Let’s start off by looking at two of the best pancake compressors on our list of six — perfect for tasks such as : Tire inflation, finish nailing/stapling, hobby painting, general nailing.
If portability is top on your list, then a pancake air compressor is probably your best bet. These compact, lightweight machines are a firm favorite among contractors and homeowners looking for an air compressor that can be carried easily from one place to the next. This review of the best pancake air compressors is going to help you find exactly what you’re looking for in a portable air compressor.
There are pros and cons to using a pancake air compressor. It’s mostly a consideration of portability vs capacity. If you’re not sure whether a pancake air compressor is really your best option, I’ll provide some advice on this after the review.
We’ve selected a broad variety of pancake air compressors for this review. You’ll see some top brands in the lineup, and some more affordable options for the occasional user. I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for here and I’ll do my best to guide in finding the perfect model for your needs. So let’s get down to the crux of the matter.
Best Pancake Compressors
Pancake Air Compressors We Review.
- CRAFTSMAN CMEC6150K: An average air compressor with a lot of extra items included. Good value for the DIY user.
- DEWALT DWFP55126: Dependable DeWalt quality at a reasonable price.
- Metabo HPT KNT50AB Kit (with Brad Nailer): Personal top choice for high value and professional-grade quality.
- DEWALT DCC2560T1 FLEXVOLT: One of the best cordless pancake air compressors for nailers.
- BOSTITCH BTFP02012: Affordable light to medium-duty pancake air compressor.
- Campbell Hausfeld DC060500: Expensive, high-quality industrial grade pancake air compressor.
- PORTER-CABLE C2002: Great DIY air compressor, with above average performance.
Best complete air compressor kit. On the noisy side at 82 dB, but a dependable performer.
I’m sure some of the more discerning professionals may scoff at the Craftsman CMEC6150K pancake air compressor. The brand is associated mostly with domestic tools, not the heavy-duty professional market. To this end, they’ve done a sterling job of providing quality products at an affordable price. In its capabilities, the Craftsman CMEC6150 pancake air compressor isn’t much different to the more expensive machines from the top-rated brands. This, in my opinion, equates to excellent value for money.
The 6-gallon tank is on a par with the best of the best in the world of easily portable pancake air compressors. In line with the modern trend, for this size machine, it utilizes an oil-free pump. This means very little maintenance. With 2 X quick coupler outlets, it’s easy to use and allows for two pneumatic tools to be used simultaneously.
Maximum pressure is 150 Psi, with a very reasonable recovery time for most applications (2.6 SCFM at 90 Psi). At a weight of 30 LBS, it’s great as far portability goes. The molded handle at the top makes it super-easy to carry anywhere.
Adding to the value for money aspect of this deal, you get a bunch of accessories thrown in. The 13-pc accessory kit offer, looks to be excellent value and includes a 25’ X ¼” PVC hose, blow gun, tire chuck and pressure gauge, along with a selection of nozzles and adapters.
When it comes down to it, the Craftsman CMEC6150K is a pretty average pancake air compressor. There’s nothing that made me step back and say wow. It’s more of a common-sense machine than an awe-inspiring one. It stands out as being great value, especially when you add in the extra items. The brand has been around long enough for us to know exactly what we’re getting. Good quality for a light to medium duty air compressor, with a 1-year warranty.
Best Value pancake air compressor.
Because this is a DeWalt product it instills a great deal of confidence in me. I’m sure there are countless contractors around the world who will agree with this. The 6-gallon DeWalt DWFP55126 pancake air compressor certainly makes the grade as a competent machine for hard working environments. The price is pretty reasonable too.
As for working capacity, the DeWalt can hold its own alongside the very best. It has a maximum pressure rating of 165 Psi, with 2.6 SCFM recovery at 90 Psi. The high-efficiency (10A) electric motor is great for use with longer extension cords. As we’ve come to expect, this is an oil-free pancake air compressor, with the obvious low-maintenance advantages.
It has two quick connectors for multiple users and an easy to use ball drain valve. The DeWalt DWFP55126 weighs a mere 30-pounds with an excellent carrying handle. I particularly like the heavy-duty rubber feet, which reduce vibration and, in true DeWalt fashion, look like they’re made to last. With a rated noise level of 75.5dBA, this is not exactly a quiet machine. But in the realm of air compressors, it’s not particularly noisy either.
