Single Stage Vs Two Stage Air Compressor: Which One Should I Use

You probably have heard a rattling hum in your local garage or manufacturing company. In case you are wondering, that is the sound of an air compressor in action.

Air compressors have been around for long and have numerous uses. The machines are popular since they use air which is safe, clean, convenient, and clean. They have become indispensable tools in most applications they serve. The air compressors come in different types and sizes.

Air compressors come in two types; the single and two stage. Most prospective buyers ask the difference between the two before making a purchase. Learn about the different compressors, how they operate, and when to use them. 

The article will cover the following topics

  1.  Understanding the single stage and two stage compressors
    How do the single stage and two-stage compressors operate?
    What are the differences between single stage and two stage compressors?
     Single stage vs. Two-stage air compressors uses
     Single stage vs. Two-stage air compressors buying guide

The major difference between a single and two-stage compressor is the number of times air gets compressed between the tool nozzle and inlet pipe.

How do Air Compressors work?

A single stage compressor or piston compressor

Here is how the piston compressor works. The cylinder sucks the air. The trapped air is compressed in a single stroke with a pressure of roughly 120 psi. The compressed air then moves to the storage tank.

The compressed air in the storage tank serves as an energy reserve for the tools that a single storage compressor is designed to accommodate.

The process in the two-stage compressor

It is also known as the dual storage and it bears some resemblance to the single stage compressor process. However, the variation is that the compressed air does not go to the storage tank. It goes to a smaller piston for the second stroke at 175 psi. The double-pressured air cools and is delivered to the storage tank and serves as an energy reserve for high-powered equipment.

Other Differences between the Air Compressors

What are some of the differences between the single stage and two stage piston air compressors?

1. Number of Cylinders

Most people confuse the number of cylinders for the different process in single and two-stage compressors. However, both air compressors use two cylinders as it is easier to balance the air. The cylinder size is the same in both but the second cylinder in the two-compressor air compressor is shorter than the first. Also, they are linked to by a cooling tube that lowers the temperature before the second of compression begins.

2. The pump

As stated earlier, the single stage piston has a single tank while the two-stage piston has two tanks. However, there is a difference in the shape of the cylinders and their locations. 

In a single stage air compressor, the pistons have the same physical dimensions. In the two-stage pump, the large piston has high pressure, and the other has a high-pressure piston. One of the cylinders is visibly larger than the other.

3. Energy and CFM requirements

The single-stage piston requires less energy to run unlike the two-stage models. The two-stage models are ideal for large applications that require high energy requirements.

Single Stage Vs.Dual Stage Air Compressors Uses

Dual stage air compressors have higher air power making them ideal for continuous uses large-scale operations. They are also quite expensive making them ideal for workshops and factories compared to private uses.

The single stage compressor has the power to run handheld pneumatic tools not exceeding 100 psi. It is used at auto shops and where minimal power is needed to run machinery.

Air Compressor Buying Guide

Before buying an air compressor, you need to ask some questions. The compressor, whether single or double compression, should meet the needs of the task at hand. Buying a small compressor for a task that requires high power consumption is a waste of time and valuable resources.

Please note that the price of a compressor is not based on the front purchase of the unit. It should cover the overall cost of the time for an extended period or the lifetime of the machine.

Here a few factors you should consider:

•The maximum operating pressure needed

How much operating pressure do you need? If you are operating machines that require an operating pressure of 200 psi, the two-stage compressor comes in handy. If you are operating tools that use than 100 psi pressure, invest in a single stage compressor.

•Maximum CFM usage

How do you calculate the CFM? Add up all the air tools that will be used at the same time. Add 30 percent to the determined CFM number. It helps give a reasonable buffer against the unknown compressor usage. Avoid inflating the number since you might end up buying an overly large compressor.

•Portable or stationary air compressor

Do you want to move the unit around your facility or want a stationary unit? Most of the two-stage air compressors are heavy and bulky. Higher pressures and volumes require the units to be heavier and bigger based on the horsepower requirements, electrical components, and pumping systems among other factors.

Single unit air compressors are less bulky and can be moved around the facility and work site regularly.

•What drive system do you need

Do you prefer the electric motor or gasoline engine? It is important to know the environment that the compressor will be used to operate. If there is a constant electrical power source, it is advisable to use an electric motor system. The electric motor systems are significantly cheaper to purchase and require little maintenance.

The gasoline-power driven compressors are portable and offer work area flexibility.

•Receiver tank size needed

The compressor tank is measured in gallons. The use of the air compressor determines the overall usage of the tank. If you intend to use the machine in short quick concentrated bursts, go for the small tank.

If your unit sustains long periods of use, such as the impact wrench, investing in a larger tank is recommended.


Which air compressor is more effective? The two stage-air compressor delivers more CFM, runs cooler air, and is more effective compared to the single-stage air compressors. Single-stage compressors, however, are cheaper, weigh less, and use little power.

The right type of air compressor depends on the job at hand. If you are trimming, framing, or sheathing, the single stage models will do the work. The two-stage compressors require a lot of energy and are ideal for large construction crews.

Mary T. White

Hi everyone, I’m a trained AC service technician who uses several tools in my profession. I created this interactive platform to share experiences and vital information. Feel free to share your views and ask any question.

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