Electric and battery-operated tools can only generate a limited amount of power. If the battery voltage is increased, it will only result in a heavier and bulkier power tool that is more difficult to maneuver and hold while in use. By using an air compressor, the problem is solved. It provides additional power while keeping the tool light and easy to hold. This is primarily the reason why you can find air compressors pretty much any tool shop or home-garage today.
Basically, what an air compressor does is to hold air in a compressed setting, then provides power to a tool by releasing the air through a hose connected to the tool. The device will run once it is air pressurized or charged – until the supply of pressurized air is depleted. It will only run again after the air is re-pressurized.
Air compressors are typically used to inflate tires, power hand tools, and to perform body work on cars, among many other applications. It is a cost-effective and convenient way to provide extra power to projects. By packing a lot of power into a compact container, it is able to supply the required power to sprayers and other tools in a manner that no other accessory can. This is what made the air compressor a fixture in a lot of body shops, workshops, and homes.
By providing more power, the air compressor facilitates the speedy completion of various jobs. A house contractor, for example, can quickly frame a house – literally in just a small fraction of what it would normally take. With an air compressor, nails can be rapidly fired into the wood, instead of hammering in the nails one by one. The baseboard or ceiling can likewise be easily done as each piece of trim can be nailed quickly. When filling in a vehicle’s body works or spray painting a car, an air compressor can increase job efficiently and reduce work time by providing extra power. The most common type of air compressor used in most small workshops and homes today is the single stage piston type.
Best Air Compressor Complete Guide
PORTER-CABLE PCFP02003 3.5-Gallon 135 PSI Pancake Compressor
DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI Pancake Compressor
Senco PC1010 1-Horsepower Peak, 1/2 hp running 1-Gallon Compressor
Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP Air Compressor
California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 1.0-HP 5.5-Gallon Steel Tank Air Compressor
Bostitch BTFP02012 6 Gallon Pancake Compressor
DEWALT DWFP55130 Heavy Duty 200 PSI Quiet Trim Compressor
Things to Consider
To know what type of air compressor you need, or if you really need one, just answer the following questions:
- What task/s do you need to accomplish by using an air compressor?
- Do you have pending light indoor carpentry jobs and you need the air compressor to operate your brad nail gun? For this task, you will need a portable or pancake compressor.
- Do you need to break up a concrete slab and you need an air compressor to run your heavy duty jackhammer? For this task, you need to have a high powered compressor, preferably a high CFM gas type. Small compressors cannot handle the task at hand.
- Do you need help in building various stuff in the garage or around the home? A nifty standard home model will probably suffice.
- Do you need something to inflate the tires while you are out on a road trip or on a camping trip? Look for a lightweight 12-volt compressor that you can conveniently bring along.
You may be asking what the point of asking all these questions is. The answer is simple. Your choice of compressor would depend on the tasks you need to do, first and foremost.
Air compressors are typically powered by either electricity or gasoline. Compressors powered by electricity are more common. Unless your task requires an extremely powerful air compressor model, either of the two models would suffice.
An electric compressor usually runs on the 12V car accessory outlet or the household standard voltage of 120 volts. A large model that exceeds 2 HP, however, may require a 220 to 240V outlet. Electric air compressors operate quietly, require little maintenance, and do not emit fumes. Thus, they are ideal for use in indoor applications.
On the other hand, a gasoline-powered compressor is ideal for outdoor use. This is because electricity may be limited or unavailable outdoors, making the electric compressor impractical to use. When you have to use a gas compressor indoors, you have to make sure that the area is well-ventilated because this type of compressor emits fumes.
Gas compressors are convenient to use, and they offer a higher PSI compared to electric models. Because of its high output, this type of compressor is the choice of contractors, builders, and re-modellers, particularly for areas with no guarantee of continuous supply of electricity, and lots of power is crucial for the current task.
Size and Portability
Two of the more important considerations when on the market for air compressors are size and portability. Air compressors are classified under two main categories: stationary or portable. Each compressor category comes with its own set of pros and cons.
