If you are considering purchasing a new air compressor or upgrading to a larger model, this guide provides all the information you need to make an informed buying decision. It covers the ins and outs of electric and gasoline air compressors, how to choose the correct size compressor for specific uses and all the technical knowledge required to evaluate the quality and suitability of any compressor you run across.

This guide also features many detailed air compressor reviews of carefully selected compressors produced by the top manufacturers. At a glance, these reviews tell you all you need to know about the most important air compressor features for every situation and budget.

Our Top Favorite Air Compresors

ProductTypeOur Review
Porter Cable C2002

Porter Cable C2002

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Portable
Our Review
Makita MAC2400

Makita air compressor

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Portable
Our Review
DeWalt DXCMV5048055

DeWalt stationary air compressor

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Stationary
Our Review
Ingersoll Rand Two-Stage Air Compressor

Ingersoll Rand stationary air compressor

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Stationary
Our Review
Makita MAC5200 Electric Air Compressor

Makita MAC5200 Electric Air Compressor

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Electric
Our Review
Industrial Air Contractor CTA5090412

CTA5090412 air compressor

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Gas Powered
Our Review
Quincy stationary air compressor prod id Q13160VQ

Quincy stationary air compressor prod id Q13160VQ

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Stationary
Our Review
DeWALT DXCMTA5090412

DeWALT DXCMTA5090412

Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com

Gas Powered
Our Review
DeWALT DXCMH1608WB

DeWALT DXCMH1608WB air compressor

Gas Powered
Our Review
California Air Tools CAT6310

CAT6310 portable air compressor

Portable
Our Review

Air Compressors by Type and Power Source

Portable Air Compressors

The main differences between portable and stationary air compressors are size, weight and capacity. Portable units are light enough that one person can move them about with ease, whereas stationary units stay in a fixed location.

The best small portable air compressor can operate multiple tools at a job site, although typically they have a tank capacity under 20 gallons and deliver less than 10 cubic feet per minute. They are best suited for non-continuous use tools such as nail guns, staplers or smaller air wrenches. The best portable air compressor for the money can supply enough air for small sandblasters, low-demand paint sprayers or smaller wrenches.

US Navy engineer rewinds an air compressorBecause of their weight, stationary units stay in one place unless they are truck-mounted units. Usually they have vertical tanks with the compressor unit on top. Their air tanks hold 30 gallons or more and they deliver over 10 CFM. They use larger motors and beefy multi-cylinder pumps. The largest electric versions require 3-phase 220V power sources. As you have probably guessed, stationary air compressors usually cost significantly more than portable compressors of the same brand.

If you are planning on running much of your workshop tools from compressed air, but temporarily have a limited budget, a good plan is to buy as large a portable air compressor as your budget allows, say, something in the range of 6 to 7 CFM. Later, as your air tool arsenal expands, add a 60 or 80 gallon stationary compressor that can handle commercial sprayers, sandblasters and sanders. The portable will still be useful for outside jobs or you could sell it to offset the cost of the larger compressor.

Best Portable Air Compressor Reviews

1. Porter-Cable C2002-WK

Porter Cable air compressor

Pros
  • Maintenance-free, oil free compressor
  • Dual couplers
Cons
  • Unreliable air regulator
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Specs

Dimensions 18 x 18 x 19 inches
Weight 34 lbs.
Compressor Type Single-stage, oil-free
Power < 1 HP
Capacity 2.6 CFM @ 90 lbs.
Maximum PSI 150
Tank size 6 gallons
Motor type 120V AC, single-phase
Other features Dual air couplers

Overview
The super-portable C2002-WK pancake compressor by Porter-Cable plugs into any 10A or greater 120V AC outlet. The maintenance-free compressor puts out 2.6 SCFM at 90 psi for quick recovery cycles using small tools. Its oil-free design makes it suitable for applying finish coats of paint or varnish. There is no need for frequent hose switching as it has two air couplers built-in.
Review

The C2002-WK is small enough to store in a trunk and easy to carry around any shop or job site at only 34 lbs. weight. Its output is enough for running finish nailers, sanders or an air brush easily. The biggest complaint from buyers is that the regulator seal leaks within a year and it is expensive to replace.

Conclusion

If you get one with a good regulator, then this is a good, all-around small portable compressor for inflating tires, running a blow gun or smaller non-continuous duty air tools. Watch for it on sale for under $100.

