Portable. Light. Powerful (enough).
Have ever had the occasion to lug around an air compressor, to run pneumatic nailers on a job site, test your plumbing, or perhaps do some roadside repair? If so you know what a beast one can be to haul out of your shop to… anywhere. Fortunately, that is no longer an issue. These days you can find a small air compressor that will do many of the jobs you might demand of a portable.
Or maybe you just have a need for a 6 gallon air compressor to do occasional small tasks around the house and don’t want to go to the trouble or expense of buying a larger compressor. If so one of the many options in the compact air compressor category might just fit the bill.
Will a Small Compressor Be Enough?
If you want to know if a compact air compressor can perform the tasks of a large compressor, the answer is in many cases no. But you’re probably not really asking that. What you want to know is just what jobs you can expect one to handle.
If what you are somehow imagining that you will be able to take a pancake compressor to your new building site and run a couple of framing nailers, you are going to be very disappointed. They just will not handle the volume requirements of running high usage tools at a rapid pace. By the same token, they will not perform shop duties such as powering dual action sanders or impact tools.
If the demands you plan on making on your new small electric compressor are a little more on the reasonable side, you are in the midst of making a wise decision.
These compressors are the ideal solution if you are needing a compressor that you won’t be asked to provide the air supply needs that something on the order of a large framing job requires. The fact is that if even if you have a task that requires occasional use of a framing nailer, a portable air compressor is just the answer you are looking for.
If you are doing a bit of roofing, or need to supply finish nailers, brad nailers, or staplers you are right in the portable compressors sweet spot. Even a couple of trim carpenters working at a steady pace are not likely to overpower one. A single roofing guns is not likely to put too much strain on it, and some units may be able to power two roofers working at a reasonable pace.
And pumping up a tire or occasionally using a blow gun to clear the dust from the corners of the garage? A no brainer.
The Best Compact Air Compressor For You
Purchasing any tool is a complicated decision – choosing a compressor is no different. The first thing you have to do is define what “best” means for your particular situation. How often are you likely to need to make use of a portable compressor. How much power do you need? How heavy is too heavy and how loud is too loud?
If you are only going to be performing the types of jobs that a small unit would be ideal for, several of the factors that are of prime importance in choosing a 6 gallon air compressor like this take on a new complexion. The trade-off you would normally make of weight and portability vs. power begin to weigh heavily in the direction of power.
On the other hand, for many people, the advantages of having a small and light compressor available mean justifying having two or even three options. A larger portable unit to handle some of the heavier demands, a gas one when no power is available, and a small grab-and-go compressor for small quick tasks. After all, you don’t want to have to move a heavy unit from job to job every day, and you don’t really want to drag one up a ladder if you don’t have to.
All of those choices will weigh into your decision. Portable electric compressors in this class can range in weight from 30 up to 80 pounds (though for many, an 80-pound compressor is just barely classed as portable.) In addition to weight, balance is an important consideration when thinking about how easy a compressor is to toss into the back of a truck. When looking at the decision purely in the light of portability, the pancake air compressor is the clear choice. They tend to be light and placing the compressor on top of the tank gives innate balance.
If you start to factor in power, the choice gets a little harder. The more inexpensive, light, electric pancake compressors are able to provide adequate air supply for many tasks, but the heavier units can provide air at a rate of up to five and a half cfm. That’s a number that rivals some stationary tank compressors.
Then there is noise. Some small air compressors have oil lubricated pumps while others utilize oilless pumps. There is a trade-off to be made here – the oiled models tend to be quite a bit quieter, but they are also heavier. Oilless compressors, on the other hand, are not only noisy. As a rule, they provide less power. As with almost all things having to do with pancakes, you have to balance your requirements in weight, power, and your pocketbook.
If you have reached the point where you are searching for a pancake or other small portable electric air compressor, it is highly likely that you do have a need for one. Usually by the time a person comes to the decision to buy one, they have already looked at the trade-offs and just need to pull the trigger.
One thing you can be sure of – as long as you successfully weigh the pros and cons, purchasing a small compressor is a decision you likely won’t regret. For many it comes down to buying the lightest possible unit that will meet the minimum requirements of the job to be done.