Connect with us


Air Compressor 101 – Everything You Need To Know About Air Compressor

Air Compressor 101 - Everything You Need To Know About Air Compressor

We all have heard about air compressor and their basic uses. But there’s a lot more to know about this wonderful invention that changed the way we did certain things.

Earlier, air compressors were only used for commercial purposes, but now, you can easily spot a good small air compressor in the garage of any home.

The versatile use of air compressors makes them worth buying. Now there are so many types of air compressors available on the market. From mini pancake compressors to large hotdog ones, you get a variety of models.

In addition to their design, air compressors are also classified by their power. Power here indicates the pressure delivered.

And according to pressure output, the air compressors are divided into low-pressure, medium-pressure, and high-pressure compressors. Each one of them holds its own significance.

And if you wish to know all about air compressors then you’re on the right page. Below you’ll get to learn about the history, anatomy, types, uses, and basics of the tool.

These details will not only upgrade your knowledge about the tool but also help you select the best air compressor if you’re looking for one.

What is an Air Compressor

Let us start with the basic question, what is an air compressor?

It is a pneumatic tool designed to convert power into potential energy stored in pressurized air. Here, the power could be gasoline, electricity, or diesel engine.

Using any of the above power sources, the tool keeps pumping more and more air into the storage tank.

And this increases the pressure inside the tank. Once the air pressure reaches the set limit, the compressor shuts off.

This pressurized air is then gradually released from the chamber where it gets the form of kinetic energy. And this air is responsible for operating several tools.

In short, an air compressor is a tool designed to compress air to a certain pressure for the proper functioning of different pneumatic tools.

History of Air Compressors

The Air compressor was invented in 1776 by John Wilkinson. Though initially, it was not a compressor, instead, a blasting machine, that later became an archetype for mechanical air compressors.

In the meantime, there were a lot of improvements in the design. Then finally in the 1800s people began using air compressors to transmit energy. Earlier, the use of the tool was limited to railway systems and construction tunnels.

After a few years, in 1888, an Austrian engineer, Vicktor Popp made the first compressor plant in Paris.

More innovations took place then, and nearly 2-3 years later air compressors began incorporating electricity and pneumatic energy.

Anatomy of an Air Compressor

To understand any tool better, first, you must learn about its parts.

While the exterior of the machine is mostly covered, it is what runs inside that matters. And below are some important parts of an air compressor that helps you understand the tool better.

Air Compressor Anatomy

The list contains parts from reciprocating and rotary screw models.


Bearings are an important part of any air compressor. The industrial-class bearing ensures the long life of the motor. These are generally made of high-quality material to ensure proper working under high pressure.


Nowadays, new units are made without belts. But some models still use belts. The belts are responsible for running the motor. You should check on belts for right tension and change them immediately for safe operation.


Leakage of oil or air is common if the system is not aligned properly. And good coupling makes sure there aren’t any leakages when the system is running.


Actuators define the motion of the movement depending on the type of air compressor. The motion could be rotary or linear. The pressurized air converts into power. In addition to that, you can detect leakage in air or change in pressure through an actuator.


Note the air pressure through the gauge that is generally on the exterior. The gauge helps you keep the pressure at an intended level for flawless output.


Rotors or say, rollers, are the heart of any rotary air compressor. Rotors rotate at a high speed and channel suctioned air into the compression chamber.

Piston Rings

Air pressure in a reciprocating air compressor is possible with pistons. There is usually more than 1 piston inside the system connected through a rod. These pistons move from TDC to BDC at a high speed to pressurize the air.


The main purpose of a valve is to open and pass the air inside the compression chamber. Plus, there’s a valve at the end that only opens to let the air pressure out. Valves are an essential part of compressors as they inlet air and regular the airflow.


Replacement of valves can be quite expensive. So many units are comprised of a bumper that surrounds the valve that prevents accidental damage to it. Check for the bumper at regular intervals and replace it if needed to prevent expensive valve replacement.

