When it comes to air hoses, material type and tubing size are the main factors to consider. When I first started in the trade 33 years ago, rubber was about the only option out there. Now you can choose between rubber, nylon, PVC, and polyurethane. As a framer by trade, I personally have had very little use for PVC and nylon. PVC is the least expensive, but I’ve found it difficult to work with on a daily basis – especially in cold temperatures because it doesn’t flex much. Nylon is mostly used in coil hoses, which have no place on a framing site because they aren’t very durable and they don’t offer much maneuverability. So for years I used nitrile rubber hoses because they are durable, fairly flexible (although less so in cold temperatures), and have the highest PSI rating of all the options. They also tend not to be weakened if they run up against a compressor’s hot motor.
These days reinforced polyurethane tubing has been my go-to choice because it is lightweight, flexible (even in cold weather), very durable, and easy to repair. The first brand I bought was Flexeel (coilhose.com). When it first came out it was a little pricey compared to the other options, but I quickly learned that it was money well spent. These days there are many other brands of reinforced polyurethane hoses available (most air tool manufacturers offer them), and the price is now down to the range of rubber and sometimes even nylon options.
I prefer hoses to be lightweight and to lay flat on the deck while I’m framing, and to keep the weight of my framing nailer down when working off of a ladder. For someone like me who frames full-time, 3/8” (I.D.) hose is the way to go because it keeps the compressor from running too often. I do work with a lot of guys who run 1/4” hoses straight from the compressor to their framing guns without a glitch. But I’ve opted for a compromise. To keep the weight down while still maintaining the air delivery I need for my framing nailer, I’ve recently started running a 3/8” rubber hose off of my compressor and then adding a 1/4” polyurethane line between it and my gun. This setup adds air storage within the hose (since the hose is basically an extension of the compressor) while still giving me the maneuverability and flexibility benefits of the smaller I.D., lighter weight polyurethane.
Eric MacDonald is a contributing editor to Tools of the Trade and framing carpenter in Altamont, NY.