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About Piston Air Compressors

Types of Piston (Reciprocating) Air Compressors

Single Stage
  • Air is compressed once and forced into the tank.
  • May have one or more cylinders.
  • Mainly for hobby use.
Two Stage
  • Air is compressed in the first stage in a larger diameter cylinder. It is then cooled in the intercooler and finally is compressed again in the second stage in a smaller diameter cylinder.
  • Best for commercial use or serious hobbyists.
  • An air compressor with one pump and motor mounted on a tank.
  • Simplex units are ideal for operations where continuous run-time isn't required.
  • They are also quieter and have a smaller form factor than duplex units.
  • An air compressor with two pumps and two motors mounted on one tank.
  • Duplex units are ideal for operations that may require short durations at higher CFM or more frequent run-time.
  • They are flexible, efficient, and can still be run with just one pump and motor if the other needs to be repaired.
  • A control panel alternates between units A and B.
  • Has a built-in backup.

Sizing Tips

  • Look at current compressor and identify size, how often it runs, and if expansion is possible
  • Keep in mind there are two types of air usage:
    • Inconsistent air usage: air tools that start and stop (impact wrench, DA sander, paint spray gun, sand blasting cabinet, etc.)
    • Consistent air usage: requires a consistent and steady air flow (paint agitator, factory equipment, regenerative dryers, air leaks, etc.)


  • Relatively low initial cost
  • Simple and low cost maintenance
  • Good for applications with inconsistent air needs

Additional Notes

  • Duty cycle: The pump should run 60% of the time
  • Pump RPM: slow running pumps are quieter, cooler, more efficient, and last longer
  • Intercooler: reduces temperature of compressed air between stages, making the second stage of compression more efficient

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