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Air Guns Big or little? — The air compressor game

Big or little? — The air compressor game

compressors
The Air Venturi Krypton is a large compressor. The Nomad III is a small one.

This report covers:

  • Compressor price
  • Scuba tank?
  • Big bores
  • Big compressors
  • Bulletproof!
  • Downside of the big guys
  • Small compressors
  • Downside of the small guys
  • Summary

Let’s talk about air compressors today — specifically the new wave of compressors that retail for under two thousand dollars. I will discuss prices in this report but perhaps not in the way you imagine. In fact, price is a great place to begin.

Compressor price

I remember back to around the year 2000, or perhaps just a little after. Back then if you wanted an air compressor for an airgun you expected to pay over $3,000 and what you got for that was a loud, heavy beast that had to be watched every second it ran. I remember seeing the first compressor Eric Henderson got. He brought it to his big bore shoot and I used it to top off an 80 cubic foot aluminum scuba tank. Wow! That’s a mouthful. Let’s break it down.

Scuba tank?

Back in the day scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) tanks were how we rolled. It was only 20-25 years ago, but to a newer airgunner it’s a “Whaaaat??” It’s like the shoebox-sized cellular phones that existed in the 1980s or the 10 megabyte hard drives from the mid-80s that were as large as desktop computers.

In those days most scuba tanks filled to 3,000 psi. Some of the rich kids had 120 cubic foot steel tanks that held 3,300 psi. The poor kids had 2,200 psi tanks, so they detuned their rifles to get more shots from lower-pressure fills. They said things like, “A squirrel hit by a .22-caliber pellet traveling 500 f.p.s. is just as dead as one hit by a pellet going 800 f.p.s.”

Then carbon fiber tanks arrived on the airgun market and, while they were frighteningly expensive compared to scuba tanks, they also held a lot more air. For a brief period (8-10 years?) airgunners were blessed to have all the air they needed, but then somebody got the idea that putting higher pressure in the reservoir meant a lot more shots or higher velocity or both. Most companies overlooked the valves in their guns and just focused on air pressure as the one solution for velocity and power.

Big bores

At the same time big bore airguns were becoming the rage. Where 30-50 shots on a smallbore fill was considered good, three powerful shots on a big bore were considered the max. Those big guys really use the air! Which brings us to our main topic — compressors.

Big compressors

When the Omega Supercharger came on the market, I could scarcely believe it. It wasn’t $3,000. It wasn’t even $2,000. It was $1,800, and, with my writer’s discount, it arrived at my house for a little over $1,000. My wife, Edith, whipped out the checkbook so fast when she heard the price that she broke the sound barrier!

Omega Supercharger air compressor
Omega Supercharger air compressor.

I used that compressor for many years, until the large Air Venturi compressor came out. It’s called the Krypton today but mine had no name. That’s the big guy pictured up top on the left.

Stock up on Air Gun Ammo

Bulletproof!

Guys, unless you lived through the lean years when airgunners had to plead with dive shops and paintball shops to fill our carbon fiber tanks you can’t fully appreciate what this new wave of reliable air compressors has done for our hobby. Oh, I know that some of you are dedicated spring gun fans and ain’t nothin’ gonna change your minds. But there is a growing contingent of guys and gals using precharged pneumatics today and for them these affordable compressors are a Godsend!

These compressors fill fast. They are reliable. They are set-and-forget, as long as you use reason. In other words, don’t go to the grocery store while the compressor is running. But you can be in another room doing something else. As long as you can hear the compressor things will be good.

You can set the fill pressure and most of them will turn off the compressor when that pressure is reached. If they are water-cooled the water pump remains on until you turn it off, and sticking your hand in the cooling air stream is a good test, though I almost always leave the pump running for a minimum of 15 minutes.

These big guys dry the air before it goes into your tank. That was a modification that had to be added only a few years ago; now it’s standard.

You know my problem with my big compressor? I don’t use it that much! That’s right. I have to look for reasons to fire it up, just to keep the seals fresh.

