1/2 HP Compressor ok for air tools?

I acquired an old 1/2 HP Campbel Hausfeld compressor, not used for years, but appears to be in pretty good shape, model FL3201. Portable, 2 wheels with handle, horizontal tank. No manuals. Tested it, fires up ok and I was able to adjust the output pressure and use it to inflate my bike tires so far. Been doing a bit of research, found some parts lists and an exploded view of how it is put together. No owners manual or specs though. I did find an advertisement for it in a newspaper published in 1975, where it says for the specs “1/2 HP, 7.5 Gallon tank, 8 inch wheels, 3.2 cfm, max pressure 100 psi.” (On sale in those days for $79.95.)

The previous owner used it mostly with a paint sprayer to spray paint on his outdoor fence and deck, and inflate his car’s tires.

Most air compressors these days seem to be more than 1/2 HP. What do you think about using this one for a garage DIY’er, for an air ratchet, impact wrench, air hammer, air die grinder, etc?

Also, there appears to be an oil fill and drain plug. Thinking it might be a good idea to change the oil. I doubt it has been changed in 20 years. But I have no idea what kind of oil to use, and how much. Any ideas?

Any kind of compressor oil should work. How much it takes I have no idea.

The tank and pressure rating is fine; the SCFM is a bit low. What this means is that some air tools may run out of guts during sustained use.
In other words, if you’re using a 1/2" air wrench and trying to remove a large, stuck harmonic balancer bolt you may have to stop now and then for a bit to allow the compressor to build the tank back up if the bolt is stubborn and requires a bit of hammering.

Not bad though. It should handle most of what you throw at it.

I had one of those for my first compressor. It was a nice little general purpose compressor but don’t expect too much. You can paint with it but need to wait for the compressor to catch up again after a short period. Same thing with air tools. It’ll only be good for short bursts of power-particularly high air usage tools like a die grinder (useless), and impact and ratchet wrench (only for spinning nuts on and off to save time. Good for tires, blowing stuff off, etc. Actually I stained my whole house with the sprayer in 8 hours (about 2500 square feet of siding) so not without its usefulness. Sold it for $100.

Mine is about that size. Works fine for DIY stuff. Used it for years to swap out tires each winter.

Check the air filter, check the belt, drain the tank, most compressors specify non detergent SAE 30 oil . Enjoy it. I used a similar Campbell-Hausfield compressor in a shop for a couple of days when the big compressor broke down. It required some patience but got the job done… That small compressor is in my home shop now and works great. I would hate to work without it.

You know the compressor will deliver 3.2 SCFM @ 90 PSI. Now all you have to do is look at the air required to operate whatever pneumatic tool you want to use.

My 2 HP/20 gallon compressor delivers 7.5 SCFM @ 90 PSI. And even at this, it’ll just keep up when high speed tools are used. Such as sanders and grinders.


Small compressors with minimal tanks are great for filling tires, spraying paint, and stuff that doesn’t require any power. And your cost was… well… you can’t beat free. But if you should try to use it to power an impact wrench you’ll have problems. The wrench may be rated for, say, 150 ft/lbs, but the compressor won’t get you there. And with a small tank, the oomph runs out fast.

But hey, you got a working compressor for free! Can’t beat that!

It is good enough for most tasks. You won’t be able to use it for a dual-action rotary sander. Those things are air-hogs. My 3.5 hp C-H compressor can’t keep up. Use patience until it drives you crazy, then buy a bigger compressor.

My Sears compressor of the same vintage specifies 30W oil for the crankcase.

@insightful … thanks, someone above mentioned" compressor oil" (which I’ve never heard of) but since there is such a thing, I’ll probably try that first. I’m still unclear though how much to put in. Since it is the typical crankcase, crankshaft, piston arrangement, oil level is supposed to be kept in a fairly narrow range, so I imagine I shouldn’t just put oil in until it pours out the top fill tube, right? Still, seems better to have too much than not enough. Are there any seat of the pants methods to tell if I’ve put too much oil in? I guess one thing I could do I measure how much comes out, that would probably put me in the ballpark.

My 30 year old Sear’s compressor specifies 5W-30 oil if the compressor is operated in temperatures below freezing.


When doing research on the internet on compressors Mobile 1 5-30 was mentioned as a good choice for compressors.

It seems some compressors don’t use oil. Wondering how could that be? Seems like the piston rings would heat up fast without oil. What would be the motivation for an oil-less compressor design?

Oil-less compressors use a large rubber diaphram to pump the air instead of using piston(s).


Ah, I see, thank. I’m assuming some air tools – like paint sprayers maybe – you’d prefer that absolutely no oil get introduced into the air stream.

Not unless you want fish eyes in your paint job?


Well, the good news is that I found “1/2 hp cambel hausfield compressor model fl3201” on the internet. I got a compete parts list (all listed as “discontinued” plus some maintenance videos. The bad news is that I couldn’t find the oil spec. But, since the parts lists is on line, perhaps with a bit more research you can find the owner’s manual.

Some years back (perhaps 16) my mom gave me a Singer sewing machine made in 1926 (according to the label). I looked on the internet and, lo and behold, Singer had the owner’s manual and the maintenance manual for every machine they ever made, all online and all by model number. Perhaps Cambel Hausfield does too.

My Campbell Hausfield compressor is a model # VT470200KB and the operating Instructions manual for it covers several other models. The manual states specifically “DO NOT USE AUTOMOTIVE OIL SUCH AS 10W30. Use SAE 30 industrial grade compressor oil.”

@GeorgeinSanJose, it’s a good idea to drain the tank of moisture now and then; especially if you’re going to do any paint spraying. Ideally, when spraying paint you should have a long run of metal pipe with a water trap to weed out moisture before it hits the gun.

My compressor is homemade and I have no idea what it’s rated at; think it’s about 10 SCFM at 90 PSI. The compressor is a twin cylinder running on a 2 horse 220 motor and mounted to a 35 gallon modified horizontal profile hydraulic fluid tank that I think came off an oil field frack truck of some sort. The downside is that it’s a bear to move because the entire tank is 3/8 thick steel and the tank alone weighs a ton.

You can’t buy a new one that good @ok4450.

@RodKnox, it’s even got a homemade air filter housing running an old style Subaru air filter… :slight_smile: