Air Compressor

Air Compressor Types And Usage (For Beginners)

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Air Compressor TypesYou need to study the different Air compressor types so that you can make the right decision when out buying an air compressor. The air compressors come in different types which can confuse you when trying to locate the best.

As a way of making work easy for you, I have researched the different types of air compressors so that you can know the difference and know the best. All the air compressors perform the same function. They are devices which squeeze air to increase its pressure.

A large volume of air forces into a small space which leads to an increase in pressure. The pressurized air developed potential energy which can power different tools.

What Are The Three Types Of Compressors?

The three main types of air compressors are reciprocating air compressors, rotary screw compressors, and the rotary vane compressors. The three different types of compressors come with their benefits as well as drawbacks. Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of each type of air compressor:

1. Reciprocating, Piston Compressors

They are the most common types of compressors in the market. Many people prefer them due to their low initial purchase cost. Many manufacturers have incorporated the compressor design in daily applications.

Uses of Reciprocating, Piston Compressors

Reciprocating Piston Compressors

Reciprocating, Piston Compressor

The reciprocating air compressors are used to move gas at high pressure. They are mainly applied in industrial applications such as natural gas processing.

Chemical plants also use the reciprocating air compressors in their daily demands. Other areas where the air compressor is applied include dental surgeries, diving, automotive workshops, and pneumatic powered tools such as drills as well as angle grinders.

Benefits & Drawbacks of the reciprocating, piston compressors

They are affordable devices which you can easily buy. The compressors are easy to service. You need simple hand tools, and you can maintain a reciprocating piston compressor.

They work in low duty applications due to their excellent convenience. They are large and heavy when compared to other types of compressors. The compressors come with several moving parts which can expose them to wear faster and tear. You need an air receiver tank for them to supply steady pressure.

2. Rotary screw compressors

The compressors work in stationary units. Very few of them run in mobile devices. They are affordable which has made many manufacturers start integrating them in mobile devices.

Uses of Rotary screw compressors

Rotary screw compressors

Inside of Rotary screw compressor

They are the best compressors for applications such as running high power air tools and jackhammers.

You will find them very helpful in fields such as Metallurgy and Mining, Papermaking and Printing, Medicine, Health, Household Appliance, Electronic and Electrical, Transportation, Light Industry and Food, Textile and Clothing, Electric Power, Construction and Building Material, Mechanical and Electrical Machinery and Petrochemical Engineering.

Benefits & Drawbacks of rotary screw compressors

They are highly durable. With a rotary screw compressor, you can enjoy extended use. Their durability makes them preferable for high duty cycle applications. They can run 100% of the time, and they will still deliver excellent performance. There are few moving parts in the compressor; hence they tend to experience less wear and tear. They need oil injection regularly. The oil used in their lubrication run through a different circuit. The oiling process tends to be hectic to most users. The initial purchase cost is a bit high when compared to other types of air compressors.

3. Rotary vane compressors

Uses of Rotary Cane compressors

Rotary vane compressors

How a Rotary vane compressor works

They are among the most widely used air compressors in the market. The rotary vane compressors are the best for applications such as agriculture where they provide high pressure to run farm equipment. You will as well find them ideal in applications such as material conveying, milking cows, among other agricultural tools applications. The rotary vane compressors are also suitable in applications such as:

1. Body Shop & Automotive

In the automotive shop, there are several tools which require high pressure. For instance, spray painting and driving of drills require high strength. The rotary vane compressors play a significant role in providing the pressurized air.

2. Dry Cleaning

In the dry cleaning machine, you need air at high pressure. The air compressors work well in providing the air at high pressure.
Food & Beverage processing
In the food and beverage processing, you need the air compressors to run tools such as automatic bottlers, bottle selection, and the general maintenance of the conveyer belt.

3. Manufacturing

The field of manufacturing requires air at high pressure in different sections. For instance, you need air pressure to run various tools. The air compressor plays a significant role in allowing you to realize excellent performance when working on the manufacturing processes.

4. Medical & Dental

The different medical power tools require the application of high pressure. For instance, tools used by dentists to run their surgical tools. The air compressors work well in delivering the necessary force required to keep the devices running.

