Reciprocating and centrifugal pumps serve different purposes and operate with separate functions. Centrifugal pumps transport huge amounts of liquid at a time, but the level at which the centrifugal pump operates is reduced as pressure rises. Reciprocating pumps push liquid out through a check valve, but the amount of liquid that is released is limited. Due to the differences in how they operate, they are ideally suited for dissimilar functions.
Reciprocating pumps operate by moving a plunger back and forth through a cylinder. The plunger provides pulses of pressure as it moves. Reciprocating pumps can be single action or double action (pump provides pressure as the piston advances and as it retracts).
Reciprocating pumps are ideal for providing short bursts of high pressure. Examples include bicycle pumps and well pumps.
Centrifugal pumps operate by rotating a central impeller. Intake fluid is provided at the center of the impeller and the spinning acceleration sends it out of the sides of the impeller to provide pressure.
Centrifugal pumps are ideally suited for constant lower pressures, such as that found in pool filters.
For pneumatic tools, a centrifugal pump is better suited due to the constant pressure it can provide. For filling a pressurized container, the higher peak pressures of a reciprocating pump is preferred.
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Louise Docker