How to Choose an Air Compressor?

How to Choose an Air Compressor

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Are you Overwhelmed by the choices of air compressors on the market? Not sure how to pick the one that suits your needs?

This little guide will help you out to know what to consider when you’re looking for one.


1. Let’s start with the Types of Air Compressors

Stationary, Portable, or an Inflator?

Stationary Air Compressors 

These ones are quite large and designed to stay in one place such as a garage or a shop.

They have very high-horsepower models that are equipped with large storage tanks that enable you to use them for extended periods.

Moreover, its vertical design is compact enough to minimize the footprint needed.

Portable Air Compressors 

To be more portable, these come with smaller storage tanks, handles, and sometimes wheels that allow you to move them around to different work areas.

Portable air compressors come in different styles too, including:

Pancake Air Compressors

Pancake compressors have a round, flat storage tank positioned on the bottom of the device. This design makes them more stable and easier to store as they take up less space.

Hot Dog Air Compressors

Their horizontal design and a single tank shaped like a cylinder.

Twin-Stack Compressors

Similar to the hot dog air compressors, they have horizontal, cylindrical tanks. However, the difference is that they’re two tanks.

They’re designed in a stacked way to add air capacity without compromising the compactness of the compressor.


Wheelbarrow Compressors

Wheelbarrow compressors feature twin cylindrical tanks, handles, and wheels for maximum mobility and portability.

If you’re looking for a light-duty job and quick applications such as airbrushing or powering nail guns.


These are the smallest compressors. They come without a storage tank, relying on their motor running continuously to supply air.

This type is most suitable for inflating small tires, floats, and sports equipment.


An Electric or a Gasoline-powered Model?

Electric Air Compressors

They’re the most common models on the market as they’re quiet, versatile, and a lot easier to maintain than gasoline-powered models.

If you’re getting it for home use and are going to work indoors, it’s the ideal choice for you.

However, the fact that it needs an extension cord to function means that your mobility will be a little more limited.

Moreover, depending on the model of your inflator will work with a 120-volt household outlet or a 12-volt vehicle accessory outlet.


Gasoline-Powered Air Compressors

Gasoline-powered compressors are the ideal choice for outdoor work areas where you can’t be restricted to a cord or can’t find an electric outlet.

Moreover, they have more horsepower than electric ones and are far superior in terms of PSI (Pounds per Square Inch).

Note: If you’re going to be working in a wet or damp area, don’t use an electric compressor. On the other hand, don’t use a gasoline-powered one indoors or in an unventilated area.

2. Specs of an Air Compressor

Horsepower (HP) Rating and PSI

Measured in PSI (Pressure per Square Inch), the Horsepower rating indicates the power output you’ll get from your engine or motor.

The higher the horsepower, the greater the air pressure created, and the higher the measure of the PSI.

As your PSI gets higher, your compressor will be more capable of storing air in the tank and consequently allowing you to operate your air tool for longer periods.

Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and Standard Cubic Feet per Minute (SCFM)

CFM and SCFM indicate the volume of air that your air compressor will deliver at specific PSI levels.

As the value of PSI changes, so does the CFM one but in the opposite direction. In essence, if you lower your PSI output, the CFM increases.

Typically, a compressor with a higher CFM rating will be able to deliver more air and suits heavy-duty applications such as operating framing nail guns or air wrenches.


The Storage Tank Size

The storage tank size of an air compressor is measured in gallons.

Smaller tanks can usually contain 4 to 6 gallons that are sufficient for many projects including airbrushing, operating brad nailers, and nail guns.

On the other hand, larger tanks can store larger amounts of compressed air at higher pressures.

They’re suitable for larger tasks that need a regular flow of air such as remodeling projects or automative work.

Note: Even though the horsepower indicates a compressor’s power output, the CFM ratings at certain PSI levels may control what tools the compressor will power.

3. Air Tools Run by Air Compressors

The air tool you use will have specific air volume and pressure requirements that the compressor must meet to optimize the tool’s function.

So consider the tools you need to power using your compressor.

You should determine the highest CFM at the highest PSI. Add around 50% to that to stay on the safe side and look for an air compressor to match.

For illustration, if a tool requires 3 CFM and 90 PSI, go for a compressor that provides you with 4.5 CFM at 90 PSI.

The tools you can operate include:

  • Staple and nail guns
  • Ratchets
  • Impact Wrenches
  • Air hammers and chisels
  • Rotary tools and grinders
  • Paint sprayers

4. Features of an Air Compressor

To choose the most suitable model for the work you’ll do, you should understand the features of your air compressor, and these include:

An oil-free pump that works on reducing maintenance as well as preventing the oil from mixing into the air compressed.

A belt drive system that reduces the operating noise to a lower level than that of a direct drive system.

Thermal protection stops that protect your compressor from damage caused by overloads.

An adjustable exhaust that lets you direct exhaust away from the work area.

Multiple couplers that let you handle various tasks without connecting or disconnecting tools.

Some accessories included such as nailers, blowguns, and hoses to add value to your tool. Although, hoses aren’t always included.

Some allow you to purchase separate auxiliary tanks to increase the capacity for storing air.