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6 Different Types of Air Compressors & Their Uses – Which is Right for You?

A small air compressor

If you are a do-it-yourselfer that likes to handle paint jobs, or even carpentry, you are going to need a decent air compressor. These tools are surprisingly versatile, and the right one will help you to tackle a variety of different projects.

But which is going to be right for you? After all, they can be fairly pricey, and you don’t want to get the wrong one. To keep that from happening, today we will take a look at a few different air compressors to pick the perfect one for you.

The different types:

1. Reciprocating Compressor

reciprocating compressor

The reciprocating compressor is probably the most expensive option that you will come across, but it could also be one of the more versatile options out there.

The units operate by storing immense amounts of air in a confined space and then pressurizing them by use of a piston.

The air is then cooled, usually through a water system.

The reciprocating compressor is valued for its ability to produce a wide variety of pressure.

They are easy to operate, but they mostly are only found in a commercial or industrial capacity. For example, you might see a reciprocating compressor at gas station to fill up your tires.

2. Inflators


On the other end of the spectrum we have inflators. These options are going to be good for inflating a ball, or a tire on a bike. They have a very limited range of pressure output, but they actually can be used for inflating a car tire.

They are optimized for personal use, and may help you out in a tricky situation, but they won’t be suitable in a workplace capacity.

3. Pancake Compressors

pancake compressor

Pancake compressors are similar to the previously discussed inflators, but they vary in size. You might get a sixteen gallon+ capacity with a pancake compressor making it portable and handy for inflating.

They are high capacity, but they also aren’t usually powerful enough to let you use them with air-tools.

4. Single Stage Air Compressors

single stage air compressors

Now getting into the category of compressors that can operate air tools we have the single-stage units. These options are praised both for personal and professional purposes.

These units usually feature powerful motors that will allow you to use the compressor to operate a nail or paint gun.

They are pricey, but if you are going to be getting something for the workshop, they make for a very sensible option.

5. Two-Stage Air Compressors

two stage air compressors

The two-stage air compressors compress air twice creating a much more significant output. While the single-stage unit will probably only be used homeowners, the two-stage option is best suited for contractors.

They are powerful enough to run multiple tools at once making them great for professional application.

6. Truck Mount Compressors

truck mount compressors

These units get their name for a pretty obvious reason: they are big enough to be mounted to a truck. They feature massive air capacities making them a great option for onsite work.

The average homeowner certainly will not need a truck mount compressor but if you are a pro that is laying carpet, replacing a roof, etc, it can certainly be of use.

Truck mount compressors will be able to operate many air tools for hours at a time.

Which type of air compressor is right for you?

As you can see, there are tons of different air compressors out there. However, choosing the right one is not very difficult for the average user.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you will probably want to invest in a sturdy single-stage unit. These options are going to be portable, durable, and able to power your tools.

Professionals, however, have quite a few more options to factor in. Perhaps you will be looking for a standard two-stage option, or something really substantial, like a truck mount compressor.

Which option you go with will ultimately depend on the size of your projects.

And of course, we also have the smaller options. Inflators. Pancake compressors. These tools can be used by just about anyone.

Bottom line? If you have something that requires air, there is an air compressor out there that will help you make use of it.

-> Looking for a quiet model instead? Click here to see which picks we think are the quietest


There are lots of other factors that you will want to keep in mind as you look into an air compressor. Shopping for the right classification is great, but specifications are even better.

As you shop to make this purchase, think about the tank size, the portability factor, the power source.

The more information that you fact in, the happier you will be with the product that you wind up getting!

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