Air Compressor Types Compared (Pancake, Hotdog, Twin Stack, Vertical)

Searching for an air compressor is more involved than just picking one and making the purchase. There are several different types of compressors out there, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. These include pancake, hotdog, twin stack, and vertical. If you get the wrong compressor, you may have issues getting certain jobs done. But with a little bit of research, you can make sure to get the right compressor for your needs!

Read on as we take a look at each of the following air compressors in turn:

  • Pancake 
  • Hotdog
  • Twin Stack
  • Vertical

Pancake Air Compressors

Pancake air compressors are small, with flat, round air tanks, which is where they get their name. They’re a favorite for home workshops and garages, but they can also be used for some small air tools on job sites. Since they generally have a small capacity, they’re not ideal for more industrial or commercial applications. 

Pancake Air Compressors Design

Pancake air compressors work much the same as other air compressors, although they’re designed to have a smaller footprint and with smaller tanks that can hold less air. They feature a stacked design, with the motor sitting atop the compression/holding tank. You’ll often see a pressure gauge and release valve on the side of the motor. 

There are varying designs, but you can always tell a pancake compressor by the round and flat air tank which resembles the carb-loaded breakfast food of its namesake. 

Since these compressors are light enough to be easily portable, you can often find them with carrying handles for somewhat easy transport. They generally feature a tank capacity from one to six pounds and a stable base of three or four rubber feet. 

What to Use Pancake Compressors For

Pancake air compressors come in varying sizes, meaning you have some options when it comes to what you can accomplish with them. Small-capacity pancake compressors are good for filling up bike tires, balls, and rafts. 

With the larger-capacity pancake compressors, you can fill car tires and use smaller air tools for DIY projects and. They can generally handle air tools that require between 0 and 5 standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM) at 70 to 90 PSI

Pancake Compressor Considerations 

Even within the overall kind of pancake compressors you’ll find that there are some major differences. These should all be considered before purchasing a compressor, as they can be very important. 

  • Oil or Oil-Free 
    • Oil-free pancake compressors tend to be cheaper and easier to maintain than those with oil for lubrication. They also run cleaner and weigh less, on average. 
  • Home or Commercial Use
    • There are differences in durability among pancake compressors. If you plan on using yours just at home, you don’t necessarily need to worry about this. But if you’ll be using the compressor at job sites, you may want to get one with a protective cage for durability. 
    • If you will be transporting the machine often, look for a compressor that facilitates this. Not all pancake compressors come with a convenient carrying handle, so keep this in mind as you shop. 
  • Decibel Rating
    • There’s no such thing as a completely silent air compressor, but you can find pancake compressors that are rated as “quiet.” This is important if you’re concerned about making noise in the neighborhood or if you have sensitive eardrums. 

Pancake Air Compressor Pros and Cons

Pancake compressor pros and cons tend to vary between specific models, but here are some general guidelines to help you decide if a pancake compressor is right for you. 

Pros

  • Ideal for everyday uses such as inflating tires. Also good for use with smaller air tools. 
  • Small footprint so it won’t take up too much room in the garage or shop. 
  • Easy to transport from home to the jobsite and back again.
  • Available in oil-free models, making them cheap, light, and easy to maintain. 

Cons

  • Not ideal for larger air tools. 
  • Can be hard to carry/awkward. 

Pancake Air Compressor Recommendation

If a pancake air compressor sounds right for your needs, you can’t go wrong with this Craftsman Air Compressor. It’s a 6-Gallon, 150-PSI compressor. It’s oil free, only weighs 32 pounds, and features a carrying handle for easy transport. Plus, it comes with a 13-piece accessory kit. 

Best Pancake Air Compressor

Features

  • Made in the USA
  • 150 Max PSI
  • Oil Free
  • 32-Pounds
  • No Maintenance
  • 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI
  • 13-Piece Accessory Kit Included 

Pro Tip: You should buy a pancake compressor if you mostly need compressed air to fill up bike or car tires, inflate balls or rafts, and plan on occasionally using smaller air tools that don’t require a high SCFM. 

