There are many styles of air compressors to choose from on the market. They range in size from very small and portable to very large and stationary. With such a wide range of styles and sizes, it can be hard to know which is best for your needs. One of the most popular air compressor styles is the pancake air compressor. So in this article, we’ll explore pancake compressors and answer all your questions so you can decide if this style of compressor is right for you.
What Are Pancake Compressors?
Pancake compressors are generally on the smaller end of the compressor size and power spectrum. They’re called pancake compressors because of the round pancake-shaped air tanks atop which the motors sit. This makes them ideal for those who need to save some space and also need a portable compressor.
Most pancake compressors have a handle on the top for easy transport, and rubber feet on the bottom to reduce movement during operation while protecting floors from damage. While they’re not the most powerful compressors on the market, the typical sizes are good for use around the house and with a variety of small air tools.
What Are Pancake Compressors Good For?
As mentioned above, pancake compressors are usually pretty small. This is great if you need a highly portable compressor. But it’s not so great if you’re using air tools that require a high CFM.
The most common size of pancake compressor is 6 gallons. And most of these 6-gallon compressors are capable of delivering around 2.6 CFM @ 90 PSI. This relatively low CFM limits the use of a pancake compressor in regard to air tools.
So (most) pancake compressors are good for things like:
- Filling Car Tires
- Filling Bike Tires
- Filling Basketballs, Footballs, Soccer Balls, etc.
- Inflating Rafts and Mattresses
- Brad Nailing/Stapling
- Frame Nailing
- Limited Ratcheting (Small Sizes Only)
- Finish Nailing
- Cleaning with Blowgun
If you need a compressor that’s capable of things like painting, grinding, drilling, cutting, chiseling, sanding, sawing, or using larger air ratchets, you’ll be hard pressed to find a pancake compressor that does it all.
This is what makes pancake compressors good for homeowners and DIY enthusiasts who tend to work on smaller projects. They’re not generally good for more industrial applications. Plus, there are many benefits of pancake compressors that one should consider before deciding on a compressor.
Benefits of Pancake Compressors
There are some definite benefits of pancake compressors over other compressors of similar size.
- Lightweight – Pancake compressors tend to be compact and lightweight, generally weighing under 30 pounds. This is great for anyone who needs to move their compressor often.
- Easy to Carry – The vast majority of pancake compressors come standard with a carrying handle on the top. This, combined with the low weight and the compact design, makes carrying these compressors very easy — even when going up ladders to do some roofing work.
- Sturdy Design – Speaking of roofing, pancake compressors have a low profile and three rubber feet, making them ideal for use on uneven surfaces. You don’t have to worry about the compressor rolling off the roof while you’re working, since they don’t have any wheels. The squat design helps keep them where you set them, even on a slanted surface.
- Wide Range of Uses – While pancake compressors are limited to smaller air tools, they do have a wide range of uses for DIY enthusiasts and homeowners. From filling tires to finish nailing, these types of compressors come in handy around the house.
- Low-Maintenance – Most of the pancake compressors made today are oil-free, which means you don’t have to worry about oil changes. This makes them extremely low-maintenance, which is very convenient for use around the house or the shop.
- Quiet Operation – Not every pancake compressor on the market is quiet, but there are many available that are. This is an added benefit, and one that your ears will thank you for if you decide on one of these “quiet” models.
How Long Do Pancake Compressors Last?
How long any compressors lasts depends mainly on how often it’s used and how often the tank is drained of moisture. The number one killer of air compressors is corrosion from moisture left inside the tank. That said, you can expect your pancake compressor to last about 2,000 operating hours if it’s well cared for.
How Much Do Pancake Compressors Cost?
Since these compressors come in different sizes, the price range for them varies. The smallest pancake compressors can be had for around $100 to $150. These are generally 1, 2, or 3 gallon models that have limited CFM capabilities. The most common 6-gallon pancake compressors sell for between $150 and $250.
For those approaching the $250 range, you’ll often get a hose, some air attachments, and maybe even a tool included. For just the compressor, without any hoses or tools, you can expect to spend around $200.
Are Pancake Compressors Worth It?
There are a couple of things to consider when determining if a pancake compressor is worth buying. We’ll break these down into two categories: good for your projects and quality build.
Only you can determine if a given pancake compressor will meet your needs in terms of CFM and PSI requirements. You’ll need to determine the tool you’ll be using that has the highest CFM requirements and make sure the pancake compressor can deliver. If it can’t, you may have to go with a different style, like a hotdog or twin-stack compressor.
Of course, you want to make sure you get a quality product when you buy any compressor. Luckily, there are plenty of quality compressors available made by trusted names. We’ll cover some of the best brands out there and then make a recommendation for the best overall pancake air compressor below.
What Size Pancake Compressors Are Available?
As mentioned above, the most common size of pancake compressor available is the 6-gallon model. However, there are some other sizes to consider, each with their own HP, CFM, and PSI specifications. The thing to remember here is that tank size doesn’t dictate how powerful the compressor is. There are small pancake compressors available that are powerful enough to deliver a relatively high CFM flow. With that in mind, let’s look at them from smallest to largest.
