Introduction: Silent Air Compressor Made of Recycled Rubbish!

I needed an air compressor for various shop tasks, but as I don't use compressed air often, I did not want to spend money.... I'm also just a cheapskate. An air compressor is a tool that you don't always need, but when you need it, nothing else will suffice.

A big requirement of this project is that it is silent/quiet, as traditional piston pump and diaphragm compressors are extremely loud, and I have sensitive hearing. I then decided how I would go about building this compressor, what materials I would use to keep it under budget but still have some semblance of quality.

Build your silent compressor today as a sweet recycling project that helps keep perfectly good machinery out of the landfills!

Step 1: Basic Idea

My first question is how do we make it silent? The most popular method, and the method I chose is to re-purpose a refrigeration compressor, of which are typically copeland scroll compressors. Refrigeration compressors are encased in a steel container and filled with oil, and designed to operate quietly, as they will typically be operated in residential homes. Another method would be to take a unmodified piston pump compressor and build a sound deadening enclosure, however this needs to be cheap and recycled, and a properly designed enclosure is not what this is about.

Refrigeration compressors are not ideal however, especially if you need large volumes of air or a high CFM. Since I will not be operating air tools with this, that doesn't matter. Refrigeration compressor pumps are designed to pump a continuous loop of refrigerant and an oil lubricant in a sealed system, and since we will be using this compressor for something it is not designed to do, don't expect it to last forever. We can periodically add oil to the inlet to keep the pump lubricated, but keep in mind this will result in a compressed air stream with a fine oil mist. It is extremely fine however, so if you are not doing something stupidly sensitive, it shouldn't matter.

Another major note is to only use refrigeration compressors if you can acquire one legally. Deliberately opening a sealed refrigeration system is a crime, as these systems contain chlorinated fluorocarbons, which deplete the ozone layer. However, if you can either purchase a pump only, or find a system that has leaked and been discarded, it is safe to harvest the pump.

Step 2: Aqcuire All the Things

I collected the parts for this compressor over many months from various scrap, causing the total cost to come up to $5, as most of the parts were salvage. Of course, if you want to make a compressor quickly, expect to pay more.

I got my compressor pump from a broken down dehumidifier that had leaked and was on the way to the salvage yard. These sealed refrigeration systems are almost universally discarded instead of refilled and resealed since we live in such a disposable society, so do your part to combat this by building something and be a cool human! You can find these pumps in any small sealed system, such as refrigerators, dehumidifiers, window air conditioner units, or water coolers and fountains. If these systems are still sealed or you are unsure if they have leaked or not, have a service tech drain the refrigerant or learn how to properly remove refrigerant yourself. You seriously don't want to risk letting it out, as getting caught will result in a major fine, that, and even if you don't get caught, the rest of us will think you are a lazy polluter.

Now that we have the pump, we need to round up some sort of vessel to contain our air. This vessel MUST be rust free and capable of handling 350 PSI, compressed air tank explosions can be deadly. The easiest way to do this is to purchase a portable air compressor tank that is used as a containment vessel for transporting compressed air, or to buy a cheapo junk air compressor and replace the pump.

You will need to plumb the compressor pump output to the tank, which will require regular copper tubing. You will need to make strong air tight connections, and there are two ways to do this safely.

You can: Solder the pipe using sweat fittings, or purchase brass compression fittings rated for pressure. Brass compression fittings are more expensive, but much easier to work with.

You will also need a gauge to determine your pressure, and a high pressure rated hose to connect to the output. Optionally, you can also install an air drier to keep water and oil out of the air coming from the hose, and you must also have a pressure cut off switch or pressure relief valve to prevent over-pressurization and a possible explosion.

Step 3: Plumbing

I chose to use pressure rated brass compression fittings to connect the pressure lines, which are copper tubes bent into a shape that allows for slight flex in the pump assembly. The intake tube of this pump has a foreline filter drier installed on it from the dehumidifier, this is helpful, as it will somewhat protect your pump from debris. You can also choose to install an intake muffler to make it even quieter, however this is largely unnecessary as it is pretty quiet already.

On the output side, you will need a valve block with a relief valve and pressure gauge. A relief valve is essential, so if something happens and you leave the pump running, it won't over-pressurize and detonate. It is also preferable to install a cutoff switch, which cuts power to the pump when it reaches a certain pressure, this will allow you to leave the pump running, and it will stop pumping when it reaches final pressure and re-start automatically when you draw air from the tank. I chose not to have this as I almost exclusively use my compressor for blowing an air stream for dust cleaning, rather than operating tools. The gauge is simply an AC recharge gauge, which tops out at 100 PSI. Yay for recycling!

