Air Compressor Buying Guide
Finding that middle ground between performance and value is essential towards being happy with your purchase.
First thing to remember when setting out to buy an air compressor is that although they are extremely simple machines, there are many different kinds to choose from. On one hand, you don't want to buy an air compressor that won't be able to accomplish the projects you intend to use it for, and on the other, you certainly don't want to invest money on a system that goes way overboard on the performance you will never need. Finding that middle ground between performance and value is essential towards being happy with your purchase. By using this buying guide you will be able to determine exactly which air compressor is going to fit your needs while still ensuring you won't regret your investment later.
The kind of air compressor you will need is based upon what you plan to use it for.
Air compressors make great household tools. They fill sports balls for the kids, bike and car tires, and can even power some air tools. They key word in that statement is "some" air tools. With a lightweight portable air compressor, you can expect to be able to power most airbrush or brad nailers. A personal unit can also fill a smaller car and truck tires. The big plus here is value. They are relatively inexpensive while still giving the owner some great tools to work with. The downside is that they take time to fill with air because of the smaller pumps that compress it. They are low maintenance because they require no oil, but this also means they will be louder, have less power, and will need to be filled more often.
If you are a contractor or plan to use your system for more than the average home or hobby use. Then a professional grade air compressor is the way to go. With professional grade power you can expect to be able to use any and all air tools, have a sufficient capacity to last hours without frequent air compressions and with some... the ability to have more than one person use it at a time.
If you need a constant supply of serious power, and the ability to have more than one set of air tools working simultaneously, then an industrial grade air compressor is what you are looking for. You get what you pay for with air compressors and these units pack the most power by far.
Personal Air Compressors
Inflators are good for keeping the tire pressure of your vehicles at optimal levels. This improves your gas mileage, which saves you money and routine trips to gas station air pumps. So, it makes sense to have an inflator in your trunk or garage. After all, who really wants to make an extra stop to the gas station on the way to work? Inflators are easy to carry, inexpensive and can handle light work like sports balls, bike tires, and even automobile tires if you don't mind waiting a few minutes to reach the right pressure.
Pancake compressors are popular with hobbyists because they have enough power to run small air tools, such as airbrushes and staplers. These units carry an average amount of air and provide portability along with enough pressure to handle more than the average light work. These units are oil-less and have no belts, which means little to no maintenance, but on the down side, they can be loud enough to wake the baby.
Twin Stack Compressors
Twin-stack compressors have dual air tanks which hold more air and thus there is less time between compressions. If you're a DIY-er, a twin-stack compressor will be a good choice. They have enough power to run most air tools including trimmers and nailers and an assortment of other handy tools. Even though these units are still considered portable they can weigh up to 70 pounds which is quite a haul if you are moving the unit frequently.
Portable Single-Stage Air Compressors
Portable single-stage air compressors are popular with carpenters and folks who need to run air tools like nail guns frequently. If you are building a deck or roofing a house these compressors make your job easier, more efficient and improve the quality of your labor. These compressors can be more expensive than other portable units because of a more powerful engine and larger air capacity.
Stationary Single-Stage Air Compressors
Stationary single-stage compressors are great for around the home or garage for people who need affordable air on an occasional basis. These compressors are useful for automotive work such as rotating tires and other small tasks. Quality single-stage compressors are built to give you many years of reliable air. However, if you find yourself using an air compressor that has serious CFM requirement, then you may want to step up to a two-stage or a rotary screw compressor
Professional Air Compressors
Twin Stack Air Compressors
Twin-stack compressors have two air tanks, which means you can store more air so the compressor doesn't have to run as often. If you're a carpenter, a twin-stack compressor will be a good choice. They have enough power to run finish trim tools, such as brad guns and nailers. These are still "portable" air compressors, but some units weigh as much as 80 lbs. which is no picnic for most of us.
Portable Single Stage Air Compressors
Portable single-stage air compressors are popular with carpenters and folks who need to run air tools like nail guns frequently. If you're re-siding a home, building a deck or framing an addition, these powerful compressors will do the trick. With stronger engines and better compressor pumps, single-stage units are more expensive than other portable air compressors.
DC Compressors These units are popular with race teams, show cars, and RV owners. They are hardwired into a vehicle's DC voltage system and provide a lot of air while taking up very little room. The continuous duty units can inflate tires 37" and larger- something the smaller inflators can't handle. These are also the units found in show cars that "hop", and in race team support vehicles. Several are available in kit form that includes everything you need to install the unit in your vehicle: hoses, gauges, cables & controls.
Truck Mounted Compressors
Truck-mounted compressors are the biggest, most powerful portable compressors available. They can weigh several hundred pounds because your truck is the one doing the heavy lifting. With all the weight, you get large air tanks, reliable pumps and high CFM capabilities. You can easily run large air tools all day with a truck-mount compressor. The fact you can only use these where you can drive to is the biggest drawback with a truck-mount air compressor.
Wheel Barrow Compressors
Wheelbarrow air compressors are designed for job-sites. Built with powerful engines, larger air tanks, and heavy-duty materials, wheelbarrow compressors can handle challenging conditions. With a single wheel and sturdy handles, you can pull these through tough terrains. With all their features, wheelbarrow compressors get heavy, so the wheeled portability is helpful. Some wheelbarrow compressors weigh up to 300 lbs. so if you need to take it somewhere you can't go on wheels, get a lighter model.
Industrial Air Compressors
Rotary screw compressors
Rotary screw compressors are the biggest, most powerful compressors on the market. If you have greater than a 60% duty-cycle need, then choose a rotary compressor. You will find these in the most professional garages and factories where a large amount of compressed air is required nonstop. They often provide compressed air for precision tasks such as powder-coating or sand-blasting. Rotary screw compressors are powered by two counter-rotating screws (rotors) which compress air as it is pushed along the grooves of the screws. Exceptionally efficient and surprisingly quiet, rotary screw compressors are the most technologically advanced units on the market. The energy consumption is extremely low despite the great power of rotary compressors. Our most powerful rotary screw compressors produce more than 200 CFM, but the big guys on oil rigs produce about 2000 CFM.
Two-stage compressors are commonly found in garages and manufacturing facilities. Two-stage are used to power a bevy of air tools, such as air hammers, die grinders, impact wrenches and nail guns. They can be powerful enough to run several air tools at once. These compressors are powered by either gas or electricity, although most are electric. Utilizing two pistons, 2-stage units compress the air twice, delivering more air power than smaller compressors. Energy costs for two-stage units can get rather pricey so keep this in mind when making your purchase. Two-stage compressors can create up to about 90 CFM