Downside of the big guys

Sure there is a downside. The big compressors are still expensive, despite what I said earlier. They are also very heavy. And, if all you want is to fill an airgun, they are quite a bit of overkill, unless that airgun has a super-large reservoir. Sorta like drinking from a firehose.

The other downside is less obvious but just as real. If you buy a large air compressor you are going to also buy one or more carbon fiber air tanks. I don’t know if you have looked at what they cost recently, but it’s at least as much as eight sheets of half-inch plywood. For most of us buying a big air compressor means extended talks with the Chancellor of the ExChequer.

For me the big compressor is the way to go. My Air Venturi was used (by Pyramyd AIR, in-house) when I got it and I have used it for almost a decade. There has been a little maintenance over the years, but darned little for all the benefits derived.

Small compressors

I show a Nomad III compressor above but there are a host of small compressors on the market. In fact I just noticed the Air Venturi Rovair 4500! Pyramyd AIR says it fills guns just as fast as the Nomad III, and we know that one is 25 percent faster than the Nomad II. I’m a-thinkin’ I gotta try that one!

Rovair-4500
Rovair 4500.

The prices are one of the big features of these smaller compressors. Some like the Rovair,are under $500. And, to be completely honest, there are other compressors from China that are sold on eBay for prices even lower than what these compressors cost, but I have never tested one, so I have zero experience with them. Many of the compressors on the Pyramyd AIR website are also made in China. 

Small compressors are for single gun use. In the beginning, which wasn’t that long ago, these guys had many of the features of the large compressors, but as time passes they have evolved into units specifically designed for the purpose of filling one airgun at a time.

Just like the large compressor these are set and forget, but I would stay closer to them than to a big guy. That’s not so had because their fill times for single airguns are usually quicker than when you’re filling a large carbon fiber tank. And these small compressors are even more maintenance-free than the large ones. That’s because most of them (if not all, by now) are cooled by fans alone — not water. That makes them lighter, more portable, but also not as capable of running long times.

On the plus side these guys can also be powered by 12-volt car batteries and they come with the cables to make the connections. Just be sure to run the car’s engine when you do this to keep from discharging the battery.

Downside of the small guys

The smaller compressors shouldn’t be run for a long time. Fill an airgun and then shoot it while the compressor cools. Don’t think of these as club compressors where the guns can stand in line for a fill. For that you need a big one.

Summary

Today’s air compressors for airguns are quite advanced from where things were just a few years ago. If you’re new to the hobby the prices may seem high but believe me when I tell you that the guys who went before you paid for this advancement.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

21 thoughts on “Big or little? — The air compressor game”

  1. Everyone,

    Yes, WordPress did it again. It rescheduled this post for 12 pm instead of am. It even erased the scheduling when I tried to schedule it the first time.

    BB

  2. Think about it. Unless you have a specific reason for needing a quick charge from a bottle, you no longer need an air storage bottle if you can take your compressor with you and run it off your car as well.
    Also, you can charge a bottle in short intervals if you don’t need constant refilling.
    My decision was easy. I had no need for a big compressor to fill big bottles. Just one gun, once in a while. My FX Independance and multi-pumps have taken over now.

  3. For some these days, the decision is easy. If they are going to the “Darkside”, they buy a small compressor. Being an old geezer, I did not have that choice when I started shooting PCP. I hand pumped for a long time, but all I had to worry about was an old Talon SS that filled to 1900 PSI and an Edge.

    Then I shot Lloyd’s .357 Rogue for a bit. That thing used air, a lot of it. I very soon became very tired of filling that tube to 3000 PSI with my hand pump. When I purchased my .357 HM1000X, I bought an AV compressor AND a 4500 PSI 100 cubic foot CF tank. You talk about one upset Chancellor of the ExChequer.

    I no longer have that HM1000X, but I still have that compressor and CF tank. I also have a .457 Texan LSS, a .22 Talon SS and a .22 Maximus. I am not concerned with running out of air.

    I personally have no need of the small compressors. To me, they would be a waste of money. For the “Darkside” newbies, they are likely a good investment. I would still invest in a good hand pump though.

