How to Select the Right Air Compressor for the Job
The type of air compressor you need will depend on the above factors, especially which tools your will want your compressor to operate. Most air tools have specific requirements for volume and pressure, while compressors are rated on the following four factors:
PSI – Pounds per Square Inch: This is the measure of air pressure delivered by your compressor. The higher the PSI, the further the air can be compressed - meaning a larger volume of compressed air can be stored in the tank.
CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute: This is the volume of air that your compressor can pump in one minute a specific working pressure. High CRM ratings mean a compressor can provide more air – making higher CFM units more practical for larger applications.
HP – Horsepower: This is the unit of measurement for the power your compressor’s motor produces. Higher horsepower engines produce greater PSI and are capable of carrying a heavier workload.
Tank Size: Units with more powerful motors and larger tanks (measured in gallons) can generate higher levels of PSI for longer amounts of time, providing greater power to your air tools.
To choose a compressor that will meet the requirements for your tools to function properly, use this formula. Select the tool that requires the highest volume cubic feet per minute (CFM) at the highest pounds per square inch (PSI). Then add 50% to the required CRM as a safety margin. For example, if a tool requires 3 CFM at 90 psi, choose a compressor that provides at a minimum 4.5 CRM at 90 psi.
Once you know the volume and pressure requirements you need, your choices can then be considered between these main options:
- A twin-stack style provides maximum portability and is ideal for roofing, remodeling, car maintenance, and clean-up, with a low-profile for added stability on uneven surfaces. Most of these are electric powered, so you can operate them indoors or out.
- A pancake style is lightweight and portable and great for locations where you might be concerned about your space limitations. It is ideal for building, inflation, crafts, and outdoor clean-up. Most of these are electric powered, so you can operate them indoors or out.
- A wheelbarrow style provides easy maneuvering and mobility for building and maintenance jobsites with wheels. Most of these are gasoline powered, so you will only want to operate them in well-ventilated areas and where noise is not a problem.
In general, casual or moderate-level work such as tire inflation, nailing, and stapling projects, or craft projects such as upholstery or air brushing are the type of tasks that require a highly-portable compressor that is easy to carry around the house or the garage. These types of residential projects generally only require compressors with tanks that are less than 5 gallons.
For more heavy-duty projects like auto repair, removing lug nuts, or remodeling projects that involve sanding, drilling, or using spray guns, look for a compressor with a tank over 5 gallons.