Best Pancake Air Compressors: Simple and Portable Pressurized Air
Enjoy simple and portable compressed air anywhere you need it.
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BY Andra DelMonico / LAST UPDATED ON June 10, 2021
Work smarter, not harder, with a pancake air compressor. These small yet powerful compressors are perfect for all of those tasks around the house that require a bit of air. From bicycle tires to small pneumatic tools, your portable pancake compressor is just what you need. The small tank quickly fills with pressurized air and stays filled while you work.
You can even use your compressor to fill your car tires when they get low. This saves you time and money as you do a quick top-off in your driveway. When you have the right tire pressure, you get better gas mileage and your tires last longer. This will have you saving money all over the place. This guide is the first step to having a pancake air compressor to make your life easier.
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Benefits of Pancake Air Compressors
- Versatile. You can use your pancake air compressor for a variety of uses. They make quick work of filling bicycle tires, sporting equipment, and rafts. More powerful or larger pancake compressors can fill small car tires or small air tools.
- Portable. The small size of a pancake air compressor makes it easy to carry and move around. Many have a large handle on the top to make it easy to lift. They’re also lighter weight than other compressor options, making them easier to carry in the trunk of your car or bed of your truck.
- Easy maintenance. Small pancake air compressors tend to have a simpler setup, making them easier to maintain and care for. Even a beginner can operate and maintain their compressor, making them a smart choice for the average homeowner.
Types of Pancake Air Compressors
The standard air compressor uses oil to lubricate the piston that pushes the air into the tank. To keep the compressor in optimum running condition, you have to periodically oil the parts. An oil-free air compressor removes this maintenance task. Instead of oil, the manufacturer uses Teflon to oil the piston. The design is meant to be a permanent lubricating solution, so you don’t have to worry about lubricating.
Air compressors are loud, and that noise is unpleasant for both you and everyone around you. While you can’t buy a totally silent compressor, there are some pancake compressors that are described as quiet. These machines have a lower decibel rating than others. If you live in a neighborhood or plan on using your compressor in small spaces, then look for one of these.
The standard design for an air compressor is a flat and round pancake-like shape for the air tank, and the motor is affixed to the top of it. This makes for a simple and convenient design. Rugged compressors take this a step further. They will have a large metal handle that sits about the motor and a metal cage that wraps around the motor and tank. It gives the compressors a more box-like appearance. The metal cage protects the compressors and gives them more durability, making them better suited for worksites and construction applications.
Founded in 1923 in Ohio, Ridgid’s claim to fame is its invention of the modern pipe wrench. The company’s commitment to effectiveness and strength has helped it build a legacy of quality tool production. The Ridgid Six Gallon Air Compressor comes with a lay-flat hose for easier operation.
Founded in 1896 in Arlington, Massachusetts, Bostitch produces tools, fasteners, air compressors, and tool accessories. The company remains one of the most well-known names in tools, thanks to its commitment to quality and innovation. The Bostitch Six Gallon Pancake Compressor has an impressive tank capacity for larger jobs.
Founded in 1924 in Pennsylvania, the company’s first product was an electric universal woodworking machine that can be configured in nine different ways. Today, the company distributes its tools worldwide. The DeWalt 2.5 Gallon Cordless Air Compressor Kit is rugged enough to withstand the toughest of environments.
Pancake Air Compressor Pricing
- Under $150: The smallest of pancake air compressors fall into this price range. They have a simple operation, typically oil-free, and won’t come with any accessories or hose.
- $150 to $250: The majority of air compressors fall into this price range. They’ll have slightly larger tank capacities and come with the accessories you need to use them, such as a hose.
- $250 and up: The air compressors in this range will have a larger tank capacity and come with everything you need to use the air compressor. Some will also come with additional accessories, such as a nailer, hose, battery, and charger.
Max PSI Rating
The most important feature you should consider is the max PSI rating. This is how much air pressure it can handle. For a decent quality machine that can handle most home tasks, look for a maximum PSI of at least 90. Some might be a bit higher. However, higher PSI also means it moves air more and drains the tank faster.
The typical pancake air compressor will hold about 6 gallons. Some models are as small as one or two gallons. The larger the tank capacity, the more air it can hold and the longer it will last before it needs to kick on and refill the tank. However, a larger tank also means the entire unit is bigger and heavier. If the PSI or CRM capacity is low, compensate with a larger tank.
The noise level is how loud the compressor is while it’s running. Despite pancake compressors being quite small, some of them are unbearably loud. Most air compressors will put the noise level rating on the packaging. Look for anything lower than 80 decibels. The lower the number, the quieter the machine will be.
- Durability. If you plan to occasionally use your compressor to fill vehicle tires, then you’ll be fine with almost any decently-sized pancake compressor. If you want to use it more often for construction or heavy-duty use, then look for a rugged design. A metal cage around the compressor will give it extra durability and protection.
- Portability. Technically, all pancake compressors are pretty portable. However, some make it easier than others to carry. If you plan on bringing your compressor with you, look for a large handle on the top. It should also have rubber feet on the bottom. This will protect your floors and prevent vibrations.
- Pump Type. Do you want an oil or oil-free pump style? Oil-free is more convenient, cleaner running, and tends to be lighter than the oil pump alternative. This is because the oil-free style has fewer parts. The simpler design results in a noticeable price difference, with oil-free options being more affordable.
Best Pancake Air Compressors Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Because pancake air compressors are smaller, make sure the one you buy has enough power for what you want to use it for. Many tools have the minimum air pressure needed for optimum operation.
- If you’re struggling to use your air compressor because you don’t have enough reach, look for a longer hose. This lets you leave the air compressor in one spot and move around with the hose. You’ll find this easier than buying a longer extension cord.
- Check your owner’s manual for break-in requirements. Some manufacturers require you to run the compressor with the drains open for at least 30 minutes before you start using the compressor for projects.
Q: Can I buy a pancake air compressor at Harbor Freight?
Yes, you can. There are several pancake air compressors available for sale at Harbor Freight.
Q: Which is better: a pancake or hot dog air compressor?
Hot dog air compressors tend to have more power because the tank is larger. This helps them to last longer between each refilling. This can also make them louder than their pancake counterparts. Neither has a better build quality than another.
Q: Are pancake air compressors any good?
These small compressors are worth buying if you have small projects. They are lightweight and portable, making them perfect for projects that require you to bring the compressor to the project and not the other way around.
Q: How does a pancake air compressor work?
The tank fills with air until pressurized. You can then use the attached hose to harness the power of the compressed air to fill tires or use a pneumatic tool. As you use the compressed air, the tank will continuously refill to maintain pressure.
Our top pick for the best pancake air compressor is the Ridgid Six Gallon Electric Pancake Air Compressor. It has an impressive max capacity of 300 PSI and an operating PSI of 150 PSI. It also comes with a 50-foot lay-flat air hose.
For a more affordable option, the Powermate Portable Electric One Gallon Air Compressor comes with five nozzles for maximum versatility and a centralized handle for easy carrying.