Choosing an Air Compressor You Can Carry
Hot dog, pancake, or twin tank? Let your tools' appetite for air determine which one to buy.
Synopsis: Looking to buy a portable air compressor, but not sure which one to choose? In this in-depth buyer’s guide, we explain the characteristics of the three types: hot dogs, pancakes, and twin tanks. You’ll also find a discussion of terms like cfm, psi, and oil lube vs. oilless, and you’ll learn why they’re important in informing your decision. Whether you’re a homeowner, finish carpenter, framer, roofer, remodeler, or flooring contractor, you’ll appreciate a handy formula to help you choose the appropriate compressor size for the tools you use and the work you do. Although not a traditional tool review, this article makes sense of the confusing world of hand-carry air compressors and highlights a few models within each of the three categories.
I bought my first air compressor—an oilless pancake—as part of a kit while framing a house. It came with a finish nailer, which I needed, but I had seen the same compressor in a kit with a framing nailer, so I assumed that the compressor would keep up with the task of building and sheathing walls. Nearly two years later, the compressor quit for good while I was framing another house.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was using a light-duty pancake that was built for occasional framing of the remodeling kind, like tacking together a wall here and there, or building a rough opening. The large tank size tricked me into thinking that large air storage meant high-volume nailing. My wallet felt the result of my naiveté. What I since have learned is that compressors you can carry fall into three categories, and each category is best suited for specific tasks.
In this article, I’ll explain the specifications and features that matter most…