1-Gallon Pancake Compressors
The smallest pancake compressors available are in the 1 to 1.5 gallon range. These range in power depending on the type and model. Some 1-gallon air compressors are only capable of 0.4 CFM @ 90 PSI with a max PSI of 110. Whereas some 1.5-gallon compressors are capable of 2.0 CFM @ 90 PSI and a max PSI of 150. It really depends on what you’re looking for.
Obviously a 1.5-gallon compressor delivering 2.0 cubic feet per minute of air will run out quickly because there’s not a lot of air storage space available. That said, if you’re just using it for small but powerful bursts of air, like with a nailer, this won’t really be a concern.
2 & 3-Gallon Pancake Compressors
Moving up in size, there are also 2 and 3-gallon pancake compressors available. These are slightly more powerful, on average, than the smaller compressors. You can expect to get somewhere around 0.6 SCFM @ 90 PSI and 1.0 SCFM @ 40 PSI for compressors of this size. They generally have ½ or ⅓ HP motors, and are max rated at around 100 to 110 PSI.
4 & 5-Gallon Pancake Compressors
There aren’t a lot of options for pancake compressors in this size range. For whatever reason, their common sizes jump from 3-gallons up to 6. Not that you can’t find 4 or 5-gallon pancake compressors if you look. They’re available, just not as widely or readily available as the other sizes.
That said, you can expect to find a 4 or 5-gallon compressor capable of delivering somewhere between 1 and 2 SCFM @ 90 PSI. They generally have ½ HP motors and a max PSI of 135.
6-Gallon Pancake Compressors
By far the most common size of pancake compressor, you won’t have any trouble finding a 6-gallon model. These compressors, like the others, vary in their capability. However, you can expect the most common ones out there to be capable of delivering 2.6 CFM @ 90 PSI and 3.7 CFM @ 40 PSI. They usually have a max PSI of 150 to 165, although there are models that go up to 200 PSI and deliver 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI.
It’s important that you make sure the compressor you get is capable of delivering the CFM your tools require. Whether it’s a small 2-gallon compressor or a larger 6-gallon one, always make sure the CFM and PSI are good for you.
What Type of Pancake Air Compressors Are Available?
Now that we’ve covered size, let’s take a moment to talk about the types of pancake compressors available. These are unique traits you may want to look out for when deciding on a compressor.
Oil or Oil-Free
Most pancake compressors are oil free, which makes them easy to use without maintenance. With an oil-lubricated compressor, you need to change the oil on occasion and check to make sure there’s enough in there. Some models can’t be turned on their sides, because the oil could end up in parts of the compressor where it shouldn’t be.
That said, you may want an oil-lubricated compressor because they tend to last a little bit longer than oil-free models that use teflon for lubrication. Most casual compressor users prefer the oil-free models, meaning you may find it hard to locate an oil-lubricated pancake compressor.
There are some pancake compressors that run off of batteries. These are especially useful if you work in areas where there’s no electricity. These can last a long time and are good for things like nailing and filling car tires. They do tend to be more expensive than other electric models, though.
If noise is a concern, you can definitely find “quiet” pancake air compressors. These models are usually rated under 80 decibels, which makes them quiet compared to other compressors, but not quiet in general. There’s no such thing as a silent air compressor. Still, purchasing one of these quiet models can help save your eardrums and keep your neighbors from getting mad at you.
Best Brands of Pancake Compressors?
There are some well-known names in the business that consistently deliver compressors that people like. They work well, last a long time, and provide great customer service if something goes wrong. These brands include:
- DeWalt – A trusted name in the tool game since 1924, this American company delivers high-quality compressors at great prices.
- Campbell Hausfeld – This company has been around since 1836 when they started making farm equipment. They got into air compressors in the 1940s, and it’s one of the most trusted names in the air compressor business.
- Bostitch – This company has been around since 1896, and has been delivering excellent air tools in the last couple of decades. They’re owned by Stanley Black & Decker.
Pancake Air Compressor Recommendation
Our pancake compressor recommendation is the DeWalt 6-Gallon Compressor and Brad Nailer Combo Kit. It’s a compressor with a max PSI of 165 and it’s capable of delivering 2.6 SCFM @ 90 PSI. It’s rated at only 75.5 decibels, making it one of the quieter compressors on the market. The brad nailer drives 18-gauge nails from ⅝” to 2” in length. Plus, it includes a lay-flat hose so you can get to work immediately.
Best Pancake Air Compressor
- Oil-Free for No Maintenance
- Includes Brad Nailer and Hose
- 6-Gallon Tank
- 165 Max PSI
- 2.6 SCFM @ 90 PSI
- Tool-Free Jam Release
- Magnesium Body for Strong and Lightweight Compressor
- Two Air Couplers for Multiple Users
- Adjustable Belt Hook on Nailer
- 1-Year Limited Warranty on Compressor
- Easy Start in Cold Weather or With Extension Cord