Professionals and DIYers alike, have come to trust DeWalt as a brand with the highest degree of integrity. This alone, may make the DeWalt DWFP55126 pancake air compressor a first choice for many. You have the assurance of great service for a lifetime, though the warranty isn’t as good as you’ll find with most DeWalt products. Instead of the usual 3-year warranty, this model is only covered for 1-year. You still get the usual DeWalt 90-day money back guarantee and 1-year free service plan.
Metabo HPT KNT50AB Kit (with Brad Nailer)
Best ‘ready-to-go’ Finish Combo Kit.
I feel that Hitachi Metabo is a vastly underrated brand. In my experience, Metabo tools hold up to the best professional grade options, usually at a much more affordable price. The Metabo HPT KNT50AB kit is a perfect example of the excellent value for money that the brand offers. The kit includes an industrial grade hybrid 25’ X ¼” hose and top-quality NT50AE2 2” 18-gauge Brad Nailer. They’ve even thrown in a bottle of pneumatic tool lubricant and safety glasses for even more value. All this, at a price that one would expect to pay for a similar quality pancake air compressor, without the high-value extras.
The Metabo (EC710S) is, without a doubt, an exceptionally high-quality 6-gallon pancake air compressor. The motor and pump are protected by a strong metal roll cage with a rubber grip at the top, making it easy to carry the 36.5-pound machine. Those extra few pounds are a result of the rugged design.
The Metabo exceeds most in this class, when looking at its performance. The oil-free 1HP pump delivers 2.8 CFM at 90 Psi – certainly well above average. Pressure ranges from a minimum 120 Psi up to 150 Psi. Noise levels are a very acceptable 73dBA. It also has 2X universal quick couplers.
When we look at the quality of this pancake air compressor, along with the genuine high-quality extras, the Metabo HPT KNT50AB kit has to be the best value in the high-end of this market. The extra items are not merely gimmicks. The included hose is of the highest standard, as is the very capable Brad Nailer. Of the pancake air compressors featured in this review, I feel the Metabo Kit offers the best value for money, mostly because of the high-quality extra items that you’re getting.
DEWALT DCC2560T1 FLEXVOLT
Best battery-powered pancake air compressor.
The DeWalt 60V FlexVolt range of power tools has really taken cordless convenience to a new level. This is clearly evident when you take a look at the DCC2560T1 60V cordless pancake air compressor. I should start by pointing out that this is a smaller compressor, it only has a 2,5-gallon tank and a small 0.4HP brushless DC electric motor. I would think the DeWalt DCC2560T1 was designed with the site carpenter in mind. It’s superbly portable and is great for a nailer, but certainly not high-power pneumatic tools.
Although the motor isn’t all that big, the brushless digital technology does make it highly efficient and deceptively powerful, for such a small machine. It produces a maximum pressure of 135 Psi. Recovery times may not seem that impressive, 1.5 SCFM at 40 Psi and 1.2 SCFM at 90 Psi. When looking at these performance specs, we need to keep in mind the intended application. This being an extremely portable pancake air compressor which would, in most instances be used to supply a single nailer. For this, it’s a wonderful machine. DeWalt claim up to 1,220 nails per charge. This is if you’re using their pneumatic nailer and a 6AH 20V/60V FlexVolt battery
It’s clear that portability, and the type of durability that’s required for an air compressor which is going to bashed about on a jobsite, has been foremost on the minds of the DeWalt engineers when designing this air compressor. It weighs only 21.5 LBS. The impact resistant roll cage is made of some sort of highly durable polymer and surrounds the entire machine. Even the battery is perfectly protected in a molded recess, which is still very easy to access.
I feel that this is a particularly noisy little compressor. At 79dBA, it’s louder than many with twice the capacity. It is an oil-free pancake air compressor, which always adds to noise levels. But, then again, all the pancake air compressors in this review are oil-free, most of them quieter than this one.
I like the pressure control dial with Psi markings, much is more convenient than the old-fashioned turn knob that has you constantly checking the gauge to see where you’re at. It still has a pressure gauge, so can see, accurately, what your actual working pressure is.
