The history of pneumatic power dates back to the 19th century. The current popularity of air compressors and air-powered tools such as handheld breakers suggest pneumatics will continue to be popular for years to come. However, there is another strong alternative to pneumatics that is picking up momentum: hydraulics.

Not only are hydraulics a strong alternative, but a close examination between the two indicates handheld hydraulic equipment can in some cases be the better choice for specific applications.

It might be the right time for you to consider adding hydraulic tools to your lineup and here is why:

High Impact with Hydraulics

From a performance standpoint to portability, reliability, flexibility and cost, hydraulic tools are very effective on the job.


A typical hydraulic breaker hits roughly as hard as a pneumatic breaker one class above its weight class. Hydraulic breakers pound for pound offer the highest power-to-weight ratio compared to breakers using other power sources. Another tangible benefit to utilizing hydraulic tools is the fact that hydraulic oil is a powerful energy transmitter.

Hydraulics work with greater efficiency, which helps explain why a hydraulic breaker coupled with a nine horsepower (hp) hydraulic power pack delivers more power at the tool tip than a pneumatic breaker powered by a 20 hp diesel compressor engine.

An example of this is the Chicago Pneumatic (CP) 73-pound BRK 95 breaker. Operators will find the same amount of hitting power in the BRK 95 as most 90-pound pneumatic breakers. This is because compressed air has an efficiency of about 18 to 25 percent, while hydraulic efficiency is roughly 50 to 60 percent.

Hydraulics operate in a closed circuit. Hydraulic oil leaves the power pack, travels through a hose to the breaker where it creates a stroke of the breaker’s piston, and then is returned to the power pack’s oil tank. With pneumatics, compressed air is similarly delivered through a hose to a breaker. Most of the air goes to create the breaker’s impact, but some of the air exits the breaker through exhaust ports, resulting in unused power.


The energy-efficient power packs are small enough to fit in a van or truck, whereas comparable air compressors must be towed behind or mounted on a vehicle. Once on the job, power packs can be manually wheeled or lifted into any necessary position, while compressors usually require mechanized assistance to be maneuvered from one location to another.


Hydraulic breakers feature only one or two moving parts, limiting the components to replace and reducing the need for service. Additionally, the hydraulic oil continuously applies lubrication to internal components, minimizing wear

The operator does not need to worry about contaminants as hydraulics work in a closed loop to keep dirt and moisture out. And, due to the no-spill, flat-face couplings, it is easy to keep the system clean. Fitted with high quality couplings, the hoses have easy, fast and safe connections even in applications with high concentrations of contaminants.


Operators like hydraulic tools because they vibrate less than many other tools available on the market. They also do not emit any air exhaust, therefore greatly quieting operation.

Many times, the operator will not even need a power pack at all. In fact, hydraulic tools can be connected to a range of different power sources such as excavators, trucks, skid steer loaders and tractors, providing ultimate flexibility with a fleet of equipment.


For the price of one compressor and pneumatic breaker, a contractor could purchase approximately two equivalent-sized complete hydraulic power pack and breaker packages.

Contractors already equipped with hydraulics in their fleet are in good hands — those who haven’t yet purchased for their fleet should keep the money savings, portability and performance benefits in mind.

By Haile` Tsegaw

Product Manager – Handheld Tools

Chicago Pneumatic Power Technique