Last Updated on August 20, 2020
Air compressors can seem like a complicated product, and that’s something that keeps people from buying the products they need to improve their lives. Shopping online doesn’t make this task any easier. Some product descriptions seem like they were written by companies more interested in moving product than in making great products, leaving you with no idea which models are worth the money.
We believe that it shouldn’t be that way. Our reviews of the best pancake air compressors of 2020 cover the good and the bad. That way, you can see which air compressors best fit your needs, and which ones have flaws that will drive you up a wall. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide, which breaks down the major areas you need to understand before you buy so that you can figure out which model is right for you, even if you’ve never owned an air compressor before.
|Top Pick||Bostitch BTFP02012||
|The Runner-Up||PORTER-CABLE C2002||
|Best for the Money||Campbell Hausfeld FP2028||
|Central Pneumatic ha95275||
The Bostitch BTFP02012 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor is one of the top pancake air compressors on the market today. It comes with an oil-free engine, so it will require very little maintenance over its lifespan, and you’ll never need to replace the oil. It also comes with a high-efficiency start, so you’ll be able to start it even when the weather gets very cold, and other machines would struggle to get going. It also weighs just 30 pounds and comes with a handle, making it one of the more portable models you’ll find with this tank size.
This model also comes with two universal couplers, so you’ll be able to use it with two different tools or let two people work in unison with this machine. That’s great value that you can’t get from all models on our list. The one downside to this model is that it’s loud, so it’s not the best model to choose if you’re going to be working exclusively indoors. Still, if you’re looking for good value, and want a compressor that won’t struggle to keep your tools powered while you work, you’ll be very happy with this model at this price.
The PORTER-CABLE C2002 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor is extremely similar to the previous model, and for many people, the differences between the two are slight enough that the choice will be a toss-up. This model is good in cold weather since it comes with a low-amp motor which doesn’t freeze up when the temperature drops. It also comes with an oil-free pump. You won’t ever have to change the oil on the compressor, and you should get years of maintenance-free operation, which makes for a great experience. It’s also very portable. It’s a few ounces heavier than the previous model, but it comes with a great handle, and for a compressor of its size, it’s fairly easy to move.
This model also comes with two couplers, though they’re mounted on the same side, as opposed to opposite sides on the previous model, which makes them slightly less convenient than those on our top model. However, this model is loud, which makes it a poor choice for garage use. It also has some quality control issues, and units sometimes ship without the owner’s manual, which is a pain to deal with and knocks this model out of the top spot.
The Campbell Hausfeld FP2028 is a model that will be just the thing for some people but will lack the upper-end power needed to be a universally-useful tool. On the plus side, it comes with more accessories than most models on our list, including a 25-foot hose and inflator nozzles. It also comes with onboard accessory storage, so it will be hard to lose any of the parts by accident. Plus, this model only weighs 13 pounds, so it’s one of the best models for people who will need to carry their air compressor around.
Those features alone make for good value at almost any price point, but you can get this model for about 25 percent less than you’d spend on the top models on our list. That means this model is the best value for the money buy on our list. If you’re looking to get a great deal, it will be hard to go wrong with this model. The only thing that keeps it out of the top two is the fact that it comes with a one-gallon tank, which is tiny compared to our top two models, though it’s still good value for the price.
The DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI Pancake Compressor is very similar in design to the top two models on our list, meaning there’s not a lot to set it apart from other models on our list. This pancake air compressor comes with a high-efficiency motor. That means it starts up well when on a long extension cord, and that it also performs well when it gets cold outside. Plus, it comes with an oil-free pump, so you’ll never have to add oil, and a lot of maintenance required on other models you won’t’ have to do with this one. It also comes with two couplers, so you’ll be able to power two tools or have two people working in tandem with this compressor.
However, this model is around 40 percent more expensive than the comparable models on our list. There’s not a lot going for it that could explain that jump in price. If it were better made than the competition, we might give it the benefit of the doubt, but this model ships with several quality control issues, including leaky fittings. For the price, that’s a big deal, and one you shouldn’t have to deal with.
The Central Pneumatic ha95275 actually does some things right in its design that most other companies miss out on completely. It strikes a nice balance between portability and size. It has a three-gallon tank, which isn’t enough for industrial use but is plenty large enough to use if you’re looking to fill tires on your vehicle. It also weighs about a third less than the six-gallon air compressors on our list, so it’s easier to carry around. Plus, this model comes with built-in accessory storage, so it will be easier to keep the parts you need on hand for when you need them.
Unfortunately, this model suffers from several serious issues that drop it to the last place on our list. This model is very loud, and it’s loud enough to be noticeable relative to the other models on our list. Despite its noise, it takes a long time to fill up, which can slow you down a lot if you’re trying to use a tool with it. It also suffers from quality control problems which sometimes render it unusable. It’s not the most expensive model, but it’s a great example of getting what you pay for.
With our reviews alone, you may already have found the model which is right for you on our list. However, we know that there’s a lot to consider, and we want you to fully understand air compressors before you buy. This buyer’s guide is packed full of great general information about air compressors, so that you can learn all about air compressors and learn to evaluate them as an expert would, even if you’ve never owned one before. We’ve also included information about maximizing your purchase, so if you’re looking to get a great deal on an air compressor, this is the guide for you.