For such a small pancake air compressor, the DeWalt DCC2560T1 FlexVolt is a bit on the pricey side. You’re mostly paying for cordless convenience here. In addition to this, the FlexVolt is top of the DeWalt range. This means the highest quality, made in the USA. This higher standard is also reflected in the warranty, which exceeds that of the (much cheaper) DWFP55126 corded model. The cordless DeWalt DCC2560T1 FlexVolt has a 3-year warranty, along with a 90-day money back guarantee, and 1-year free service plan.
Best cheap pancake air compressor.
The Bostitch BTFP02012 is a really great pancake air compressor for a cheaper machine. Though I’d advise shopping around for the right price. When researching this model, I found the best deal directly from Amazon (new at just under $100). I also saw some retailers charging over $200 for the same model. At that price, there are much better options. If you’re paying $100 – $120 for the Bostitch BTFP02012, I think it’s worth it.
This is a pretty solid looking machine, for a light to medium duty pancake air compressor. It has a great 6-gallon tank and pretty impressive recovery times – 2.6 SCFM at 90 Psi. Maximum pressure is 150 Psi. A cool dashboard incorporates two quick couplers with two pressure gauges. Perfect for multiple users.
Considering that, this too, is an oil-free air compressor, it isn’t too noisy at all. At 78.5dBA, it’s not as good as the very best, but pretty decent. It weighs around 30-pounds, which is good, and has a nicely made carrying handle for great portability.
Like the Craftsman model (reviewed above), the Bostitch BTFP02012 is nothing exceptional. It’s a pretty powerful, affordable, portable pancake air compressor. In the light to medium duty sector of the market, this is a worthy competitor.
Campbell Hausfeld DC060500
Best quiet and pro-grade pancake air compressor.
The Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 is a mighty impressive pancake air compressor. If you’re looking for a cheap machine, you can forget about this one, it’s quite expensive. Though, I truly believe that you’re getting what you pay for here. In its design and the materials used, this could easily be the best pancake air compressor in this review. The industrial quality of this product does have one downside though. It’s about twice as heavy as any of the others at 60-pounds.
By far the quietest oil-free pancake air compressor that I’ve seen, the Campbell Hausfeld produces only 68dBA, from 3-feet, which is standard distance for this type of spec. It also has one of the most efficient 120V AC electric motors used for this size air compressor, only 7.5A. Despite its low power consumption, the Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 delivers the goods. Maximum pressure isn’t the highest, 125 Psi. But recovery times are pretty impressive – 3.5 SCFM at 40 Psi and 2.4 SCFM at 90 Psi. It has a single quick coupler with an outlet pressure gauge and one on the 6-gallon tank.
Although Campbell Hausfield don’t rate this as a commercial pancake air compressor and only offer a 1-year warranty on the product, we need remember that this is an industrial brand. What these guys call a domestic air compressor, others would call a heavy-duty industrial machine. It appears to be the toughest of the bunch, when compared to any of the others in this review.
The Porter-Cable C2002 compares well to the other more domestic DIY, affordable pancake air compressors in this review. It is of a good quality standard with all the power one wants from an air compressor of this size. It is, however, one of the loudest at 82dBA. It could become quite annoying working close to this machine.
The 0.8 HP (10A) electric motor does a fine job, providing 120 -150 Psi, with a recovery rate of 2.6 SCFM at 90 Psi (3.5 SCFM @ 40 Psi). Like most others in this class, the Porter-Cable C2002 is a 6-gallon pancake air compressor with a low maintenance oil-free pump. It has 2 X quick couplers for two users and dual air pressure gauges, neatly contained on a user panel.
At 30-pounds, with a comfortable handle, it ranks amongst the best in terms of portability. The rubber feet are quite thick and should provide great anti-vibration qualities. The Porter-cable C2002 can be rated alongside any of the best light to medium-duty pancake air compressors and is great for DIY and hobbyists.
If after reading the review, if you’re still uncertain as to which may be the best pancake air compressor for you, here’s where you’ll find the information you’ll need to make the right choice. You may be wondering if a pancake air compressor is actually the best way to go. What are the applications for these machines? Who uses a pancake air compressor and why? This seems like the appropriate place to start the buying guide.
