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Searching for the right air compressor for your home or garage? I know the search can be quite intimidating especially when there are so many air compressors available in the market. While multiple options allow you to pick the best model and size for your requirement, at the same time, it leads to layers of confusion.

The number of questions about buying the right air compressor is endless. Some common user queries are, which air compressor is the best, what size air compressor should I buy for my garage, or which size is best to power pneumatic tools?

Types of Air Compressor

The best way to pick the right air compressor is by knowing different types of air compressors. While you’ll be aware of some types, you might not know the working mechanism of each type. And this article covers different types of compressors and which compressor is best suited for what kind of work. Keep reading below and by the end, you’ll come to know about different types of air compressors and the best of all.

Air Compressor Types

Air compressors are generally classified according to the positive displacement and dynamic displacement of the pump. A positive displacement pump provides a constant flow of air at a fixed speed, thus, remains unaffected by the pressure changes. On the other hand, a dynamic displacement pump works at a constant pressure. And based on these two mechanisms, there are 4 most common types of air compressors. These are:

  • Reciprocating air compressor
  • Rotary screw compressor
  • Centrifugal compressor, &
  • Axial compressor

Also Read: Best Pancake Air Compressor

Let us discuss each type in detail for better working and usage ideas.

1. Reciprocating Air Compressor

Reciprocating air compressor

First of all, it is a positive displacement air compressor. This is because the air is sucked into the chamber and then compressed with the help of the piston. This piston reciprocates in order to compress the air and increase pressure. Then the air releases once it has reached the set/potential energy.

There are different types of reciprocating compressors based on their use. These are single acting, double acting, single-stage, and double-stage reciprocating air compressor.

While single-acting and single-stage types are ideal for home use, the double-stage reciprocating model is perfect for high-pressure applications. For example, automotive, aerospace, etc. Take a look at the operating pressure of both the types below:

  • Single Stage – Pressure range: 70 – 100 PSIG
  • Double Stage – Pressure range: 100-250 PSIG
[Note: Reciprocating models generally provide power up to 50 HP, then after, they are wither rotary or centrifugal compressors]

Also Read: Pancake or Hot Dog Air Compressor – Which is Right For You?

Remember that single-stage models are not meant for long, continuous usage. You need to rest them after 5-10 minutes(depending upon the model) to protect against overheating of internal parts. In addition, such compressors have more moving parts that need proper lubrication for smooth movement.

In a nutshell, small reciprocating compressors are best for home use, woodworking, metalworking, and powering various small pneumatic power guns.

2. Rotary Screw Compressor

Rotary Screw Compressor

Yet another popular type of positive displacement type is a rotary screw compressor. Instead of a piston, it uses a rotary-like screw to compress air. There are not many moving parts, in fact, rotary-type screw compressors feature a closed-loop system that comprises of male-rotor, female-rotor, bearings, and cooling jacket.

There are 2 types of rotary screw compressors, oil-injected and oil-free.

Unlike reciprocating, you do not require high maintenance of rotary-like screw compressors. This is because they are already equipped with an internal cooling system that allows for long, continuous use.

This type of air compressor is a perfect pick for construction site use where you need to work on multiple projects for hours. Also, it provides impressive horsepower anywhere in between 5 to 350HP(depending upon the model), making it the first choice for commercial use.

3. Centrifugal Air Compressor

Centrifugal Air Compressor

Falls under the category of dynamic air compressor, a centrifugal unit is popular in the manufacturing and industrial sector. Thanks to the multi-stage compression that produces a high amount of energy in less time. Therefore, it has a high-flow rate than most of the positive displacement models and thus, is the best type of air compressor for heavy-duty industrial use.

The biggest advantage of centrifugal air compressors is, they can achieve potential pressure with minimal effort. This happens as a result of air being drawn into the center of a rotating impeller. The impeller is equipped with radial blades that push the air towards the center by centrifugal force. Thus, this simple yet highly effective mechanism causes air to compress within seconds without overheating parts of air.

Depending upon the application, a centrifugal unit has the potential to generate as low as 500 HP to up to 50,000HP.

Despite offering such an impressive output, centrifugal units require only a little Maintainance. Besides, they produce oil-free air that is a perfect pick for manufacturing units and industries especially when there’s a lot of compressor work involved.

All such qualities make centrifugal compressors best for heavy-duty industrial usage. They are ideal for food processing factories, chemical plants, automobile industries, etc.

4. Axial Compressor

Axial Compressor

Now, these are the type of air compressors that you spot easily on a construction site or home garage. This is because axial air compressors are powerful of all and provide highly-efficient output.

It gets its name ‘axial’ from its working mechanism. The air is passed along the compressor shaft through rows of rotating and stationary blades. Such setup leads the air pressure to increase gradually whereas the stationary blades convert kinetic energy to pressure.

Axial compressors have the potential to achieve several thousands of horsepower and work for long hours as well. And this makes them perfect to use on high-speed engines as of a cruise, airplane, submarine, etc.

They are not the first choice for home or commercial use as the setup is bulky and expensive. And you do not want to install such a bulky unit just to get a few HP to power tools and woodworking machinery.

Which type of air compressor is best?

Here we arrive at the main and most confusing question of all the time, which type of air compressor is the best? The short and sweet answer to the question is, it depends on your work field. There are several factors to consider before we arrive at the best air compressor.

As you might know by now, there are many types of air compressors. And these 4 main types are further divided into subcategories. If we keep talking about them all then you might end up reading about compressors for hours. So we’ve taken the short way to give you a clear idea about main types of air compressor and their potential, plus usage.

Therefore, one can clearly say that positive-driven compressors are better suited for home and garage use. They produce enough bar pressure to power pneumatic tools, air spray, air guns, etc, to finish a variety of household projects.

On the other hand, centrifugal and axial air compressors have a bulky design and produce enormous PSI in a short span. They are ideal for heavy-duty industrial use and aerospace applications.

If you are looking for a small and compact compressor then pancake-style air compressors are a great choice. Here is more about pancake compressors.

The Bottom Line

If you look at air compressor use, you will be surprised to know that they are used in a number of applications. From small pneumatic home tools to airspace engineering, air compressors have a long way. However, we do not need to dig deep into its heavy usage. Basic working mechanism and principle helps to pick the best air compressor for our needs. Be it powering tools or inflating hot tub for chilly winter days, you now know which air compressor type is best for your need.


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