Checked and updated on January 17, 2021 by Aaron Barnett
The best air compressor is powerful with a motor output of at least 2 horsepower, paired with a design for low noise and quiet operation during peak output. Consider the portability of the unit and the durability of wheels if the unit packs some weight. Consider an oil-less low piston system for less required maintenance and more pumping.
Best portable air compressor
#3 Best Dewalt compressor
Dewalt D55146 4.5 gallon 1.6hp 225-psi
#4 Best DIY garage air compressor
Campbell Hausfeld DC080500 1.0 hp 8 gallon, portable quiet 68 decibels
Quietest air compressor review
#3 Best low noise air compressor
California Air Tools CAT-4620AC oil-free 2hp aluminum twin tank quiet 70 decibels
#4 Best aluminum quiet air compressor
California Air Tools CAT-4610AC oil-free 1hp aluminum twin tank quiet 60 decibels
Best portable trim compressor
#3 Best home garage portable air compressor
Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 6 gallon 1hp quiet 68-decibel air compressor
#4 Best portable Makita trim air compressor
Makita AC001 compact trim air compressor
#5 Best Hitachi air trim compressor
Hitachi EC28M oil-free 1 gallon quiet 59-decibel portable air compressor
#6 Best portable Dewalt air compressor
DEWALT D55140 1-gallon 71 decibel trim compressor
#7 Best Senco portable trim compressor
Senco PC0968 oil-free 2.5-gallon 1.5hp trim compressor
#8 Best Senco portable air compressor
Senco PC1010N .5Hp trim portable air compressor
#9 Best DIY trim compressor
Bostitch CAP1512-of oil-free 1.2 gallons, 1.5 hp trim compressor
A portable air compressor can be found in a garage, or as an energy source for building, engineering, and painting jobs. Compressed air can be used to drive power tools including spray guns for painting, and simply inflating tiers.
An air compressor is a motor-equipped device that uses fuel or electricity to generate pressurized or compressed air. The air is collected in a storage tank. The more air there is in the tank, the higher the pressure.
With most air compressors, the mechanism that generates pressurized air shuts off automatically when the pressure in the tank reaches a specific limit.
The compressed air then remains in the tank until it is needed, at which time a valve releases it. When the pressure reaches a specific lower limit, the compression mechanism again turns on automatically until there is sufficient air in the tank.
Many devices and everyday household appliances contain some sort of air compressor. You will find them in everything from pneumatic drills to air-conditioning systems, and in power tools and air-driven machines.
In nearly every construction site, builders use air compressors to sand wood, nail boards, and beams, and to operate jackhammers and grinders. Finishers and interior decorators also use them to paint walls.
DIYers and woodworkers also have many uses for air compressors. They can be used for carpentry, building shelves or furniture, and making crafts. Air compressor-powered nailers are usually lighter than industrial models, making them better suited for light DIY work.
Brunel had developed his version of an air compressor, which was used to force out mud and water at the Chepstow railway bridge worksite. Thomas Cochrane also came out with his own compressed air driven rock drill in 1857, which was used for tunneling.
Interestingly enough, some form of the hydraulic compressor had existed since the early Roman period. These machines were used for forging metal, relying on a system of water running down through a pipe. By 1650, Otto von Guericke of Germany developed an air pump with a piston and a cylinder, which paved the way for modern air compressor designs.
Builders like to spray compressed air to clean formwork before concrete is about to be poured. However, a cordless Makita blower will do the job as well. The most popular tools builders like to run on a portable air compressor is their air brad nailer and finishing nail gun.
If your unsure about the difference between a bradder and a finishing gun click here to find out more.
Before buying a portable air compressor?
Check the durability.
An air compressor should be durable enough to handle the most heavy-duty tasks without breaking down or leaking. They should also be resistant to overheating even when running for long periods.
Research the brand.
Brands such as Makita, DeWalt, and California Air Tools make some of the best air compressors on the market. Models from these brands generally deliver excellent performance and have proven durability and reliability.
Consider the rated horsepower.
Air compressors with higher horsepower ratings allow you to pump more air. This is especially important if you need to have an abundant supply of pressurized air for demanding jobs.