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2. Makita MAC2400

Makita Big Bore air compressor

Pros
  • Long-life, lubricated pump
  • Fast recovery
Cons
  • Heavy
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Specs

Dimensions 19.4 x 18.8 x 18 inches
Weight 77 lbs.
Compressor Type Single-stage, oil lubricated
Power 2.5 HP
Capacity 4.2 CFM @ 90 lbs.
Maximum PSI 130
Tank size 4.2 gallons
Motor type 120V AC, single-phase
Other features Dual air couplers
Overview

The MAC2400 compressor delivers awesome power in a compact package. The solid cast iron, single-stage, lubricated pump delivers 4.2 CFM at 90 psi to a 4.2 gallon tank with only a 12.3A power draw. Its roll-cage design provides superb protection at any job site. It runs at half the RPM of comparable units, which reduces noise and increases compressor life.

Review

Makita’s MAC2400 is right at home on any job site where it can supply plenty of power for staplers, nailers and other small tools without running out of air. Air compressor reviews consistently express confidence in the durability of the cast iron pump and how smooth and quiet it runs.

Conclusion
For reliability and power, this Makita compressor is hard to beat. Its rugged design inside and out means it will stand up to any job or shop conditions without missing a beat.
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3. California Air Tools CAT-6310

California Air Tools air compressor

Pros
  • Ultra-quiet
  • Easy to move
Cons
  • Light-duty tool use only

Specs

Dimensions 23.6 x 13.3 x 24 inches
Weight 49 lbs.
Compressor Type Single-stage, dual-piston, oil-free
Power 1.0 HP
Capacity 2.3 CFM @ 90 lbs.
Maximum PSI 90
Tank size 6 gallons
Motor type 120V AC, single-phase
Other features N/A

Overview

The CAT-6310 compressor features super-quiet operation at just 60dB. Under 50 lbs. with big wheels, it is easily transportable around the workshop or on any job site. The one HP motor runs at 1700 RPM, which means low wear and long life. The oil-free dual piston design delivers a reliable 2.35 CFM at 90 psi to a 6.3 gallon tank.

Review

The CAT-6310 is whisper-quiet, which makes it ideal where noise is an issue. It is an ideal size for light-duty tools or running an air brush continuously. A few air compressor reviews on this model have noted small air leaks, but otherwise it performs as expected.

Conclusion

This takes up about twice the space of a comparable pancake compressor but delivers a bit more power. Its biggest advantage is the super-quiet dual-piston pump. You can put away the ear protection when using this model.

Stationary Air Compressors

When your air requirements begin to include tools such as HLVP paint sprayers, sanders, sandblaster boxes and larger air wrenches, you are going to need significantly more air flow and possibly more air pressure than a portable unit can provide. That means more horsepower, a stronger air pump and a bigger storage tank. This is where stationary air compressors come in to play. These are designed to deliver airflows of at least 10 CFM and higher pressures for running air-thirsty tools. Typically they have two larger size air outlets too, which run from ½-inch up to 1-inch in diameter.

U.S. Marine Corps flight line mechanic, utilizes an air compressor. The air compressor was used for a power washing system in providing the force needed to spray water in cleaning a MV-22 Osprey's engines.

U.S. Marine Corps flight line mechanic, utilizes an air compressor. The air compressor was used for a power washing system in providing the force needed to spray water in cleaning a MV-22 Osprey’s engines.

Vertical compressors often weigh hundreds of pounds and are difficult to move about because they are top-heavy, since the motor and air pump are mounted on top of the vertical tank. Thus, they are intended to be installed in one location and never moved. Air is delivered throughout the shop from the compressor by a fixed distribution line from which flex lines can be positioned at convenient points.

Huge stationary air compressors used in coal miningSmaller units may have direct drive, but the majority use a drive belt from the motor to the pump. This arrangement is more efficient and produces less wear on both the motor and the pump. Because of the higher demands on the compressor, pumps nearly always utilize lubricated cast iron cylinders. Multi-cylinder pumps are common from two to four cylinders. More cylinders deliver more air but also allow the pump to run at lower RPMs than single cylinder pumps, which decreases wear and noise.

 

Because the motors generally exceed 3 HP, most stationary compressors require 208-240VAC electrical circuits. The biggest ones need 3-phase electrical power.

There are “stationary” air compressors that move about, which are powered by gasoline engines. These are permanently mounted in work trucks, which need the additional air flow of a large compressor but rarely have the required electrical power available.

