House & Beyond is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here
If you’ve ever done a complete home renovation, you’ve probably used an air compressor. If you’re a DIY-person, you might own one of these tools. And if you’re planning to be more hands-on with repairs around the home, you will definitely want to buy an air compressor. There is plenty you can use an air compressor for, from powering pneumatic tools and various home appliances to inflating tires and air mattresses. With an air compressor, you can efficiently operate a nailer, staple gun, wrench, sander, grinder, paint sprayer, blower or drill. The best pancake compressor will help you get small DIY projects done, and you’ll be glad to have it at hand when your kids’ toys need to be inflated.
Pancake air compressors differ from other types of air compressors in that they are more compact and best suited for smaller tasks with low-load requirements. They get their name from the pancake-like shape of their tanks, which is located at the base of the compressor. Understand that a pancake air compressor isn’t built for major, industrial operations, unlike a heavy-duty 60 gallon air compressor. It doesn’t have the capacity. Stick to smaller tasks though and it won’t disappoint. The tank capacity of the air compressor, its maximum pressure, air delivery mechanism, weight and noise level all determine how useful the compressor will be. They also dictate which tasks it can and can’t do. These are the features to pay attention to when buying a pancake air compressor if you’re to end up with a compressor that is suitable for your requirements.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve interacted with home repair companies and spent time at cabinet maker’s workshops. We’ve spoken to professionals who use air compressors for their day to day operations and utilized different pancake air compressors on a dozen DIY projects in the garage and home. What we’ve learned is that some air compressors are better suited for some tasks than others. It’s plenty of information, but we’ve packaged it for you in a digestible format that includes a comparison table, in-detail reviews of each product and a comprehensive buying guide. We trust this information will help you find the best pancake compressor for your projects.
The Porter-Cable C2002-WK is a powerful compressor that runs on a 120V motor, with the capacity enough to power small air tools and successfully fill up an air mattress or your car tires. Most people are cautious about connecting medium to high capacity equipment in the house and in parallel use with other house appliances. Well, the C2002-WK is safe to connect to your AC power outlets, which you will need to do to refill the tank when air runs out.
The regulator controls output pressure, and you can set it to the desired level. Different appliances call for different PSI rates so make sure you confirm the maximum allowed for the tool you want to power and adjust the air compressor accordingly. Don’t worry about the unit overheating or short circuiting when you use it for long. It comes with thermal overload protection to safeguard it from damage and ensure this doesn’t happen.
The 150 PSI maximum pressure gives you plenty of runtime. Factor in the six-gallon tank and you’re assured that the compressor can adequately support your air tool usage. We have to mention that the motor starts quick and easy and doesn’t disappoint even in cold weather.
The Dewalt DCC2560T1 is a cordless, sturdily-built little compressor that gets small jobs done swiftly and smoothly. The compressor has a max pressure of 135 PSI, which is in the range of some six-gallon tanks and quite remarkable. If your project list includes many large jobs, the DCC2560T1 won’t be of much help, as it only gives 1.2 SCFM at 90 PSI. The workaround this would be refilling now and then, which is not a problem if you have the time. But if you’re looking to use it to fill inflatable items like toys and tires and power nailers, it’s a good buy.
It self-regulates with the help of patented one-turn regulation technology. All you have to do is point the regulator to the desired PSI, and it will swiftly and accurately adjust the pressure.
The DCC2560T1 compressor comes with a lithium-ion battery, which is included when you purchase, so you won’t have to buy it separately. Upon testing the air compressor with the fully charged DCB606 battery, it achieved 1,200 nails in one charge. Impressive for a small compressor and proof that it will reliably get the job done – and if you’re looking for more small air compressors, we highly recommend checking out our top picks of 12V air compressors.
It’s also light and easy to carry and move around. Rubber feet hold it firmly to the ground when you set it down so that it doesn’t roll and move about while you use it.
The six-gallon Bostitch BTFP02012 is a high capacity unit running on an efficient, quick-start motor. You can use it for all kinds of power tool tasks, and with the 150 PSI max pressure and 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI it gives you should comfortably do anything from tire filling to firing a gun nail. Even in cold weather, the motor kicks in with the vitality of equipment that’s determined to show off and deliver the results.
Bostitch includes a high-flow regulator to boost efficiency. They also include two couplers for maximum appliance performance. Having dual couplers means you can simultaneously use the compressor for two different tasks. The couplers seal off automatically. When using only one, the other will automatically shut off. So you don’t need a cap to close it manually. The regulator allows you to control how much output pressure you have at any given time.
The BTFP02012 runs relatively quietly and has a dBA level of 78.5. This doesn’t make it the most noiseless compressor you’ll ever own, but it is less noisy than rival units that have 82 dBA.
Going for slightly more than $100, the BTFP02012’s asking price is a good deal, given how well-constructed this compressor is. You’ll probably still be using it years down the line while it would cost you so little!
