Air Supply UK: Specialist Compressed Air Engineers

Published: 24/01/2024

What Is A Piston Compressor? 

A piston, or reciprocating, compressor is one of the oldest and most common types of industrial air compressors. It’s a type of positive displacement compressor. It draws air into a chamber where the air is internally compressed until the desired pressure is reached. 

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about piston air compressors, including:

  • What is a piston compressor?
  • How does a piston compressor work?
  • Single, double and multi-stage piston compressors
  • What oil should be used in a piston air compressor?

What is a piston compressor?

As mentioned above, a piston or reciprocating compressor is a positive displacement compressor capable of delivering gases at high pressures. The piston inside the machine moves back and forth to compress the air and increase the pressure. This is the working principle of piston compressors (the principle of reciprocation). There are both oil-lubricated and oil-free piston compressors with varying amounts of cylinders to suit different business needs. 

How do piston compressors work?

A piston compressor uses cylinders with pistons inside them to compress air. As the piston moves downwards, it creates a vacuum and air is drawn into the cylinder through an inlet valve. Once the air is in the chamber, the pistons start moving upwards. The air cannot escape, so this process begins to compress the air. When the pressure in the cylinder has reached a high enough pressure, the discharge valve opens, and the compressed air is released into the air tank.

Single, double and multi-stage piston compressors

All piston compressors work according to the same principle. However, there are single-stage, double-stage, and multi-stage piston compressors. The compression takes place over multiple stages for double or multi-stage compressors, so the compressor doesn’t need to work as hard. The air is partially compressed in the first cylinder, moved into the second cylinder to be compressed fully and then moved to the storage tank.

What oil to use in a piston air compressor?

All oil-lubricated piston compressors will require regular oil changes to keep them performing effectively and increase their lifespan. Oil in your air compressor ensures the interior parts are lubricated so they don’t stick when they reach higher temperatures. It also helps prevent corrosion and oxidation, which can be highly detrimental to your compressor. 

Both synthetic and non-synthetic oils can be used for industrial piston compressors. Here’s a breakdown of choosing the right oil for your piston compressor. 

Synthetic oil

Synthetic oil offers superior performance compared to non-synthetic oil. It offers more effective lubrication and protection against oxidation, reducing wear and tear and extending your machine’s life span. It also needs to be changed less frequently than non-synthetic oil and can improve your compressor’s energy efficiency.

However, the downside of synthetic oil is that it’s typically more expensive than standard or mineral oil. Due to its higher performance, this type of oil is a good fit for piston compressors that are used continuously or for intensive applications. It’s also suitable for use in working environments with extremely high or low temperatures or a wide temperature range. 

Non-synthetic oil

Non-synthetic (often called standard or mineral oil) is a cheaper alternative, making it more suitable for budget-conscious businesses. It’s suitable for most applications, especially if your piston compressor is used intermittently or for less intensive applications. 

However, standard oil needs to be changed more regularly than synthetic oil and won’t perform well in extremely high or low temperatures, so this is something to bear in mind when choosing the right oil for your piston compressor. 

How to choose

When making the right decision, you’ll need to consider your piston compressor’s usage, working environment and budget. If you continually use your machine or need it for for heavy-duty applications requiring top performance from your oil, synthetic will likely be the best fit. If you plan to use your compressor infrequently or for most standard applications, non-synthetic oil will likely suffice.

Piston compressors from Air Supply

We have been selling, servicing and repairing all compressed air equipment since 1995. If you’re looking to invest in a new or second-hand piston compressor, Air Supply should be at the top of your list!

Air Supply stocks a range of high-quality new piston compressors to suit your business needs. Whether you require an industrial piston compressor for your automotive workshop or high-pressure applications, we can help! If you’re unsure what type of piston compressor fits your needs, our expert team will be happy to help. 

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, we also offer a huge range of used air compressors, including many quality second-hand piston compressors. Many of our used models are available for hire, which is the perfect solution if you wish to trial a piston compressor or only need compressed air for a short-term project. 

If you’re still unsure whether a piston compressor is right for you, feel free to get in touch with our friendly team. We’ll be happy to offer some impartial guidance and advice!

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