Central Pneumatic Air Compressor

Let me begin with stating this is not a comprehensive review of a particular product but an insight into a brief experience I had with a private company using compressors by Central Pneumatic. Coupled with what I’ve read about them online, my own experiences with air compressors and sentiment when making purchases I thought it informative to share this as well as provide some practical suggestions when researching for tools in general.

Air Compressors – Central Pneumatic

About 2 months ago I collected some custom leather seating from an upholsterer we contracted for a large job.
Upon visiting and checking the seating, and talking shop for a few minutes I had a nosey around their premises to see what else they were working on.
The place was mix of shambolic confusion and disorganized elegance. There was every color imaginable in more fabrics than you could shake a pair of scissors at.
Fascinated, and a little unfamiliar with their processes my attention turned to what I did clearly recognize – their air compressors.

Scattered around like a group of keen-to-please puppies I could see a mix of Bostitch and Central Pneumatic units, (the latter, whom I’d not used). They’d gone for hotdogs and pancakes models.
The guy who showed me around didn’t divulge too much about the air compressors themselves. Upon further interrogation he simply stated  ‘they were fine’ to use and they didn’t bother him (in reference to the noise). Being an inquisitive sort I was interested to know a bit more about the Central Pneumatic devices as we as joiners, never used them.

My air compressor criteria

We’ve had a number of contractors bring their own air compressors on site to complete various parts of a job. Our stipulation is straightforward – make sure the compressor is reliable, portable and relatively quiet. Inside, electric. Outside, gas if possible.
I say relatively quiet with the understanding that most sites are noisy in general – you cant really get away from that. Many trades work simultaneously and the place is a constant racket however, being joiners, we fit a huge array of items that usually start when everyones banging away then well into 3rd fix.
Constructing bespoke items after client move-in is not uncommon so always need to be cautious and sensitive to the environment when working.
Most of the finishing is completed in our shop with fixed, high power and high volume air compressors, however we often get called to site ourselves to make modifications or to build additional components thus need air compressors that meet the stipulations we state to our contractors:

  • Reliability – it has to switch on for starters. The workshop can get very dusty and despite our best efforts to clean as we work, we cant work miracles. Moving parts and external components need to be checked. This includes daily flushing of the tank – reduces moisture build up and leads to extended tank life. Also, we ensure the valves are clear before and after use.
  • Sound components – the valves and attachments need to be secure. Really secure. Any leaks will lead to reduced productivity and long term damage.
  • Clear dials and easy access – Nothing worse than having to hunt for gauges or fixings in between the housing or pipework. Keep it simple and keep it contained.
  • Balance – I’ve resigned myself to the fact air compressors are heavy but they don’t have to be cumbersome. Balance it correctly and the task of moving it becomes less of a swear and sweat fest.
  • Quiet – Again, in the shop we can operate with compressors reaching 100 dBa (we usually where headphones or ear protection) however on site we want the lowest possible sound whilst delivering the best continuous rate and pressure.

Who are Central Pneumatic?

Central Pneumatic specialize in air products and are distributed by Harbor Freight Tools.
The range includes air compressors, spray guns, ratchets, nail guns, angle grinders to name but a few of their many air products.

Harbor Freight themselves sell a vast array of tools, servicing many types of customer and have a 900+ stores nationwide.

Central Pneumatic are not a budget brand though sell competitively priced big ticket items.
With many ‘in-store’ brands it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff; for every 11 good eggs there’s bound to be a rotter hidden in the pack. But this is nothing new.
People say they’ll never buy another brand ‘X’ tool from Store ‘X’ then reverse this decision as quickly a leaf in the wind. Perhaps a friend bought a drill or set of screwdrivers and haven’t a bad word to say.

Or you simply concede you can save a buck or ten then retake the plunge and pick up a reliable tool fit for purpose

From the reviews I’ve studied, Central Pneumatic manufacture ‘entry-level quality’ components designed for basic usage. This likely means bits n’ pieces done around the home or small projects. Inflating tires or balls or maybe small finishing or spraying jobs. People generally look to name brands, recoil to remind themselves of budget, experience and testimony then invest in a model suited for specific needs however, and importantly, when you are on a budget or your spend is focused on other areas of your business, you use what you’ve got or buy what you can afford.

