Buying a Reciprocating Air Compressor

Why is a reciprocating air compressor right for you?

At this point you may have decided that a reciprocating air compressor may be the best option for you based on the information you’ve learned on the 3 types of air compressors. Many people tend to gravitate towards the reciprocating air compressor because of price, intermittent use, and for smaller home projects. If you are still looking for something a little more industrial you’ll probably want to head back on over to the rotary screw compressor resource guide.

Most likely the reciprocating air compressor has become a target for you because of its main uses. If you’re not working an industrial job that needs constant and consistent air flow for heavy jobs, a reciprocating compressor would be ideal.  This would include:

  • Small to average sized workshops
  • Do It Yourself projects at home
  • Contract Work
  • Small to Medium Sized air tools for construction work

If this mold seems to fit the type of work you’ll be doing, you’ll want to read further to see the types of reciprocating air compressors and how they apply to you.


Reciprocating Air Compressor Types

There are two main types of reciprocating compressors for use by consumers. You will either need a single stage or two stage unit. Two stage units can also be called dual stage units. This will separate by amount and type of use. Reciprocating compressors also can be separated by being either electric or gas powered and either oil free or oil flooded.

Single Stage Compressors

Single stage air compressors have only one piston and cylinder to work from. Air is compressed in a singular stage from stagnant pressure into the working pressure that is needed. Compared to two stage compressors, single stage are more affordable and also not as complex in design. Pressure can get up to 150 psi and 20 CFM in capacity.

If you’re using your compressor for DIY projects at home or similar small commercial projects, it would be recommended to go with a single stage compressor to save both on cost and size.

Check out the single stage resource guide for more detailed information on single stage air compressors.

Two Stage Compressors

Dual stage or two stage units have double the pistons and cylinders as single stage. There is both a high pressure and a low pressure cylinder.  The low pressure cylinder starts pumping the first half of the pressure while the high pressure cylinder finishes it off by compressing it even further.

Two stage machines are more geared towards heavier commercial/industrial use. Their capacity can reach 50 CFM and can have higher pressure than single stage as well.  They are ideal for larger workshops.

Thinking that a two stage compressor is best for you? Head over to our two stage resource guide for a more in depth analysis.

Electric vs Gas Powered

The comparisons between these two are obvious. Electric will be powered by electricity and therefore will need access to a power grid at all times. With gas powered compressors however, you can obtain the use of an air compressor anywhere you see fit. These seem to be most used by on site workers that do not have access to electrical power. In one sense though, electric compressors are not as loud and do not emit exhaust.

Oil Free vs Oil Flooded Compressors

Oil flooded units are always cheaper and more commonly used than oil free. Oil free compressors are typically only used for such specific jobs such as spray painting or consistent oxygen flow. Unless you work in an automotive shop doing these types of things, I’d stick to an oil free compressor.

single stage reciprocating compressor

Choosing the right reciprocating compressor

As mentioned above, there are plenty of differences between all of the different kinds of reciprocating air compressors. What it comes down to is the type of job you are using it for and where you are doing the job.  The best thing to do would be to make a checklist and answer these questions:

  • Will I be using this compressor used only once in a while or a great deal?
  • Will I be using it for a large industrial job or smaller/medium workshop jobs?
  • What duties will I be performing? Simple tasks or tasks that are heavily involved with many types of tools?
  • Will I have access to a power grid on a regular basis or not?
  • How many tools and what types will be used with the compressor?

By answering these you should be able to get a rough outline on what the general duties will be that you’re performing and in turn narrow down the options for you.


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