Introduction: Refillable Air Can Life Hack

In this life hack video, I am going to show you how you can refill your air duster can with a bicycle pump.

Step 1: Items Needed

Picture of Items Needed

All you need is an empty air can, some liquid metal epoxy and a tank valve similar to what is used on a bicycle tire. You will also need a drill and 3/8" bit.

Step 2: Make Sure Can Is 100% Empty

Picture of Make Sure Can Is 100% Empty

Start off by making sure there is no air left in the can. We really don’t want to start drilling the can while its pressurized.

Step 3: Use 3/8

Picture of Use 3/8

Next, choose a drill bit that matches the width of the air valve. Mine happened to need a 3/8” drill bit.

Step 4: Thread Valve Into Hole

Picture of Thread Valve Into Hole

I decided to install the valve further down the can to keep it out of the way. Once the hole is made, you should be able to thread the valve right into the hole.

Step 5: Mix Liquid Metal Epoxy

Picture of Mix Liquid Metal Epoxy

Now its time to seal it up with the liquid metal epoxy. I cut the end from a cue tip to mix the 2-part solution together.

The cue tip also made it real easy to apply the epoxy directly to he valve. The instructions say it cures in 8 minuets I let it cure for a few hours. This stuff is rated for 3500 PSI so its complete overkill but its better to be safe than sorry.

Step 6: Connect Air Pump

Picture of Connect Air Pump

Go ahead and attach a bicycle pump to the valve and let’s add some air!

The recommended pressure rating on this can was 70-90 PSI so lets keep this extra safe and only fill it up to 60.


javierschulenburg (author)2016-06-30

good idea, but i would drill the hole in the bottom, where the material is the thickest, and solder it and no glue it

afridave (author)2016-04-21

I do not like this idea....looks potentially dangerous to me...

seamster (author)2015-06-12

Very clever!

Have you used the refillable can for a substantial amount of time? I'm curious if you have done enough refills to speak to its long term durability. (I'd be slightly concerned about it rupturing and causing harm, but this looks like a potentially very useful idea!)

FunHacks (author)seamster2015-06-12


I just finished the build so I don't have many miles on it yet.

The epoxy is VERY strong so I don't expect it will fail.

With that said, only time will tell. :)

rrichter1 (author)FunHacks2015-06-24

see my comment about epoxy and what you call strong.. in what sense ?

JGlielmi (author)rrichter12016-04-06

I myself would use a sealant designed to seal a threaded pipe, such as natural gas lines or such. and try to solder the valve into place.

wannabemadsci (author)2015-06-12

I hope that everybody understands that 'canned air' is not air, but a liquid hydrocarbon under pressure that becomes gaseous when released to normal atmospheric pressure. A popular material used in 'duster cans' is 1,1-Difluoroethane, with the chemical formula C2H4F2. , Also known as Refrigerant R-152a. R-152a has a vapor pressure of 63 psi at 70F. So the pressure in those duster cans is normally around 63 psi. A can of R-152a will last eons longer than a can of true compressed air because a can full of liquid R152a expands a vast amount when it changes to a gas.

I would be very hesitant to compromise the integrity of the wall of a pressure vessel, which is what you are doing by adding a tire valve to the side of a can.

I would not think that this approach would work well for trying to make spray cans, since they also use hydrocarbons under pressure which expand with the paint (or other liquid) as they exit the can -- Air just does not perform the same.

john12692 (author)wannabemadsci2015-06-12

I haven't seen and difloroethane duster cans (i am sure they exist as i have seen that as a propellant for air horns or possibly trifluroethane I can't remember) but I have seen butane duster cans

JGlielmi (author)john126922016-04-06

as can be seen in the images attached these air cans contain the Diflouroethane spoken of. I've never seen one using butane. although butane and propane are both used as propellants, but the cans are always marked Flammable.

douglas423 (author)john126922015-06-13

You sure about a butane duster can? If any little spark it would blow up!

That is what they switched to after the CFC ban. Then they switched to HFC as soon as they became available and reasonably priced. You can buy a tank of R134a and refill all your air dusters with it through the trigger without ever puncturing the can.

Arx (author)john126922015-06-16

Most are difluoroethane or tetrafluoroethane. (HFC152a, HFC134a respectively)

Mostly 152a now, because 134a is quite a bad greenhouse gas.

152a breaks down in a few years, instead of 100, so while it's still bad, it's much less bad.

I have actually never seen butane sold as duster.

rrichter1 (author)wannabemadsci2015-09-09

this guy has a clue too ! not like some rube that plumbs his shop air with pvc.. shrapnel waiting to happen.. if metal piping gets a leak, its a relative pin hole and only hisses.

rrichter1 (author)wannabemadsci2015-06-24

PLUS ONE ! Putting compressed air in such a container is a fraction of the capacity of the gaseous stuff that commercial canned air can generate. It's no so much about the pressure in the can as the "magic way that the contents can generate a longer flow of air, due to the conversion from gaseous to whatever upon being released (trigger pulled).. trying to put the idea in layman's terms...

