Air Compressors

Single Stage vs. Two Stage Air Compressor: What’s the Difference?

Single Stage vs. Two Stage Air Compressor

Photo: DeWalt

An air compressor is one thing that every workshop needs to function well as it comes in handy for various applications such as powering power tools. However, you need to decide whether to go for a single stage or two stage models when buying one.

Both single and two stage air compressors can power almost any pneumatic tool, but they use a different mechanism. Here we look at the main differences between the two compressors to make it easier to decide which one works best for you.

Overall Findings

Single Stage Air Compressor

Two Stage Air Compressor

  • Compresses air once
  • Two same size pistons
  • Lightweight & compact
  • Ideal for individual tradesmen
  • Costs between $200 & $1,500
  • Compresses air twice
  • Includes one large & a small piston
  • Often quite bulky
  • Good for large construction crews
  • Costs between $500 & $5,000

Single Stage Air Compressor

  • Compresses air once
  • Two same size pistons
  • Lightweight & compact
  • Ideal for individual tradesmen
  • Costs between $200 & $1,500

Two Stage Air Compressor

  • Compresses air twice
  • Includes one large & a small piston
  • Often quite bulky
  • Good for large construction crews
  • Costs between $500 & $5,000

Single Stage vs. Two Stage Air Compressor

1. How it Works: Two Stage Compresses Air Twice

The main difference between the single stage and two stage air compressor is how they work. Here the single stage works by compressing air once while the two stage models compress it twice.

When using a single stage air compressor, the air is sucked and trapped in the cylinder. This trapped air is then compressed in a single stroke by a piston, with the compression rate for most models being between 120 and 150 PSI. After compression, the air is then moved to the storage tank.

On the other hand, with the two-stage models, the air is pulled into a cylinder just like the single stage models. However, once the piston compresses the air, it is sent to a smaller piston instead of the storage tank.

The small piston compresses the air again with a second stroke to take the pressure to between 175 and 200 PSI. From the small piston, the compressed air is cooled before being delivered to the storage tank.

2. Piston Size: Single Stage Models Feature Similar Size Pistons

When looking at single and two stage air compressors side by side, there is a distinctive difference in the cylinder size and appearance. This difference typically results from the size of pistons that the two machines use.

With the single stage models, the pistons are the same size, which means that both sides of the cylinder will look the same since the physical dimensions are similar.

However, with the two stage air compressors, you will have one large piston for low pressure and a smaller piston that delivers high pressure. Therefore, for this setup, one side of the cylinder is larger than the other.

3. Application: Two Stage Compressors Work Best for Heavy-Duty Jobs

Given the apparent difference in the working mechanism and hence the amount of pressure the two air compressor types can deliver, it should be clear they are ideal for different applications.

Generally, two stage air compressors deliver greater running efficiency and provide higher CFM than the single stage models. Hence, these compressors are ideal for heavy-duty applications where you need high amounts of compressed air for long periods.

The two stage air compressors are the go-to option for large construction crews and will be ideal for factory use and auto assembly or maintenance where a lot of lifting, screwing, greasing, and painting is required.

Single stage models are great for tasks that are not very demanding or more light-duty use. These air compressors work well for an individual craftsperson, but they can also work for a small crew. Typical jobs for single stage air compressors include sheathing, roofing, and framing.

4. Cost: Single Stage Air Compressors Cost Less

Like with any other equipment in a factory or workshop, how much you end up paying for your air compressor depends on much more than just whether it is single or two stage. That said, the two stage air compressors are typically more expensive than the single stage ones.

There are more parts involved in the two stage air compression, and they are also meant for heavy-duty usage, which should explain why you have to pay more for them. On average, their prices start at around $500 and go up to $5,000. However, some industrial-grade models can cost even upwards of $50,000.

With the single stage models, you can get a basic one for as little as $200 or even slightly less, and their prices hardly ever go beyond the $1,500 mark.

Conclusion

The choice between the single and two stage air compressor should be a more obvious one if you know exactly how and where you will be using the tool.

However, when you are unsure which one to buy, always go for the two stage air compressor. These types can do everything a single stage does, but the latter cannot do some of the things the higher capacity two-stage compressors can do.

With that in mind, the single stage air compressors are ideal for individual craftspersons who do relatively lightweight tasks which do not require a lot of compressed air. The two stage air compressors, on the other hand, are the best for heavy-duty and industrial use or applications.

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