General comments cite ‘competent for light duty work’, ‘it’s reliable’, ‘has a good refill time’, ‘constructed well’ as well as ‘junk’, ‘had to change gauges after 2 weeks’, ‘customer service don’t reply’
Mixed reviews. Read on.

What were the compressors used on?

So what do the upholsters do? They fix soft material into hard material. As neatly and firmly as possible.

The company we used had around 5 compressors, from what I could see. Three of these were Central Pneumatic – 2 hot dogs and one pancake compressor.
I didn’t question their choices nor did I have a reason to. From my experience and what I always look for is reliability, first and foremost. As I stated, I’d not used Central Pneumatic but thats probably due to not being involved in purchasing equipment, not in the early days anyway.
I’d suggest that finishing upholstery with a pin gun is classified as light use and is not a test of the demands of air compressor as a whole. Consistently draining the tank of compressed air for 5+ minutes on high demanding tasks such as leaf blowing, framing or steady spray painting for example, would no doubt produce different conclusions however, based on what I’ve used myself in the same price range and sticking to the finishing daily, the Central Pneumatic compressors appeared to stand up to their particular task.

I didn’t get a close look at the models they were using. They were either similar if not the same as the ones below (taken from Harbor Freight Tools website) 8 Gallon & 2HP hotdog and 3 Gallon, 1/3 HP Pancake compressors.

The specs for these two models are more than suitable for upholstering fabric onto MDF, ply or wood on a daily basis.

Other tasks suitable for air compressors with this spec include light-duty tyre inflating, pumping up balls and inflatable dingy’s or paddling pools.
The pancake tank will need filling more often for repetitive tasks throughout the day though in terms of outage, it will deliver the necessary pressure for finishing or spray painting.
Same with the hotdog model but with the added feature of being more powerful and having a bigger tank.
You can easily, as I’ve done myself on several occasions, connect a framing gun or air wrench without struggling.

Understanding your needs

One company completed a couple of tests on a Central Pneumatic air compressor. They used it as an alternative to a seasonal leaf blower (I’m not sure if this is a fair test; buy and review a leaf blower if you need a leaf blower) and as a wood-shop blower, cleaning dust and debris (a more appropriate use). They stated it was in the a repair shop on a number of occasions, didn’t stand up to the tasks nor meet their needs.
I’m curious. What are the needs? Like I said, if you need an air blower to blow leaves from autumn to spring, buy an air blower and review this. Or review 5 air compressors in the same spec/price range then give as best an objective review based on comparative information with actual reference points.

I appreciate reviews as they are helpful, can be insightful and usually get to the point quickly, however product reviews need to be relatively comprehensive with succinct pointers to alternatives otherwise the review tends to bias one particular experience and potentially mis-represent or mis-lead.
Granted, I’ve not used these particular devices for the multitude of tasks air compressors complete yet based on my exposure to air compressors as a whole, in particular the class, environment, purpose, price and coupled with having first-hand experience of them in action, they should be compared and contrasted without generalized stereotypes being applied, even if some features conform to these.

Define your needs. Explain what went wrong. Describe the job you did.

Parts & Service

Always check the terms & conditions when buying a tool especially one that’s key to your companies needs.
Returns, additional components, replacements parts, turn around time, service charges, what is/isn’t covered, shipping costs, etc. You should be aware of what can be done for you, the customer.
The lowdown is pretty straight forward – remember, this is a product that is within the Harbor Freight policy.

  1. Standard 90 limited warranty and returns policy. Walk into a Harbor Freight store and they will replace your problem part if covered under warranty, no questions asked.
  2. ESP (Extended Service Protection) – Buy within a month of your compressor purchase and you can choose 1 or 2 years additional service beyond the manufacturers warranty.

If you live near a Harbor Freight store take the product or faulty part, preferably with proof of purchase and they’ll replace this for you.
Should you not have a outlet close to your home or business, you may have a service center. You can often have the parts replaced for free and labor is covered while the product is under warranty. Repairs averaged 10-14 days per incident.