How does it work? – Mechanism

In simple words, an air compressor works by forcing the air into a compression chamber where it pressurizes. This air pressure is then released through an opening in the tank.

Engines, no matter gasoline or electric, are responsible for drawing the air inside the unit.

Once the air is in, the engine turns the electrical energy into kinetic energy through the help of pistons, crankshafts, belts, and other components.

One end of the compressor usually connects to a tool or machinery in need of pressurized air. For example, nailers, spray guns, sanders, impact wrenches, AC units, etc.

Types of Air Compressors

Air compressors are mainly divided into two categories, based on their internal functioning. Further, they are subdivided into many parts according to their performance and pressure-generating capacity.

Types of Air Compressors

Positive displacement compressor

A positive displacement unit captures a specific quantity of air into the compression chamber. Then the cavity slowly compresses the air by decreasing the volume. And once the set or maximum pressure is achieved, a port valve opens that channels air into the outlet system.

1. Rotary screw air compressor: Rotors are the heart of any rotary compressor. The two rotators run at high speed in opposite directions to trap air between them. In addition to trapping air, the rotors build up pressure within the housing and then output the air. Rotary units are large and often used in industries. They comprise an internal cooling system that keeps the machine cool for a long time. The lubrication can be with oil or without oil.

2. Reciprocating air compressor: Reciprocating units are popular for home use. They are compact yet powerful enough to do most DIY projects around the home. However, these units have more moving parts than rotary models. A reciprocating unit comprises pistons inside a cylinder that compresses and displaces air to build pressure.

Roto Dynamic/Turbocompressor

Dynamic compressors are powerful and large. Large industries with a continuous requirement of high-pressure air use dynamic models.

Instead of pistons, a turbocompressor features rotating components, usually blades. The rapidly rotating blades generate high horsepower and the kinetic energy is then stored as static within the compressor.

The capacity of a dynamic model varies with the work pressure.

1. Axial Compressor: Axial machines are smaller and more efficient than centrifugal ones. Here, the gas enters and exits the machine parallel to the axis of rotation. The suctioned air passes into the eye of the rotor having curved blades, which is then thrown tangentially from the blade circumference. Hence, results in continuous and stable high-pressure airflow.

2. Centrifugal Compressor: They follow a multi-stage compression process. A centrifugal unit compresses air slowly but constantly. Due to multi-stage compression, the machine produces a high amount of energy in a smaller space. Some common applications of the centrifugal unit include gas plant compression, gas lift, and high-capacity refrigeration.

What are Air Compressors Used For?

Air Compressor Uses

Air compressors have a wide array of uses. From big industries to the home garage, a good quality compressor is helpful in many ways. And below listed are some popular uses of the tool.

  • Spray Painting
  • Scuba diving
  • Fountains
  • Paintballs
  • Tire inflation
  • Inflating portable water pool
  • AC units
  • Spray crops
  • Operating pneumatic tools like a drill, wrench, sanders, grinders, etc
  • Pressure washing
  • Air brakes for large trucks and trains
  • Certain medical uses

Who Makes the Best Air Compressors?


When it comes to good compact air compressors for home use then people often look for Craftsman. Craftsman makes air compressors for everything from driving pneumatic tools to tire inflation.

Their tank sizes vary from 2.5-gallon to 33 gallons. Plus, you get a wider range of corded and cordless models with PSI ratings from 125 to 165. And the biggest plus point is their compact size that is easy to carry and store.


Manufacturing high-performance air compressors, Bostich also remains a top choice among buyers. Their models feature high-efficiency motors in a compact design that is easy to operate and store for homeowners.

Plus, the small size accounts for lightweight that eases carrying around the unit to finish several compressor-related tasks.


Dewalt is a popular household name. And they make both electric and gas-powered air compressors.

While electric pancake compressors are good for inflating car tires, you can select their reliable gas-powered units to meet high-pressure demand.

