Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Powertank Sidearm CO2 Kit

As you can see from the massive flow of content on this blog... (?!?) summer's hellish heat is here so I'm doing minimally interesting projects in the shop until relief...

Some recent non-shop projects are crown molding and flooring.  I used to loath the idea of either because of needing to carry around a pancake compressor, its noise, the oily footprints it leaves, its noise, the hassle of a 50' air hose, and lastly its noise.

I looked into CO2 systems a bit (more later) and decided on the Powertank Sidearm CO2 kit.  The Powertank kit comes with two 20-oz CO2 bottles (very heavy duty), caps for the bottles, a sidearm holster (foreground of picture) and a smaller belt strap (on the bottle to the right), bag, mini braided 10' air hose, and the Sidearm COMP regulator.

Before describing the parts, what's the benefit of this system over a (noisy!) compressor/hose combination?  For one, all you need is a bottle hooked on your belt, the coiled air hose, and gun of choice and you are set.  I recently did some crown molding in a room and it was night and day difference from hauling a compressor, stringing the (usually dirty) hose through the house, and dealing with noise and that compressor smell.  Just run up and down the ladder with the bottle hooked on one side and gun on the other.

Now some details...

The heart of the system is the COMP regulator.  The knob on the top controls the output pressure that you can see on the gauge facing the camera.  The COMP regulator lets you dial the output pressure up to 160 psi; plenty for nailers.  A more advanced regulator is available as an option that goes to 300 psi, which is more for seating off-road tires than for driving nails.

The knob under the output pressure gauge is actually on the bottle and allows you to turn off the flow before the regulator.  It is an option.  I chose it since a bottle laid on its side has liquid CO2 at the pin valve and the regulator.  Some regulators have issues with this and freeze up.  The COMP regulator is not supposed to have issues with it, but I'd rather just not have the liquid CO2 in the regulator during storage.  Since I go long months without using a gun, it seems smarter.

The gauge on the other side of the regulator shows the pressure of the CO2 in the bottle.  Whoa!  Yes, you are reading 1,000 psi in the bottle.  This is actually another reason I went for the on/off valve on the bottles: if you accidentally dropped a bottle on the pin valve, a dent could give that 1,000 psi an unregulated way out.  Rocket scientist call this thrust.  I don't want a heavy aluminum bottle thrusting through my house!

The bottles all come with a blow-out valve if there is too much pressure inside.  That shouldn't happen, right?  Well, CO2 expands greatly with temperature.  If you leave your bottle on the front seat of the car... in summer... in the sun... for a long time... you might exceed the pressure and it will vent.  This isn't something you want happening.  As an aside, as you use the bottle, the released CO2 greatly cools the bottle, which is awesome in summer.

Okay, so how do you stuff 1,000 psi of CO2 into the bottle?  These bottles refill anywhere paintball CO2 bottles get filled.  I got mine done at Dick's Sporting Goods as they are just up the street.  $4 for 20 oz of CO2 in the bottle.  Fifth refill is free so it works out to $3/bottle.

How many shots do you get with a full bottle?  750 brads (18ga) or 350 finish nails (15ga).  You can even get 190 8d framing nails.  I have some soffit repairs to do in the fall; it will be nice to take this to the roof rather than a hose trying to pull me down.  Obviously disconnecting guns or quick-connect leaks can affect these numbers.  For a full table, look at this construction-series brochure from Powertank.

As a cost comparison, this system costs more than a 50' air hose and pancake compressor.  But, for my use, the cost is justified for the convenience.  I think every finish carpenter would want this (or comparable) CO2 system.  Also, if you don't use it very often, a single bottle system could be very useful.  I tend to overdo things.

Now, I mentioned that I looked at different systems.  The best competitor was a Kobalt system from Lowe's.  With Lowe's, the system works a little like those propane replacement systems: you buy a full bottle and exchange your empty for a rebate.  The cost per fill-up is definitely higher than the $3-4 at a paintball supplier, but there are advantages: Lowe's are everywhere and you don't have to worry about bottle lifetime.  Lifetime?! Yes, bottles are pressure certified and the certification lasts 5 years.  After 5 years, you can't get them refilled.  If you exchange an old bottle at Lowe's, it gets discarded, but that doesn't matter to you.  For my Powertank bottles, I'll have to simply toss them out and replace them at a cost of $50 each (less if you don't want the on/off valves).  That's $10 a year for the bottle.  If you get 1 exchange a year for a bottle, you've paid that.  Still, the Lowe's option is compelling for availability.  My Lowe's gave me blank looks when I asked about their regulator and bottles; at that Lowe's, it is very new so consider that in your choice.

Now I need a nailing gun worthy of this setup :)  Recommendations for a decent pinner?


  • Dyami Plotke said...

    I've had the same problem, though I came up with a different solution. I bought a Senco PC1010. It's a small compressor, but can easily run any trim nail gun. It's whisper quiet (my kids routinely sleep through it) and the rubber feet have never marred or stained a floor. At $125.00, it's a bargain too. I use a 3/8" coiled hose and the whole assembly of compressor, hose and gun stays nice and compact. I've toyed with the idea of the Lowe's tanks, but their running cost seemed too high.

    About nailers, almost all of my collection are old Porter-Cables. While I love them, I can't reccomend the current Black & Decker designed PCs. I have a modern Bosch brad gun and it's very nice. Though I've not used them, you may also want to check out Bostich & Senco, as I've head nice things about them. You may want to try FWW for a review.

    Happy nailing,

  • HalfInchShy said...

    I've heard that about modern PCs, which is why I was asking. FHB reviewed several recently; I have to find the issue and yes the Bostich and Sencos did well like you mention. I know Grex and Cadex made a good pinner that also does headless brads.

    The compressor is just a boat anchor for me. The one you mention would likely be infinitely better than the pancake I have since it is much lighter, but still a hassle for running around a room putting up crown molding or base molding. In the shop, though, it would definitely be nice.

    The Kobalt system does come in much more expensive, IMHO, than the Powertank because of the refills. Powertank's regulator is just a bit more expensive than the Kobalt (but doesn't freeze-out) and all it takes is one refill per bottle per year to save the cost of new bottles after 5 years.

    I'll let ya know what I find for nailers.

  • Unknown said...

    How about Grex? I use their pinner with the Kobalt setup and really like them. Lightweight and very accurate.


  • Unknown said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.