Best Stationary Air Compressor Reviews

1. DeWALT DXCMV5048055 5-HP 80-gallon 2-Stage Air Compressor

DeWalt stationary air compressor

Pros
  • Can run two high-demand tools simultaneously
  • 2-year warranty
Cons
  • Non-ball valve drain
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Specs

Dimensions 31.5 x 35 x 80 inches
Weight 470 lbs.
Compressor Type Two-stage, oil-lubricated, vertical tank
Power 5.2 HP
Capacity 17.9 @ 90 psi, 17 CFM @ 175 lbs.
Maximum PSI 175
Tank size 80 gallons
Motor type 230V AC, single-phase, 60A breaker
Other features Dual air couplers, large gauges
Overview

This two-stage compressor from DeWALT delivers an astounding 17 CFM at 175 psi backed up by an 80-gallon storage unit. It has plenty of air power for running multiple, continuous-duty tools and high-demand paint sprayers. The 230V single-phase motor requires no expensive magnetic starter and has automatic thermal protection. It features large output pressure gauges and two ¾-inch quick-couple outlets. The solid, oil-lubricated cast iron pump utilizes hardened steel disc valves, oversized taper roller bearings and a perfectly balanced cast iron flywheel.

Review
This very affordable and capable stationary compressor delivers a voluminous amount of air for any shop. The pulley ratio allows full speed from the motor while turning the pump at a quiet, vibration-free 600 RPM. Given the quality of pump components, this compressor should last just short of forever. The most common complaint in buyer reviews is that DeWALT skimped on the drain valve, which is in a difficult location and is a cheap petcock. We recommend replacing it with a ball valve when the compressor arrives.
Conclusion
For the price, it would be difficult to find another large compressor that has the same high flow/psi specs as this DeWALT unit. It is an outstanding value in terms of performance that will certainly upgrade the usability of your shop.
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2. Quincy Q13160VQ 3.5-HP, 60-gallon Vertical Air Compressor

Quincy stationary air compressor

Pros
  • 10,000+hours rated pump
  • Quiet with low vibration
Cons
  • Drain petcock hard to reach
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Specs

Dimensions 30 x 22 x 68 inches
Weight 261 lbs.
Compressor Type Single-stage, oil lubricated, vertical tank
Power 3.5 HP
Capacity 13.1 CFM @ 90 lbs.
Maximum PSI 135
Tank size 60 gallons
Motor type 240V AC, single-phase
Other features ¾-inch outlet
Overview
This Quincy single-stage compressor provides an economical upgrade to any garage or workshop that needs more CFM for larger tools or quality paint sprayers. It puts out 13.1 CFM at 90 psi, which is adequate for sanders, grinders, wrenches and more. The compressor unit features a 3.5 HP, 230V electric motor and a belt-drive, oil-lubricated cast iron pump with a 10,000 hour rating that runs super quietly.
Review
This Quincy compressor makes an excellent upgrade from a smaller portable compressor for running better paint sprayers and air-hungry tools. Buyers easily run ½-inch impact wrenches, small sandblasters and sanders. It is quiet enough that placing it in the garage or basement will not be disturbing to home occupants. The drain valve is a bit inaccessible, but that can be remedied by adding an extension tube.
Conclusion
This vertical compressor is small enough to fit any shop or garage but powerful enough to feed high-demand tools such as grinders and paint sprayers. The quality pump will last many years. The Quincy Q13160VQ is an outstanding value for the handyperson moving up from any noisy, portable compressor.
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3. Ingersoll Rand 7.5-HP 80-Gallon Two-Stage Air Compressor

Ingersoll Rand stationary air compressor

Pros
  • Maximum power and airflow
  • High-quality, long-lasting components
Cons
  • Only a 1-year warranty without paying for an additional maintenance package
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Specs

Dimensions 26 x 38 x 70 inches
Weight 500 lbs.
Compressor Type 2-stage, dual-piston, vertical tank
Power 7.5 HP
Capacity 24 CFM @ 175 lbs.
Maximum PSI 175
Tank size 80 gallons
Motor type 230V AC, three-phase
Other features Comes with a free ½-inch impact wrench
Overview
This powerful, highest-quality stationary air compressor meets the needs of the most demanding home or commercial workshops. It is loaded with advanced features that increase efficiency and reduce wear such as stainless steel valves, oversized flywheel, industrial-grade bearings, high-efficiency intercooler and sound baffles. You will never run out of air with its 7.5-HP motor and two-stage pump producing 24 CFM @ 175 psi.
Review
Requiring a 230V/3-phase connection, this Ingersoll Rand compressor is obviously not for everyone. It is often used for commercial operations, but for a home workshop it is the last stationary compressor you will ever need. You could run a sander, grinder and paint sprayer simultaneously and still not lack for air. It is ideal for serious sandblasting. Buyers regularly rate this quality compressor with five stars.
Conclusion
This is not a compressor for the faint of budget, but it will far exceed your expectations for solid, reliable performance. If you have the budget for it, buy it. You will never regret it.
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Electric Air Compressors