Portable Compressors – Portable types of compressors are available in various shapes and sizes. Some small compressor models are easy to lug around, while some larger models come with wheels that provide mobility when moving around the work area. If your intended use is for light tasks such as inflating tires or sports equipment, or to power nail guns, then a portable and lightweight compressor is ideal. Choose one that is oil-free and can accommodate 2 to 6 gallons of gasoline. This will allow you to work for longer periods without easily getting tired. If your task is more demanding, get a portable model that packs more power with a gas tank that holds at least 5 gallons.
Stationary Compressors – As the name implies, this type of compressor needs to be fixed in a specific area. You can find stationary compressors mostly in garages and workshops. Usually running on 4 to 10 HP motors and equipped with 60 to 80 gallon tanks, most stationary models are electricity-powered. They are typically directly wired in the building’s electrical circuit. If your task requires less movement but greater performance, then a stationary compressor is what you need. It can power a lot of simple air tools in your garage or workshop.
The power generated by a compressor’s engine or motor is expressed in HP. A model with a high HP rating has a faster recovery time, allowing for a more efficient performance. This does not mean, however, that with the compressor’s high HP, the small tools like a nail gun or sprayer powered by the compressor would be faster or more powerful. If you want better performance and more power for your pneumatic tools, consider the compressor’s PSI and CFM ratings. Check both for the running horsepower as well as the peak horsepower.
Air Compressor Types
When talking about tools in general, there is usually no “one-size-fits-all” type of solution. The same thing applies to air compressors. People use air compressors for different applications. What may be ideal for another person may not necessarily work for you. Knowing the different types of air compressors will help you determine the specific type that you need.
Pancake Compressor – The name is derived from the appearance of the compressor. The tank is shaped like regular breakfast pancakes. While a pancake compressor may be smaller than the typical industrial model, it packs just about the same power as its bigger counterparts. Because of its diminutive size, it is easy to carry around, making it a good choice for both DIY and industrial applications. It is more commonly used in homes to inflate balls and other sporting equipment, and to inflate car tires. In terms of capabilities, some pancake compressor models produce higher PSI of pressure than others because of their oil-free electric engines. The pancake compressor operates without the noise usually associated by the piston movement in the device. Thus, it can be used even in the dead of night, when almost the entire neighborhood is asleep. The quietness of the device is further enhanced by the rubber feet that also keeps the floor safe from scratches and other damages, in case you need to drag the unit around. The compressor also saves space as it can be kept in one corner of your storage area or garage without eating up a lot of space. Unlike bigger tools, it will not obstruct your normal movement.
Hotdog Compressor – Its horizontal design makes the hotdog compressor distinct. Obviously, the name is taken from its cylindrical tank that is shaped like a hotdog. It does not have multiple reservoirs like a pancake compressor. A good hotdog air compressor model to look for is one that has maintenance-free pumps. This is because pumps are time-consuming and difficult to maintain, and a maintenance-free unit will allow you to work uninterrupted for a longer period of time. Another good feature to have is a user-friendly gauge that gives you an idea of how much air is left in the tank at a glance. You will easily know when it is time to refill. The design makes the hotdog compressor highly portable. Because of its horizontal shape, it can easily be carried like a luggage tank. However, the shape may pose some storage problems as it may jut out of smaller storage spaces.
Twin Stack Compressor – Ideal for heavy-duty tasks, a twin stack compressor has two air tanks, unlike most other compressor types that have only one. However, this type of compressor is typically twice as heavy as regular compressors simply because of the compressor’s twin stack lodged on top. If you are considering getting this type of compressor, it is important to make sure that you have a specific use for it. It is definitely not suitable for tasks that may require you to haul the compressor up a ladder or scaffolding. It is bulky and will require a lot of room for storage. Its distinct advantage is its air capacity. It packs a lot more air than air compressors with single stacks. Because there is practically twice the amount of air in its twin stacks, the need to regularly check the gauge for remaining air while working becomes moot and academic. The twin stack compressor is best for projects that require a tremendous amount of power. If your tasks, however, require use of less pressure or power, then it is best to just opt for single-stack and smaller compressor models.
