Pancake air compressors were developed as a design compromise, specifically to serve the construction industry. Carpenters needed a compact air compressor that was portable, so they could load it in their trucks at night and take it home. At the same time, they needed a compressor which would provide them with a lot of air to run their tools, without them having to stand around and wait for the compressor to recharge.
The power tool industry came up with an answer for those carpenters, developing the pancake air compressor. It combines a high volume pump to give them lots of air, with a small, flat tank; giving it the name of pancake compressor.
Typically, air compressors have a horizontal tank, making them heavy and awkward to move. They would come mounted on wheels, with a handle, so you can roll them around, which was great; but that doesn’t help with loading them in the back of a pickup truck. For that, you usually need two guys.
3 Best Pancake Air Compressor – Comparison
|Bostitch BTFP02012 Oil-Free Pancake|
|Porter-Cable C2002 Oil-Free Pancake|
|Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 Quiet Pancake|
Vertical compressors are even worse, but they’re mostly designed to be stationary. Only some of the small, newer vertical compressors even have wheels on them. In a garage or tire shop, a vertical compressor is installed permanently, and moving it around isn’t an option.
Developing the pancake compressor filled a much-needed niche, providing sufficient portable air power for powering air nailers, in a package that’s easy to move. With a center-mounted handle, these can be picked up one-handed and loaded in the back of a truck, ready to go home or back to the job site. But you don’t want to try using them for mechanic work, running a pneumatic impact wrench, because they really don’t produce that much air volume; that’s just not what they’re for. For that, you want a larger compressor.
But these compact compressors are useful to many other people, not just carpenters. They have gained in popularity for home workshops, due to their relatively low price and compact size. With most home workshops shoehorned into small spaces, having a small compressor just makes sense.
Best Pancake Air Compressor – Reviews
1. Bostitch BTFP02012 Oil-Free Pancake Compressor
If there’s anyone who should know air compressors, it’s Bostitch. This company is one of the innovators in the air tool industry; known, more than anything, for their staple guns. While that may not seem impressive to some, air staplers are the standard for any type of roofing.
What’s really impressive about this compressor is that it is oil-free. That means that you’ll never have to worry about the oil spilling from the sump into the compressor chamber or about the oil level dropping to the point where the compressor stops working effectively. There’s no risk of excessive wear to piston rings and valves, caused by allowing the oil to run low either. That alone is enough to put this compressor at the top of any chart.
This six-gallon pancake compressor comes with two hookups, allowing the use of two separate air nailers at a time. The 2.6 SCFM pump is powerful enough to provide that much air at 90 PSI, although the compressor will reach a high pressure of 150 PSI. A high-efficiency motor makes for easy starts, even on those cold mornings.
- Oil-free compressor ends maintenance problems
- Provides sufficient air and has hookups for two air nailers
- High-efficiency motor for easy start-ups, even in cold weather
- 150 PSI max working pressure, well above normal operating pressure, so pump is not overworking
- 75 dBA operating noise level
- 29 lbs. weight makes the unit easy to carry
- Dual air gauges
- 6-gallon tank
- Excellent price
- Uh, the yellow color?
2. Porter-Cable C2002 Oil-Free Pancake Compressor
Porter-Cable is another company with a long history and great reputation for providing quality tools to the construction industry. Their pancake air compressor has a lot in common with the Bostitch unit above, including many of the same specs. This unit will also provide 2.6 SCFM of air at 90 PSI to its two air hookups, allowing you to hook up and use two air nailers at a time.
I love that more companies are coming out with oil-free compressors on these units. Having worked as a contractor, I know what a mess it can be when a compressor knocks over and the oil gets into the inner workings of the compressor. With these oil-free units, you don’t have to worry about that.
This unit adds a drain valve for air, which also allows you to empty water condensation out of the tank easily. It’s a bit noisier than the Bostitch and a bit heavier; but not really all that much. The highly stable design comes with dual air gauges and a low-amp motor which starts easily on those cold mornings, even when running the compressor off an extension cord.
- Oil-free motor design
- 150 PSI max working pressure, 90 PSI nominal pressure for two guns
- Rubber shock-mount feet
- Air & condensation drain valve
- Low-energy use at 10 amps, makes running it off an extension cord easier
- Shroud and handle protect vital components, lowering the risk of damage
- 6-gallon tank
- Great price
- Slightly higher 82 DBA sound level
- Slightly heavier at 34 lbs
3. Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 Quiet Pancake Compressor
As a company, Campbell Hausfeld is mostly known for supplying air compressors for industrial applications, not the construction industry. That doesn’t stop them from providing an excellent pancake compressor though, even though it’s tiny, compared to the majority of their offerings.
What makes this oil-free compressor so good is that it is one of the quietest ones around, running at only 68 dBA. That makes it safe to use indoors, around people, not just on a construction site. If you’re running a remodeling job in a home or office, this compressor will bother your customers much less than its competition will. Part of that comes from it being a dual-piston design, which helps keep the wear on the pump down.