A high-performance unit, the six-gallon Dewalt DWFP55126 will take you through most power tool tasks with ease. It has a high capacity universal motor that gets the job done with no fuss, and delivers a maximum pressure of 165 PSI and 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI, giving you a sufficiently long appliance runtime. It fills up quickly and has a short recovery time, which is what you want when you have a job to complete quickly and can’t wait for a slow refill.
This is a fully portable air compressor with a steady hand grip handle that makes mobility easy, and firm rubber feet to hold it in place during use. One thing you’ll enjoy about this product is its fast startup. The motor kicks in immediately you start it up and sustains this efficiency even in cold weather.
Dewalt products are generally well-built and durable, and the DWFP55126 is no exception. Barring unexpected trouble in the future, it should serve you well for a decade at least. The manufacturer has also included a console cover to protect the controls. You can remove the cover whenever you need to, either when cleaning the compressor or for repairs.
It’s not the quietest compressor on the market, but it is a lot quieter than most – it has a 75.5 dBA noise level, while many of its counterparts work at 78-82 dBA. Using this unit, you’ll have the luxury of getting your pneumatic tool jobs done without the accompanying loud noise we’ve come to expect from air compressors.
The Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 is a compact piece that packs more power than you’d think when you first see it. It has an indicated maximum pressure of 125 PSI, and while we don’t doubt it hits this level, our experience was that performance lags above 100 PSI. You’ll want to be careful not to use it with appliances that require lots of pressure. But for small jobs, it exceeded our expectation.
The six-gallon tank provides enough air supply to run most home air compression tasks with ease, and you won’t have to refill the tank now and then. It has a 2.4 CFM at 90 PSI and should smoothly run most small tools. Be sure to check that the CFM requirements of the appliance you plan to use are not more than 2.4 CFM, otherwise the DC060500 won’t be able to power them.
And the best part is that it runs quietly. It’s without a doubt the quietest pancake air compressor we’ve had the pleasure of using, and for this alone, it’s worth spending a little extra to get one. If you regularly need to use power tools in a house with small kids, the noiseless operation is a plus. Not only such people would benefit from this buy; if the constant droning of a lawn mower irritates you, you’ll be glad to have this little toy running your affairs without noise disturbances.
If you want a reliable, well-built pancake air compressor that gets the job done and doesn’t have operational issues, the Hitachi KNT50AB is your answer. It’s another six-gallon unit with a max pressure of 150 PSI which gives 2.8 SCFM at 90 PSI. It’s great for powering pneumatic tools and as a finishing gun nail.
The compressor comes in a combo kit that includes an 18-gauge brad nailer with a tight grip, which is lightweight and easy to maneuver. The view window, though small, allows you to see how many nails you have left, so that you never have to fire blanks. With time, you get accustomed to the window dimensions and stop noticing its limiting size. It’s a good thing that the nailer does not restrict you to one nail size.
You should add a few drops of oil to the air connector each time you want to use the nailer. This is quite easy to do; just ensure you don’t over-oil or the nailer will jam. The unfortunate thing is that Hitachi doesn’t include the oil in the package. But this is a small inconvenience; just buy lubricating oil at your local hardware store.
Hitachi includes a premium 25′ x ¼” hybrid air hose with industrial fittings that can be used both indoors and outdoors. The hose has heavy-duty bend restrictors and spiral reinforcement to enhance its durability. It’s quite flexible and reliable even in extreme weather.
Why is it special?
Comes with safety glasses and a pneumatic tool lubricant
Includes a 2" 18-gauge brad nailer
What are the flaws?
Doesn't stop firing when you run out of nails
Nailer continually jams if excessively oiled
Things to Consider
A pancake air compressor will help with many projects around the house and garage. Whether you’re building a deck, installing new cabinets, spray painting your new kitchen, or you need a handy tool to help in filling you bike tires, these jobs become quick and simple when you have an air compressor.
What can air compressors be used for?
Air compressors are used in many craft, repair, maintenance, and cleaning jobs. Tasks that involve driving nails, drilling and removing bolts and nuts, blowing and cleaning or giving a neat paint job are more precisely done and take a shorter time when an air compressor is used.
Specifically, you can use an air compressor to power pneumatic and power tools. Here are some tools you can use with an air compressor: staple guns, nail guns, drills, air hammers, paint sprayers, chisels, grinders, sanders, and blowers.
You can also use an air compressor to fill car and bike tires, air mattresses, and kids’ entertainment equipment.
Features to consider when choosing a pancake air compressor
The roundish design of the pancake air compressor lends stability to the unit and is one of the reasons the compressor is popular with many home DIYers. Like with any equipment, there are specific features that determine how good a pancake air compressor is. Pay attention to these features when buying an air compressor. These are the things that dictate the capacity of the compressor and what tools it can power.
