Making Your Own Airbrush Compressor

Sometimes we feel that we need something, we search for it, read reviews, try to get the best for our objective and pocket, but we do not even care about the extra tools and accessories, which are sometimes essential for that precious item we just purchased to be used properly.
Example for this is the mightly painting tool, the airbrush. After a lot of research, we buy a set, then... Ooops... We need air power... I will not make it long by comparing pros and cons of a pressured air can and a compressor, as I am just intending to show you how I made my own compressor.

Caution/Disclaimer - This is an article on How I made my own compressor. I do not encourage you to make your own, as some processes described below can be hazardous physically. Only those people who really are confident that they really know what they are doing should try, but the others with even little hesitation MUST NOT do it. I take no responsibility on the harm caused by the construction process and use of any product after construction.

So, after the disclaimer, I can start.
  • 1. The heart of the system is the compressor. This unit is from an old refrigerator, which was not able to serve as a refrigerator anymore. It was going to be thrown away, and I purchased it for about 7 usd or 5 euros.

  • 2. This tank serves as an air chamber to regulate the air pressure coming from the compressor. The compressor blows with variable pressure, but this tank prevents fluctuations reach the airbrush. It also serves as a grease and moisture trap, which is a real big problem for airbrush users. The tank I used is used for storing refrigerant gas used in household refrigerators. They just throw them away or recycle, so it costs almost nothing.

  • 3. Plastic hose for attaching the compressor to the tank. The hose is used on medical equipment like those which measure blood pressure. You should know how long you need, but I suppose it would not cost for more than 1 usd or 1 euros for 2 meters. I used a thick one with easy maintenance but low durability, so you can find a better hose, like those which are transparent.

  • 4. Copper pipe with length of about 5 cm., which would not cost anything. This is attached to the side of the bottom of the tank to let the hose be attached.

  • 5. Safety release valve, used on medical equipment used for measuring blood pressure. This is mostly closed, but when you need to release the air instantly, you can use this safety valve. It costs a bit, but not more than 5 usd or 3 euros, I suppose.

  • 6. Pressure gauge. This is a very cheap equipment, I think it can be found in many toolshops. You can use one from an old pump which is used for inflating bicycle tires. I took it from my old tire compressor which was not able to serve as a compressor anymore. I can not estimate a cost for this.

  • 7. Electrical switch of some sort. I did not prefer to cut the cable of the compressor itself, so I made an extension cable with the switch on it. Costs not more than 3 usd or 2 euros.

  • 8. Hose and adapter for attaching the airbrush to the tank. This came with the airbrush set, itself, and to my surprise, the adapter on the hose was built for the outlet on the tank. I paid no extras for this, but I can estimate that the cost of a hose and an adapter would not exceed 5 usd or 3 euros.
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    About the Author

    About Çağın Başaran (caanbash)

    Born in 1977, made my first model when I was 7. As an architect, model making is a part of my profession. But it also made me stop making plastic models for ten years, but architectural models. In 2006, I decided to return to my hobby. All the old models I had are ruined and gone now, during house c...


    Hai, I do not want to be to critical but there are a few serious risks to making a compressor system using this way of working. It is really dangerous to drill holes and start welding in a container that used to contain flammable (and even explosive) gasses. I know of cases where the operator got killed in the process! Besides, when the weld is not perfect then the piece of pipe can come of like a bullet once the system is under pressure. Also be careful and only use containers of which you know the history. A container that once upon a time could stand 10 bar pressure but that has spent a lifetime in a humid cellar or on a dump somewhere could have lost its strength. A container with only 3 bar pressure in it can do a lot of dammage to weak flesh when exploding. And, it is not necessary to drill holes or weld. When using the right equipment one can make a perfectly safe system. It could cost an extra few Euros but blowing up is a lot more expensive.
    APR 10, 2005 - 09:34 PM
    hi drabslad, thanks for the extra warnings on this. The author tried to explain the situation in Caution/Disclaimer and some more warnings in red letters. This feature only shows how he did his own compressor paying maximum attention to risks. thanks again for your corcern
    APR 10, 2005 - 11:04 PM
    Well, I have been working as an engineer for a number of years in several companies working with welded steel constructions and pressure equipment. And I have to say, I have seen frightening things when visiting clients (and these were supposed to be professionals!!!). A few times it went wrong, leading in most cases to a fantastic strong story for the next pubcrawl, and in other cases to a horrible disaster for the poor fellows immediately involved. You are right. The author very clearly points out the risks and warns that you should not do this unless you know a few things of mechanical stuff. Unfortunately, in too many cases people have "selective blindness" and only read what they like to read, in this case how to make a cheap compressor, paying insufficient attention to safety. Please accept that I don't want to be an [auto-censored] criticizing somebodies fair contribution to the site, I only suffer from some professional prejudice, I guess.
    APR 11, 2005 - 12:53 AM
    Apart from the (obvious) dangers, my personal feeling is that with cheap compressors available, is it really worth the hassle? I'm not diminishing the work done by Cannbash at all...Jim
    APR 11, 2005 - 12:57 AM
    I made it all by myself, and it works fine! I haven't problems with it. It is a freezer compressor on two large pipes. Those pipes are welded ''airproof''. The compressor is bolted on two plates, with rubber between it to catch up the vibration. Then a pipe to the large pipe (with that T bit) There comes the oil and those oil drops back to the compressor. The air goes to the large air pipes. At the back on one of the two pipes is a barometer (or PSI meter) That thing on the left front is the airregulator. This is the whole principel of my own builded compressor, and again, it works fine. I agree with you guys about the dangers and risks, but I think that a lot of people wouldn't spend a lot of money only for a compressor, that's why I made one all by myself. I build this for 30 euros or less. I hope you'll understand it. Greetz Hilbert Btw I'm not trying to confince people to make its own compressor!!
    APR 11, 2005 - 01:38 AM
    Drabslab, first of all;I want to tell that I highly respect your warnings and experiences as an expert and I am really thankful for your warnings. I believe people who read this post will be more careful if they attempt to make their own compressors. Please know that i didnt think you are auto-censoredcritizing on a contribution to the website, I understand your worries.Besides; as you may understand this is a How to Do article and General modelling section have lots of them with different risk levels.all of these explain the authors technique with some warnings of the possible risks. Thanks again for your interest .
    APR 11, 2005 - 01:48 AM
    Another optin may be to put a Tee at the top of the tank as the tanks really a Buffer to prevent Pulsing In an Ideal world.... seperate Inlets & Outles are best for a airtank..........
    APR 11, 2005 - 03:41 AM
    Hi all, Sorry I could not reply for such a long time, but I had business in a far away city. I am well aware of the fact that we are dealing with gas with high pressure. I warn everybody about this, if you plan to make your own compressor, do it with extreme caution. If you are planning to drill a hole on a tank which used to contain explosive gas, be extra cautious and use the method I used for mine (I mean using water to replace the gas first). And do this at your own risk. Mine did not explode, but that does not mean it yours will not explode, it can. While I understand and emphasize the risks involved in this process, I have to say that if weaker piping is used, the system overrides its own risks. First the hose explodes and it just gives some loud noise, nothig dangerous physically. I do not say this to encourage people, just to give a safety clue. Thanks for the responses. And thanks for pointing out that this process may be dangerous. It is better to write it everywhere, so people can see it here or there. Regards. Cagin.
    APR 12, 2005 - 02:17 AM