why do you need the best air compressor - An Informational Guide

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What To Look For In The Best Air Compressor

Air Compressors and Inflators

While air compressors perform a very similar role to inflators, there are some notable differences.

We’ll quickly outline the basics of each and how they differ…

Portable Air Compressors

Air compressors are substantially more powerful than inflators and as a result get the job done more rapidly.

Even a scaled-down air compressor intended solely for home use can serve to power some air tools as long as they don’t need extended and heavy operation. From air brushing and stapling to small projects with the nail gun, a home air compressor is more than fit for purpose.

As with any tool, how you intend to use it should inform your buying decision. If you need to undertake bigger projects like sanding, blasting or grinding, you’ll need to step things up a notch and look for a contractor-grade unit.


Inflators get the job done but it will take some time.


Anything up to and including tire inflation is viable with an inflator as long as you’re not in too much of a hurry.

You’ve got 3 main variants at your disposal but we’ll look at these in more detail when we review some inflators in the coming weeks.

Right now, how about the various types of air compressor?

Types of Air Compressor

  • Hot Dog Compressors: Named for the cylindrical shape of the air tank, hot dog compressors give you enough oomph to power small or medium-sized air tools while still being relatively portable. That said, hot dog compressors are still quite heavy and they do generate a fair amount of noise
  • Pancake Compressors: Pancake compressors get their name from the low-slung tank shaped pretty much like a pancake. Small and lightweight, you’ll get 1 to 6 gallons of volume from these compressors. With an oil-free pump and no belts, pancake compressors are blissfully maintenance-free. On the flipside, you won’t get enough power to run bigger air tools
  • Wheelbarrow and Pontoon Compressors: Wheelbarrow compressors come with 2 tanks sat down the length. If the pair of tanks is positioned along the width, the compressor is termed a pontoon style. Although obviously heavier at 70 pounds or more, you’ll enjoy increased capacity with these beefier air compressors
  • Twin-Stack Compressors: Twin-stack compressors are similar to the wheelbarrow and pontoon types except the 2 tanks are stacked beside the unit

Capacity vs Portability

The ideal air compressor would be as portable as possible while still delivering all the power you need.

In reality, there’s always a trade-off involved. The bigger the tank you need, the less portable and the heavier the compressor will be.

All you can do is balance out exactly what you need your air compressor to do with just how portable you really need it to be.

Air Flow: CFM

The CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating of an air compressor governs the amount of air it can expel in 1 minute. This is related to another figure you’ll see a great deal when you’re exploring the best air compressors…

Operating Pressure: PSI

The operating pressure is expressed in terms of PSI (pounds per square inch).

This rating is relevant if you want to use your compressor to power air tools. Different tools have different PSI requirements so you’ll need to get a compressor that’s up to the job at hand.

Generally, as you lower PSI, CFM rises.

Power: HP

When you see the power expressed in terms of horsepower, this refers to the power of the engine.

More horsepower means more PSI.

Type of Pump

If you’re looking for a low maintenance experience, shoot for an air compressor with an oil-free pump.

Beltless air compressors also demand much less attention so take this into account.

best air compressor: Looking for more information?

Interested to learn more in-depth details about selecting the right tool for your needs? Read our Informational Buyer Guide and Frequently Asked Questions sections on this topic for more details.