On the other specs, this model is slightly under some of the others, with a max pressure of only 125 PSI and a flow rate of 2.4 CFM. That’s still close enough to the others, that it’s not going to cause you any problems; but it is something to note if you need to hook up multiple tools. Speaking of which, this compressor only comes with a single hookup for running one tool at a time.
- Oil-free dual-piston design for low maintenance
- Low radiated noise at only 68 dBA
- Excellent carry handle, with good balance.
- 6-gallon tank
- Lower power draw at only 7.5 amps
- Gauges aren’t as conveniently located for a quick check
- Only a single air hookup
- Lower max pressure and volume than other models
- High price
4. Excell U256PPE Pancake Compressor
Compared to some other brands we’re looking at, Excell isn’t as well known. But they’re carving out a niche for themselves, producing power tools which will do things their competitor’s tools won’t. This is a compressor you should take a good look at if you’re trying to operate in difficult circumstances.
The most outstanding thing about this particular compressor is how it will run where others won’t. You can actually run it on a 16 ga. extension cord, up to 400 feet long, whereas most need a 14 ga. The cord that’s much shorter than that. But here’s the real kicker; it will still run if the voltage at the compressor is only 64 volts AC. That’s truly amazing. It also has a proprietary cold weather start, which will allow it to start at -24°F (-31°C).
Overall air produced from this compressor is a bit more than others, at 2.8 SCFM at 90 PSI (most others are 2.6 SCFM); and it’s still got a maximum pressure of 150 PSI. Yet this amazing compressor draws only 7.5 amps of current. They’ve obviously put more into their motor design than some of their competitors. I guess that’s not surprising, looking at the compressor, as the feet are extremely well padded and this model has the shortest airline from the compressor to the tank that I’ve seen.
- Low voltage start-up at only 640 volts
- Able to start on a 16 ga. 400 ft. extension cord
- Low power consumption at 7.5 amps
- Extra-heavy-duty rubber foot cushions
- Dual air outlets
- Cord reel right on the compressor
- Highly visible, well marked dual pressure gauges
- Nicely padded carry handle
- 6-gallon tank
- Excellent price
- Rather high weight at 39 pounds
5. Metabo HPT KNT50AB Brad Nailer & Pancake Compressor Kit
Hitachi power tools have changed their name and are now known as “Metabo.” Same tools, same quality, just a different name. I’ve always felt that they gave good value for the money, usually giving more than their competitors.
In this case, the only way that Hitachi/Metabo is selling their pancake compressor is as part of a kit, complete with a brad nailer and 25-foot air hose. So it’s a little bit difficult comparing the price with other brands, which are priced for the compressor alone. Even so, it looks to be a good deal, assuming you need both tools.
This is another oil-free compressor, as we would expect from a quality brand like Metabo. The six-gallon compressor provides the same pressure and air volume that we’ve seen with similar models. The compressor provides dual air hookups and dual gauges, although the gauges are not side-by-side as we’ve seen on some of the other models. The carry handle is heavy-duty and provides what can only be described as a roll cage for the pump itself, protecting it from heavy objects falling on it.
The air nailer that comes with this kit is a popular 18 gauge finish nailer. Hitachi/Metabo air tools have an excellent reputation for quality and long-life. This one is no different.
- Oil-free pump design
- Dual air hookups
- A heavy-duty handle protects the pump from damage
- 6-gallon tank
- Slightly higher air output at 2.8 SCFM
- Max air pressure of 150 PSI
- Only comes as a package deal
- Because it only comes as a package, out of pocket expense is higher
- The compressor is a bit heavier, at 36.5 pounds
6. Rigid OF6015OHB Pancake Air Compressor
Ridgid has an excellent reputation for quality tools. This is the same company which makes some of the best plumbing tools in the world. While they haven’t been making air compressors as long as they have pipe wrenches, they carry their quality reputation over into everything they do.
One of the nice things they’ve done on this compressor is to put a locking regulator on it. That means you won’t have to worry about the air pressure changing suddenly while you are working. I’ve had that happen more than once, and it’s annoying when you’re trying to work.
This compressor works fine with two air guns connected at the same time. The hookups are located at a 90-degree angle to each other, helping to prevent air hose tangles. It’s a small detail, but one I’m glad they included. It’s the attention to detail that makes truly great tools stand out.
- Oil-free pump for low maintenance
- Universal motor for low-voltage starts
- Locking regulator to avoid unexpected pressure changes
- ¼ turn ball-valve for air and condensate drainage
- Dual universal quick air connects
- 6-gallon tank
- Dual gauges
- 150 max PSI of pressure, with 2.6 SCFM air volume at 90 PSI
- A bit noisy at 80 dBA
- A bit heavy at 35 lbs.