Step 4: Electrical

The electrical is fairly simple, your compressor pump will almost universally have a overheat cutoff switch, and a start capacitor. These pumps need a capacitor to start under pressure otherwise you will just burn out the motor. be EXTREMELY careful around these capacitors, the contain large amounts of energy, and WILL hurt or possibly kill you. My system has a rubber boot that covers the capacitor terminals, make sure you have something like this or some form of insulation to protect you from bare wire. Like, really, mains voltage hurts mmkay?

Step 5: Testing

Now that your compressor is a complete system, you need to seal and pressure test. For pressure testing put the compressor on an extension cord far away and let it run until the relief valve opens. You want to make sure your connections wont blow off under pressure, make sure to be far away or have something large and dense between you and the compressor while testing. You can make sure there are no leaks by spraying soapy water on any connection points where air might come out.

When you have verified the safety and operation of your system, you can now enjoy the beautiful silence, and never listen to the deafening rattles of an inferior non-hermetic piston pump again.

Comments

author
Ian01 (author)2017-01-26

It being a crime depends on the jurisdiction, though it's harmful to the environment either way. I thought modern fridges used non-CFC refrigerants, though. Air conditioners and the like do, at least.

Also, I don't know why I would need large volumes of hair…

author
SpectrHz (author)Ian012017-01-26

Yea, I mostly just put that there as a disclaimer since it's so harmful to the environment. Where I live you can be fined up to $250,000 for intentional CFC releases. I believe you are correct also, most modern refrigerant loop appliances have a non-CFC refrigerant, but since this is a recycling project, most appliances you come across in the trash are probably charged with r12.

ps. everyone needs large volumes of hair, that's why I use Garnier Fructis® for luscious, voluminous hair! ;3

author
Ian01 (author)SpectrHz2017-06-09

Good points :D

author
DIY Dave (author)2017-01-26

Great work, I'm planning to build one for my apartment workshop. I might use an old propane tank for the tank

author
SpectrHz (author)DIY Dave2017-01-26

Awesome! Iv'e heard of people using propane tanks for charge air tanks before with good results, but you would need to install a drain at the bottom at the very least.

author
Ian01 (author)SpectrHz2017-06-09

With propane tanks, be sure to properly purge them with water first. Instructions are probably easily findable. Otherwise, propane can remain stuck on the inside and cause an explosion under pressure, apparently.

author
mtbike2 (author)SpectrHz2017-02-27

keep an eye out for small old helium tanks. In the us they are sold number the name "balloon time" or something similar. They are designed to handle helium and are much lighter than a propane tank. Propane is stored i. Heavier tNks due to the flammability. Helium tanks work at operating psi of260 psi but are tested at 325 psi which is more than sufficient. They also have a burst disk in them to prevent catastrophic failure. This ible shows how to reuse one. I have one that I use as a portable pig when I only need to fire around a dozen nails. Works great for working at height.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Reusing-a-Disposable-Helium-Tank/

author
codydean (author)2017-02-17

it would also be a good idea to wire in a pressure switch.

author
SpectrHz (author)codydean2017-02-17

Indeed, I also recommend adding some oil to the inlet of the pump to provide some lubricant, since it will slowly spray oil mist out the discharge side.

author
mtbike2 (author)2017-01-26

nice i-ble. I will try to get pictures up of mine. I salvaged an ac compressor from a whole house unit. Sucker can churn out the air. Run it on a 100 lb propane cylinder.

Also took a compressor from a refrigerator and use it to fill up the disposable helium tanks. Many argue that the helium tanks are not safe as they are light weight but the tank itself, when filled with helium, handles more than the 150 PSI the switches allow. Worst case they have a built in burst disk. When you only use those tanks as a pig for portable use of a nail gun then the risk is exceedingly low. Nice thing is that if you just hook up the opposite side then you have a vacuum that can be pulled for vacuum forming etc.

author
SpectrHz (author)mtbike2 2017-01-26

I didn't even think of that, the whole house units would have much higher CFM, I will have to keep my eye open for those.

author
mtbike2 (author)SpectrHz2017-01-28

Oh yeah it is nice. Most of the time when someone replaces their unit the compressor works just fine. All you need is the starter solenoid and compressor. Just be aware those suckers are heavy. Most whole house units in the USA are on 220V but I can tell you for a fact that they WILL INDEED run on 110 v. Mine is currently running with a 30 year old unit which is running strong.

author
Yajawstin (author)2017-01-26

Awesome!! Never thought of useing pumps for air compressor! I've got a pile in my garden 4 scrap!! :D very economical compared to my 2.6kw compressor!!
On my journey to work I drive past at least 8 fridges with motors taken for scrap!

author
SpectrHz (author)Yajawstin2017-01-26

Sweet! be sure to post pictures here when you finish it! I recommend if you need high CFM that you use more than one pump, that way you can run air tools. :)

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Bio: Maker, Engineer, Geek Girl.
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