Besides, Dewalt has introduced a new FLEXVOLT® cordless air compressor that offers you the flexibility to work anywhere. Now that’s some smart thinking.


If you’re looking for durable and reliable air compressors then Metabo offers some great solutions. The air compressor brand offers robust, powerful, and reliable tools for household needs to commercial site requirements.

There are entry-level models with a power of 1.5 kW that are ideal for home use. Then there are power class compressors for construction sites and Mega class V-belt compressors for professional use in workshops.

California Air Tools

Advanced and innovative, California Air Tools manufacture ultra-quiet air compressors. Though they are expensive, the tools are highly efficient and long-lasting.

The biggest plus point of the brand is a quiet operation which is quite difficult to find. And if you love to work in a peaceful environment then you should definitely check out some good California Air Tools compressors.


Makita produces strong compressor units with mostly metal parts. And metal lasts for years with minimal care. They are one of the leading producers of conventional and high-pressure units.

Most of their units are made in Taiwan. Makita air compressors surely give justice to their price in terms of performance and ease of use.

Maintenance and Cleaning Tips

Maintenance and cleaning of the tool are important to maintain its efficiency. Even if you do not use the air compressor daily, there are a few things to keep in mind to keep your tool in an optimal state.

  • Never attempt to fix or change anything without reading the user’s manual. This will not only void the warranty but might also damage the tool.
  • It is quite common for lugs and nuts to loosen over time as the machine vibrates when on. So tighten the nuts and bolts with a wrench.
  • Using an air compressor for operating a sander and similar tools can cause debris to enter the intake vents. So it is important to unclog air vents to ensure nothing enters the motor. It is a good practice to clean intake vents once every 3 months.
  • Check air filters on a regular basis. Wash or replace them to avoid dust and debris from entering the compression chamber. The purity of air is crucial for the proper functioning of the tool. So never turn the machine on without an air filter.
  • Moisture in the air can cause water or say, condensate to accumulate. So there’s a special drain tank in compressors that collects moisture. Do not wait for the tank to reach its maximum limit and empty it before it to prevent water from entering into moving parts of the machine.
  • Oil-lubricated compressors require a change of oil after every 4-5 months, depending on the usage. For example, it is a good idea to fill new oil in the tank if the tool reaches 8000 hours of runtime. However, you might not require to do the same with an oil-free unit.

Safety Tips for Air Compressor

Safety Tips for Air Compressor

Though air compressors are easy to operate, that doesn’t mean you should overlook safety.

It is important to remember that these units generate high pressure and should be handled in a professional manner.

Below are some tips to keep in mind for the safe and sound operation of the tool.

  • Always use gas units outdoors as they emit hazardous fumes. Inhaling toxic fumes, even for a short duration is not healthy for your lungs. If not outdoors, start the tool in a well-ventilated area.
  • People often trip over long cords of such tools. And to avoid such injuries, it is better to go for a unit with a self-retracting cord.
  • Only use OSHA-approved nozzles with your air compressor. They provide maximum user safety and reduce the risk of sudden nozzle blast due to constant high pressure.
  • Regularly check for oil and air leaks. A small leak in the tool can cause pressure fluctuations. Seek professional help to fix the leak if you’re just a beginner.

Wrapping Up

Air compressors are really a life-changing invention that is proved to be wonderful. From easing small tasks like inflating a car’s tire to spray painting an entire building, these tools have a long list of uses.

Not only for home use but large air compressors play a crucial role in the functioning of many components. They are categorized into different types according to their working capabilities and each one of them holds its advantages.

And now that you know so much about them it would be definitely easier to pick your next best air compressor, be it for home or workshop.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Alice Carroll

    March 22, 2023 at 12:35 am

    Thanks for also talking about the parts of an air compressor that I will need to keep in mind. I’d like to find an energy efficient air compressor soon because I’m thinking about buying a new one for my workshop. I think that will make the ventilation in there a lot more convenient.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Guides