    One more thought concerning air sources. They can be a necessity when at the range, but when you are going hunting, most PCP airguns have enough shots onboard to not need refilling in the wild. There are exceptions, such as when you are varmint hunting. Are these small compressors up to filling a small buddy bottle?

  4. BB,
    How far do you think we are from having a small onboard compressor built into the rifle?
    (I’m thinking along the lines of my Ryobi ONE+ weed whacker, where I bring out a few 18V batteries when I have to do all the edging.) Might we see a day soon when the PCP hunter heads off to the deep woods with his rifle in hand, pellet pouch in one pocket, and a spare battery for his onboard compressor in the other pocket?
    That would be interesting, but perhaps the need does not exist.
    As RidgeRunner noted, “most PCP airguns have enough shots onboard to not need refilling in the wild.”
    Yet somewhere out there may be a company working on such a rifle with the idea that:
    “Our Marketing Department will make you want this thing even if you don’t think you need it…yet.” 🙂
    Blessings to you,
    dave

  5. I shoot a variety of airguns but have a strong preference for PCPs. I shoot a lot so I consider an CF tank sized compressor as a necessity.

    IMHO, What’s missing in the PCP market is a “filling station” – a portable compressor with a small (2 liter) reservoir bottle and moisture trap built in. The idea is that the compressor maintains the on-board reservoir pressure so that the shooter can top-off the PCP without having to wait around. Because reservoir filling is done in the background, speed isn’t as much as a concern a lower power (less stressed) compressor could be used.

    Large compressors are heavy and I’m surprised that they aren’t sold with wheels. I put a set of 4″ castors on my 80 pound AV compressor and can move it around easily.

    As BB pointed out, compressors (and airconditioners) need to be run regularly (monthly at least) to keep the seals happy and should be cooled down properly… I just wanted to add, don’t forget to check the hardware is snug and change the oil regularly 🙂

    Hank

    • Hank-

      Along the lines of your ‘filling station’- I once knew a fellow with a large tank/small pump rig. As in, about a 1200 gallon boiler tank (the walls were about an inch thick) and a quarter horsepower motor on an ancient slow speed compressor. Chugged away all night- 140 psi shop air all day.

  6. B.B.

    I hope you passed your exam with flying colors, just not red or green!
    I hope your AC has worked properly and your electricity has not gone out.

    The Heat Dome is coming to get you….

    -Y

  7. B.B. and all new to the Dark Side types,

    Great guidance piece on compressors Tom.
    A little background. I had Aluminum and dual Steel SCUBA cylinders since before the 1970s. I got back into adult airguns about 1980 and that was with 10M single stroke and compressed (PCP wasn’t used until much later!) air rifles. In the late 1980s i got into Single and Multipumps and CO2 modifications. In the very early 1990s i turned to the Dark Side.
    I had a few hpa hand pumps but I also had a wall rack full of SCUBA cylinders and the knowledge of the benefits of the Cascade Fill Systems. I also had no problems getting fills at the dive shops (dive shop fill etiquette and Releases can be learned by airgunners) since i was/am dive certified.
    I got hooked on Big Bores about early-mid 1990s with Quackenbush pistols and rifles.
    In my experience your fill system (whether cylinder, compressor, or hybrid) needs to be sized to the highest demand airgun you will own in the future. That demand is maximum pressure and maximum volume based. Just like almost everyone who gets into adult airguns you will “grow” into the Sport. Then you will kick yourself frequently for not having thought out and spent the money once or twice to buy the best/right sized gear/kit in the first place.
    1. If you dive or have a dive shop (that can fill to at least 3,625+ PSI/250 BAR) nearby you will likely get the best bang for your money and least maintenance issues with a pair (or more) of Carbon Fiber (CF) cylinders and a Cascade Fill System.
    2. If you have no convenient dive shop and only small bore PCP these newer small DC/AC compressors will be the way to go. A small CF cylinder will make fills quicker and more convenient; especially in the field away from your vehicle.
    3. IF YOU OWN even JUST one (1) BIG BORE you will need the CF cylinders and a Cascade Fill System along with a convenient dive shop or a large compressor.
    4. If you are a survivalist regardless of type of PCP you need at least two (2) hpa hand pumps and the parts and hands on knowledge of how to do your on rebuilds/repairs. Why two? First you can keep pumping when the other pump is getting the REQUIRED cooling period and the US Navy SEAL TEAMS rule or one (1) is none two (2) is ONE. So you better buy three (3) hand pumps!
    Confused/puzzled…got a better idea…i’m listening!
    Ask questions and i will try to answer them as best i can.

