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What is an Air Compressor Pump? Types, & How They Work

Published Categorized as Air Compressor Pump 2 Comments on What is an Air Compressor Pump? Types, & How They Work

Air compressor pumps in many ways, are the heart of an air compressor. This critical component is essential in helping an air compressor do its job in creating, storing, and providing pressurized air to your pneumatic tools and devices.

This article will provide you with all the relevant information on air compressor pumps and some existing reader pump questions on this site.

Table of Contents

What is an Air Compressor Pump?

Air compressor pumps are key components of the system which suck in atmospheric air and compress it into smaller volumes with greater pressure. The air is then stored in a storage tank and released so that the kinetic energy of the pressurized air can be used to power your pneumatic tools and devices. While all parts of a compressor work together, the pump is arguably the most important component.

There are many brands of compressors on the market today and you may not realize that many of them have the same air compressor pumps. Despite the fact that the air compressor is a different color, a different brand, or a different appearance, the air compressor pump, the part that drives the air into the air compressor tank, maybe similar to a range of air compressors.

How Do Air Compressor Pumps Work?

When the motor of an air compressor turns on, a reciprocating piston or rotary pump-action occurs and creates a vacuum inside the machine. This allows the inlet valve to suck in air from the atmosphere into the compression chamber.

When the reciprocating piston comes up, it compresses the air and seals the inlet valve closed. And when it goes down, the pressure engages the discharge valve and the pressurized air enters the storage tank. A similar process occurs with the rotary pump, where the air is sucked in, and as the blades rotate the area decreases and so the pressure of the air increases and then engages the discharge valve and heads to the storage tank.

Most air compressors have preset limits for pressure. When the compressor is powered on, it will work until it reaches a certain pressure (cut-out pressure), and then as you use this air, the pressure will bleed from the tank and eventually trigger the motor to reengage (cut-in pressure) to continue the compression process.

Types of Air Compressor Pumps

Air compressors tend to be classified on various factors which include the type of operation, how many compression stages they have, and their pump power. To keep it brief, air compressors are categorized into the two following major types:

  • Reciprocating Air Compressor Pumps
  • Rotary Air Compressor Pumps
  • Multi-Stage Air Compressor Pumps

Reciprocating Pumps

These types of pumps are typically piston-type pumps that operate in a forward-to-backward motion. They are very common pumps that are used across the whole pump industry, for example, bicycle pumps.

Rotary Pumps

These types of pumps operate in a rotary motion where the air is compressed and transferred from one side to another. Another common name for them is centrifugal pumps. This form of pump can also be found being used in clothes dryers.

We have a number of pages on this site further explaining the different types of compressors and how their pumps/compression processes work, which I’ll provide further down the page in our useful reading section!

Multi-Stage Compressor Pumps

Compressor pumps are also classified based on the number of stages of compression. For example, we have single-stage compressors where the compression takes place inside a single cylinder or chamber. On the other hand, we have dual-stage and multi-stage compressors where the compression process takes place at two or more places inside the compressor’s pump.

Diagnosing & Fixing a Faulty Air Compressor Pump

What can happen if your air compressor pump goes bad? This really depends on how much you rely on the compressor. Like all pieces of equipment, compressors and their components have expected lifespans. They’re subject to malfunctions, wear and tear, and other damages. Your compressor may well work for years on end without any issues, but your pump may go bad which means your compressor is useless.

If you use your compressor for essential purposes, a broken or faulty pump will result in unplanned downtime and annoying costs. But, how will you know if your air compressor pump is faulty? Typically there will be some signs that you should look out for. These include:

  • It’s possible that your pressure gauge remains still when the compressor is turned on. This indicates that the compressor pump could be broken and is not allowing the tank to build pressure
  • The compressor will begin to make excessive noise if parts of the pump become loose or damaged
  • You will start experiencing slow operation and poor performance if the pump is failing but still functioning at a reduced capacity

Air Compressor Pump Buying Guide

The problem is, nowhere is there, at least that I can find, a chart or guide that will tell compressor owners what air compressor pumps work with which air compressor brands or models. Or could work with little or no modification.

