Best Air Sandblasters

Updated June 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Pros
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

51 Models Considered
28 Hours Researched
3 Experts Interviewed
101 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best air sandblasters

An air sandblaster is a surprisingly versatile machine that can be used for everything from polishing small automotive components to cleaning old paint off construction girders. The first air sandblaster was patented over 150 years ago, and the basic concept — using compressed air to spray abrasive material over a surface — is the same today as it was back then. It’s an effective, proven technique used all around the world.

But while the idea is simple, the potential applications are vast. That means there is a lot of variation in the capabilities of the equipment and many different manufacturers who are eager to sell you their version.

We’ve been looking at a range of different sandblasting solutions so we can help you choose. We also talk about air sandblaster safety and answer several common sandblasting questions.

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Air sandblasters are usually considered tools for serious paint stripping and degreasing, but with the right media you can clean plastics and fiberglass and polish chrome or silver.

Key considerations

Types

If we’re being precise, these devices should actually be called “abrasive blasters” because they work with much more than just sand (and we look at that below). Also, the word “media” is used rather than “abrasive.”

Air sandblasters can be divided into three main types: gravity-fed guns, siphon- or tank-fed guns, and cabinets.

Gravity-fed guns are your entry-level air sandblasters consisting of a simple handheld device with a compressed air attachment and a small hopper on top to hold the media. They’re relatively inexpensive and can be used for a range of DIY tasks like stripping metal garden furniture before repainting or cleaning rusty tools or barbecue grill racks. They can also be used creatively to etch wood or glass.

The main drawback to gravity-fed guns is their modest capacity, usually around a pint. The need to keep refilling the hopper can get frustrating if you want to clean the paint off car body panels, for example. They also can’t be used upside down.

Siphon-fed guns solve the capacity problem. The cheapest of these is really little more than a gun and a big bucket for the media. The gun is very similar to that on the gravity model but with a siphon tube. It works using what’s called the Venturi effect, where air blown across the top of a tube creates suction and then sprays the media over the workpiece.

Tank-fed guns use a pressurized tank rather than a siphon, so the media delivery is more constant. An air-pressure regulator is often fitted to ensure this. Many of these are portable — the tank is attached to a wheeled trolley — but the biggest hold 150 gallons or more, so these need to be permanently sited.

Sandblasting cabinets are enclosed cases, similar to those you see in science labs. They have a large, lift-up lid, with a clear screen for viewing, and are pre-fitted with gloves that you put your hands into to hold the gun and workpiece. The big advantage here is that everything is contained. You’re not spraying media all over the place. It’s safer and cleanup is easier.

There are two limitations with cabinets. One is size. These vary enormously, from low-cost benchtop models to big commercial versions (and even double-wides that allow two people to work side by side). However, the available space needs to be a consideration. The other challenge is that the workpiece has to be taken to the machine. In general, these are best used for easily portable components.

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Did You Know?
Ordinary sand is used very little in today’s sandblasting, and most pros avoid it. The silicon in it can cause silicosis, a serious respiratory disease.
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Features

Compressor

You need a compressor that can supply the demands of your sandblaster. The two key numbers are the air volume in cubic feet per minute (CFM) and air pressure in pounds per square inch (psi). For example, a particular machine might be rated at a minimum of 4 cubic feet per minute at 90 pounds per square inch. Both figures must be met or exceeded. This is absolutely a key element. The pressure isn’t usually a problem, and small gravity air sandblasters might run off a compressor you already own. However, large machines can require 15 CFM or greater, which means a very powerful compressor, and that’s going to add $1,200 or more to your investment.

Nozzle

The importance of the nozzle type and size depends on the application.

Material: Nozzles are usually steel or ceramic, but the composition of the latter can be important in commercial environments. Ceramics last longer than steel but are fragile and easily damaged if dropped.

Bear in mind that the sandblasting media will also abrade the gun nozzles, so they’ll need to be replaced regularly. Cheap alternatives are best avoided. They may impact performance, and they probably have a relatively short life.

Shape: Nozzle shape will alter the spray pattern, so a narrow nozzle is great for detail, but a wider one will clean large areas more quickly. Low-cost guns tend to come with one general-purpose nozzle, or you can choose a kit that includes two or three. That will give you the opportunity to experiment. Extra nozzles aren’t expensive.

