became a small contractor, doing built-ins and trim work.
I spent some time at Texas A&M, where I began racing bicycles. And I went on to get a seminary degree and became a mission pastor. When carpentry became a majority of my income, I began to make custom furniture in my garage. I rented a shop and ran it for several years until the economy took a slow-down in 2000. At that time, I became a project manager for a shop that did a lot of very high-end millwork in Manhattan and other major US cities. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I was on the road more than I was at home.
I decided to go back to being a contractor, doing additions, renovating kitchens and bathrooms, and working as a project manager.
I am currently finishing up a contract where I’ve gotten the chance to travel across the United States working in the IKEA Market Hall renovations for the last two years.
When I’m not working and traveling, I am an avid cyclist, I like to walk my three dogs on the trails around Brantford, and spend time with my wife, Heather, and my daughter, Céline.
Wow. Great idea.
Definitely a great idea.Thanks.
I think the first 20oz unit shown in the article was sold for a while at Lowes a couple of years ago.
I have also used CO2 occasionally over the years and I think people need to be aware of the safety issues associated with it. As you mentioned, the pressure in the tank can reach nearly 500 psi in hot conditions. A functioning regulator can reliably reduce this to a safe 100 psi or less but if something goes wrong with the regulator you could instantly have full tank pressure in the gun. My father used to sell pneumatic tools commercially and there were reports in the industry of this happening that led to guns exploding in the hands of users. For this reason I have always used the cheapest coil hose I can find to connect my guns to my CO2 regulators. My hope is that if the regulator fails the coil hose will burst before my gun explodes. People must always keep their tanks upright during use to prevent liquid CO2 from entering the regulator and causing problems. Also it is worth mentioning why we must be so careful not to over fill our tanks. Putting just a few ounces too many in a 20 ounce tank will cause the safety valve to blow if the tank gets too warm. This can really get your attention if the tank happens to be sitting in the seat next to you while you are driving. My cab instantly filled with a white cloud of oxygen displacing gas and I just about crashed. CO2 is great but you have to play by it’s rules or bad things will happen.
Yes, I was clear not to over fill the tanks. As for the regulator on the PowerTank they are top quality, and I’m not worried about it. It is a compressed gas and caution is always a must in this business
As for needing a cheap hose for safety –
Wouldn’t it be safer to have a
High-Pressure Relief Valve in the
gun hose next to the tank, set to release
when reaching above safe-limits for the gun.?
I would rather have it release pressure near
the tank rather than have a cheap hose
blow out in my face near the gun.
Jim, North Hollywood, CA
there is a check valve on the tank. I would suggest if you have a cheap regulator just get rid of it, and save yourself the trouble of getting hurt
Will you provide a recommendation for the brand and model number of the hanging scale used to refill 20 oz cylinders?
Power tank supplied me with it, in the SideArm kit. I’ve been using a flat kitchen scale lately, as I can see it as the tank fills up.
I use a JacPac from time to time in Habitat For Humanity homes, for all the reasons David stated. I have them refilled at Academy or Dick’s Sporting Goods. I quickly found that a normal refill would blow the safety valve on my 20 oz. tanks (in the truck bed) on a Texas summer day – so I ask them to refill to about 80%, which seems to hold up OK. No more replacing safety valves. I like the home refill idea – and the 10 pound tank.
Thank you for another great article Gary. What are the WHS (work health & safety) issues and regulations covering CO2 use like this ?
I’ve had these on sites where I’ve had to have a handful of tickets and 2 hour orientation safety orientation to get on site. I think as long as you have the tanks certified up to date it would not be an issue.
A Safety guru may have to give their two cents
Great article. Years ago I worked with a gentleman that used CO2 for his small pinner, and it worked well. When I finally got my own set of Senco nailers, the literature stated to not use CO2 in these guns. Is this not the case anymore? Will this void a warranty? I simply do not know. I love the idea, especially with the quality compressors weighing so much these days.
Thanks for the info.
Only reason I could think of voiding a warranty is someone turned up the valve to full. Legalize is always a disclaimer.
I used a JacPac for a few years.
I also noticed the literature with the guns stating not to use with CO2.
When using the gun repetitively, it would get quite cold in my hand. To the point that it would stop firing. After reading Dean N’s comments I am wondering if the gun stop firing because the tank wasn’t vertical at the time.
I have since sold it at a garage sale. The only paint ball supplier in town closed up and the next nearest one is too far away to make it worthwhile for me. I have switched to Paslode and only wish they made a 23g a tool too.
I looked in to it but never pulled the trigger.
I also have that senco compressor and once I started picking up the little thomas compressors where I could for cheap, the senco got put away for good. IMHO, still easier and more convenient for me to carry in a small compressor and hose compared to all my cordless options.
This concept is good. I replaced my mini senco compressor with this unit that has made my life easier and quieter-http://www.amazon.com/Makita-MAC700-Big-Bore-Compressor/dp/B0001Q2VK0/ref=sr_1_3?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1407725390&sr=1-3&keywords=makita+air+compressor
Have you considered nitrogen instead of CO2? Back in the days when I played paintball nitrogen was far superior becasue it was very stable under a wide range of temperatures. The only downside that I know of is the tank pressure is extreamly high.
Nitrogen is only a compressed gas, so it can’t store as much as CO2 which is liquid. That is its the downside.
I am a SCUBA diver and have been using one of my SCUBA cylinders filled with air for years for the same application. Because the air is dry and filtered there is no side effects on your guns. Better than the air coming from our regular compressors.
David McKenney Homes LLC.
Hey could you plz email me, I would like to know where and how could I purchase some of the items you mention? I am looking to power an air tool similar. Thanks and great website
Great article, this is definitely tipping me towards using the co2 tanks instead of hauling around a compressor. I currently do service and warranty work on kitchens – its paying a little more than installs now. I can go into 10 kitchens a day sometimes and haul my compressor in with me on most of them so in searching for a solution I came across the Makita 18v 23ga pin nailer, currently going for about $500 give or take. I only have Dewalt cordless stuff including the xrp 18ga and 16ga and I don’t really want to add another brand to my repertoire so I really want to go the co2 air tank route but just for the pneumatic pin nailer.
Thanks for the information. I think that the flexibility seems to be really useful. I like the pictures that shows how you are using the system. I love the holster look as well. I know that carrying around more than 20 oz can become pretty heavy and unwieldy so that looks like a good solution.
Fred, it is a very good system and solid. it is a little expensive but you get what you pay for. I wrote an explanation of other uses but the clean talk filter would not allow but applying DAP with a pneumatic gun & other such uses
Hi guys, good subject! Its on my to do list. I install soffits and zap them in with one of two 18ga staple guns, battery(ryobi is a little heavy on a ladder) and pneumatic. I need 78 psi. I kinda gave up on the co2 with 3 small tanks and two large tanks used for paint guns. Bought two LOWs co2 kits with regulators here in Toronto, Can. The problem I had was the seal on the tanks was not dependable when the reg was screwed on. due to the 500psi and then filling at $14 each had there own weird hours. So I am trying to build a carry around tank as going around the house with an air line and extension cord is time sucking. I picked up an aircraft (alum.) oxygen tank and am rigging it to fit a backpack, like a fireman. I am attempting to find a compressor (maybe tire 12v) that will pump out 200psi. The tank is good for 400psi The only heavy part to this system is the regulators. I like your divers tank idea but those tanks are heavy climbing a ladder. Maybe leave the tank on the ground but I know the line tangling is a concern. I sometime try to leave the tools hooked to the top of the ladders as I move them (up to three) around the house. Other then that I slug around my dewalt mini compressor and 75 ‘ airline and put-up. I think if roybi or someone could make a belt pack battery charge system for any gun then there will be nothing for us to play with.?? Lol GutterGeek
I would like to know where to buy adapter kit thanks
I currently have a jacpac regulator I use with 20 oz tanks and nail gun.
The regulator is falling apart and I can’t find where to buy another at a reasonable price.
I would love to put something together but need to know what regulator to get that is reliable and safe at the pressure it gets.
I would look at the powertank regulator. You get what you pay for and it is a pressurized gas.