Air Tools vs. Electrics: Pros and Cons

Air Tools vs. Electrics: Pros and Cons

Every power tool offers different advantages. Two common types of power tools are pneumatic tools, which are powered by compressed air, and electric tools, which use a plug or battery. Each type of power tool comes with its pros and cons. Choosing which tool is best for you should depend on what your specific needs are.



Of course, the most important thing to consider when choosing between different power tools is whether it has what it takes to get the job done. If you need to cut through steel or machine-tighten a bolt, you will need a certain amount of torque. Choosing a tool for its convenience or cost really won’t do any good if it isn’t strong enough to get the job done.

  • Pneumatics are notoriously strong. The amount of punch they offer can be adjusted up or down by allowing the air compressor to deliver more or less power. This has made them the popular tool of choice in places like machine shops and auto shops.
  • Electrics are catching up. It used to be that air tools were the clear winner in this category every time. This was especially true for cordless electric tools which couldn’t offer the same juice. Things are changing. With new technologies in battery and tool design, electric tools are coming to rival air tools in power.


Spending too much on a tool is an obvious waste of your company’s dollars. Spending too little could mean not getting exactly what you need. Tools pay for themselves in the work they do for you. When considering cost, find the balance between what you are spending and what you are getting with the type of power tool you choose.

  • Pneumatics have larger upfront costs, lower back end costs. Air tools themselves are usually less expensive than their electric counterparts. They also tend to last longer. However, you cannot run an air tool without an air compressor, and those can be very expensive. Air compressors are an expensive and unavoidable up-front cost for pneumatic tools.
  • Electrics require less investment. The nice thing about electric tools—corded or cordless—is that they have their own power supply worked in, so you don’t need to invest in a power source. An electric tool will always be a little more expensive than an air tool that performs the same task, but an inexpensive air tool is useless without that compressor, which comes at a cost.


How much of your day do you have a power tool in your hands? Different power tools offer a variety of grips and weights. These factors become more and more important the more hours you spend handling them. How you move around with changes how you use them.

  • Pneumatics are light, yet limiting. Either kind of tool will offer a comfortable hand fit; that is just a matter of trying them on and finding what feels good to you. Air tools are much lighter than electric tools and will probably remain so. However, there is no cordless option in pneumatic tools. Air tools still need a hose to connect to the compressor, so handling them will always have that drawback.
  • Electrics make for easy movement. There is a reason cordless tools are a staple item—they allow you to move around. You are not tethered to an outlet or air compressor by a cord. There is nothing to trip over or get tangled in. And while electric tools have always been heavier, they are becoming more lightweight as technology advances. Even industries that traditionally use pneumatic tools are beginning to make the switch for these conveniences.


Smart technology isn’t limited to cell phones and tablets. Even your power tools are becoming smarter. New technologies are coming onto the market that can allow your tools to tell you more about how you work and what they need.

  • Pneumatics are going blue. Bluetooth capability is starting to creep into the pneumatic tool market. These tools gather data as the tool is used which is transmitted to your phone or computer. The tool can tell you details about the angles you are working on and the torque being offered, as well as details on the tool’s needs.
  • Electrics are blue and expanding. Manufacturers are releasing cordless power tools with smart batteries. These batteries also utilize Bluetooth technologies to give you information on your tools and how you use them. They let you know when the tool is running hot or needs a break to achieve the best performance. The system also allows you to cut off the battery’s power if it leaves a certain area or outside of certain hours.

Evolution of Tools

The argument for different types of power tools used to be more cut and dry. Pneumatics were lighter and stronger, and electrics were more versatile. As technology advances, it has changed the design, weight and even capabilities of both tools. Each type of tool has made advancements, and each still comes with its own limitations. Whether an air powered or electric tool is best really depends on your specific needs.


Pub. 12/2016

The product statements contained herein are intended for informational purposes only. Such product statements do not constitute a product recommendation or representation as to the appropriateness for a specific application or use. W. W. Grainger, Inc. does not guarantee the result of product operation or assume any liability for personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of such products.