Hose

On cheaper portable air sandblasters, the hose from compressor to gun or tank to gun may not be included. It’s important to check the specification required. You can’t use a garden hose or anything like that. You need a high-pressure air hose.

Hose fittings are generally 1/4 inch, but it’s worth a quick check. Inexpensive adaptors are available if there’s a mismatch.

It’s also a good idea to include an inline filter (to keep water and dirt out of the gun) and a pressure regulator (if not supplied) to keep the media flow constant.

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For Your Safety
A sandblasting gun is not a toy. Never point one at another person, even in fun. Injuries caused by sandblasting can be extremely painful and may require hospitalization.
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Accessories


Face shield: Lincoln Electric OMNIShield
A sandblasting cabinet keeps you isolated from the media and is a very clean and safe way to work. If you’re using a gun in the open air, you need to protect yourself from potential injury and airborne particles. We like this certified, high-impact polycarbonate face shield from Lincoln Electric because it’s comfortable, adapts to hard hats, and is reasonably priced.

Respirator: 3M 6000 Half Facepiece Respirator
We recommend a half-mask respirator rather than a simple paper mask for much more effective filtration. We like this soft, comfortable, adjustable one from 3M, which is appropriate for commercial and industrial use.

Air sandblaster prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest air sandblasters are the handheld gravity-fed guns that range from $35 to $50. They’re great for small jobs. For around $60, you can get a siphon model.

Mid-range: Portable air sandblasters with their own hopper or tank start at around $80 for a 50-pound plastic hopper and $150 for a 10-gallon steel pressure tank with a regulator. Small sandblasting cabinets cost $220 and more.

Expensive: Large portable models with 90- or 100-gallon capacity can be $700 and more. Double-wide cabinets run $2,000 and up, and commercial tank installations can easily top $5,000.

Dyk3 
Did You Know?
There are all kinds of abrasives for sandblasters, but you might not expect walnut shells or corn cobs to be among them. When ground up, these are softer than most media but still hard enough to be used for polishing and other delicate tasks.
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Tips

While sandblasters can use ordinary sand — silicon dioxide — it’s increasingly rare, and there are many other media you can put through your equipment that will be more or less abrasive and so better matched to the job you’re doing. What’s more, media is fairly inexpensive, so you can afford to experiment.

  • Steel shot is used for heavy-duty preparation, deburring metal components, and removing particularly tough surface finishes.
  • Aluminum oxide is the same stuff used on many kinds of sandpaper and is great for removing rust and old paintwork.
  • Silicon carbide is similar to aluminum oxide but harder. As well as rust and paint removal, it’s effective at etching glass and stone.
  • Glass beads are very smooth and can be very effective at removing old grout, cleaning tile, and so on. They can be recycled, too, so they’re very economical.
  • Plastic media is very soft and can be used for cleaning fiberglass components.

There are several other media, too, so it’s an area you’ll want to investigate further if you’re working with a variety of materials. Some sandblasters come with useful charts to help you choose. The bottom line: start soft. You can always go harder if the job is taking too long. If you start hard and damage the surface, it can sometimes be impossible to refinish.

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Commercial sandblasting installations may require that you wear a full hood and perhaps a complete protective suit. Consult the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) website for information.

FAQ

Q. Is sandblasting regulated?

A. It depends on whether you’re doing it for yourself or as a commercial enterprise. You can work at home in your garage or shed without restriction. If you offer services to others, you need to conform to the rules laid down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA). Failure to comply could result in heavy fines.

Q. What is dustless sandblasting?

A. In dustless sandblasting, water is mixed with the media. It’s claimed to increase cleaning efficiency, reduce airborne contaminants, and save on abrasives. However, the initial outlay is greater, and you need to be able to deal with water runoff. It’s increasingly popular in commercial installations, but it’s not really suitable for home workshop use.

Q. What’s the difference between sandblasting and soda blasting?

A. You can use the same machine for both, but the results will differ. Soda in this instance is sodium bicarbonate. You might also know it as baking soda. It’s a much milder abrasive than sand, and it breaks upon impact. As a result, it can be used on more delicate finishes and materials, yet it still removes dirt, oil, and so on. The only drawback is that the soda residue can be difficult to remove from the surface, and it may cause problems if a finish is then applied.

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