What is the compressed air capacity?
A higher capacity tank will allow you to store more compressed air so that the motor doesn’t have to be constantly working. This reduces wear-and-tear on the engine and prolongs the life of your compressor.
Whats the decibel rating (DB)
Compressors with lower decibel ratings emit less noise. This is an important quality for home workshops and DIY applications where you might need to operate the compressor while other people are in the house.
How much PSI is needed for air tools?
Air compressors are classified according to how much pressure they deliver, which is measured in or “PSI”. Low-pressure air compressors (LPACs) pump out a maximum of 150 PSI. Medium-pressure air compressors (MPACs) put out from 151 PSI to 1,000 PSI, while high-pressure air compressors (HPACs) pump out 1,000 PSI or more.
Air compressors are also rated according to or CFM. Compressors with higher CFM ratings can pump put air consistently for longer periods, so you can hold the trigger down while working. This is useful for tools such as die grinders, which require constant airflow.
But not all tools and applications require a high CFM rating. If you only need to pump out the air in short bursts, you could make do with a lower CFM compressor, which will be a cheaper alternative. This could be a more economical option if you need your compressor to power an impact wrench. However, a high CFM rating compressor will let run tool at the same time.
PSI ratings also often relate to the size of the compressor tank. Compressors with higher PSI ratings usually don’t require a large tank to hold the compressed air. You could, therefore, opt for a smaller compressor with a higher PSI rating if you are working in a small space.
Of course, you should always consider the PSI requirements of the tools you plan to use. Check out this table for the recommended PSI requirements of some of the most common tools that use air compressors.
|Framing Nail Gun||2.2||90|
|Air Blowing||2.5||90 to 100|
|Air Spray||6 to 18||90|
|Impact Wrench||7||32 to 35|
|Inflating Tires, Balls, inflatable Mattress||5 to 7||90|
Oil or oil-less air compressor?
Traditionally, air compressors had to rely on oil to lubricate the piston chamber. This system worked well for the most part, but it did have some drawbacks. The oil in the chamber tended to mix with the compressed air being pumped out, which isn’t always an ideal scenario.
The oil in air compressors also has to be changed periodically, depending on the design of the mechanism and how often the compressor is used. In general, oil-injected compressors require more maintenance than their oil-less counterparts.
Oil-free compressors use self-lubricating materials such as Teflon, which means that there is no need to lubricate the system. Apart from being comparatively low maintenance, compressors are also generally cheaper and lighter than oil-injected compressors.
Oil-free compressors aren’t always the best choice for every application. Although they serve well for DIY and infrequent home use, they do tend to dry out over time.
This is why air compressors used in industrial settings are almost always oil-injected models. Oil-free compressors also tend to generate more noise than oiled compressors, so keep that in mind if you are shopping for an air compressor for home use.
What is the quietest air compressor?
Like most power tools, air compressors generate quite a bit of noise. In general, oiled air compressors run quieter than oil-less compressors, making them better suited for home use, especially if you have to keep the noise to a minimum.
California Air Tools makes some of the quietest air compressors on the market. The 6-gallon 5510SE emits only 60 dB of noise, which makes it an excellent choice for DIYers that have babies or young children at home.
The company’s CAT-1P1060S model is even quieter, putting out only 56 dB of noise during use.
Best air compressor for DIY and the home or garage
When choosing an air compressor for your home garage, some of the most important factors to consider are size, ease of use, maintenance, and versatility.
You should go for a compact and lightweight unit that is easy to store and move around, and which doesn’t take up too much space. It should also be easy to use and reasonably low maintenance, so an oil-less design might be the best option.
Power isn’t really a major concern if you are shopping for a home garage air compressor. Unless you are planning on driving rivets in your garage, a modestly-powered compressor should do just fine.
Makita and DeWalt make excellent air compressors that are priced and made for professional use. Depending on how much work you expect your compressor to do, the Makita or the DeWalt might pay of.
Otherwise for the in the DIY’ers garage and around the house a cheaper option that performs is the Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 a 6 Gallon 1HP quiet 68 Decibel portable air compressor.
