by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • PCPs are becoming mainstream
  • The price has dropped
  • Disco
  • Economic hostage
  • DON’T BUY A CHEAP AIR COMPRESSOR!!!!!!
  • Inexpensive compressors you can trust
  • AirForce E-Pump
  • Value compressors
  • Stand-alone operation
  • Commercial compressors
  • Even higher?
  • Consider your probable use
  • Some simple thoughts about air compressors
  • Summary

Air compressors are a product that many of us want and some even need, but they aren’t airguns, so many people dislike having to buy one. Let’s face it — for many of us a high-pressure air compressor isn’t a necessity. But it is a huge convenience.

PCPs are becoming mainstream

Ten years ago, precharged pneumatic airguns (PCP) were considered special, and by many they were called the Dark Side. Too much was uncertain about them, there were too many fears and not enough reliable information.

Most shooters knew that a PCP wasn’t as sensitive to the hold as a spring gun was and they had the potential to be far more accurate than most springers, but they seemed too complex. What fill pressure is right? Did you want a gun with a regulator? How many shots do you get on a fill? What is meant by the power curve? Could a high pressure air tank hurt you if it’s stored in your house?

The price has dropped

Over the years there have been some significant price reductions in prercharged airguns. I am not including guns from Asia that sell with little or no support. They have always been cheap. I will consider any airgun that has responsive support.

Disco

The Benjamin Discovery was the first brand-name PCP that sold for a low price. When it came out in 2007 thousands of buyers bought their first PCP — and some of those folks were brand-new to airguns. A year later the Benjamin Marauder came along and really opened the market, because it offered high-end features for a reasonable price.

But the price-point PCP (PPP) made all the difference. Suddenly it was no longer a question of if or even when you would get your first PCP, but which one would it be. Sure, there are a few holdouts who won’t go with precharged airguns; there always will be. But the age of the precharged airgun has finally begun. And now the question on everyones’ mind is — what about the air? Do I get a hand pump, a scuba tank, a carbon fiber tank or possibly even a high-pressure air compressor? Today I want to talk about air compressors, because the past three years have seen an explosion of them!

Economic hostage

Some of you may remember the days before laser and ink jet printers — how the quick printers held us hostage. I’m only going back to around 1980 for this. Quick printers were small print shops that did a lot of personal and small business printing. And their process took time and put all of the burden of responsibility on the customer. Wedding invitations, for example, required filling out a work order, returning to proof an example and giving the go-ahead to start printing. Then you waited. If a mistake was made, it was usually the customer’s problem and involved more money and time to correct.

We live in the age of WYSIWYG — what you see is what you get. Office printers and software have replaced 95 percent of what a quick printer used to do. Find a quick printer today. Oh, they still exist, but they have had to change their method of operation dramatically because the customer has a laser printer sitting on his desk that can do most of what they can do.

Here’s another one — remember the photographic stores that developed film? They took days to do their work and you got what you got. Sometimes, as once happened to me when a print deadline came and passed, they lost or destroyed your film that had irreplaceable pictures. But hey — they gave you a free roll of film to replace the one they destroyed!

Then digital cameras came out and within a decade the world of film was in serious jeopardy. Ten more years and it had all but vanished, along with those stores and kiosks. Today you have a cell phone with a built-in digital camera and video camera that are both superior to what could be purchased a decade ago.

The high-pressure air compressor is doing the same thing to the need for high-pressure air. I can remember publishing a release that shooters could copy and take to their dive shop to release the shopkeeper from the liability of supplying them with air, even though their didn’t have a diver’s certificate. Here is a series of articles I wrote in 2009 that addresses this very issue. That was written just 10 years ago, and yet those articles read like ancient history today.

So — you have decided to join the party — which air compressor is right for you? The answer depends on several things. And price is an important one.

DON’T BUY A CHEAP AIR COMPRESSOR!!!!!!

… unless you are very handy and don’t mind dealing with issues as they arise. Ebay is loaded with cheap high-pressure air compressors. They all come from the Orient — mostly from China — and some of them are a very good value!

HUH?

BUT — and this is a big but — most of these cheap compressors have one or more design issues that need to be corrected before they will work reliably. Maybe the manufacturer used an aluminum part where steel was needed. Maybe they didn’t cut the o-ring grooves deep enough. And, for most of these cheap compressors, maybe the o-rings and seals that were used are the correct size but made from the wrong materials. Maybe the durometer rating of the o-rings isn’t high enough for the task they have to do (almost a guarantee) or maybe the material isn’t suited to the extreme heat the seal will endure. If you are a clever guy you can fix these things, because they are so obvious to you. But if you are a guy who wants to push a button and get results from the start, a cheap air compressor isn’t the way you want to go.

I expect to read some comments refuting what I just said, and that’s fine. You don’t have to agree with me. The guys who need to know what’s what have gotten it from what I just said.

