When choosing a power tool, there are lots of things you need to take into account before actually buying one. There is price, performance figures and sometimes even weight and dimensions are a concern. In the case of air compressors, there is even more to think about (yay)!
Besides looking at the maximum pressure it is able to deliver, air delivery rate, price, portability, noise, type of pump, and various other features, you also need to make up your mind about the kind of tank you want your compressor to have.
If you’ve taken the time to read a bit about air compressors, whether on my website or somewhere else, you’ll be surprised by the number of available compressor tank styles. Apart from the usual differences between portable and stationary compressors, there are plenty of others such as wheelbarrow, hot dog, twin-stack, pancake, truck-mounted, vertical, horizontal… and I just ran out of breath!
Why so many different styles? It is not an issue of performance, but rather practicality and tank capacity as well as increased portability. I am going to try and cover each of these styles individually, so if it “airs” your boat keep reading.
Pancake compressors are always small in size, and very light. The tank volume typically ranges from 1 to 6 gallons, and the tank itself features a low profile design for maximum portability.
Pancake compressors require very little, if any maintenance since they don’t have any belts and have an oil-free pump. They are great for small and medium repairs or tire inflation, but lack the capacity and power to run large air tools. On the other hand, if you need to inflate a tire they are perfect.
Hot Dog Compressors
Hot dog compressors are the power tools of choice for most hobbyists because they are able to power small air tools which might include staples or air brushes etc. But, they are a bit heavier and have bigger tanks than pancake compressors.
Hot dog compressors are low-maintenance as well however, make sure you look out for one that has a carrying handle or some other accessory to help you move it around simply because of the additional weight. Oh, and if noise is likely to be an issue, bear that in mind too because this type isn’t known for its “whisper quiet” operation.
Twin-Stack Air Compressors
Twin-stack compressors are basically your standard hot dog compressors, but feature two air tanks stacked on top of each other.
Twin-tank configuration has a larger capacity (obviously) which makes these compressors suitable for trim work and powering nail and brad guns. They are portable, but their weight can often exceed as much as 70lbs although manufacturers often include accessories to make relocation easier.
Pontoon Air Compressors
These got the name because they resemble pontoon boats. Pontoon compressors have two horizontal tanks which are located horizontally along the width of the compressor, and they feature the same benefits as twin-stack compressors.
Wheelbarrow Air Compressors
Wheelbarrow air compressors are similar to the pontoon style, but their tanks are positioned along the length of the compressor. They resemble a wheelbarrow and are of similar portability. They usually have powerful motors, and are more suitable for heavy-duty use. Seeing as the tanks are on the bottom, they can be used and pulled along rough terrain without damaging any of the mechanical components. They are also quite heavy, (sometimes up to 300lbs).
Vertical and Horizontal Compressors
This type of compressor is not so much a style, but rather a question of tank orientation. Both portable and stationary compressors are available in either vertical or horizontal styles. Horizontal compressors are somewhat easier to carry around and are more stable, while vertical ones have the added benefit of a small footprint which is good if you are working in small spaces. Having a vertical compressor not only helps in tight spaces, but also ensures stability.
Portable Air Compressors
Portable compressors are available in a wide array of styles, most of the types we discussed so far are portable. You should choose the style not based on looks (although some of them feature eye-catching design), but rather based on the requirements of the job and your needs. Portable air compressors are a favorite among DIY enthusiasts, handymen, carpenters and even painters. They often feature some sort of carrying handle and transport wheels.
Stationary Air Compressors
Stationary compressors (as the name suggests) are designed to stay put since they are big and heavy, but they have large capacity tanks and enough power for air tools. If you are a professional contractor or run any kind of workshop for example, this type is well worth looking into.
I had a hard time classifying these since they are stationary in a way because they are fixed to the back of a truck but then again, they are mobile because a truck is! What you do need to know is they are the most powerful kind of portable compressors you can buy. They are huge and heavy, weighing hundreds of pounds but they are able to do any job.
I hope this page has helped you clarify things as far as compressor styles are concerned. It’s an example of form following function, rather than a cosmetic issue. Figure out what kind of work you will be doing, and then choose the right compressors style accordingly. Good luck.