In this post, we’ll go over the basics of what an air compressor is used for, how to choose one, and whether it’s worth carrying one around in your trunk.
What Do Air Compressors Do?
Air compressors take in the air around them and convert it into a usable force. They can be used for a variety of tasks:
- Inflating (car or bike tires, air mattresses, sports equipment, etc.)
- Spray painting
- Pressure washing
- Powering pneumatic tools
Things to Look for in an Air Compressor
There are many things to consider when choosing a compressor. Ultimately, the decision comes down to what you plan to use it for. Here are a few key things to look for when browsing your options.
PSI & CFM
PSI (pounds per square inch) is a measurement of air pressure, and CFM (cubic feet per minute) is the volume of air a compressor produces. Look at these ratings together to judge the capabilities of an air compressor.
Most tools need 70 to 90 PSI to operate. This requires anywhere from 1 to 10 CFM, depending on the tool. Pick a compressor that can power any tools you may wish to use it with.
Oil vs Oil-Less
The oil in oil-lubricated compressors needs to be changed intermittently, making them higher maintenance. They’re much quieter than oil-free compressors, though, so you won’t have to worry about disturbing your neighbours.
Because they have fewer parts, oil-less compressors are cheaper than oil-lubricated ones. However, they’re typically less durable, especially if they’re being used frequently.
Generally, oil-less compressors are sufficient for at-home use, whereas oil-lubricated compressors are more suited to industrial work.
Another thing to look for in an air compressor is its size. Large air compressors are best for those wanting to complete tasks that need constant, powerful air flow, like automotive projects or remodelling. They come in twin-stack or wheelbarrow designs.
Twin-stacks have cylindrical tanks and are meant to be left stationary. Wheelbarrows also have cylindrical tanks, but the addition of wheels makes them easy to move. Because of their size, however, they’re not ideal for frequent travel.
Smaller, portable air compressors are useful for tasks that don’t need as much air pressure. They typically come in one of two shapes— hotdog or pancake.
Hotdog compressors are usually a bit more powerful than pancakes and have more pressure settings, allowing them to be paired with a wider range of tools. The trade-off is that the larger size and shape of the hotdog compressor makes it more difficult to carry around.
Between the two, the pancake style is usually preferred as the more portable option. You can also get a pancake unit with wheels, making it easier to move around your property.
Certain air compressors are sometimes referred to as tire inflators. Tire inflators are smaller than most air compressors and usually have 12V of power. As the name suggests, they’re designed primarily to inflate tires on cars or bikes.
Because of the compact size of tire inflators, they’re more portable. Though it can’t perform other tasks that a larger air compressor can, such as powering pneumatic tools, a tire inflator is a handy item for pumping up a flat tire on the road.
Because of their size, unless you’re travelling to do some handiwork, you likely won’t need to carry an air compressor around in your car. Having one in your garage, however, may be a worthwhile investment, especially if you’re the DIY type. A portable tire inflator, on the other hand, can be a useful item to leave in your trunk in case of emergencies. Check out this post for some other useful tools and gadgets to keep handy.