What is an Air Compressor?
Before we can get into the details, we should first review what an air compressor is. As the name suggests, it’s a unit that compresses air. There are a ton of different types of air compressors, and they all vary on how they compress air along with other variables.
For home use, you’re typically looking at a single stage piston-driven air compressor. In this category, you’ll see options in either electric-power or gas-power. A quick refresher course on physics; as the piston drives in one direction, the volume the air occupies goes down, so the pressure goes up. The pressurized air in your air compressor will then go into a storage tank where it will wait until you use it.
There are giant versions of air compressors used in machine shops or garages, and there are small units, otherwise called portable air compressors. These portable air compressors are the most typical in-home use, and they have a smaller tank, wheels, and a handle so they can be moved around.
The most common air compressor used for home use is a pancake air compressor. It’s a small, portable, single-stage, piston-driven tank with a small and flat storage tank.
Introduction to Pancake Air Compressors
Now that you’re an expert on air compressors, let’s focus on the one you’re most likely to buy. Pancake air compressors have a ton of use in the home, for a lot of great reasons.
What is a Pancake Air Compressor?
Pancake air compressors are a common type of air compressor found in the home. Their storage tank is short and wide, slightly resembling a pancake.
They are small and lightweight which makes them easy to store and move around. This is the main reason why they’re used so extensively for home use. They can be wheeled around, don’t take up a lot of space, and can be stored out of sight – no need for permanent mounting.
They don’t have any belts and they’re oil-free which means there’s almost no maintenance required. Don’t be mistaken, though. Pancake air compressors do have oil in the system, it’s just circulating in a sealed chamber, so you don’t have to change it out.
The fact that there are different types of pancake air compressors means that there have to be some key differences. This is where the compressor’s specs come into play. Understanding what each specification is and how it will affect you is important before you can consider which compressor to buy.
PSI is the pressure per square inch that your air compressor can handle. A lot of times the item you’re running with the air compressor has a required PSI to operate. This just means that the tools need a certain amount of punch to run. This is the biggest factor when selecting an air compressor because you need to make sure you can achieve the PSI rating you need to run.
The horsepower is how strong the motor of your air compressor is. Higher horsepower will affect other features of the air compressor like its PSI and CFM rating, and how big the unit is.
No tools will require a certain HP air compressor to run, but it does seriously change the power of the air compressor.
Cubic Feet Per Minutes (CFM)
Next is the air compressor’s rated cubic feet per minute. CFM refers to how much air your compressor can deliver. The CFM is rated per specific PSI outputs. For example, a tank will be rated for X CFM at Y PSI.
Another way to think about CFM vs. PSI is a push vs. a punch. CFM is a rating for how long you can sustain the air force, or how long you can continuously push something. PSI could just be a super-fast burst of air or a quick punch.
In other words, a tank with an incredibly high PSI might not even work for your application. If a compressor has a really high PSI with no CFM, you would never be able to fill up a bike tire or inflate a football.
The last feature of an air compressor is the size of the tank. The tank is the reservoir which determines much compressed air you can store. While the air compressor runs, it is constantly creating new compressed air that is stored in the tank.
A small tank means you’ll run out of compressed air quickly, but a big tank means more weight and size. All pancake air compressors have small tank sizes, and they typically will hold between 1 and 6 gallons.
Gas-Powered vs Electric Powered Pancake Air Compressors
Just like power tools, there are different options to power your air compressor.
Gas-powered air compressors are favored in situations where electricity isn’t available, but you still need compressed air. They are typically heavier, bigger, and deliver higher PSI and more CFM.
Electric-powered air compressors are a lot quieter. Imagine the difference between a gas car and an electric car. For most uses, you would lean towards an electric-powered air compressor for your home. You will rarely need to use a compressor in your home when you don’t have power. They start up faster than gas-powered compressors, and you don’t have to worry about making sure the gas tank is full.
Uses for a Pancake Air Compressor
A very popular use for this type of compressor is filling up tires and sports balls. You could also get away with running a pneumatic stapler or nail gun for a little bit too. You can also throw an air gun to the end and clean up a mess pretty quickly with the compressed air.
Some less-common uses for pancake air compressors would be using a paint gun, pressure washer, and using it to inflate pool tubes.
Downsides of a Pancake Air Compressor
There are a few downsides to think about before considering a pancake air compressor.
Due to the geometry of the tank, they deliver more noise than you might expect. Since these are usually used in the home, you should be sure to use hearing protection while running these compressors and make sure the baby isn’t sleeping! It isn’t a huge downside, but it’s worth remembering.
Since these air compressors have such a small tank, that obviously means that they have a low capacity for storing and delivering air. This means that they are a poor choice for running pneumatic power tools. Their reservoir runs dry too quickly to keep up with the demand that most power tools have. This is a trade-off for being so portable, but it is worth remembering that you can only have one or the other.
Reading these reviews you want to consider what functions you’ll be serving with your pancake air compressor. Also think about how often you’ll be using it, and whether or not that justifies a higher price tag. Do you need a compressor that’s quiet, smaller, with a smaller capacity, and weighs less? For most people, they can get away with the bare minimum if they’re just looking to refill the occasional flat tire or pool float. Let’s take a look at some of the best pancake air compressors on the market!
Porter-Cable’s bigger pancake compressor makes this list. They also have a 3.5-gallon tank, but this 6-gallon tank is the bigger and badder brother. It achieves a PSI of 150 and is rated for 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI, and 3.7 CFM at 90 PSI. Its electric motor is rated at 10 amps and delivers plenty of power without the need for gas. It has a convenient handle and tips the scales just over 34 pounds.
