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Consumer Air Compressor Buyer's Guide

How To Pick The Perfect Consumer-Grade Air Compressor

By Dale V.  |  Power Equipment Expert

Air compressors come in many shapes and sizes.

From a small portable inflator to a stationary single-stage compressor, each one is tailored for a specific job.

Pancake and hot-dog air compressors make inflating tires and toys a breeze, but to power air tools, like an airbrush or brad nailer, you're going to want to step up to something more robust, like a single-stage compressor.




If you ever experienced the "low tire pressure" indicator coming on while driving, then you know how much of a life-saver an inflator can be.

It makes sense to have an inflator in the trunk of each vehicle you own. It sure beats trying to find air at a gas station!


Learn: Inflators


Pancake Air Compressors

For small filling tasks at home, we recommend an air compressor with a tank.

Pancake compressors are small (1-gallon tank) and lightweight (16 pounds) for easy storage and portability. They are oil-free and have no belts so there is virtually no maintenance needed.

They make quick work filling bicycle tires, sports balls, and rafts, but still lack the power to run air tools. Also, because they're oil-free, they are quite noisy.


Shop Pancake Compressors


Hot Dog Air Compressors

Hot dog compressors are popular with hobbyists because they have enough power to run small air tools, such as airbrushes and staplers.

These have slightly bigger air tanks than pancake compressors and are somewhat heavier. Hot dog compressors are equipped with handles for easier transportation.

These units are oil-less and have no belts, which means little to no maintenance, but they are quite loud.


Learn: Hot Dog 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 DIY-er, a twin-stack compressor is an excellent choice. They have enough power to run finish trim tools, such as brad guns and nailers.


Learn: Twin-Stack Compressors


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 your 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 may cost more upfront than other portable air compressors but typically will last a lot longer.


Learn: Port. 1-Stage Compressors


Stationary Single-Stage Air Compressors

Stationary single-stage air compressors are a necessity for the shop and at home 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.

If you're running air tools with serious CFM requirements, you'll want to step-up to a two-stage or rotary screw compressor.


Learn: Stat. 1-Stage Compressors

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