Read their Customer Services section for detailed information

Look after it and you’ll be looked after

Its no cliche when people say ‘look after it and it will look after you‘.
Generally, if you buy anything and follow the instructions when assembling and more pertinently, maintaining, the only issues you’ll likely encounter are born from not following manufacturer guidelines, which can lead to a hastened demise of the tool and much frustration for the user.
I’ll add, that whilst correct maintenance is a given for obvious reasons some products are made with cheaper or cruder components, reflecting in price and warranty. But you know this, right?

In the 1980’s Russian automotive manufacturer, Lada produced cars, that in any other country would, on the surface, be laughed at. Ergonomics and aesthetics went out the window.
Functionality and pragmatism stayed in the office.
Their cars made it to most parts of Europe and were marketed with a certain consumer in mind. Someone who needed to get from A-B. Thats it.
Compared with the sleek Italian, safety-conscious Swedish, luxury German or innovative French cars, Lada’s initially turned heads for the wrong reasons.
Styleless, boxy and crude were common descriptions. Yet people bought them, not solely because they were cheap but because they were fit for purpose. Yes, they had cheap components but they lasted a good 7-10 years in mainland Europe (I believe they still drive them in Russia) before being superseded by other manufacturers producing cars with better production techniques thus offering more technology for less.

My point being? When you use something consistently within guidelines, it should operate correctly and consistently. It will work when pushed but this is dependent on how much care and respect you give it.
Don’t get me wrong, mechanical things fail but this failure can be accelerated, often by unreasonable demands, incompetency, occasionally by negligence and infrequently by defects.

Should I buy one?

I don’t believe buying products in certain price bands has anything to do with fortune. Some brands have a reputation based on excellent products. Some based on excellent after sales. Some based on both.
As I’ve harped on, mechanical things will eventually fail. Components have a finite existence.

Its very difficult to separate some products. Engineering standards, industry standards as well consumer rights have improved drastically in the last 2 decades.
Global competition will make or break a company or brand and its their responsibility to adapt and respond by producing and marketing goods that don’t just work but instil consumer confidence.
A reputable brand or retailer will have a duty to provide their customers with goods, not only fit for purpose but with after sales service that encouraged the purchase in the first place.

Central Pneumatic may not be the first name you think of when it comes to air compressors. It certainly wasn’t mine. Only after seeing their products in the flesh and getting brief look at them in action could I make an informed decision? No. I’d need to actually investigate a bit deeper albeit in a comparative manner.

They sell their air compressors at competitive prices across the range, which itself is impressive.
At the time of writing this, they have 44 different air compressors on their site. This is a huge amount to choose from so anyone wondering whether they have the budget should be able to find something that works for their needs.
The range is priced at approximately $100-$600 for various types of compressor and have a vast array of tools and attachments.
I cannot definitively remark on the output of all their air compressors however, can reliably state that compared to the DeWalt, SGS and Bostitch compressors we have used, and in particular for finishing, I found little noticeable difference though that doesn’t mean their rep is air tight (sorry for the pun). Its just based on my findings.

Personally I always buy the after sales, warranty package with most products over $500. Thats just me. The company have their own policy in place.
As mentioned, Harbor Freight offer a 1/2 year ESP option. Protect your investment.

If value for money is your prime motivator I’d consider the Central Pneumatic air compressors. They will get you going and should be fit for purpose for a long time. After sales and warranty is good enough.
If you have a ton of cash and just want reliable, historically reputable and abundantly reviewed air compressors you’ll likely stick with the Makita’s, California Air Tools, Campbell Hausfeld, Bostitch, et al.

Bottom line

Do your research. Read the reviews, as many as you need to or can stomach – good & bad. Its important.
Look for common positives and negatives. Contact the manufacturer – ask why ‘x’ is a consistent issue based on the reviews.
Has it been resolved? What will happen if you experience it?

Look at the sales and service terms.
If possible see one working in the flesh and get the owners verdict.

Knowledge is power and will save you time and money!