5. Pharmaceutical industry

The processing of drugs needs other tools such as vacuum sealers to ensure the drugs are kept at the right conditions. The use of rotary vane compressors makes it easy to access the necessary pressure in running the air compressors.

6. Plastics manufacturing

To mold plastics into different shapes, you need the rotary compressors. They are used in the industry to achieve different forms in the manufacture of various plastics.

7. Woodworking

To work on different woodworking projects, you need air compressors. They play a significant role in driving nail guns, among other tools which require high pressure. Tools available in a woodworking shop vary based on their sizes and air pressure requirements. The use of air compressors makes it easy to accomplish different projects.

Benefits & Drawbacks of Rotary Vane Compressors

They have few moving parts which make them highly reliable. The compressors are compact hence can achieve high CFM when compared to reciprocating compressors of the same type. The initial purchase cost is generally low when compared to screw type compressors. They are oiled which requires regular maintenance. If wear and tear occur, they can demand expensive repair services.


Air Compressor Buying Guide

Air Compressor Buying GuideTo locate the right air compressor for your given purpose, you need to check on the different types of air compressors available in the market. The air compressors have different specifications.

You need to check on the specification of the equipment you would like to power using a given air compressor before you proceed to buy. There are also different brands of air compressors.

You need to check on the different brands among other features before you can locate the right air compressor. Here are other factors to take into consideration when buying an air compressor:

Design of the air compressor

There are different designs of air compressors out there. The various designs can work well for specific uses. You need to check on the model before you can decide whether the device is portable or not. Conventional models of air compressors you can find in the market include:

1. Pancake type

The machines are unique in such a way they come with round and flat storage tanks. With a design mimicking the shape of a pancake, they achieve excellent stability. The compressors are also portable and compact enough to be stored in a small space.

2. Hot dog compressors

The compressors have a shape resembling a hotdog. They feature a single cylindrical tank which stores the pressurized air.

3. Twin stack compressors

The compressors come with two horizontal cylindrical tanks. The tanks are stack together which adds air capacity without having to increase the floor space. The twin stack cylinders tend to accommodate more air making them ideal for jobs which require a lot of gas.

4. Wheelbarrow air compressors

The air compressors feature twin cylindrical tanks which have been stuck on a wheelbarrow like construction for easy portability. The use of wheels on the wheelbarrow design allows for smooth movement of the air compressors so that the job can be cared out from different places.


If you are looking to work in different locations, then you need a portable air compressor. There are some units which are built to be easily transportable. Check on the general design and ensure you can comfortably move the air compressor around. The portable air compressors power devices such as nail guns.

Size of the compressors

There are compressors of different sizes. The smallest are used as tire inflators while there are big models which power big jobs such as impact wrench among other applications.

Intended use of the air compressors

The air compressors come with user manuals. You need to check on the user manual and know the design specification of the compressor before you buy. For example, it will be better to buy a compressor specifically made to inflate your small boat if the primary purpose of purchasing the air compressor is to increase the small boat.

Power supply

Either electricity or gasoline can power the air compressors. The electric powered models are the most common. Apart From the power supply, you should as well check on the level of noise.

Electric powered models tend to produce less noise when compared to gasoline powered. The availability of a power source in your given area of operation also matters.

There are remote places where you can hardly access electricity supply; in such a case you will better opt for a gasoline-powered air compressor.

Safety features

There are several safety features you need to consider before buying an air compressor. For instance, if you work in wet areas, then having an electrically powered compressor can be risky. If your work involves working indoors, then you need to use an electric powered because the gasoline-powered can lead to air pollution due to the production of fumes.

Compressor specifications

You should always check on the specification of the air compressor to avoid buying the wrong tool. For example, you need to check on the specification of the air compressor.

In most cases, you need to check your appliances to be powered by the air compressor and note down the pressure requirements. PSI is the measure of pressure in most air compressors. Cubic per fee (CFM) is also another aspect of the compressed air which you need to check out.

The CFM at a given pressure indicates the type of tools the machine can power. Check on the features keenly before you proceed to buy the air compressor.

