pancake vs hot dog compressor

Pancake vs Hot Dog Compressor (Which is Better, Choosing)

In my woodworking shop, I have a few different styles of air compressors and (honestly) have never given much thought to what compressor is best suited for which type of job. The more portable compressors, like my hot dog and pancake units, seem to be my go-to’s over the past few years, even though I have a larger single stage compressor that is built for sitting in my woodworking shop. 

Which is better, a hot dog compressor or a pancake compressor? Both hot dog and pancake compressors have similar uses, depending on the size of their tanks. A hot dog compressor will typically have a bit more volume than a pancake compressor and last longer without refilling. Both are oil-free and quite loud when the compressor is running. 

So, as you can see, both styles of compressors are quite similar (with only slight differences) regarding how they work in terms of power tools. When choosing one to purchase, you should consider the CFM which stands for cubic feet per minute and PSI which stands for pounds per square inch.

CFM and PSI dictate what air tools you will be able to run successfully with the specific sized unit you select. As much as I like each one of these compressors, I am going to go through each one and try to point out any differences or things you need to look for so you get the one that will work best for your needs. 

If you’re ready to learn more about hot dog versus pancake compressors, then let’s get started!

What is a Pancake Air Compressor Used For?

I am going to go off on a bit of a tangent here first, because I have a 4-gallon Craftsman pancake compressor that I have owned for 20 years and still use it to this day. I don’t even remember where I purchased it, that’s just how long I have had it. 

I have taken the 4-gallon compressor on framing jobs and have framed a few basements with it. If you have read any other reviews on what compressors should be used for (for example, framing and running other larger air tools), you are probably wondering, ‘what the heck, how did he do it?’ The thing is that years ago, I never really thought about it I just used my compressors…period!

So, I took my 4-gallon on these jobs because it has wheels so is easy to move around and it has a large enough tank to drive 3 ½” nails into framing lumber. What I didn’t realize until a few years later was that the darn thing would run very frequently when on the job, way more often than a larger single stage ever would. 

The lesson here is that a pancake compressor has very high pressure, which is why I was able to frame walls with it and it also ran far too often because the tank itself has low volume and needed to refill more than I would have liked. 

For your own use, if you have jobs that need higher pressure, but you don’t have a lot of work to do, then maybe a pancake compressor is the right choice for you. Examples of some uses include filling an empty vehicle tire or using an air nailer to put a project together, maybe installing a pre-hung interior door. 

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a pancake compressor for installing baseboards, because it would work just fine for that too.  If you need shorter more powerful bursts of air, then a pancake unit is a good option for you. 

How Do Pancake Compressors Work?

The basics of any compressor is the same. The compressors motor draws in air which gets compressed in the tank. This creates pressure which is released when an air tool is used. That’s about as high level as you can get and is really all you need to know. It’s just that simple!

Depending on the air tool and project at hand, you can adjust the pressure released on the compressor.

This might take some research on your part or practice on scrap pieces of wood to see what the set pressure will do. For example, if you are putting together a picture frame, you don’t need to have the pressure set for framing walls. You will probably ruin the picture frame. 

Can a Pancake Compressor Inflate Tires?

I saw this question online and thought it was probably a frequently asked question and since I have actual experience, I can tell you that yes, a pancake compressor can inflate tires on a vehicle. 

I used my 4-gallon tank and have inflated my truck tires as well as my work van tires. Funny story, my work van sat on my driveway a few winters ago for a couple months and the front passenger tire deflated almost down to the rim without me noticing. No, I wasn’t using it during this time.

Anyway, the tire was a bit frozen in ice. I considered trying to move the van, but the tire was too flat, so I decided to just blow it up and then move it. It worked just fine, the tire filled and popped out of the ice using my pancake compressor. True story!

After saying this, a 1-gallon might not have enough pressure to blow up a vehicle’s tires, especially if it is on the vehicle. However, as you can see from my story, a 4-gallon does indeed blow up tires. 

What is the Best Pancake Air Compressor?

After the stories I just shared with you, I know you are thinking I would recommend a Craftsman and I probably would however, there are other better choices out there. 

In my mind, you have a few choices, Dewalt, Porter Cable, Campbell Hausfeld, and yes, Craftsman. If you have the money, go with the Campbell Hausfeld, which I will link to here from Amazon. 

If you are like most people and on a tight budget, any one of the other choices will do just fine for you. Since I have been talking so much about my Craftsman, I will link to one here from Amazon as well that I really like. 

Now let’s discuss hot dog compressors. 

What is a Hot Dog Compressor Used For?

Hot dog compressors typically have larger tanks than pancake compressors, so they have good longevity before having to start up and refill with air (compared to pancake styles). This makes these compressors good for projects like woodworking or installing baseboards. Think big or long duration projects that don’t need more than 2 ½” brad nails. 

If you decide one of these styles is right for you, watch out for ones that have wheels, if possible, as that is one of the complaints I have heard from others. They are somewhat heavy and can be difficult or awkward to lug around with you all the time. Unless, of course, if you spend the money on an extra long air hose so you don’t have to move the unit around. 

How Do Hot Dog Compressors Work?

On a high note, just like the pancake compressors, a hot dog compressor basically draws in air and compresses it, which provides pressure. This pressure is the force the compressor needs to drive nails into wood and any other project you have on the go. Hot dog compressors might not provide as much pressure as some pancake styles however, they will work for most projects the home handyman has on the go. 

What is the Best Hot Dog Air Compressor?

For hot dog styles, watch out for brands like Craftsman (yes, I am partial to this brand) and other big players in the air tool industry like Dewalt, Makita and Campbell Hausfeld. As a matter of fact, I just popped logged onto Amazon and found a nice unit from Makita that I would recommend and would purchase if (and when) I need a new one. 

Check out this beauty of a compressor made by Makita, and it has wheels, so a big bonus there! I believe in this brand and know it would provide anyone with an excellent tool for the job. In my opinion, it’s the best bang for your buck!

What is the Best Air Compressor for Home Garage?

It really depends on what you plan on using it for. If you are working on a vehicle running impact wrenches, you would want a bigger unit and if you are making smaller woodworking projects you find on Pinterest, you would want a hot dog or pancake compressor. Most importantly, look at what SFM and PSI you think you will be needing. 

Hot dog compressors are oil-free, beltless, loud and have bigger tanks than pancake compressors. Pancake versions are also oil-free, beltless and quite noisy, just not as large. 

Conclusion

Just remember that when selecting a compressor, you should know what you plan on using it for in the first place. Once you know that, you can then research the CFM and PSI amounts of the air tools you will need and then make your purchase. It doesn’t hurt to purchase a compressor a bit larger than what you think you need as, over time, you will probably expand the air tools in your collection and your projects will most likely get bigger and more complex. 

Good luck and be safe!

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Hey, this is Brian and Gene Luoma. Since the two of us have pretty much been self-employed our entire lives, we have a lot of experience designing and creating all sorts of DIY projects for businesses and homes—projects that have helped us make money or save money through the years!

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