Air compressors powered by electricity are the most common type of compressor made. They have a number of advantages over those powered by combustion engines besides being less expensive to manufacture:

  • They can be operated anywhere electrical power is available. Most plug into any available 15 to 20A 120V outlet. Large, commercial-grade compressors, however, might need 220VAC, and some require three-phase power.
  • Electric motors generally have longer lifespans and need less maintenance than gasoline engines.
  • Almost any small electric air compressor will run more quietly than the smallest gas-powered one.
  • An electric air compressor is more compact and lighter than the same capacity gas-powered compressor.
  • It is easy to design an electric compressor that automatically turns off and on to maintain a steady supply of compressed air. That is virtually impossible to do for gasoline-powered compressors.

Electricity grid signThe advantage of electric compressors running from standard outlets is also its biggest disadvantage. Without a ready source of electricity even the best portable electric air compressor is simply dead weight.

Since a combustion engine-powered compressor carries its own power source, it works where no electric power is available. A caveat to that, however, is that a fuel-powered air compressor must be operated outdoors. The engine exhaust is toxic, and the high decibel level of a continuously running gasoline engine would be unbearable after a short time.

There are going to be times when you want a gasoline air compressor, but unless you regularly visit remote job sites, those times will be few and far between. One way to obtain the independence that a gas-powered compressor offers is to buy or rent a gas-powered generator to run your electric compressor.

Best Electric Air Compressor

The Makita MAC5200 3.0 HP electric air compressor boasts a 3.0 HP electric motor that delivers 6.5 SCFM at 90 psi to an ample 5 gallon tank. The oil-lubricated, big-bore cast iron pump is built to last and provide quick recovery even with continuous heavy use.

Makita electric air compressor

The MAC5200 is designed for easy transport. Its fold-out handle and heavy-duty, full-size wheels love rough terrain. The handle is also a storage rack for up to 50 feet of air hose in both its upright and folded positions. A built-in compartment stores fittings, tools and accessories.

Maintaining the MAC5200 is a breeze with a lever-handle ball valve for draining moisture and a transparent glass gauge indicating pump oil level at a glance.

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Specs

Dimensions 29 x 19 x 19.5 inches
Weight 88 lbs.
Compressor Type Single-stage, oil lubricated, cast iron sleeve
Power 3.0 HP
Capacity 6.5 CFM @ 90 lbs.
Maximum PSI 135
Tank size 5 gallons
Motor type 120V AC, single-phase
Conclusion
We recommend the Makita MAC5200 3.0 HP electric air compressor without hesitation as the best all-around electric air compressor for the home workshop or construction job site. As you would expect from Makita, this compressor is rugged, versatile and equipped to handle the toughest jobs without flinching.
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Gas Powered Air Compressors

Instead of an electric motor, gasoline-powered air compressors use an onboard gas engine to turn the compressor pump. They are more versatile than electric air compressors in the sense that they can be used anywhere that fuel is available without the need for an electric service line, an outlet or an electrical extension cord.

For the same output power, gasoline engines are heavier than electric motors. For equal air flow and pressure a gasoline-powered air compressors will be heavier than an electric one. They are undoubtedly noisier as well and must be operated where the exhaust gasses can be freely ventilated.

A photo of a gas tank

Gasoline engines have more moving parts than electric motors and take more effort to maintain them in running condition. They cost significantly more than an electric compressor also. Manufacturers often mitigate that extra cost by equipping gas-powered air compressors with larger motors and heavy-duty components for use on the most demanding job sites.

Despite the drawbacks, it is hard to beat a gas-powered air compressor for portability especially in remote locations. In these situations, an electric air compressor could be used with the addition of a suitably sized gas-powered generator, but the combination of those two units would cost more than a single gas-powered generator.