Inexpensive compressors you can trust

The bottom line for inexpensive high-pressure air compressors you can trust to work as expected is somewhere around $650-700 at this time. I will use the Air Venturi Nomad II as my example because I have tested it for you and I know how it works. And I will be honest, the Nomad II isn’t the only small high-pressure compressor at this price point. There are a few and they all pretty much do the same things. They are for filling airguns — not air tanks. The Nomad II is recommended for use in intervals of 15 minutes or less. It takes about half that time to fill an airgun unless it’s a biggie like the Hatsan Hercules, but you won’t be filling any of them from empty most of the time.

Two really nice things about these compressors is first, they shut themselves off when they reach a pressure that’s been pre-set and second, they operate on both house current and electricity from a car battery. That means you can take them into the field where you are shooting.

AirForce E-Pump

For a little more money ($855 at the time this is published), you can buy the E-Pump that’s made by AirForce Airguns. This compressor has all the features of the lower-priced units, plus it will fill a large carbon fiber tank from empty. That’s possible because this compressor operates at a speed that is slow enough that heat never has a chance to build up. Heat is the number one enemy of the seals in compressors, and by keeping the heat low, AirForce has managed to give us a compressor that does it all — if slowly. It will fill an airgun in the same amount of time as compressors of the Nomad’s class, but you can also let it run for 12 hours and take an 88 cubic-foot carbon fiber tank from empty to 4,500 psi. And it’s safe to do. Of course filling one from 2,000 to 4,500 takes a lot less time.

Value compressors

The next step up is a broad category that I call the value compressor. These start at just over $1,000 and run up to $1,700. They are all water-cooled and will fill a large carbon fiber tank from empty in less than 2 hours, or top one off in well under an hour. They have all the features of the less expensive compressors, plus they add things like automatic bleeding during operation. The one offsetting thing about compressors in this class is their weight. These are beefy machines that are run by powerful electric motors. The Air Venturi compressor is a good example of this kind.

If you can afford one, a value compressor is the way to go. They are reliable, fast and efficient. They are made to be maintained so that isn’t a problem when the time comes. They are ideal for both individuals and clubs/teams.

Stand-alone operation

To this point the compressors are all set-and-forget. That means you can run them and just listen for them to stop — you don’t have to stand next to them and watch them operate. Many, like the E-Pump are so quiet that you can run them in a house or office and not be distracted by the noise.

There are some compressors that cost more more than I have set as the limit for the value compressors. They really belong to the value class if they just weren’t so expensive. They have all the same features and nothing more. They cost several hundred dollars more than the arbitrary ceiling I put on the class, and I put it at that level because the compressors within the group are all superlative.

Commercial compressors

There are, however, compressors costing more that are made for commercial work. What I’m calling commercial compressors are the units costing typically $2,500-4,000, with most clustered around $3,250. They can have powerful electric motors that are often 220 volt, or they may have a gasoline engine. They can top off a carbon fiber tank in mere minutes. They are made for commercial use or for clubs and professionals. One unique thing about these compressors is they are not set-and-forget. They have to be attended when they operate.

One example of such a compressor is the Nardi USA Atlantic G compressor that comes with a gas engine. A similar compressor is available with a 220V electric motor.

Even higher?

Yes, there are air compressors that cost more money and do even more. They are made for manufacturing shops and places that use large amounts of high-pressure compressed air. AirForce Airguns has one that’s the size of a washing machine and is extremely quiet. It will fill an 88 cubic-foot tank from empty in less than 10 minutes. If money were no object and quiet operation essential, you could spend the $10,000 to 20,000 to get one of these. And, you had better get a maintenance contract at the same time, because this unit is not one you’re going to fix yourself.

Consider your probable use

I own two value compressors at present, though I only need one. I do plan on buying an AirForce E-Pump soon, to both test for you and to have as a backup. I would do that because of its quiet operation, its ability to fill a large carbon fiber tank and the fact that it runs on both house current and batteries.

If you have just gotten into PCPs, consider buying a carbon fiber air tank before you get a compressor. That’s the thing you will use the most. I will tell you right now that I only use my value compressor (one from Air Venturi) about once a month or less to fill my two large CF tanks. I don’t go through as much compressed air as do many shooters — especially field target shooters and hunters.

Some simple thoughts about air compressors

 

1. If you shoot a big bore airgun, get a compressor. A hand pump will wear you out!

2. All air compressors require maintenance. Plan on it and do it when the time comes.

3. A cheap Chinese compressor is only cheap when you buy it. You will pay for it during operation.

4. If you go to the field and want to take a compressor, consider one that runs on 12-volt power.

5. Owning a PCP doesn’t mean you need a compressor. It might be best to start with a hand pump, then graduate to a carbon fiber tank and finally a compressor. I went for 17-18 years before I bought my first compressor.

6. When you buy your first PCP, think about how you will fill it. Make a plan at that time. That’s when things like a 2000 psi fill limit and a regulator will make the most sense.

Summary

We are in the golden age of precharged airguns and the field of airgun air compressors has matured a lot in the past 5-6 years. That doesn’t mean the evolution is over. You can make a good purchase right now and be assured that you won’t be eclipsed by some overnight phenomenon, but expect to see some improvements over the next few years. However, the price is pretty close to the lowest point. The prices may fall a little more, but we are already close to the bottom.