I’m very glad I wasn’t around when that tank let go…


Bustednuckles put up a very scary, but interesting video on his blog yesterday.  It’s from 3Generation Racing, and shows the aftermath of an air compressor tank failure.  It did a lot of damage, and it’s only by the grace of God that nobody was standing closer to it to be injured, or perhaps even killed, by the explosion.  If you have an air compressor in your garage or workshop, you need to see this;  and even if you don’t, if friends or relatives use them, you need to have them watch it.

There are two follow-up videos where the failure is analyzed, here and here.  I haven’t watched them, but those who use such equipment will probably find them interesting.  Also, read the comments below Bustednuckles’ post.  Some knowledgeable users contribute their insights.

I’d like to point out that you should drain any moisture from your air compressor tank on a regular basis.  When I was in the military, our regulations called for that to be done (i.e. the air pressure to be released and the moisture valve at the bottom of the tank to be left open overnight) on a weekly basis in field environments.  The tank also had to be X-rayed at least once every year, to ensure it hadn’t corroded until its wall became too thin to withstand the pressures involved.  As a result, I never saw a compressor tank failure in an operational environment.  I’m grateful for that, because the compressors were a LOT bigger than the small home unit shown in the video!

I hope that video will be a wake-up call for home mechanics and workshop users.  It sure was to me.



  1. The standard even on ad hoc motion picture construction mills was to purge the tank every single night, and in permanent shops, they caged the compressor behind metal mesh enclosures, and in the better shops, zip-tied kevlar blankets to all four sides and the door.

    There's nothing wrong with using air-powered tools, but if you're going to invite a bomb to your workshop, you'd darned sure better respect what you've brought home.

  2. Most people have no idea how much energy there is in compressed air.
    Just another example of how dangerous the world actually is.

  3. My guess is, there was a corrosion problem from condensation water in the bottom of the tank, and that’s where the failure started. I also note, someone has been doing some home-amateur brazing/welding on the tank bottom to install a drain valve (a big no-no) – so they knew they had a collected-water problem. In industry these kinds of pressure tanks are hydro-tested on a regular basis, sometimes yearly, sometimes 5-yearly. Compressed air has a lot of readily-available stored energy.

  4. (almost) every dental office I know has a compressor; I've never heard of this type of failure from any of my friends nor at any dental meeting.
    I'll have to ask around some more.

  5. You can get a device that will briefly open the bottom valve every time the pump shuts off. You just need a place for the hose to drain to. I added a hose with a ball valve in the middle of it to the bottom of my compressor because the original petcock was hard to turn and frankly, having that oily water spray out of the bottom of the tank with no control is a needless mess. I just feed the hose into a milk jug.

  6. Just buy you next compressor at one of the big box stores. The compressor motor will go bad years before the tank will rust out.

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