Wheelbarrow Compressor – This is just like twin hotdog compressors with handles and a wheel in front, thus the name wheelbarrow compressor. With these additions, you can easily move the compressor from one work area to another, allowing for faster completion of your tasks, be it for a construction or a home DIY project. Because the wheelbarrow compressor is typically heavier and bulkier than most twin-stack compressors without wheels, the wheel is a very important feature to have. The twin tanks come in handy by providing more juice for your projects. You can work longer before stopping to refill. The amount of power it provides makes this compressor ideal exclusively for industrial applications. If used otherwise, it would only lead to inconvenience because of its bulk and weight, although it is made somewhat portable by the wheelbarrow design. Another downside is the amount of space the compressor will need both for storage and when in use. It usually takes up more space than most twin stack compressor models. You must allot a considerable amount of empty space just to accommodate the unit.
Tire Inflator/12V Compressor – All car owners need to have a tire inflator in their toolbox. Ideally, you should get one of the 12V air compressor models featured in this post. Suffice it to say, this type of compressor should not be just optional, but mandatory to have, since a well-inflated car tire can spell the difference between a safe and road-worthy vehicle and one that is not. Powered by a 12V motor, the tire inflator may be powered by either AC or DC. There are dual models equipped with dual-current settings that allow them to be plugged into an AC or DC power outlet. These models are equipped with functions that help keep the tires at optimum pressure such as gauges as well as lights that will allow you to work even with poor lighting conditions. A tire inflator, obviously, is designed to provide tires with the right amount of pressure that will minimize or totally eliminate tire blowouts. Outside of its original purpose, however, it may be of little or no use. Because it feeds directly from the power grid, it would not be cost-effective if used other than for inflating tires. There are no gasoline-powered options on the market for this type of compressor, unlike other types. The tire inflator is small-sized and fits easily in the car trunk and practically anywhere in the garage. It can even blend easily when kept in the living room.
Quiet Air Compressor – Because of the annoying noise generated by older compressor models, the quiet type of air compressor was born. A compressor can be considered “quiet” if its noise profile is at least 50% quieter than traditional models. Being quiet is an important factor in the quiet air compressor’s design. The rest of its features revolve around generating a low noise profile. You will get a power tool that provides the air pressure your tasks need, and the usual efficiency, but without the disturbing noise associated with regular air compressors. This type of compressor is ideal if you love to work on your personal projects at night or once you get home from your day job. This way, you will not disturb other household members or your neighbors as you work quietly into the night. Quiet air compressors come in different configurations. You can find a lot of hotdog designs, twin stack models, wheelbarrows, and pancakes on the market. Each model comes with its own advantages and downsides. It is therefore important that you carefully weigh the pros and cons of the models you are considering versus your needs to come up with the right model for you.
Commercial Air Compressor – If your intention is to use the air compressor for a big construction project, then save the time by skipping the DIY or home-grade air compressor models, and focus on choosing one from the available commercial air compressors on the market. After all, these are the models specifically designed for heavy duty use and for use under extreme conditions. The motor is designed to generate a massive amount of power without heating up even with the large demand. In terms of electric power consumption, a multi-stage commercial air compressor is designed to be on the conservative side. Thus, even if the unit is used with minimal or no rest periods, and under extreme conditions at that, a commercial-grade compressor will still be cost-effective, allowing you to save a stack of cash on electricity bills. A commercial air compressor is likewise very sturdy and durable. It can endure various harsh environments and still not get adversely affected by wear and tear that regular non-commercial air compressor models are prone to. Their specific design for heavy applications allows a commercial compressor to generate a higher PSI ratings than its non-commercial counterparts. Likewise, it does not generate heat as quickly as home models. It can be used for a much longer time. Just make sure the tank has a sufficient amount of air and you can continue to use it for industrial applications uninterrupted.