    shootski

    • Shootski
      As always to the point my friend (hope you will not be offended). It seems that I made a correct (enabled) choice recently, bought a Dc/Ac compressor for small bores and up to 500cc tanks. A hand pump is always there for peace of mind.
      By the way, regarding the SEAL TEAMS rule, I have heard that two pairs of eyes is like half since a part of us relies on the other person instead of being fully alert.
      Have you ever heard of this, supposing you understand my meaning?

      • Bill,

        I understand the problem some pairs (especially landlubbers) have with dependent complacency…
        I had people I considered to be Shipmates for life after an appropriate trial period to see if they deserved that faith and the Appellation. The Sea teaches lessons on teamwork beyond the comprehension of those not blessed with the knowledge: ‘they that go down to the sea in ships’: from Psalm 107, King David
        They could never be dependent nor complacent just as i never was or ever will be until i draw my last breath if God grants it.

        shootski

  8. Hi everyone,
    I have a big 4 stage breathable air compressor that I bought from AirTex about 3 years ago. I also have to remember to use it every month. A small compressor could probably fill my needs. My only concern with only having a small compressor is that I don’t think that they are reliable enough. I would at least want to keep my large tank as a backup for the small compressor.

    David Enoch

  9. Hi B.B,
    You did not mention the bigger compressor that Pyramyd AIR sells. After years of coercing friends to help with hand pumping, (and shooting sessions that end after 40 or 50 shots – because we were too exhausted for more pumping), I looked at compressors. None of them advertised output in SCFM, all were similar designs with light-weight components, and many had notes about duty cycles, cool-down periods, long fill times, water temperatures, and frequent maintenance.
    So I bought the Alkin W31. $1200 more than Asian-sourced models, but truly a brute. What the Rovair does in 45 minutes, the Alkin will do in 5. The Alkin can run all day non stop. It needs only an oil change every 50 hours, (which will be several years at my rate), is fully automatic, totally self-contained, and completely air-cooled.
    Any serious air-gunner might consider the Alkin.
    The downsides: Shooting sessions now go hundreds of rounds and rifles are wearing out. The Evanix Blizzard died, and part are not available. Other rifles needed service and seals after thousands of rounds.

    This now leads to a question. Along with this Turkish-made compressor, there seems a new wave of Turkish PCP rifles. Does anyone have opinions on the Hatsans, Niksans, and Aselkons now entering the country? They are all well-established firearms companies, and somewhat more substantial than the likes of FX, Air Arms, and others.

  10. Yea, I lived through those days.
    My first pcp was a BAM 50 (2900 psi fill) (a Chinese copy of a Daystate Huntsman).

    Then a Benjamin Discovery(2000 psi fill)

    I hand pumped it, and through a trade ended up with a 4500 psi “guppy” scba bottle.

    Instead of pumping the guns at the range I would pump the tank a little at a time during the week to shoot on the weekend.

    I did this for Marauders, and other 3000 psi fills.

    But I could only fill my gun to max pressure about 5 times, then had to deal with partial fills until the tank got down to about 2000 psi, then switched to the Discovery.

    I operated that way and the occasional paintball shop fill until I made a trade for the Omega Supercharger.

    I still use the guppy bottle for some things like tethering the gun to the tank for long bench tuning sessions.

    I eventually picked up an 80cf SCBA tank and the supercharger just chuffs away in the corner after a weekend of shooting.

    I have seen a couple of portable Chinese compressors that do use cordless tool batteries like Ryobi or Makita or Milwaukee.

    I don’t shoot big bore at this time but a compressor definitely makes your pre-charged life more enjoyable.

    Ian

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