Applications for Pancake Air Compressors
These machines derive their name from the flattened cylindrical air tank that they use. This compact design is the biggest clue as to what their intended use is. Every aspect of pancake air compressor design is centered around portability.
They are designed to be as compact and lightweight as an air compressor can be. Seldom weighing much more than 35-pounds, pancake air compressors are easy to carry with one hand. Most full-size air compressors are not portable at all. Those that are, have to be wheeled around due to their excessive weight. They also tend to be bulky machines with large tanks, which require a larger pump and electric motor.
Being such small machines, pancake air compressors have limited applications. They are generally used for inflating tires and other inflatable recreational items. They are great for airbrushing and trim work. Contractors, who use only a nailer, often prefer pancake air compressors, because they are so portable. Most pancake air compressors are perfect for nailers, though some, less powerful machines, my need some time to recover if more than one nailer is being used, or if you work really fast. Though, in general, a good quality pancake air compressor is up to the task of construction carpentry.
Because of the compact size, many home users find a pancake air compressor to be the most practical. They don’t take up much space in the garage and are easy to carry anywhere in or around the home. It should be noted, however, that pancake air compressors are wholly unsuitable for high-power tools, like pneumatic wrenches. They also don’t have the tank size, or CFM rating, for spray painting which requires a large volume of air and a good recovery rate to keep an even steady air supply as you work.
How Does A Pancake Air Compressor Work?
First of all, you’ll want to know where pancake comes from. This type of air compressor has nothing to do with the delicious meal you cover in syrup. If you look closely at the bottom of the power tool you’ll notice the tank is shaped like a pancake with everything else usually sitting on top.
To understand the basics of how it works imagine an inlet valve sucking in all the air. Once the air is trapped inside a piston will compress and push it into the tank. It’ll become pressurized and will now be ready to give you the air power you need when it’s released.
Understanding the specifications and features of any air compressor might not make much sense if you’ve never used one. In essence, a pancake air compressor isn’t much different to any other. It uses an electric motor which powers a pump, forcing air into a tank, thereby pressurizing it. The only real difference is the size and portability. This means a smaller electric motor and tank. There may also be minor design differences.
As this is the heart of the machine, an air compressor pump is the important aspect. These days, most pancake air compressors use an oil-free reciprocating pump. This means a piston is used to compress the air, and it is self-lubricated. There’s no need to use oil, which is both more convenient and beneficial when transporting the machine. Oil can easily spill when the compressor is tilted.
The downside to oil-free air compressors is the noise and lower output. Though low volume is not too much of a problem with an air compressor of this size. More about that when I cover Psi and CFM. Noise can be hassle if you’re working with the compressor in the same room. This is often the case with portable pancake air compressors. Some are designed to be quieter, and this may be an important deciding factor for many users.
You’ll notice most pancake air compressors offer a dBA spec. This is generally measured from 3-feet. It’s not too hard to interpret this data, if you have an idea of what to compare it to. For some context, consider this. An average speaking voice is around 60 – 65dBA. The OSHA recommendation for using hearing protection is anything higher than 85dBA. This is about the noise level of a vacuum cleaner or electric lawnmower. So, a pancake air compressor with a noise rating of around 70 – 75dBA is acceptable. It’s like having someone speaking quite loudly in the room with you.
Air Pressure and Volume
Air pressure is measured in Pounds per square inch (Psi). You can view this as the power that air offers. Most pneumatic tools and spray equipment operate at either 40 Psi or 90 Psi. Air volume, the amount of air a tool uses, is expressed in Cubic Feet per Minute CFM).
You’ll usually see air compressor specifications for volume expressed as SCFM, which stands for Standard Cubic Feet per Minute. This is used to provide a uniform specification for all air compressors. External factors, like humidity, ambient temperature, and altitude will affect the performance of an air compressor. So, to keep things equal, SCFM readings have to be conducted at 60 – 68°F, 14.7 Psi, and 36% Relative Humidity (RH). While the specified SCFM may not be what you actually experience, it offers an equal playing field whereby all air compressors can be compared.