Best Gas Powered Air Compressor Reviews

1. Industrial Air Contractor CTA5090412

Industrial Air Contractor gas-powered air compressor

Pros
  • Powerful and portable
  • Weight-balanced design
Cons
  • Bleed-off valves not protected well
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Specs

Dimensions 24.5 x 21.5 x 20 inches
Weight 74 lbs.
Compressor Type Single-stage, oil-free
Power 5.0 HP
Capacity 5.0 CFM @ 90 lbs.
Maximum PSI 155
Tank size 4 gallons
Motor type Gas-powered, direct drive
Overview
This dual tank, gas-powered air compressor features a 5.0 HP Honda GC OHC/OHV engine and an oil-free pump. The motor and pump are sandwiched between two 2-gallon air tanks in a compact, easy-carry design. Its 5.0 CFM at 90 psi air capacity is more than enough to run multiple tools in non-continuous duty such as nailers, sanders or staplers. The oil-free pump is suitable for light-duty spraying too.
Review
This Industrial Air Contractor compressor gets high marks for quality in air compressor reviews. The Honda GC engine is lightweight and starts easily on one pull. It runs relatively quietly too. The flow capacity will run a couple of framing guns simultaneously. The tanks are suitable for small continuous spray jobs. To run an HVLP spray gun, add a 20-gallon or larger reserve tank inline.
Conclusion
For a gas-powered air compressor, this one is light, powerful and not overly loud. Its balanced component placement makes it easy to move around the job site. As gas-powered air compressors go, the price is good, so overall it makes an excellent value.
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2. DeWALT DXCMTA5090412

DeWalt Subaru 4gallon gas-powered air compressor

Pros
  • Quiet OHC motor
  • Constant power for multiple tools
Cons
  • Single outlet coupling
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Specs

Dimensions 22 x 24 x 21 inches
Weight 74 lbs.
Compressor Type Single-stage, oil-free
Power 6.0 HP
Capacity 5.0 CFM @ 90 lbs.
Maximum PSI 155
Tank size 4 gallons
Motor type Gas-powered, direct drive
Overview
This DeWALT compressor is powered by a Subaru SP170 OHC gas engine designed for easy maintenance. It provides direct drive power to an oil-free pump that delivers 5 CFM at 90 psi, which is ample for light-duty or non-continuous use tools. The engine and pump sit between two 2-gallong tanks, which creates a compact, easily transportable package.
Review
This is a great throw-it-in-the-bed compressor that serves well on any job site to power one or two smaller tools. Air compressor reviews of this model are truly impressed at how quietly the Subaru engine runs and how easy it is to move this compressor from job to job. The design of both motor and pump are such that all maintenance tasks are easy to accomplish.
Conclusion
Despites its small size, this gas compressor stands up for itself on construction sites or as a super-portable home compressor for a variety of tools and general inflation duty. Like other DeWALT tools, it will give excellent service for many years.
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3. DeWALT DXCMH1608WB

DeWalt gas powered air compressor

Pros
  • Starts on a half pull
  • Constant power for multiple heavy-duty tools
Cons
  • Takes two to load in the truck

Specs

Dimensions 44 x 18.5 x 25 inches
Weight 165 lbs.
Compressor Type Dual-cylinder, oil-lubricated
Power 5.5 HP
Capacity 9.0 CFM @ 100 lbs.
Maximum PSI 150
Tank size 8 gallons
Motor type Gas-powered, belt drive
Overview
The DXCMH1608WB 8-gallon wheelbarrow compressor features a Honda 5.5 HP 4-stroke engine and a 2-cylinder pump for high-demand work. It outputs an impressive 9 CFM at 100 psi. The low center-of-gravity and 10-inch foam tires greatly ease transport. It is backed by a generous 2-year warranty.
Review
The DXCMH1608WB’s smooth-running 160cc Honda engine, belt drive and cast iron pump deliver smooth, high-capacity operation for any job site. It has two outlet fittings but you could easily run 4 or more framing or roofing nailers from this unit all day long. It will run for hours on one fill of the nearly one-gallon fuel tank.
Conclusion
This is a contractor-grade gas-powered air compressor made to keep a full crew working steadily for hours. It is heavy, but fairly easy to move around the job site. Given DeWALT’s reputation for quality, you can consider this a sound investment.

Air Compressor Size – How Does It Matter

Depending on precisely what you intend to use an air compressor for, calculating the compressor “size” can get complicated. However, let us simplify the task for you by concentrating on the two most important factors, which are flow and pressure.

flow vector drawingFlow versus Pressure

Flow is typically measured in cubic feet per minute, which is abbreviated as CFM. Pounds per square inch, or psi, indicates the amount of air pressure generated. These two numbers measuring air compressor output are closely related. If one goes up, the other goes down and vice versa. For example, consider the DeWALT DXCMTA5090412 air compressor reviewed above. The specs rate its output as 5 CFM at 90 psi. At 40 psi, the CFM for that DeWALT goes up to 6.9 CFM.

calculator vector drawingCalculating Air Needs

To determine if a compressor’s output is adequate for the jobs for which you want to employ it, you need to know the CFM and psi requirements of whatever you are plugging in at the far end of the air hose. For instance, a framing nailer may require an operating pressure between 80 and 120 psi. It uses 0.10 cubic feet of air per trigger pull. Thus, a 5 CFM at 90 psi compressor allows that gun to fire 50 times a minute or two guns to fire 25 times a minute and so on.

