There are a number of different air compressors available, with each style and type being useful for different applications. Depending on the amount of air you need, the rate of PSI and CFM, the price, noise, and other features, you’ll want to choose the best type of compressor for your needs. Here is a quick run down on the various styles of air compressors.
1. Pancake Air Compressors
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Extremely small and pancake shaped, pancake compressors don’t need much maintenance at all. They are extremely light and have a tank volume that typically ranges from one to six gallons. The tanks themselves are very low profile in design so that they can easily be transported from one location to the next. They also have oil free pumps which makes them excellent for tire inflation projects. However, they don’t have the same power of their larger counterparts, so they aren’t going to be able to run major equipment.
Typically, pancake compressors have anywhere from 1-2.0 SCFM, and range between about 15-30 pounds. They are definitely portable and easy to use. They are great for cold weather because they have low amp motors that are reliable and very quiet.
For filling tires and doing small projects around the house, pancake compressors are an excellent choice. Several models such as those from Porter-Cable have hoses, Teflon tape, and various types of nozzles that ship with them, making them excellent for small tasks.
2. Hot Dog Air Compressors
For hobbyists and folks doing crafts around the house, hot dog compressors are typically the most popular type of unit. They are a little bit bigger and slightly heavier than pancake models, but equally low maintenance. They are slightly louder, but still not as loud as industrial strength air compressors. Being typically maintenance free and portable, these units are excellent for nailing, airbrushing, or stapling jobs. They also include gauges and thermal overload functionality, and are easy to store in your car or truck. Their delivery ranges from 0.5-2 CFM at 90 or 40 PSI depending on how much air you are putting out. The tank holds about 2-3 gallons, typically, and their horsepower may be anywhere from 1/3-1 HP.
3. Twin Style Air Compressor
With double air tanks stacked on each other, twin style compressors are similar to hot dog style compressors, but with two tanks instead of just one. They are fairly portable but might need two people to carry them. They are more powerful due to their 2-tank configuration, making them good for powering nail and brad guns.
4. Wheelbarrow Style Air Compressors
With a tank that is positioned right along the compressor itself, wheelbarrow compressors are not that different from pontoon compressors and have heavy, powerful motors. These types of compressors are typically best for heavy duty projects, ranking anywhere from 100-300 pounds. They can be pulled over tougher terrain without being damaged, and are quite reliable and sturdy.
Often made from heavy-duty materials like cast iron, these compressors can inflate, frame, finish, or repair objects on the construction site or around the house. They usually have wheels so that you can tote them around. You can find HP ranging from 1-2 HP, and they have both electric and gas powered versions. One example, the Rolair 5715K17, has a 9 gallon air tank and a 780 RPMG pump, so it is quite powerful. The Dewalt air compressor is another popular choice for wheelbarrow compressors and features a cast iron valve plate.
Twin stack air compressors are definitely more expensive than pancake compressors, but they do feature 2 outflow connects and wheels as well. If you are just going to use your compressor in the garage, a pancake compressor is probably best. However, if you intend to use the compressor for professional jobs, or are going to have a nail and staple gun, a twin stack compressor is generally better.
Oil Free vs Oiled and CFM Considerations
Other considerations include the CFM and oil free vs. oiled. Oiled compressors, which are usually found in heavier models, will have more CFM because they are made for running continuously. However, oil free compressors are quite easy to use and maintain, regardless of your specific skill level. You can get by quite well with an oil free version if you are just going to be using your compressor around the house.