How and when you use the air compressor is crucial to prolonging the machine’s useful life, and more importantly, for your safety as well. Following are some tips to keep in mind in terms of safe compressor use, and some areas to look into when using the machine.
1. Before warming up the compressor, make sure that all attachments like hose trigger and other receptacles are turned off. Otherwise, accidents may happen as a result of pressurized air blowing up the tank that can send debris flying into the air that may injure people or damage properties.
2. Whenever possible, the compressor must be used only in clean and dry areas. If the tank and compressor itself are exposed to moisture, the machine’s metal parts may easily succumb to corrosion. If ignored, rust can significantly shorten your tool’s useful life. What is worse, however, is that a rusty air compressor may cause explosions.
3. If it is inevitable to use the compressor in a wet area, just make sure that the tank is empty once it’s time to turn the compressor off. This way, you can keep moisture from building up within the compressor’s tank.
4. Check for loose fittings before using the compressor. If not properly fastened, bolts and screws may significantly reduce the pressure generated by the tool, and this will adversely affect its performance.
5. Do not use the machine in dusty areas as this can result to sand, dust, and other tiny debris penetrating the air filter. Clean the filter regularly to prevent accumulation of dirt.
6. Avoid intake of air from the compressor as it is highly contaminated and can pose health hazards. The problem can be easily solved by wearing safety gear like goggles, a mask, and a helmet.
7. Don’t immediately refill the tank, as doing so right after shutting it down may increase fire risks or cause electric shocks caused by the static electricity remaining from the last operation. Wait for a few minutes before refilling.
8. Be sure to plug the compressor to the appropriate outlet. Otherwise, the compressor’s electric circuits may be adversely affected. It likewise increases the likelihood of a fire incident.
9. Check the outlet for proper grounding. If not grounded properly, the compressor may sustain damages over the long term.
10. If you are working in a group, avoid pointing tools toward anyone nearby, more so if you are preparing to turn the tool on. It is also for this reason that the trigger should not be engaged prior to switching the compressor on. Also keep the nozzle or trigger away from you. It is best to just keep it pointing downwards or to the ground.
11. Make sure the working area is clear of debris that the compressor can suck into its air tank, thus impeding its efficient operation. Explosions may result as well.
Best Air Compressor Reviews
1. Porter Cable PCFP02003 Review
If you are looking for a pancake model (not the usual breakfast fare, of course) on the market, you can look no further than the Porter Cable PCFP02003, which is considered as among the top pancake air compressors today.
DIY tools must always be easily storable, and the niftily-designed PCFP02003, having dimensions of 18” x 17” x 18”, fits that description to a tee. After a tiring DIY session, you can simply tuck the compressor under the stairs or inside a cupboard – without any hassle. Because it weighs only 26 lbs., you can easily move it on your own anywhere it may be needed around the house.
The tool’s lightweight nature, however, is deceptive because it packs more than just a sufficient amount of power for a lot of DIY tasks including small roofing and framing projects. The compressor has enough compressed air in its tank and motor. You can even use the tool for a bit more specialized and demanding DIY tasks like furniture repairs, and you can expect it to perform reasonably well.
The low amperage of the 120V electric motor ensures that you will not trip out your supply of electricity each time you engage your pancake compressor to a refilling session, particularly when you are deep into bigger tasks like nailing wall panels or roof.
The PCFP02003’s motor is designed to be oil-free that is ideal for use at home where you won’t probably need to regularly top up and check oil levels. In spite of its features stats, however, some tasks are not meant for this model. These include grinding and spraying, as well as other highly demanding tasks. The limitation is primarily due to the tank’s relatively small capacity.
Now, if you are looking for a plug and go type of compressor with nary any fuss, then this pancake is one of the best on the market. It is sufficient to meet the requirements of many DIYers. Its 3.5 gallon tank can accommodate a sufficient amount of air. It has a 2 cu. ft./minute (CFM) rating at 90 lbs./sq. in. (PSI) that can power up a lot of the tools you will probably be using for all your home DIY requirements.