If you are using your air compressor for spraying paint, you probably do not need 90 psi. Most sprayers will run fine at 40 to 60 psi, but they need a higher CFM and on a continuous basis. For example, a mid-range HLVP sprayer might require 7 CFM at 40 psi. That same DeWalt compressor mentioned above is barely enough to satisfy that requirement. You do not necessarily need a bigger compressor however, since you can simply add another storage tank to extend the spraying time.

Check vector drawingCheck Tool Ratings

Every tool you want to run from your compressor should have a CFM/psi rating. Combining the ratings from all the tools you expect to run simultaneously allows you to calculate the size of compressor you need. If you are mainly using your compressor to blow out dust or fill tires, then the precise CFM/psi output is less critical. As long as the maximum pressure is higher than your filled tire pressure, then it will do the job albeit it might take more time.

A Best All-Around Small Compressor

After all that, what is the best small air compressor you can buy that will fit most needs around your workshop? That would be the Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP electric air compressor in our opinion. Do not let its small size fool you.

Makita Mac700 best all around electric air compressor

This compressor is rugged and puts out plenty of air for most tasks including nailing, spraying and filling the tires. Its large-bore cast iron cylinder is built for long life and quick recovery. Its low 1700 RPM running speed means you barely notice it is running.

The carrying handle is positioned exactly at the balance point to act as a protection cage and for easy carrying. At 52 lbs., it is light enough to haul around the shop or job site effortlessly. It is rated at 3.3 CFM at 90 psi and 3.8 CFM at 40 psi, so it can keep up with a framing nailer. With an extra tank it can easily supply a medium-duty sprayer.

The best part of this small air compressor is the price. At under $200, it is a super value for the many years of service it will bring.
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Best Air Compressor for Home Use

Tools lying on a table

Even if you do not have a big workshop or a contracting business, an air compressor is an essential convenience tool for any homeowner:

  • For topping off the kids’ bike tiresA car tire
  • Inflating the wading pool
  • Blowing up party balloons
  • Inflating the water donuts
  • Topping off a low tire on the car
  • Blowing the dust out of your PC
  • Cleaning out the debris on your mower
  • Running a small impact wrench to bust rusty nuts
  • Running a paint sprayer for repainting the lawn furniture
  • Blowing out the underground sprinklers before winter sets in

Once you understand how useful an air compressor is, the list of things you can do will grow on its own.

An Inexpensive Home Air Compressor

ICalifornia Air Tools air compressorf you are shopping for an inexpensive home compressor with a decent size motor and larger tank, we highly recommend the California Air Tools CAT-6310 1 HP compressor that is reviewed earlier in this guide. Its dual piston design and low RPM make it especially ideal for home use as it only puts out an ultra-quiet 60dB of noise level. The big wheels let you roll it around anywhere with ease. The oil-less pump needs no maintenance. This compressor handles all those household chores quickly, quietly and without busting your budget.

Which Air Compressor Is the Best for Tires and Car Care?

Air compressor being used for pumping tires

An air compressor you can take in the car is the ultimate in convenience. Ultra-portable compressors run off your car’s battery and stow out of sight until needed. Anywhere you travel, it is available for topping off your tires or restoring a spare that has gone soft.

A compressor is indispensable for car cleaning too. With a blow gun and an extension nozzle, you can thoroughly clean out air ducts and reach the tightest corners to blow out gunk. It is great for detailing custom wheels and dusting out the engine compartment as well.

There are a lot of really cheap 12V tire inflator compressors around, but most break down when you need them the most such as on a deserted highway with a flat tire. The best air compressor for tires we can recommend is the Kensun Model A Tire Inflator Kit, which sells for less than $60.

The Kensun only weighs 5 lbs. and has a long cord and hose for a total reach over 12 feet that allows you to reach all your vehicle’s tires from any 12V outlet in your car. It is powerful enough to inflate a flat tire to 30 psi in a couple of minutes. Its maximum pressure output is over 90 lbs.

Punch in the desired pressure on the digital gauge and the Kensun automatically shuts off when that pressure is reached. Two nozzle adapters are included for inflating pools, toys, bike tires, sports balls, etc. If that were not enough, it also comes with a super-bright, built-in LED work light.