The size of the tank determines how much your pancake air compressor can do. Pancake compressors mostly come in one-two-gallon-tanks and six-gallon tanks. Air compressors with one- or two-gallon tanks are much smaller and are only suited for small tasks like running a nailer. The bigger, higher-capacity six-gallon pancake air compressors can do pretty much everything else involving a pneumatic tool while remaining portable and lightweight.
With a high tank capacity, you won’t need to refill the tank often. You can go through two or three major jobs before exhausting the compressed air in the tank. Small tanks must be refilled often as they can only store limited amounts of air.
Measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), the max pressure indicates the maximum amount of pressure the air compressor can give. Higher-capacity six-gallon pancake air compressors usually have max pressure in the range of 150-185 PSI. The higher the maximum pressure, the longer the runtime you get to enjoy. Lower max pressure means a shorter tool runtime and, therefore, is best suited for small jobs. Two- and three-gallon pancake air compressors have a max pressure of 100-125 PSI, with some models recording sluggish performance above 100 PSI.
For the best performance, ensure that the air compressor produces far above the required minimum PSI for the tool you want to power. Note that each device has a different minimum PSI requirement. To ensure that your pancake air compressor can work with a diverse range of tools, note which of your appliances has the highest minimum PSI, and then choose an air compressor with a maximum pressure that is much higher than the minimum PSI you noted above.
If the biggest tool among your appliances requires a minimum of 120 PSI, buy an air compressor with a max pressure of at least 140 PSI. This way, the air compressor can effortlessly power appliances whose minimum PSI requirement is less than 100, while powering the bigger machine that requires a minimum of 120 PSI.
This is indicated by the decibel level of the noise produced by an air compressor. Levels above 85 dBA are considered unsafe with continuous exposure. For most pancake air compressors, noise level ranges between 75 and 82 dBA. If you’re in search for a quiet option, take a look at the Campbell Hausfeld DC060500, which produces only 68 dBA. You can have a normal conversation even with the DC060500 running right next to you.
Air compressors with higher dBA levels are noisy and can be more of a disturbance than something you’re willing to overlook, especially if you’ll be running them regularly, so weigh your options carefully.
The amount of air flow at a specific PSI is indicated in cubic feet per meter, denoted as CFM. The minimum CFM required is different for each tool. Your air compressor should be able to deliver the minimum CFM for the tool you’re running. An air compressor with a much higher CFM than the tool’s required minimum can run longer before a refill is needed.
Weight and dimensions
The weight of the air compressor determines its mobility. The best pancake air compressor is one that is easy to move around and one you can carry with ease. A weight of 25-35 lbs is okay and ensures portability. A compressor that is tedious to lag about would not be of much use to you, so pick a model that is light enough to carry.
Choose a pancake air compressor with a warranty, so that if one of its components malfunctions, you can get a replacement at no extra cost. Most manufacturers issue a one-year warranty, which appears to be the standard in the field of air compressors. However, some models, like the Dewalt DCC2560T1, come with a three-year limited warranty.
Pancake air compressors mostly use an oil-free pump, which means they are non-messy, easy to clean and use. Other notable features worth looking out for are:
Rubber feet to prevent movement during use;
Soft-grip handle for easy handling;
Protective cover for the controls;
Also check that the air compressor allows you to control the output pressure, which you’ll need to adjust for different tools.
Capacity is directly proportional to maximum tank pressure. A higher tank pressure means the compressor can store more air. At 165 PSI, a 6-gallon pancake air compressor will store more air than it stores at 120 PSI. The more air you have in storage, the longer your tool runtime will be. You’ll get more done but it would take longer to refill the tank.
Yes, they can. A good example is the Hitachi KNT50AB. It comes with an 18-gauge brad nailer, and it can be used to inflate car tires. But, it doesn’t come with the attachment you need to fill the tires. You can, however, buy this separately – it’s probably less than $10. The Campbell Hausfeld DC060500, too, inflates tires in minutes.
These pancake air compressors, we have to admit, exceeded our expectations. Many were able to do tasks we thought only large, stationary air compressors could do a neat job of. And just the convenience of carrying them to the job site means they can be used anywhere. So, which performed best?
The Porter-Cable C2002-WK delivered solid performance without compromising on quality. We also like that it comes with an accessory kit featuring 13 add-ons for inflation and cleaning tasks. Its motor is powerful and remains stable in cold weather, which is important if you’ll be using the compressor in the outdoors most of the time.
At number two is the Dewalt DCC2560T1, a sturdy little model with the power of a big horse. Despite having a two-gallon tank, it still produces 135 PSI of maximum pressure, which is higher than some six-gallon compressors give. Plus, it’s well constructed and backed by a lengthy warranty.
The number three slot goes to the Bostitch BTFP02012. This little unit with its unassuming design was a carton full of surprises. First, it was light, at only 29 lbs. Then, it delivered a high max pressure at 150 PSI and had a quick recovery time of 2.6 SFCM at 90 PSI. It also holds pressure well and runs a highly efficient motor that isn’t buoyed by extremely cold weather.