Hotdog Air Compressors

Hotdog air compressors get their name from the long, tube-like structure of the air tank that resembles a hot dog. They generally come in sizes from 2 to 8 gallons, making them slightly larger than pancake compressors on average. They are good for a wide range of uses, although not generally ideal for larger air tools. 

Hotdog Air Compressor Design

Hotdog air compressors come in varying designs. These differences are mainly due to the size of the tank. Most designs feature the tank on bottom and the motor on top. The larger the tank, the more likely it is that the compressor will have built-in wheels on one side for easy transport. 

What to Use Hotdog Compressors For

Hotdog compressors cover a variety of uses similar to that of pancake compressors. They’re good for inflating tires, filling rafts and sports equipment, and can be used with smaller pneumatic tools. A hotdog compressor on the larger end of the spectrum will simply allow for longer use before it kicks on to recharge. 

Hotdog Compressor Considerations 

You may not think that the shape of a compressor matters much, but this is just one of the considerations you need to focus on when considering whether a hotdog compressor is for you.

  • Beneficial Shape
    • For those who work in tight spaces, the shape of a hotdog compressor could be beneficial. The long, skinny shape of these compressors is good for some applications. 
  • Wheels for Transport
    • Many of the larger hotdog compressors come with wheels, which are great if you think you’ll need to move your compressor around at home or on the job. 

Hotdog Air Compressor Pros and Cons

Aside from the shape of hot dog compressors, there’s not much of a difference in functionality between them and pancake compressors. Still, the design does come with its own pros and cons. 

Pros

  • Ideal for confined spaces. 
  • Ideal if you need to move them often. 
  • Available in oil-free models for low maintenance.
  • Good for basic tasks requiring compressed air.

Cons

  • Tend to vibrate quite a bit. 
  • Aren’t ideal for use on sloped surfaces. 

Hotdog Air Compressor Recommendation

If a hotdog air compressor sounds like the right type for you, this California Air Tools 8010 air compressor is an excellent choice. It’s oil-free, ultra quiet, and great for confined spaces due to its slim design. It’s an 8-gallon compressor complete with wheels on the back and a carrying handle on the front. 

Best Hotdog Air Compressor

Features

  • Oil-Free Dual Piston Pump
  • Quiet Operation – Only 60 Decibels
  • 3000+ Hours of Operation
  • Lightweight 8-Gallon Steel Tank
  • 120 PSI Max Pressure
  • Fast Fill Time – 130 Seconds 

Pro Tip: On average, hot dog compressors are slightly larger than pancake compressors. If you want all the functionality of a pancake compressor with an extended run time, you should buy a hot dog compressor.

Twin Stack Compressors

Twin stack air compressors are designed with two tanks, one stacked atop the other. This design allows for more air storage, which means that twin stack compressors can operate longer without refilling. This is the main difference between twin stack compressors and pancake or hotdog compressors. 

Twin Stack Compressor Design

The two tank design allows for more air storage from a single air compressor. But since these compressors have two tanks, they’re generally heavier than other single tank compressors. This makes them harder to move.  

What to Use Twin Stack Compressors For

Twin stack compressors are ideal for continuous use. They’re good for home use as well as medium-grade commercial use. You can fill up tires and balls and use smaller air tools like finishing nailers and trimming tools. 

Twin Stack Compressor Considerations 

Here are some factors to consider if you’re thinking about getting a twin stack air compressor. 

  • Bulky Design
    • These compressors are a little more bulky than the other two covered on this list. You’ll need a little more space for a twin stack compressor, and you probably won’t want to use it in really tight spaces. 
  • More Power
    • The twin tank design allows for more power for the relatively small size. This is great for those who want to use their compressor for a long time without it powering on and off multiple times. 