Buyers overwhelmingly rate this small, powerful air compressor with a 5-star rating in air compressor reviews for build quality, performance and convenience.

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Best Air Compressor for Painting

Spray painting with an air compressor depends on a steady volume of air. So the CFM rating of the compressor is the primary number to which you want to direct your attention for this application. Insufficient air flow to a spray gun will diminish the quality of the final finish.Air brush for painting

A typical HVLP spray gun, which is the best air compressor for painting cars, cabinets and houses, requires around 7-8 CFM at between 40 and 60 psi. The best air compressor for air brushing can be much smaller. Air brushes usually require less than 40 psi and one or two CFM of air flow.

You can achieve sufficient air flow for shop painting with most three to five-HP compressors. Choose a compressor with a storage tank of 30 gallons at least. You can add an auxiliary storage tank if necessary to boost painting time.

Since other factors, such as hose size and hose length, can affect the final air flow at the gun, it is a good idea to add a separate gauge and regulator at the far end of the hose where the sprayer connects so you can monitor it accurately.

A quality, affordable spray painting compressor is the Puma Belt-Drive 3 HP 60-gallon stationary compressor. With a durable, oil-lubricated, dual cylinder, cast iron pump it provides industry-leading service life and reliable operation. Its 11.3 CFM at 90 psi keeps up with professional-grade spray guns. A ½-inch air outlet means you can add as much air hose as required to reach all parts of your shop with minimal pressure/flow loss. It does require a minimum 17A circuit that delivers 208-230VAC.

Air compressor reviews are plentiful for the Puma and nearly always 5-stars as this is the best 60 gallon air compressor around. At under $700, it is the value leader in the shop compressor market also.

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Best Air Compressor for Air Tools

Air tools come in lots of shapes, sizes and air consumption capacities. If you plan to regularly use tools with your air compressor, then you should choose a size that meets the demand of the hungriest tool in your arsenal. Typically, tools such as lug wrenches, sanders, nibblers and grinders need a lot of airflow. Below are typical CFM requirements for common, high-demand tools:

Air Tool CFM Required
Air hammer 22
1-HP air motor 15
Carving tool 10-15
Chisel hammer 3 – 10
¾-inch impact driver 8
½-inch impact wrench 5
Framing nailer 2-4
Nibbler 4
Orbital sander 6-9
Sand blasters 6-50

Except for non-continuous use tools, such as nailers, most of these tools require a beefy air compressor to keep up with their high CFM demands. When looking for the best air compressor for air tools, consider the 4-cylinder, 80-gallon, Campbell Hausfeld vertical air compressor. This 5-HP compressor is capable of delivering a steady 16 CFM at 90 psi, which is enough to run the most common, air-thirsty tools in your shop. The motor requires no special starter and runs at a super-quiet 840 RPM with low vibration. The oil-lubricated, cast iron cylinders are built to last decades. It has a hefty ¾-inch air outlet and comes with an excellent 3-year warranty.
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Best Air Compressor for Roofing

In order to select the best air compressor for roofing, you want to take into consideration portability and how many staplers or nailers you want to run at once. Portability is important because you want the flexibility to place the compressor close enough to the work to minimize hose lengths and to position it where the noise is not an issue.

Hitachi wheeled air compressor for roofing

Next, consider the crew size. A good rule of thumb is that you need two CFM for every nailer on the job. If a particular compressor has borderline capacity, then move up to the next size. Generally, roofing nailers and staplers require pressure above 60 psi, so use the CFM number at 90 psi as a guide. Also, choose a compressor with a larger tank that is still easy to transport. A larger tank will support a faster nailing rate.

Hitachi wheeled air compressor for roofing

Hitachi wheeled air compressor best for roofingThe Hitachi EC2510E 8-gallon gas-powered air compressor is an excellent choice for a 4-man roofing crew working on new or re-roof jobs. The Honda 5.5 HP OHC/OHV GX160 engine delivers nine CFM at 100 psi. The twin 4-gallon tanks provide ample reserve to keep the nailers running continuously all day. The belt-drive and cast iron pump spell long life. It comes with premium features such as an oversize oil sight glass, pneumatic throttle control, braided stainless steel exhaust and tank ball valves that never stick. This is an air compressor to support the most productive roofing crews.
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Best Air Compressor for Sandblasting

Sandblasting is a very demanding job for any air compressor. It requires high volumes of air delivered continuously. You definitely want one with an oiled cylinder to reduce wear and a motor with plenty of horsepower to keep up. The absolute minimum power should be two HP, but higher is definitely better.
You might be able to get by sandblasting in the shop with the Puma

Belt-Drive 3 HP 60-gallon vertical compressor recommended earlier in this guide as the best air compressor for painting, but the Puma Belt-Drive 4.5 HP 60-gallon model no. PK6560VS is really the best air compressor for sandblasting in our opinion. It delivers 15.5 CFM at 90 psi and a maximum psi of 135. For a moderate-size sandblasting nozzle this should be more than sufficient with minimal cycling.