Best air compressor for builders
If you are a builder, you will need an air compressor that delivers enough pressure for the most demanding jobs. You will also want to match the power of the motor with a tank that can hold a good amount of pressurized air before the compression mechanism has to kick in again.
When shopping for a heavy-duty model, the most important factors to consider are air pressure/volume and electrical requirements. Many compressors that have enough power for heavy-duty applications will probably require 220V, so make sure that the circuit can handle it without tripping the breaker.
The Makita MAC5200’s 5.2-gallon tank and 3.0 HP motor make it a good choice for heavy-duty work. Also consider the Makita MAC700, which has a 2.6-gallon tank and a 2.0 HP motor.
What size air compressor is needed to run what air tools?
Size is another important consideration when choosing an air compressor. Bigger air compressors take up more space and are more difficult to move around. But if you need plenty of air pressure and have a sufficiently large work area, you might want to go for a compressor that is as large as is practical.
If you have to use your tools in different areas of your workplace, you could get a long hose that allows you to direct the pressurized air where you need it.
It is always better to have more–rather than less–pressurized air available on hand. If space is an issue, get a smaller air compressor by all means. But be aware that you give up some power and performance in exchange for portability and a smaller footprint. For most DIYers and even professionals, an air compressor with a two, to a six-gallon tank should be sufficient for most jobs.
Painters and DIY’ers commonly make use of a portable compressor for their air spray gun and their orbital air sander.
How does an oil-free air compressor work?
Most standard air compressors use oil to lubricate the cylinder walls and allow it to move freely.
Oil-free or oil-less compressors do not use oil and instead, rely on self-lubricating materials that would enable the pistons to slide back and forth in the cylinder. These compressors may also use grease to lubricate the sealed bearings.
Many oil-free air compressors also have specially designed air ends that generate pressurized air without needing oil in the compression chamber. This results in, compressed air that is totally free of oil.
Oil-free air compressors may come in air-cooled and water-cooled designs, and offer the same functionality as oil-injected compressors.
Tips for using a portable compressor
If you are using a gas-driven air compressor, make sure that your workspace is adequately ventilated. Better yet, take your compressor out to your carport, driveway, or yard, and work outdoors. Gas compressors emit harmful toxins such as carbon monoxide, so you want to avoid exposing yourself to risk if you can avoid it.
Check to see that there aren’t any leaks in the air hose, the attachments, or the air tank. Any leaks will keep your compressor from working to its full potential and force the motor to work harder than it should.
Finally, make sure that your compressor has the proper PSI and CFM ratings for the tools you will use and the job you need to do. A properly-rated compressor will ensure optimal performance and prevent you from over-stressing the components when doing heavy-duty jobs.
For roofers, delicate sheet metal cutting jobs can be improved by using a small and easy to control air nibbler like the Ingersoll rand air nibbler paired with a decent portable compressor.
Comparing the top air compressors
|California Air Tools 8010A||Makita MAC700||California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S|
|Weight:||37.25 lbs.||52 lbs.||20 lbs.|
If you are looking for the best small air compressor that combines power and portability, the Makita MAC700 is a no-brainer.
Its 2.0 HP motor combined with the Big Bore pump cylinder and piston system delivers high output and sufficient power for most jobs without being too noisy.
California Air Tools’ 8010A is a great choice for quiet operation and low maintenance, but it still provides enough power for most jobs at home or in the workplace. It also has a long life cycle, giving you more than 3,000 hours of reliable service.
And if you really must have the quietest air compressor around, you can’t do any better than California Air Tools’ CAT-1P1060S. Emitting only 56 dB of noise, this is as quiet as an air compressor can get while still delivering excellent performance.
Sounds like this can be improved for the next reader.
Please share how this article can be improved?
My name is Aaron, and welcome to Bangingtoolbox.
As a qualified builder and DIY’er, my goal with Banging Toolbox is to provide the #1 building and DIY resource on the internet for my readers.
I’m here to show people how to start DIY, and to help qualified professionals take building to the next level.
Feel free to have a look around, and don’t hesitate to ask me any questions, you can find out more about me here.