MikB (author)wannabemadsci2015-06-13

You are bang on the money there (unlike the can above which may go bang in your face :( ). The MSDS for this product says : "1,1-Difluoroethane/75-37-6".

Arx (author)MikB2015-06-16

You can see it on the photos in the instructable too. Most of it is visible in step 3

Tom De prins made it! (author)2015-06-15

When i first saw this i was very excited to make this. So after school i cycled to the cheapest store of Belgium (called Action) and i buyed an air can. Surprised as i was the can was empty after cleaning my laptop and keyboards so that was the point i began. Now it's finished...and it sucks. You only get enough air in it to blow for a couple seconds.

rrichter1 (author)Tom De prins2015-06-24


This is proof of concept. He lived it, He related it to us.

id like to see someone use a compressor to fill the can up hahah boooom!

Zaacharia (author)2015-09-15

I bought one of those refillable air blowers - it never lasted very long and the recharge cartridges were expensive. I should make an instructable for making your own sparkling water (saving money and the environment). hmmmm,

rafununu (author)2015-08-02

You'll have less than 3 seconds of air ! RS sold such items 25 years ago, they never worked !

richb77 (author)rafununu2015-08-05

If the can is safe to 90psi and you fill it to 90psi then technically its full again and should last almost if not as long as the original surely?

MikB (author)richb772015-09-09

No. Because the original can was compressed to 90 psi gas pressure over a bunch of liquid. The liquid turns to gas maintaining the pressure at 90 psi (if that) all the way to the end, when it runs down in very short order.

You refilling it with 90 psi gas ONLY will give you 90 psi and falling immediately. The "RS item" named above is probably similar to the Jennican I mentioned higher up. They do work. They provide pressure for a very limited time -- because it is ONLY gas. Not Liquid. If you try and pressurise air into a liquid to achieve this, you won't manage it in a flimsy little aerosol can. That's why aerosol cans don't used compressed AIR -- it's too hard to compress to a liquid. All these CFCs and HFCs, butane, propane are relatively easy to convert to liquid at low pressures.

richb77 (author)MikB2015-09-09

Well Spotted and put MikB. I didnt think about gas/liquids and assumed it remained as a gas.

moocow22 (author)2015-06-12

I just did this and the can blew up in my face. I had to have shards of metal removed from my cheek, no I'm just joking. these cans come loaded at like 500 psi. 150psi would only last a little while. I used a air compresor that I made with a car engine.a 1972 Oldsmobile 455 . we have been using the spray can idea for over 5 years. we even load them for our neighbors.

MikB (author)moocow222015-06-13

"These cans come loaded at like 500psi" -- probably not. You are equating starting PSI with "lifetime of gas production", which is only true if you have a sealed can and pump air into it. Like this instructable is showing. Or like a normal air compressor tank.

The original content was a LIQUID, which constantly evaporates in the can and replenished the pressure in the "gas" part of the can. As mentioned above, often butane/propane are used instead of the older CFCs. This means it keeps a fairly constant pressure -- nowhere near 500 psi -- until the liquid is exhausted.

These "air blast" cans are just misnamed -- they don't contain air under pressure :)

It's the difference between a battery (fairly constant voltage from full to empty, then sudden death) and a capacitor (constantly falling voltage, becoming unusable long before all the energy is out).

If you REALLY want a reusable air can, look up "Jennican" and similar products. They can be pressurised to 100PSI, and kept topped off with a small compressor. Very useful, and rated for it.

rrichter1 (author)MikB2015-09-09

THIS ! This MikB has a clue ! Props to ya man !

MikB (author)rrichter12015-09-09

Thanks -- sadly some people will have to build and try it to find out that it really doesn't work that well (if it did, industry would use compressed air in these products!) -- physics is not on your side.

Arx (author)MikB2015-06-16

They're not CFC, but HFC (No ozone issues, but still a greenhouse gas)

I've never seen hydrocarbons used as a duster, but only as propellants for aerosol products.

rrichter1 (author)moocow222015-06-24

in terms of liability.. can you say IED ? Just kidding.

BIVS2000 (author)2015-09-07

To hell with the naysayers. This is a good hack, which I am going to do.