For example, the pump in the picture is said to fit several models of similar-sized air compressors including Porter Cable, Sanborn, Black Max, Coleman, Devilbiss, and Kobalt.

What is an Air Compressor Pump?
B5900 pump

When looking for a compressor pump, you need to consider a number of important factors:

  • Consider the power rating of the compressor which is rated in horsepower (HP). The horsepower rating of a pump can range from as small as 0.5 HP up to 400 HP, the most common however is between 1-40 HP
  • Does the pump come with warranty? It’s always a good idea to buy one that has a good life expectancy along with a 1 or 2 year warranty just incase
  • Ensure the price of the product isn’t burning your pockets. Though sometimes, the more money you invest the better the quality of the pump
  • The pressure rating of the compressor pump and what you wish to be maintained
  • The rate and volume by which a machine can offer compressor is measured in CFM (cubic feet per minute). CFM represents the maximum quantity of air that the compressor can provide at a specific pressure level
  • The type of compressor and whether it is rotary or reciprocating, and single-stage, dual-stage or multi-stage
  • Who manufactured the pump and are they renowned manufacturer for high-quality products

Where to Buy Air Compressor Pumps

Visiting your local compressor store is always a great option, or contacting your compressor manufacturer directly to get their advice. Another great option is online, Amazon has a number of air compressor pumps readily available for purchase. If you know the exact one you need, conducting an Amazon or Google search may just land you exactly what you’re looking for! Here are a few examples I’ve picked out from Amazon.

Rebuilding and Restoring an Old Air Compressor Pump Video Guide

I’m delighted to add the following video, made by a clearly skilled craftsperson, about the rebuilding of a compressor pump. Well worth watching, though if you are considering undertaking a project such as this, I would hope that appropriate PPE is used – gloves and a breathing mask.

Air Compressor Pump Pictures

Air Compressor Pump - Reciprocating
2 Stage Air Compressor Pump
Speedaire 3Z180 Air Compressor Pump
Unknown compressor pump zain
Old Speedaire Air Compressor Pump
Old Speedaire air compressor pump
Speedaire 3z170 Compressor Pump
Speedaire 3z170 Compressor Pump
Champion 3z180c Air Compressor Pump
New Champion R30D Air Compressor Pump
New Champion R30D Air Compressor Pump
44633 Devilbiss Air Compressor Pump
44633 Devilbiss Air Compressor Pump

Useful Reading

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can I put a bigger pump on my air compressor?

Without upgrading your motor it is not advised to put a bigger pump on your air compressor. Your existing motor is likely to burn out trying to provide power to the bigger pump. So, you would need to upgrade both. But then the combined costs of doing this and not being guaranteed success, you’re probably better off buying a new bigger, and more powerful compressor.

Are compressors pumps?

Compressors are not strictly classified as pumps because they have a few differences which separate them. Instead, pumps are one of a compressor’s most important components. A pump transfers a liquid or gas from one place to another place whereas a compressor pressurizes air and then pumps it elsewhere.

How is pump different from compressor?

A pump by nature is a machine that moves a fluid, whether that be liquid or gas, from one place to another. A compressor is a machine designed to squeeze air into a smaller volume to pressurize it and then pump it elsewhere, typically to a storage tank to be used to power pneumatic devices.

Reader Questions & Existing Pages

Existing questions about Air Compressor Pumps:

If you have knowledge about certain air compressor pumps that you would like to share, this is the place. Who makes the air compressor pump would be great information to share. What model compressor is that pump on now, and what other compressor models and brands would it fit? This is information that will be golden for folks trying to fix an air compressor by replacing the air compressor pump.

If you have any questions about air compressor pumps, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

By Bill Wade

About Air Compressors has been helping folks with their Air Compressor Problems since 2002 online. We're a community of DIY and Compressed Air professionals who are keen to support everyone across the globe with their air compressor issues and troubleshooting. Whether you're trying to identify an old air compressor, or troubleshoot an error code on a sophisticated new industrial air compressor - the community at About-Air-Compressors.com is here to help you

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