2. Dewalt DWFP55126 Review
The DWFP55126 6-gal. 165 PSI pancake compressor from Dewalt is among this reviews top choices simply because of its portable and compact design that comes with sufficient power to inflate tires, run power tools, and perform painting tasks. It has the capacity to complete small to medium-sized jobs. Recovery time is quick that allows for uninterrupted and continuous work.
With 6 gallons of air and a 165 PSI maximum air pressure, it offers 2.6 SCFM operating at 90 PSI. The engine is designed to perform efficiently and to easily start up regardless if the climate is cold or warm. While a lot of other pancake models generate a lot of noise when in use, this Dewalt model only produces 75.5 dB, putting it among the top models in its class in terms of quietness. It can also hold air in a leak-free manner, thus providing a comparatively shorter recharge time. Simply put, the tool is always ready to work whenever you are.
The unit’s regulator comes with 2 universal couples, allowing for two simultaneous users at a time. It has a dual gauge unit so you can monitor the pressure coming from either hose, in case there are currently two users running on the same tool. The compressor’s performance is further enhanced by its ability to maintain a high air flow.
A console is included to protect the controls, making repairs to the unit easy to do. The engine doesn’t need to be oiled, making the compressor practically maintenance-free. You can easily drain the tank via the ball drive chain. The compressor likewise has legs with protective covering, thus avoiding possible damage or scratches to the floor.
When storing, the cord can be easily wrapped around the top. The unit weighs only 30 lbs., and can be conveniently moved from one place to another. The unit is compact with dimensions of 17.2X16.6X20.1. Dewalt offers a warranty of 1 year for the unit.
3. Senco PC1010 Review
Considering the wide variety of available choices on the market, it is quite understandable if some users are stumped when making a buying decision. To simplify matters, it has been suggested previously that the number one consideration should be the tasks you will need a compressor for.
Now, if what you need is a home model, then you can include the Senco PC1010 in your shortlist. The unit is among a few models worth checking out, and thus its pros and cons deserve to be weighed against your specific needs.
Neat and tidy, it is easy to grasp that the Senco PC1010 was really designed to focus on the home users market. With a small footprint, it appears to be the best companion for most trimming and finishing tasks, and for a wide range of craft or hobby-based tasks that require the use of pneumatic tools.
In addition, the compressor is also lightweight and quite easy to move around. This is primarily due to its smaller tank that is crafted from lightweight aluminum. All in all, the unit weighs only 20 lbs., making it convenient to lug anywhere around your workshop, garage, or home. The cleverly-designed carry handle enhances the unit’s portability. Built into the compressor’s main frame, the handle makes it easy for you to pick up the tool, and go.
With its oil-free pump operation, the Senco compressor is perfect for home craftsmen and DIY users as it offers fuss-free maintenance as well. What is surprising is that despite the electric pump being oil-free, the compressor runs in a whisper quiet manner, creating only 69 dB. This is quiet enough to allow you to listen to yourself as you talk or think aloud. The unit is likewise perfect if you do not want to disturb your neighbors or other household members in case you decide to work on your project at night.
As mentioned, the PC1010 is targeted for home users, and it deserves some consideration if your goal is to use a compressor for some important home maintenance tasks or for your airbrushing hobby. It is virtually free from any type of maintenance, and operates quietly and efficiently. However, it doesn’t pack a lot of power. Thus, you need to look beyond this model if you need the unit constantly or for high CFM requirements.
To sum everything up, considering all the pros and cons of this product, it is the ideal model if you are a typical home DIY user, but if you need a heavier duty model such as one that is capable of driving in 44 nails per minute in a construction project, then go find the right model that can do the job for you. Otherwise, this unit will be sufficient for most of your home tasks. The unit comes with a good warranty, is of relatively good quality, and is reasonably priced. It is available on Amazon, as well.
4. Makita MAC2400 Review
With a light weight of 81 lbs., running at 79 dB, and producing 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI of power this 2.5 HP air compressor does bring in a lot of beef to the table, and gives you the needed power boost to complete your pending tasks.