Overall, this compressor is a good pick. It is painted their classic red color and features two gauges to show output pressure and tank pressure. The compressor can be upgraded to come with some accessories to help jump-start your collection. Its price is fair, and it has surprising specs given its size.
Campbell Hausfeld FP2028
This tiny compressor by CH has a 1-gallon tank size and can go up to 110 PSI. It can hold 0.36 CFM at 90 PSI. This bundle comes with an air hose and an inflation kit, which is what the unit is perfect for. It has two gauges that read the outgoing air-pressure and the tank pressure. It also has a built-in storage compartment. The whole thing weighs in at just 13 pounds and has a handle, which makes it easy to move around the house.
Campbell Hausfeld is known as The Air Power Expert, and that’s clear after looking at this pancake air compressor. Every part of this tool was masterfully crafted and it’s hard to find a flaw. Obviously, it’s geared towards a DIYer crowd, and the price tag is very reasonable. It can’t tackle the big jobs, but if you don’t need that then why would you waste the money on any other air compressor?
This compressor has a hefty 6-gallon tank and achieves a max of 165 PSI. It delivers 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI, and 3.7 CFM at 40 PSI. It’s an electric-powered model, and it only produces 75.5 dBA. It weighs around 30 pounds. It has a drain valve.
DEWALT is a big name in the tooling business, and their air compressor packs the punch of an established brand. It has a huge capacity, achieves huge pressure, and does so quietly while weighing nothing. This is an incredible choice for home use and will definitely make you happy.
Next on the list is another big name in air tools, Bostitch. Their 6-gallon pancake air compressor can be bundled with a variety of different tools. Looking specifically at the compressor, it can go up to 150 PSI and can hit 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI. It has an ergonomic handle and weighs just about 29 pounds.
This compressor is marketed for its ability to start in cold weather without any problems. It also operates at 78.5 dBA which isn’t bad at all for an air compressor. It has a high flow regulator and couplers which help to maximize your tool’s performance.
Overall this air compressor is a good choice and a pretty good price. It has a lot of cool features and a size that’s brag-worthy. It is a lot quieter than other compressors on this list which makes it a great pick for home use
If you haven’t heard, Hitachi products are now sold under the name “Metabo.” New name, same great products.
Hitachi’s air compressor is next on the list. This set comes with an air hose and brad nailer. It’s a 6-gallon tank that can hit pressures up to 150 PSI. It can deliver 2.8 CFM at 90 PSI so you can operate multiple nailers at once. There’s a simple flip actuation switch which lets you toggle between bump fire or sequential fire mode. The unit weighs 47 pounds and features a non-slip handle.
This compressor has a simple silver paint job and a single gauge for output pressure. It’s a lot bigger and heavier than the other tanks on this list, though it doesn’t deliver any more power. Either way, this set is really good to get you started and has everything you need.
Campbell Hausfeld DC060500
This is the second Campbell on this list, the larger and heavier-duty version. It has a 6-gallon tank and a max PSI of 125. It achieves 2.4 CFM at 90 PSI and has a soft-grip steel handle that makes moving it around easier. Despite its power, it only produces 68 dBA – basically a whisper! It’s not light though, it tips the scales at around 62 pounds – which is expected for a tank of this size. Not to mention it has a huge 1 HP electric motor.
This unit is actually big enough and with enough power that you can get away with pneumatic bolting and tightening! It has a professional blue paint job with the tagline “half the noise, all the power” painted across the front. 68 dBA is about the sound range of a normal conversation so it’s no wonder why this compressor is so popular in its space.
It’s just so hard to believe that it has such a massive motor, can achieve such a high PSI, and has a monster tank size yet produces such little noise.
This package comes with a brad nailer, stapler, air hose, inflation kit, fasteners, as well as a pancake air compressor. The compressor packs a punch with a 1/2 HP electric motor. It has a capacity of 3 gallons and thermal overload protection to make sure the unit doesn’t overheat, therefore extending the life. Despite its power and steel construction it only weighs 25 pounds. It is rated up to 100 PSI.
This unit has a nice matte black finish and is really easy to carry. This bundle is reasonably priced and comes with everything you need. It has a twist dial to quickly open and close the valve, as well as two easy-to-read gauges that tell you the tank’s pressure and the output air pressure. This is a great pick for the casual DIYer.
Central Pneumatic HA95275
This compressor has a 3-gallon tank and a convenient drain valve to get rid of moisture buildup. It’s powered by a 1/3 HP gas-powered motor and has a stylish red finish. It has a PSI rating of 110 PSI and weighs just about 32 pounds in total. It has a rating of 0.6 CFM at 90 PSI, and 1.0 CFM at 40 PSI. It’s perfect for inflating, airbrushing, stapling, and brad nailing.
Overall, this is a quality pancake compressor. It is small enough to tote around, but pack surprising power in its 1/3 HP motor. Unfortunately, the tank size is on the smaller side. It has a nifty built-in storage container on the tank. There are also reports that it’s a bit slow to fill up, which could lead to trouble if you can’t afford to wait during your job.
Now that you are armed with enough information, you’re ready to go pick out the perfect pancake air compressor for you. Keep in mind the PSI, CFM, and tank size that would be perfect for your application. At the end of the day, any of the selections on this list would be a good pick.