So, how important Psi and CFM for an air compressor. Really, it’s everything. This determines what tools you can use, and for how long. Most air compressors have a minimum pressure (inside the tank) of 100 – 120 Psi and a maximum of 120 – 160 Psi. While this is not the most important spec, it does have some affect on your recovery time. This is the time it takes for you air compressor to regain working pressure when it drops below the specified pressure for the tool you’re using. If your tank starts out a higher pressure, it will take longer for the pressure to drop below the required pressure. When the pressure drops to the minimum specified level for that compressor, the pump will switch on and begin rebuilding pressure in the tank. If the pump starts at a higher pressure, you are more likely to maintain the desired pressure.
The recovery rate is determined by the CFM or SCFM spec. This tells us how much air is being forced into the tank per minute. If we use the example of a nailer, probably the most commonly used tool with a pancake air compressor, we can see how long you can work for and how long you will need to wait for the pressure to recover, if at all. Generally, a brad nailer requires 0.3 CFM at 90 Psi. If you’re averaging 20 nails per minute, you’ll be using 6 CFM. This is above the average 2 – 2.5 SCFM provided by most pancake air compressors. However, this may not mean that you can’t keep working at this pace most of the time. It’s all about the relationship between CFM, maximum Psi, minimum Psi, and tank size.
This is the final step in choosing the right air compressor for your needs. If you intend using a larger volume of air, perhaps two nailers simultaneously, the size of your tank can make all the difference. A larger tank will hold more air and, therefore, take longer to depressurize. This makes it more likely that you will be able to keep working without having to stop and wait for the pressure to recover.
Pancake air compressors can have a tank size ranging from a round 2 – 6 gallons. A smaller tank is advantageous when it comes to portability, it’s more compact and lighter. It does, however, limit your working time, especially if your recovery time (CFM) is low. A small tank, with a low CFM pump may be fine for inflating tires and the like, or using an air brush, but it can be become frustrating if you’re using a nailer at high speed. You need to consider your desired applications and match your tank size and CFM requirements accordingly.
When in doubt, bigger is always better. A large tank with a more powerful pump will ensure you have maximum pressure and volume for the longest time. Obviously a larger, more powerful air compressor will be more expensive. At least, when comparing models of roughly the same quality standard. So, it will, as with most things, also come down to budget.
For home use, you don’t need a really heavy-duty air compressor, making it more affordable to buy a larger pancake compressor without spending a lot. If you’re going to rely on your compressor to work hard on a regular basis, it becomes more important to buy a high-quality machine. This is when you need to assess your requirements vs budget more carefully. First calculate what is going to be the best in terms of tank size and CFM, look at what models are available to meet your requirements, and then decide how much you’re prepared to spend.
Why Air Compressors are Still Relevant
You must be wondering why you would want the best pancake compressor when there are lots of suitable power tools available for any job. This is even more puzzling when new technology means we’re seeing things like powerful battery-operated tools released all the time. Carrying an air compressor around seems a little redundant, but it’s not and you’ll immediately see why. Here is a quick list of the top reasons the best pancake compressor is a good thing before you run off to buy a collection of power tools:
You Don’t Need To Use Big Bulky Tools : If you use a battery-powered tool you’ll need to contend with the battery all the time, which will definitely have an impact on the way you work. You’ll find it harder to fit into tight spaces and the battery will increase the weight of your chosen tool. Even if you’re using a basic electric tool with a cord it will still need a motor, but you don’t need to worry about that once you have the best pancake compressor. It will have a motor on the top and all your individual tools will have no need for one.
You Will Save Lots Of Money Upfront : Think about the difference between each kind of tool we’ve talked about so far. A pneumatic tool won’t need to have a motor or battery, so it’s going to work out cheaper. When all other things are equal an air-powered tool will always be less expensive. Obviously you’ll need to buy the pancake compressor to use with the tools, but they’re well worth the money if you have more than a couple of air tools. All the extra cash you’ll spend on a collection of non-pneumatic tools will cost much more than the best pancake compressor.