Tools the air compressor can power

You can base your decision on the devices you would like the air compressor to power and locate the right tools quickly.

For instance, if you need to power nail guns, impact wrenches, staple guns, ratchets, air hammers, paint sprayers, and grinders, then you need to check on the type of compressor which can power such tools.

There are some versatile compressors in the market where you will add a few accessories, and they can power several appliances. If you can buy such an air compressor, then it will be easy for you to save money in the process.

Price range

The air compressors attract different price tags. There are some affordable units in the market while others can attract high prices. Before you base the decision on the price, you need to check on the features of the compressor.

There are some tools which come with several features; hence they can combine several functions which can lead to saving you money in the long run.

Oil-free pump

There are some compressors which do not require oil for cooling. They are air cooled which make them more durable. You will easily avoid the costly maintenance services if you can opt for the oil-less compressor. Always check on the design specification of the pump before you can make an informed decision.


Air compressor types and FAQ

How many types of the reciprocating compressor are there?

There are four types of reciprocating compressors. The different types of compressors attract various benefits as well as drawbacks. The common types of reciprocating compressors are as follows:

1. Single acting reciprocating compressor

The compressors have pistons which work in only one direction. The other end of the piston has no attachment; hence there is no job done. The open part is used to compress the air while the button part connects to a crankshaft which delivers the power from the engine.

2. Double acting reciprocating compressor

The compressor uses both sides of the piston to compress the air. There are to sides of intake and exhaust valves. As the piston moves up and down, both sides are utilized to compress the air. The air is compressed and delivered on both sides which are unlike the single-acting type.

3. In-line reciprocating compressor

The compressor design appears as a straight line when seen from the top of the pistons. There are several pistons which connect to a crank forming a straight line.

When the diesel engine or electric motor drives the crankshaft, it makes the pistons to move at different rates in a line format which leads to compression of air. The arrangement is suitable where the air is available at different pressures.

4. V-shaped reciprocating compressors

They are air cooled compressors which have concentric valves. The valves mount on the cylinder head unit where they form a V shape. The arrangement leads to the formation of a 90-degree angle between the valves. The design applies in compressors where high torque is required. They are the best compressors for use in jobs which require a lot of compressed air.

What is the primary purpose of a compressor?

The primary purpose of a compressor is to squeeze air at low pressure into high pressure. There are several applications where high-pressure gas is necessary at high pressure to perform certain functions.

Through the use of an air compressor, the air compression occurs in a confined place where the volume is small leading to its increase in pressure. Air is a compressible fluid, and it can squeeze into a small size which leads to a rise in pressure. Pressurized air can be applied to run tools.

What is an air compressor used for?

An air compressor is used to change low-pressure air into high-pressure air. It achieves its function by forcing a large volume of air into a small size. The squeezing action leads to a lot of air fitting in a low volume which in turn leads to an increase in pressure. The air in high pressure can be applied to power several air tools necessary in running different power tools.

Why is the compressor used in a refrigerator?

The main reason for using an air compressor in a refrigerator is to increase the pressure of the refrigerant. When the coolant is at high pressure, it tends to dissipate more heat hence leading to the cooling effect. The air compressor is also necessary to circulate the refrigerant in the system.

What is the difference between fan blower and compressor?

There is a big difference between the fan blower and the air compressor. They both deal with moving air, but they have some differences. Here are the differences:

Fan Blower

A fan blower is a device used to move large volumes of air. There is a minimal increase in pressure when the fan blower moves the large amount of air. It is a different case with an air compressor which leads to a significant increase in pressure.

Air compressor

The air compressor differs from a fan blower because it mainly deals with increasing the pressure of the air. The air compressor moves air from a section of low pressure to a part of high pressure.

Which is better blower or fan?

There is a slight difference between a blower and the fan. A fan is a device which moves large volumes of air with a slight increase in pressure. On the other hand, a blower is a machine which runs gas which a moderate increase in the pressure. A blower refers to a more powerful fan.

What is the difference between pump and blower?

The difference between the pump and the fan is based on the substances they move. A pump deals with incompressible liquids while a fan deals with compressible fluids. Here is the difference:


You may have heard of water pumps and oil pumps. Do you know water is incompressible? You cannot compress liquid to achieve a small volume. The use of a pump is to move incompressible fluids such as oils and water from one chamber to the other.


