Air Compressor Types

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Forum topic by pete79 posted 03-11-2010 09:14 PM 1106 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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154 posts in 3139 days

03-11-2010 09:14 PM

Hey All – I’m looking to get an air compressor. This will be my first compressor and I’m a bit confused on what’s out there. I currently only have/use a finish/brad nailer for trim work and some smaller projects. I have borrowed a friend’s 6 gal. Porter Cable pancake compressor, and I’ve even used it with a framing nailer on a very small project. I’m looking at a number of different compressors and don’t know which direction to go:

1. Pancake vs. horizontal vs. vertical, etc?
2. Size? 6 gal. was plenty for me, so I don’t know if i should go bigger, or if I can even go smaller (4 gal.)?
3. Oil-less vs. oiled?

Any help is appreciated.

-- Life is a one lap race.

5 replies so far

View Branum's profile


54 posts in 3166 days

#1 posted 03-11-2010 09:41 PM


It all depends on what you will be using it for. The important thing to know on air compressors is the SCFM (or CFM-cubic feet per minute). The industry standard is to measure this at 40psi and 90psi. Nailers do not need to have a high cfm, 2-3 will work just fine. If you are going to paint with it you will need to get around or above 10cfm @ 90psi. I have a central pnuematic 6 gallon 2hp oiled horizontal tank. The cfm is 6@40 and 5@90 with a max psi of 115. I am big on buying good equipment (all my nailers are p/c) but this compressor has ran perfectly for me for 2 years and it only cost me $85 at harbor freight (I know, I know). The style of tank depends on what you will use it for, pancakes are the easiest to haul, vertical is next, then horizontal. If it is going in the corner of your shop then get a horizontal one and don’t move it. Figure out what you need it for then look for sales in your area.

Good luck.

-- Branum

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3107 days

#2 posted 03-11-2010 10:08 PM

Branum provided alot of good info here and the only thing I would add is to consider combo kits if you look at a pancake compressor and do not currently have any nailers. I bought the Porter Cable 6 gallon with 3 guns (brad nailer, finish nailer, narrow crown stapler) for 259 bucks. Good price considering all are oilless and with compressor that amounts to about 65 a tool. Bostich makes a 3 gun package as well and has a 7 year warranty on it for around 300. Point is, that if you were looking at large compressor, they probably would not have any guns included and you might find it cheaper to buy a pancake combo package than just buying the guns separately. My first (and only compressor so far) is a pancake because I knew that no mater what I needed in the future, I would need a good portable compressor. I may buy a larger tank in the future for pneumatic sanders, air paint guns, etc. But that would be for the shop and I wouldn’t be moving it anywhere.

You will get many opinions on oiled vs oilless. I like the low maintenance of the oilless but they are typically much louder than the oiled. I have read that older oilless models would require a seal replacement over time but I think that newer models of quality compressors have worked on that. I will find out in a few years :)

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3067 days

#3 posted 03-11-2010 11:04 PM

I’ve had a Stanley-Bostich pancake oil-less compressor for about 20 years and it’s still going strong. It gets used almost daily in the shop and will run everything from a pin nailer to a framing nailer.

I also have a little Campbell-Hausfeld 1 gal oil-less pancake compressor that I use for installs. I’ve even run it with a framing nailer. I handled it – but couldn’t nail very fast. – lol

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Cato's profile


701 posts in 3311 days

#4 posted 03-11-2010 11:45 PM

Pete- like the others have said your main usage will probably guide you to the style. Belt drives seem to be quieter running units.

I got a 4 gal. Dewalt belt drive (model 55146) last year that is oilless yet still quiet and serves me quite well, whether running framing nailers or finish nailers, however, it is a bit pricey but it had all the features I wanted so I got it anyway.

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2790 posts in 3436 days

#5 posted 03-12-2010 12:09 AM

I have a little $100 one from sears and it works well with my framing nailer and finish nailer. Mostly I don’t use anything beyond that. I also have a 20 gallon one on wheels and it’s great on the job but the smaller one still keeps up for nailing. I also have a 60 gallon 5 hp one that isn’t portable of course but it really works well for painting, sandblasting and rotary tools. Rotary tools need a lot of capacity as they kick out a lot of air. i.e. sanders, grinders, drills etc.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

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