- High power usage at 12 amps
- A bit more expensive than other models
7. Central Pneumatic 3 Gallon Pancake Compressor
If you’re looking for something inexpensive in tools, Central Pneumatic can be counted on to provide it. This compact, lightweight pancake compressor from them is no exception. At only 18 pounds, it’s clearly the lightest compressor on this list. But that lightweight comes from it only having a 3-gallon tank and a maximum pressure of 100 PSI. Still, considering that most power tools are used at 90 PSI, that’s enough to operate them.
This clearly isn’t a professional-grade air compressor, for the professional carpenter, but rather something for the home hobbyist to use. So if all you’re going to be using is a brad nailer or airbrush, this compressor is ideal for your needs, providing 0.6 CFM of air. It has an extremely low power draw, at only 2.5 amps, helping you keep your hobby costs down.
With a compact design and lightweight, this compressor can be stashed in the closet or under your workbench, when you’re not using it. Built-in accessory storage and cord reel help keep it compact too. The dual gauges are mounted where they are easy to see while operating the compressor.
- Really low cost
- Compact size and lightweight
- Thermal overload protection
- Oil-free pump design
- Easy to read gauges
- Lower pressure and air volume
- Smaller tank at only 3 gallons
8. DeWalt DWFP551269 High-pressure Oil-free
DeWalt is another great manufacturer for professional-grade carpenter’s tools. Once thought to be “second-string” they have earned their place with the big boys, by beating them at their own game. DeWalt tends to pay a lot of attention to details that others miss, making their tools more convenient to work with. In the case of this compressor, we see that with the routing of the compressor to the tank air hose, which is less likely to catch on objects as you carry it.
The compressor also comes with a built-in cord wrap, something that some of its competitors ignore, as air compressor cords aren’t known for being very long. Yet, for someone moving their tools around a lot, it’s an added convenience. They’ve also used a ball valve for the air and condensation drain, rather than a needle valve, making that maintenance item quicker and easier to accomplish.
Speaking of maintenance, this is another oil-free design, saving that problem. While a bit more costly than the others above, it has a slightly larger motor at 0.9 HP, which is really what you’re paying for. The max pressure on this one is 165 PSI, 15 PSI higher than what is considered standard for this type of compressor. While you probably won’t use that extra capacity much, it helps ensure long tool life, especially if you tend to be hard on your tools.
- Oil-free compressor design
- A slightly larger motor at 0.9 HP
- High 165 PSI max pressure
- Dual air hookups provide 2.6 SCFM of air at 90 PSI
- 75.5 dBA noise level is like the Bostitch, providing a quieter work environment
- Rerouted pump to tank tube to help avoid snags
- Dual gauge regulator
- Built-in cord wrap for convenience
- 6-gallon tank
- Ball drain valve for quick draining
- Slightly higher price for essentially the same tool
9. Campbell Hausfeld PF2028 Compact Pancake
If you’re needing a really compact air compressor, take a look at this one from Campbell Hausfeld. With a 1.0 HP motor and a 1-gallon tank, this is probably the smallest pancake compressor around. While not as powerful as the larger units, it’s ideal for the home handyman who just needs to do lightweight work.
The key to this compressor is that it only has a one-gallon tank. That saves a lot on the weight and overall size when compared to other pancake compressors. While not a powerhouse, it’s ideal for brad nailing, inflating and use with airbrushes. The .36 CFM volume will take care of these light tasks, and the 110 PSI max pressure is enough to provide power to drive home the brads from that brad nailer.
Another nice thing about this compressor is that it comes as a kit, with a coil hose, tire inflator, and inflators for other pneumatic devices. So you can start using it the moment you get it, without any problems. The oil-free motor will last a long time, providing you with excellent service.
- Oil-free pump design
- Compact size and lightweight – it’s under 13 pounds
- Easy to operate
- Excellent price
- It’s not as powerful, with as much air volume as others; but then, it’s not supposed to be
Pancake compressors were originally invented for use in the building trades, mostly by carpenters to run air nailers. As such, the design has a fairly small tank, which makes it much more portable than horizontal or vertical tank compressors. The lightweight and smaller size make it possible to pick them up one-handed for loading in the back of a pickup truck.
While originally designed for carpenters, these handy compressors have found their way into many other uses, especially home workshops, where their small size is an advantage. While they don’t produce enough air for use with air sanders or pneumatic impact wrenches, they are excellent for use with low-volume air tools.
Most pancake air compressors come with a six-gallon tank and produce 2.6 to 2.8 CFM of air, at 90 PSI. However, they often have a maximum pressure of 150 PSI, well over what’s needed. That’s actually enough to run two air nailers, leading manufacturers to put a dual air hookup on them. Most also come with dual air pressure gauges, so that you can have readings for tank air pressure and regulated air pressure.
All of the pancake compressors we’ve listed come with oil-free pumps, a relatively new innovation which makes the compressor last longer, with less maintenance. This is actually rather critical for a pancake compressor, as they are often used in applications where they need to be portable. Not having to worry about oil spilling or getting into the compressor cylinders helps make the compressor more worry-free, not just maintenance-free.