Choosing a Compressor for Your Sandcarving Machine

With over 35 years in the glass business, Ruth Dobbins offers experience in fused and cast glass, as well as in glass-etching techniques. Ruth holds a Master's Degree in Printmaking and Art History and has been a partner in a stained and fused glass wholesale supply company in Europe, which also placed great emphasis on a training program. For the past 20 years, she collaborated with her husband Norm Dobbins in commission work, writing books and creating videotapes on how-to techniques for glass etching. Ruth taught these techniques for 30 years in the U.S. and other countries. Ruth continues these venues by offering a complete training program at Aliento School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and by teaching at various trade shows, including The Awards & Engraving Show. One-on-one training and consulting services are also offered. You can reach Ruth by email at ruth@etchmaster.com, by phone at 505-473-9203 and by fax at 505-473-9218. Check out the website at http://www.etchmaster.com

First, you need to know that this work requires a lot of air, which requires a compressor that can produce a high volume of air. Most newcomers focus on the HP of a compressor and the tank size, and both of those are of no concern to a glass blaster. The first thing you have to realize is that any compressor that will do a decent job for you requires a 220V outlet. For many individuals, that means getting a new 220V service installed. Space requirements may be a consideration as there are horizontal compressors as well as vertical ones.

The most important specifications to examine are the output of air at a given pressure. These specs are usually expressed as a certain number of CFMs (cubic feet per minute) the compressor produces at a given psi (pounds per square inch), which is a pressure setting. To do an adequate job at blasting most anything, you want to look for a compressor that delivers, at the very least, 11 to 13 CFMs at 90 psi. This should be your main focus. The size of the tank does not much matter, since any 60- or 80-gallon tank will be depleted in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes. 

Compressors are also made in a few different quality categories, from home use to contractor use, to commercial use. With each category, the quality of the components becomes noticeably better and more heavy duty. Buy what you can afford to get started and keep in mind that you can always upgrade down the line.

—Ruth Dobbins, Professional Glass Consultants