Where did you get the valve? New or from an old tire? Thanks!

prashanth.suvarna.102 (author)2015-08-14

Hey! I have 1 point to make here...While we all agree about the above dangers that could occur , I believe it is more so because the hole was made on the thin wall of the tin can where the where the dynamics of metallurgy is at its weakest and could easily tear itself out. Why not try doing the same at the base plate where the metal is not only sturdier, but much more predictable than the thin tin body where the possibility of securing a neat and safe hole would not only be risky, but the eventual results are also going to turn out to be downright unreliable and could be a disaster bound to happen sooner or later to others if not to pz take care(:-(

Mugsy Knuckles (author)2015-06-16

I think that you could improve the strength of this by making sure to sand all the paint off the area where the epoxy has to bond. The epoxy is strong as hell, but it is attached to the pain, not the metal underneath. Who knows how well that paint holds on?
I would not worry in the least about explosion, the bond will fail WAY before the can explodes. Maybe don't aim the installed valve at your eyes or groin or anything when you pump it up, but this isn't dangerous.
Also, if you put a little dent in the can where you intend to drill, it's easier to get the drill started and the surface will be flat-ish, which means a better bonding surface for the epoxy. Although in this case the epoxy is probably stronger than the can or the valve.
If you want to get all crazy, you could drill the hole out and then put a big blob of epoxy inside and out of the hole in the can, let it cure, then drill the epoxy for the valve and re-epoxy it in. That would be a lot stronger.
I wonder though, how long does a can of this last with just compressed air in it?

rrichter1 (author)Mugsy Knuckles2015-06-24

what is it with these monkey see's, monkey do's... the strength of epoxy is unto itself ! first off, the epoxy is not a sealant. the idea that this "metal(ized)" epoxy is bonding with sufficient strength to an unprepared surface - slick paint, unscuffed...

what the average consumer doesn't get is that such terms as "3500 psi", etc are sales puffery, not given a context of how it applies, the properties are effective for

what uses.. etc...

iantgray (author)rrichter12015-08-12

dude you are spending way too much time criticizing this person's instr

Mugsy Knuckles (author)rrichter12015-06-25

It's because people don't experiment with these things. If the only time you use epoxy is on a project, how would you know anything about epoxy?
You learn through failure. Failure is a lot less dmaging if you practice on non-mission critical applications before you try to construct a pressure vessel with untested tech. A lot of that is because instructables has a lot of young users, and the young are usually broke, so they can't experiment.

terrefirma (author)2015-07-30

I wonder how many people will do this. Certainly not those who can't even be bothered to refill ink cartridges.

iantgray (author)terrefirma2015-08-12

People who use compressed air for soldering

aenigmax (author)2015-08-08

at least you tried

rbianchi2 (author)2015-08-04

Brilliant! Thanks.

elkaddalek (author)2015-07-01

Can you make an instructable for a refillable spray paint can?

MrMAt64 (author)2015-06-13

LOL when I saw this I had to make sure I came and looked after a few hours to see how many "safety" nuts would blast this Ideal..I was not disappointed.this is a good hack and if done with a little common sense it will work fine.please dont hold the can in hand while you drill the hole.Great idel and be safe.

rrichter1 (author)MrMAt642015-06-24

i'd rather be a safety nut, than a wing nut.. would rather not need a pair of "wings" if you get my drift...

FunHacks (author)MrMAt642015-06-14

I made 100% sure the can was empty before drilling and wanted to make it VERY clear in the video.

yuuki-chan (author)FunHacks2015-06-14

You can damage your hands while drilling! Use clamps or vise!

FunHacks (author)yuuki-chan2015-06-14

Good advice.

In my case, I was 100% confident the can was empty. :)

MatthewEnderle (author)FunHacks2015-06-16

I think his point is you could hit your hand...

Kinnishian (author)FunHacks2015-06-16

While I didn't feel your lack of safety was egregious, I am confused - it seems you are missing that people are not complaining about whether the can is empty or not. They are pointing out that the drill can slip, the can tear violently (thin metal often does), etc. Those are what I'd agree are dangers, though relatively minor with a hand drill because of low rotational mass and speeds. My other reason for clamping the can is because it's almost always better to clamp than not.

jpayton (author)2015-06-16

Great article. However a few misconceptions that you might want to consider revising.

1. Its hard to tell but you drilled into a seam of some sort. Its important to not drill through the cans seam if it has one. Since its a sheet metal can it likely has one but the label may have a seam in a different place. Where ever it is dont drill on a metal seam.

2. For the strongest build put the valve on the bottom in the center. The bottom is a concave shape that causes outward pressure on the bottom ring of the can. If you place the valve threaded into the center of that you will not affect its pressure capability. (Some cans even have holes there that are plugged after filling)

3. NEVER NEVER NEVER hold something your a drilling. Put it in a clamp, between some boards, or even use sand to steady the can and use two hands on the drill at all times. Unless of course you don't like having fingers. Pressure or not sheet metal can sheer, cling to the bit, and turn into a finger saw in milliseconds.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! It would be interesting to know how much pressure the can can safely hold. Manufacture specs assume there is an accelerant in the can and leave a large margin of error to compensate for fluctuations that accelerane may cause. To truly test FROM A DISTANCE pressureize the can until the walls begin to bulge. Use a straight edge to check FROM A DISTANCE. Back the pressure off until the highest pressure the can wall is straight. Subtract 20%. Remember, when the can is at high pressure it is a shrapnel bomb. It will turn you to confetti.

e5frog (author)jpayton2015-06-17

Looks like drilling was made in the "seam" of the label/paint.

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