The oil-lubricated cast iron pump ensures smooth running and makes the unit less prone to wear and tear even when exposed to tougher than normal working environments. It has a motor running at 1730 RPM and a Big Bore cylinder. It has a quicker recovery time and increased air intake, and generates only 79 dB of noise.
The Big Bore technology allows the unit to provide an incredible amount of power smoothly and reliably, without bothering anyone who may be having a restful sleep at the time you are working. The handle bar is included for extra protection and improved portability. Tough and durable as it is, the compressor is covered by a one-year warranty, in the remote case that something is amiss about the product.
5. California Air Tools 5510SE Review
One of our top picks primarily due to its capacity and size, the California Air Tools 5510SE provides a sufficient amount of power to address the needs of most hobbyist and personal applications. Powered by a 1 HP engine w/ 4-pole motor running at 1680 RPM max at 8.5 amps, and a 5.5 gallon tank, the steel-made compressor offers high quality performance for a long time. It is equipped with a thermal overload protector to prevent overloading. The compressor generates comparatively less heat that it efficiently dissipates as well.
The compressor is not hard to maintain. It does not need oil, allowing you to save on maintenance cost. It provides cleaner air that makes for better operations. The dual piston pump system increases the motor’s durability. It is capable of generating 90 PSI max at 2.20 CFM, and 40 PSI at 3.10 CFM with 120 PSI maximum pressure.
With 2 pressure control gauges, you can get the exact pressure you need. The ¼” universal quick connector can work with most standard connectors. Producing only 60 dB of noise, the model is easily among the quietest in its category.
Designed for continuous use at long run times, the motor can accommodate additional workload with lower downtimes. Charge time is only 130 seconds, and the recovery time is less than one minute. The compressor is very portable and lightweight at only 54 lbs., and with dimensions of 23x10x19”. It has built in wheels that make it ideal for jobs that require compressor movement from one work area to another. The compressor itself sits on top of the tank, making it easy to access in case repairs and maintenance work needs to be done on the unit.
6. Bostitch BTFP02012 Review
Another popular choice, the BTFP02012 from Bostitch comes with a compact design, operates quietly, and packs a superior power. It can accommodate up to 6 gallons of pressurized air at 150 PSI maximum. It delivers 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI. With no oiling required, the compressor is practically maintenance-free, and provides a longer useful life. The high efficiency motor allows for a long run time with quick recovery features.
The compressor’s motor will easily start both in cold and warm weather conditions. One of the quietest models in its class, it generates only a 78.5 noise level. With the inclusion of 2 couplers, the unit can simultaneously be used by two different users. The tool has dimensions of 17x17x19.2” and is equipped with a 25 ft. long hose.
At only 29 lbs., the pancake-designed compressor is quite compact and requires only minimal space for storage. It is likewise very portable. Equipped with couplers and a high flow regulator, the BTFP02012 offers optimum air flow and excellent overall performance. It likewise comes with a one year warranty.
7. DEWALT DWFP55130 Review
The powerful compressor can deliver a little under 90 PSI at 3 CFM without tripping the local electricity supply each time you use it to inflate a tire or staple a plank. The best part is, the efficient motor draws only 12 amps.
A very quiet operator, the unit generates only a remarkable 71.5 dB considering its power. The cover and oil-free operation help keep the level of noise down. Other than being just quiet, the unit is also efficient in terms of refilling the tank, requiring 15% less of the time required by competing models to refill.
The Dewalt Quiet Trim compressor is cleverly designed to provide convenience of use. It comes with a shroud to keep noise levels down and doubles as a cold wrap. The nifty ball drain valve in the tank provides for effort-free bleeding.
The compressor is ideal for indoor use, and if you intend to use it for such applications, you can expect minimized footprint as the unit works effectively whether used in a vertical or horizontal position. The best feature of this model as an indoor model is perhaps its quiet operation. Thus, you can use it anywhere in your home or on indoor areas of a construction site where the noise levels are strictly monitored.