Pancake air compressors truly excel in one area: portability. Most other kinds of air compressors are large enough that they either require a wheeled cart to move them around, or they’re meant to be permanently-mounted in one place and use long hoses to get the air to where it needs to go.
Pancake air compressors rarely weigh more than 35 pounds, and that means that most people will be able to move them around. That makes them good for around-the-house use. They’re great for filling tires when they go flat, or if they’re underinflated. They’re also good for filling balls. What they’re not great for is heavy tool use.
Pneumatic nailers use air in short bursts, giving the air compressor time to recover, but if you’re working very quickly, you may find that you overwhelm your air compressor. Other pneumatic tools, such as air wrenches, may prove to be too much for a pancake air compressor. You’ll get a few dozen seconds at a time of work, followed by a minute or two of recharge, which means you won’t be working that efficiently.
Manufacturers know this, and a lot of pancake air compressors are clearly targeted at a non-tool use. Many come with inflator nozzles, which are used to inflate balls, and many also come with the nozzles you’ll need to inflate car tires two. While this isn’t always the case, getting a model with those accessories included can be a good way to save money and get great value if those are your intended uses.
CFM and SCFM are numbers you’re likely to see thrown around frequently when you’re looking at air compressors. We didn’t go over them much in our reviews, since it’s easy to get lost in the weeds when considering the air compressors you want to buy, and while it may not be the best feature to prioritize when shopping for an air compressor, it could make for a good tie-breaker if you’re struggling to decide between two models.
CFM stands for “cubic feet per minute.” That’s a measure of how much air the compressor can put out. It varies based on the air pressure that is being used for the tool or operation you’re performing, so most manufacturers list the CFM at 90 PSI, for clarity. More CFM is typically better, and a good rule is to get a compressor with one-and-a-half times the CFM that your tool uses if you’d like to be able to use it continuously.
The volume that air takes up varies based on the temperature and pressure present when it’s being measured. Consequently, measuring on a very hot or cold day could dramatically change the readings. SCFM stands for “standard cubic feet per minute,” and assumes that the temperature, pressure, and even humidity are at the same standard values when the measurement was taken, which makes it the superior option for comparing CFM between models.
You will often come across models that are advertised as having “oil-less” pumps. That’s a bit misleading. The pumps do have oil; however, they don’t require oiling. The oil in the oil-less pump is in a sealed chamber and kept relatively clean. Consequently, it doesn’t need to be changed out, which is something that standard pumps need.
To make this possible, manufacturers coat the moving parts in Teflon to reduce friction. However, Teflon doesn’t last forever. It will eventually wear off, at which points the moving parts become vulnerable to wear and tear, and the pump will eventually break. The good news is that you should get years and years of use out of these compressors before they break, and since you don’t have to change the oil, the cost of operation is very low.
Pumps that require oil are more expensive to maintain, however, they can typically last decades when properly cared for, while oil-less pumps typically don’t last longer than a decade of regular use. Consequently, oil-free pumps are a good choice for people who don’t want to do maintenance, and who will be using their air compressor sparingly, so that they won’t put too much stress on the internal components.
The tank size largely determines how long you can run your tools or other operations without having to stop. While the CFM has an impact on this as well, having more air in the tank when you start means you can go for longer without seeing performance drops in your tool, or that you may be able to avoid stopping work to wait on your compressor to catch up.
Pancake air compressors vary in size. The smallest models will have a tank that holds about a gallon of air. At the extreme other end will be models that hold up to eight gallons. Most people who hope to use tools with their air compressor will be best served by a model that comes with about a six-gallon tank. That will give you enough time to get good use out of the tool before needing to recharge, while typically leaving the entire model light enough to carry around with you. Models with a six-gallon tank often weigh about 30 pounds, which isn’t super light but isn’t bad compared to models with larger tanks.
Many people think they can only get great value by getting the most expensive models they can find. Others think that getting cheap models is fine since most models have the same inherent flaws. Both approaches have serious problems with them and can lead to people becoming very unhappy with their purchases. If you’re looking to get great value for your purchase, there are better ways to think about the process.
Ignore the price at first and think about the features you need to get a good experience. Consider the weight, accessories, and CFM that each model provides. Eliminate any models which don’t meet your needs. It’s also a good idea to eliminate models with serious quality control problems, as they’re likely to lead to a frustrating experience. Then, rank the models by price.
You can get a great deal by choosing the cheapest remaining option. It has all of the features which you need to get a great experience, but it’s available at the lowest possible price. That makes it the best overall value for your money, and the model with which you’re most likely to be satisfied in the long run.
The Bostitch BTFP02012 6 Gallon Pancake Air Compressor is our favorite model due to its good performance in cold weather, oil-free engine, and great portability. The PORTER-CABLE C2002 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor comes with an oil-free pump, two couplers, and good cold-weather performance, though its noise and quality control issues keep it out of first place. The Campbell Hausfeld FP2028 includes a hose and inflator nozzles, onboard accessory storage, and a lightweight. Since you can get it at a low price, it’s the best overall value for the money on our list. The DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI Pancake Compressor comes with two couplers, a high-efficiency motor, and an oil-free pump, but its high price and quality control issues keep it out of the top three. In last is the Central Pneumatic ha95275 has a good mix of portability and size, but it is loud, slow, and suffers from quality control problems.
We hope that our reviews and buyer’s guide have taught you everything you need to know about pancake air compressors and have helped you find great value for your money on your next purchase.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!