The oil-lubricated cast iron 3-cylinder pump will give many years of solid service. It also has copper-finned coolers to reduce heat and moisture and ball bearings supporting the crankshaft. It requires a 208/230VAC, single-phase circuit to run. Besides being able to handle a sandblaster, this is a great value compressor for all the other work in your shop. Many air compressor reviews for Puma brand compressors are from satisfied repeat buyers who give Puma 5-stars on all counts.

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Best Air Compressor Brands

When you have pored over as many compressor descriptions, specs and reviews as we have, trends start to emerge. You expect well-known brands such as DeWALT, Hitachi, Porter-Cable and Makita to stand out because of their well-deserved reputation for the other tool lines they manufacture. Then there are the air compressor specialists such as Campbell Hausfeld, Puma, Industrial Air, Jenny and Ingersoll Rand who make quality compressors in all sizes.

In the end, nobody can say for sure which the absolute best brand is because the best air compressor for the money depends so much on what the end-user wants to get out of their compressor and how big their budget is. From a consumer satisfaction point of view, the best cheap air compressor may be superior to the best shop air compressor even though the latter has more powerful specs.

Therefore, we like to look at the brand issue from the viewpoint of value. In other words, which brands tend to give you the most bang for your buck, not simply which brand has the best rated air compressor overall. That means balancing reputation, features, durability and versatility of their products and then seeing who tends to come out on top.

Below are the four brands we do not hesitate to recommend. They are not in any order of preference:

  • Puma – These guys make compressors with impressive specs, build quality and at affordable prices. That is one reason why they received two product recommendations earlier in the guide. They do not make the smallest or the biggest air compressors but they have a wide variety of products from a 1.5-gallon 12V continuous duty model up to a professional quality 2-stage pump compressor. Puma compressors are quality air compressors with high reliability.
  • Campbell Hausfeld – This company has been making compressors since forever. Their portfolio of products include consumer-grade and commercial-grade compressors. Their smaller compressors are often the best garage air compressor you can buy at a rock bottom price.
  • Makita – We would not say that Makita is the absolute best brand above all others, but they are one of the best at delivering stylish, usuable, quality products. The name instills pride in owners. And besides, who does not love their signature teal color? Their air compressor portfolio is smaller than some, but they have all the bases covered from consumer to commercial with compressors that possess modern, innovative designs. Makita even has a 300 psi, dual-head, 2-stage compressor at an affordable price.
  • Industrial Air may be a brand you have not heard of, but they make many popular commercial-grade compressors. They even have a few that are accessible for the average garage workshop DIY guy, such as the IL 1682066.MN 20-gallon belt-drive V-Twin compressor under $500. These are built very well and we like the fact that Industrial Air makes dual voltage compressors for those of us without a 220V circuit.

Consider these brands as representative of the types of quality compressors we recommend. There is no slight to other manufacturers whose products were reviewed throughout this guide but not mentioned in the brands list. Those are all excellent value compressors as well.

Selecting the Right Tool for the Job

Overloaded truckKeep in mind that if you buy the wrong compressor for the work you have assigned to it that it may underperform or even fail. That kind of situation should not reflect on the quality of the brand itself. No tool should be blamed for the short-sightedness or unrealistic expectations of the worker who is using it. When it comes to compressors, given the wide variety of tasks and tools they are capable of working with, however, it is easy to sometimes easy to forget their limits. In some cases, the only solution to a compressor that does not match your job is to replace it or buy an additional one that does match your requirements.

Conclusion

Check marks vector drawingThe air compressors recommended throughout this guide were selected in part because they will provide 10, 20 or more years of service and have the performance specs you need.

We understand that for many buyers, the larger and higher quality compressors are not inexpensive. However, the initial price is going to be spread over a long period of time, while continuously providing high value to your workshop or business. Unless you will use your compressor very sparingly, buying compressors that are unreliable or do not meet your needs just to save a few bucks a year will ultimately lead to frustration and not be cost-effective over the long run.

We hope this air compressor guide has been informative, helpful and leads you to making the best product choice for your situation.