You Won’t Have To Worry About Maintenance : Anyone with more than a couple of power tools will notice one of them always seems to be playing up. It’s a nuisance when you have to use them on a regular basis because you won’t be able to do your job. When they’re not broken you’ll need to ensure they stay that way. If you only have to worry about one pancake compressor it will help out tremendously. Remember, we’ve already said the compressor will hold the motor. It’s the main thing that will fail first on a power tool, so maintenance will be less of an issue.
You Will Have Access To A Lot More Power : In some ways new technology is catching up in the power tool world. Manufacturers are even claiming battery-powered tools can compete with gas-powered ones. It might be true in some cases, but they’ll always have their limits due to how they’re powered. Pneumatic tools have the advantage over cordless tools. It does depend on which type of tool you’re using and how fast you are working. When we discuss the best pancake compressor features to look out for we’ll go more in-depth into their power and why it’s the best.
You Won’t Always Need To Use Electricity : Obviously this doesn’t apply if you’re using a battery-powered tool, but it definitely applies if you are using an electric one. Without access to an outlet you won’t be able to do anything, which isn’t the case when you’re using a pancake compressor. You will have to plug in your compressor to fill it with air, but it has the ability to hold it inside the tank so you can move it around. Just be aware, it’s going to dwindle down like a battery and you’ll need a tank that doesn’t let all the compressed air escape.
A Selection Of The Tools You Can Use:
- Nail Gun
- Air Hammer
- Angle Grinder
- Speed Saw
- Impact Wrench
Please Note: These are only a few types of the pneumatic tools you can use to give you an idea of what is available.
Nail Gun : Nail guns are the number one tool people will need the best pancake compressor for because they’re so effective at their job. You get to knock long nails or staples into all types of wood in an instant. There are also a variety of different nail guns available. The type you’ll use will depend on the kind of project you’re working on, which could range from large to small. Most nail guns will let you choose how far you want nails to go in, but you could also set the depth of drive by adjusting your air compressor.
Drill : Most types of drill you use will take a while for the bits to make their way through the wood, but when you use a pneumatic drill you’ll have your hole in a second. This means there is much less chance of the drill bit overheating compared to when you’re using an electric model. The speed you can drive through the wood also gives you a more accurate hole, because there is less time to go off course. Just make sure everything is lined up correctly to begin with. Your drill will be able to tackle wood, metal, and various other materials you’ll likely use.
Air Hammer : The nail gun is the kind of tool you would use to replace a hammer knocking in nails, but the air hammer constantly pounds on something at high speed. The job you would use it for depends on the attachment and you have a variety of them to choose from. You’ll be able to carve metal and stone with ease, which anyone into crafting will love. When it comes to separating shock absorbers and ball joints, cutting through exhaust pipes, splitting bushing, and many other jobs the air hammer simply can’t be beaten.
Angle Grinder : Metal is the one material you would assume air power would find hard to tackle because it’s so tough. When you have an angle grinder you’ll be able to do more than drill simple holes through it. It’s a tool you must have if you’re going to do any metalwork. It will allow you to do basic things like trim off edges, or if you need to do more advanced work you can cut shapes into metal sheets. You will need the very best pancake compressor when using this tool because of the SCFM required, which we’ll touch on in a few minutes.
Speed Saw : There are a few different options available when you want to cut wood, but they’re not exactly cheap. If you want a really good table saw you’ll have to spend a big chunk of change. You don’t need to bother when you have an extremely portable pneumatic speed saw. Think of it like a normal saw minus the effort you’ll need to put in every day. Moving your arm back and forth is hard work even for the toughest of us. A speed saw will do everything for you, plus because it’s so fast your cuts will be a lot more precise.
Impact Wrench : The pneumatic impact wrench is a fantastic tool for a couple of different reasons. The first one is when you screw your nuts on, which can take a lot of time even if you use a superb manual wrench. This is actually nowhere near the most beneficial reason to use the tool. You’ll know it’s a hundred times tougher to get the nuts off if they’ve been on for any considerable length of time. Years worth of heat and moisture make a nut and bolt almost inseparable, yet with your air-powered impact wrench it can undo all that bonding within seconds.
Please Note: So far we’ve concentrated on DIYers and workmen, but the best pancake compressor can be used for a multitude of different things around your home. You can keep your car tires inflated, blow up pool toys for the kids, or anything else where you’ll need air pressure.