Twin Stack Air Compressor Pros and Cons

Pros

  • More Power
  • Ideal for Continuous Use
  • No Maintenance
  • Ideal for a Wide Range of Uses
  • Still Easy to Transport — If Not As Easy

Cons

  • Heavier Than Single-Tank Models
  • Can’t Handle Larger Air Tools

Twin Stack Air Compressor Recommendation

If you’re looking for an excellent twin stack air compressor, this Makita MAC2400 air compressor is a great choice. It is a 4.2 gallon compressor that can run two nailers at the same time. It features low-noise design thanks to the oil lubrication, which also allows for longer compressor life. 

Best Twin Stack Air Compressor

Features

  • 4.2 Gallons (Twin Tanks)
  • 130 PSI Operating Pressure
  • Low AMP Draw
  • Low Noise
  • Does Require Some Maintenance

Pro Tip: Because twin stack compressors have two storage tanks, they run longer without having to refill. If you plan on using air tools that need more consistent air flow, you should buy a twin stack air compressor.

Vertical Air Compressors

Vertical air compressors are made stacked with the motor on top of the tank, making them ideal for those with limited space who still want a powerful compressor. These often come with larger tank sizes than the other compressor on this list, which makes them good for longer run times

Vertical Air Compressor Design

The vertical design doesn’t do much for performance, all other things being equal. Instead, the design makes these compressors ideal for storage in areas with limited space. It also makes them easy to move, since the components are all stacked on top of each other. You can find vertical compressors that have wheels and a handle for easy transport. Other models don’t have wheels and are ideal for stationary use. 

What to Use Vertical Compressors For

Vertical compressors can tackle all the tasks that you would use a pancake, twin stack, or hotdog compressor for. But since most vertical compressors have larger tanks, you’ll enjoy longer run times before the compressor kicks on to replenish the compressed air. You can use these compressors for spray guns, nail guns, staplers, and everyday tasks such as filling tires and footballs.   

Vertical Compressor Considerations 

Consider the following before deciding on a vertical air compressor:

  • Floorspace
    • The main benefit of a vertical compressor is its smaller footprint. If floor space is at a premium, you could benefit from one of these compressors.
  • Drainage
    • When compared to some other air compressor designs, the vertical tank tends to drain better. Other designs need to be completely level to drain the accumulated moisture out, but vertical compressors don’t. 

Vertical Air Compressor Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Saves space.
  • Drains easily.
  • Portable versions are easy to move.
  • Available with bigger tanks than other compressors on this list. 

Cons

  • Not as stable as compressors built lower to the ground.
  • Not ideal for use on uneven ground. 

Vertical Air Compressor Recommendation

If a vertical compressor sounds like the right choice for you, this Wen 2289 Oil-Free Vertical Compressor is a great choice. It comes standard with a two-year warranty, is an oil-free model for low maintenance, and has a 10-gallon tank. It’s great for woodworking, painting, and using other small pneumatic air tools. 

Best Vertical Air Compressor

Features

  • Oil-Free
  • 10-Gallon Tank
  • 2-Year Warranty
  • 4 CFM at 90 PSI and 5 CFM at 40 PSI
  • Max Pressure of 150 PSI
  • Steel Reinforced Tank
  • Never-Flat Wheels
  • Carrying Handle for Easy Transport

Pro Tip: Vertical air compressors have large storage tanks making them the perfect choice when using air tools which demand lots of air. You should buy a vertical air compressor if you plan on using paint sprayers, grinders, or other air tools which require continuous air for extended periods of time.

Conclusion

There are many different available air compressor designs. Once you know a little about each of them, it becomes easier to make an informed decision. Pancake compressors are generally smaller and ideal for use at home. Hotdog compressors are good for those who need a skinny compressor for tight spaces. Twin stack compressors allow for continuous running so you don’t have to wait for the tanks to refill. Vertical compressors have a small footprint and larger tanks for a wide variety of uses. 

I hope this article has given you all you need to decide between these four types of air compressors!

Justin

Justin is a full-time blogger with a passion for anything DIY. When he's not hanging out with his wife and son, you can find him putting the finishing touches on yet another home project he's taken on. He's also the creator of AllAboutAirCompressors.com.