A blower is used to move compressible fluids from one chamber to the other. It can be used to move air or gases which can be compressed. The blower is a ducted fan which speeds up the process of moving gases in a duct.

How many types of fans are there?

There are two main types of fans. Here is an explanation of the different kinds of fans:

1.  Axial or propeller fans

Under the axial or propeller fans, there are three basic types of fans. They include tube-axial, propeller, and vane-axial. The propeller fans apply in the dilution ventilation or the cooling process.

The fans are mounted on walls or ceiling. The tube-axial and vane-axial are propeller fans, but they are made to fit in a duct. Typical examples are the exhaust ducts in the roof.

2. Centrifugal fans

There are three subcategories under the centrifugal fans. They include the forward inclined blades, backward inclined blades and the straight radial blades. Examples of centrifugal fans are the fans in the vacuum cleaner and home furnace fans.

They apply in local exhaust ventilation systems. Rugged radial blade centrifugal fans are the best for heavy duty exhausting because they are less likely to get clogged due to dust.

What is the function of flywheel in reciprocating compressor?

The function of a flywheel is to store rotational every. A flywheel plays a significant role in resisting the changes in the rotational speed. Flywheels are used in reciprocating engines to balance the intermittent speed torque from the individual pistons.

Why is reciprocating compressor used in a refrigerator?

The reciprocating compressor is ideal for compressing the refrigerant in the refrigerator system. The compressors are also cheaper compared to other types of compressors. Most compressors used in the refrigerators are highly durable. With the reciprocating compressors, they can last long hence making the fridges highly durable.

How do reciprocating compressors work?

The reciprocating compressors work as positive displacement devices. The piston connects to a crankshaft which rotates. As the crankshaft rotates, it leads to a displacement which leads to compressing the air. The up and down movements of the piston force air into the exhaust valve. When it moves down, it opens an inlet valve which then closes as the position moves up leading to the compression action.

What is the difference between a rotary and reciprocating compressor?

The difference between rotary and the reciprocating compressors depends on the way the compressors work. They both force air into the system then the exhaust. The process is repeated to generate high pressure in a pressure tank.

Reciprocating compressors

The compressor use pistons to create the force required to compress air. The rotary types do not use pistons. In a reciprocating compressor, the piston moves downwards which lead to the creation of a low-pressure section in the cylinder. The low pressure makes the cylinder door to open. The cylinder then goes up due to the action of the crankshaft leading to a decrease in volume hence increase in the pressure of the air in the barrel. The motion of up and down is called reciprocating hence the name.

Rotary air compressors

The rotary air compressors use rollers to compress the air. The rollers sit slightly off the center in the shaft. One side touches the wall. When the rollers move at high speed, they create the same effect as the pistons.

What is the difference between the reciprocating compressor and the screw compressor?

The difference between the reciprocating air compressor and the screw type of the way they compress the air. In a screw compressor, the gas compresses due to the action of two meshing helical screws. In the case of reciprocating, the gas compresses due to the operation of the crankshaft which leads to the movement of the pistons which drive to compression of air.

A screw compressor has two parts which are not in contact with each other. A piston compressor comes with several moving parts which lead to the action of air compression. Screw compressors operate at low temperatures, and they have effective cooling systems.

There are several types of air compressors in the market. It is necessary to go over the buying guide to get a clear difference between them. Go over my air compressor buyers guide above and you will get everything right when buying an air compressor for any given use.

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  1. Reciprocating, Piston Compressors Image
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About the author

Shamim Hasan

I am the founder of Globo Gears, 27 years old, and a passionate content creator. After completing my master's degree, I am now a full-time blogger. Traveling and exploring natural beauties are my hobbies.


  • Wow! I’m so delighted with the rest of the blog. You made this blog interesting. This is a useful blog for every household. I never thought of operating our air compressor until reading the post.

  • hi Shamim,
    This article provides such a detailed explanation about air compressors. It is extremely useful especially for beginners. Can you please tell more about any safety precautions to take before using the machine? Thanks!

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