The Different Types of Portable Air Compressors

If you’re a professional who’s constantly on the move, you know how important portable tools are. But in order to power some of these portable tools, you’ll need an air compressor. Fortunately, there are also portable air compressors that you can take everywhere you go. Portable compressors are usually fuel or electric-powered. It’s recommended that you get a compressor that provides enough CFM and PSI to meet the requirements of your job. These are the two most important aspects to consider. Here are the different types of air compressors.

Types of Portable Air Compressors

Hand-Carry Compressors

Man blowing a tire with Milwaukee Cordless Hand-Carry compressor

These compressors are quite small and easy to move around. If you need to inflate balls, tyres and mattresses, and perform light-duty hobby work, they’re suitable for the job. They’re available in a range of sizes and most of them are electric-powered. There are some models that are gas-powered, though, but those will be rare, as gas tanks make them bulkier, defeating the purpose of being hand-carry-able.

Hot Dog Compressors

Hot Dog diesel air Compressors

These compressors are also quite portable, but they’re considerably more capable than hand-carry compressors. Most hot dog compressors are diesel air compressors, and they come in 4.5 to 30-litre tank sizes. The size of the tank is what determines how long the tools can be used before the compressor kicks on. This is known as a duty cycle. There are two important features to look for in hot dog diesel air compressors – the quality of the feet and handle. These two things affect its portability. The smaller versions are ideal for smaller projects around the home, as they’re compact, lightweight and quite versatile. The larger versions, however, can be used in industrial applications, as they’re quite durable and capable.

Twin-Stack Air Compressors

These air compressors are similar to hot dog air compressors, except they feature two fuel tanks. This allows you to work longer, and you won’t have to spend time waiting for the tank to fill. Most consumer-grade twin-stack compressors require little maintenance, as they’re direct-drive. You won’t have to worry about belt replacements and oil changes. There are two types of twin-stack compressors – oil-free and oil-lubricated. If you use an oil-lubricated pump, you’ll have to check the oil occasionally, because if there’s no oil to lubricate it, it will wear out faster. 

Pancake Air Compressors

These compressors are very portable, easy to use and require little maintenance. They’re considered entry-level models that are best suited for smaller projects around the garage. They come with small tanks, and most of them feature gauges and regulators to monitor your PSI. You can power lighter air tools with them, but you may need to refill the tank often due to their small air capacity. 

Vertical Tank Compressors

As their name implies, these compressors have the tank set up vertically. Most of them are electrically powered, and the reason why you might get them over a horizontal air compressor is the available storage space. If you’re building a deck, framing something or re-siding your home, these compressors offer the benefit of not having to bend over to turn them on and off. Another major difference between them and horizontal compressors is that there are no gas-powered vertical compressors. 

Horizontal Tank Compressors

Horizontal makita Tank Compressors

These compressors are quite popular and they provide a lot of power. They’re similar to hand-carry units, except they have larger tanks and more durable parts. Horizontal compressors are popular with carpenters, as they’re available as gas-powered and electric-powered models. If you’ll be using them indoors, get an electric-powered model.

Truck-Mounted Compressors

As their name implies, these compressors are meant for professionals who work remotely with their trucks. They provide a lot of power and are quite heavy. They provide the PSI and CFM of two-stage compressors. That being said, you get the power of stationary models with the convenience of portability. Farmers use them, and they provide great value on remote job sites. Remember to bring extra fuel, as they’re fuel-only.

Towed Air Compressors

These compressors are the largest, most powerful type of air compressors. They can feature up to 120Hp and over 400CFM. They’re 2-stage rotary-screw compressors that can rival most industrial stationary models. They’re too large and powerful to fit your truck, and most of them require a hitch to be towed. However, some models can fit in tractor-trailers, and can be bought without the trailer (these are known as skid-mounted. With a compressor like this, post-pounding, sandblasting, pavement breaking and many other heavy-duty jobs are possible. 
As a result of their horsepower and size, they can provide consistent power with the benefit of portability. They’re available with extended warranties and a wide range of accessories, such as weather protection kits, and you can tow them even on the highway. Of course, they’re the most expensive type of portable compressor, and are typically bought by professional contractors who need that type of power and performance.


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