In this Guide
An air compressor can be one of the most important and expensive tool purchases you make. You’ll have to be careful to choose something that suits the size of your tools, the specific requirements they have, and the type of applications you’ll be using them for. It can all be overwhelming, especially for busy people who should working with their tools instead of shopping online!
That’s why we started Air Compressors Reviews! We’ve taken our collective expertise and research skills, and set them to the task of creating a resource for all the best reviews, recommendations, and advice for finding your ideal compressor.
Let’s get to it with a glance at our current favorites:
Best for the Ambitious DIYer
- Our Rating: 4.5
- Popularity: Low
Best for the Home Mechanic or Small Shop
- Our Rating: 4.0
- Popularity: Low
Best for Farms, Shops, and Professionals
- Our Rating: 5.0
- Popularity: Low
Air compressors are a game changer for people who use power tools. They allow you to harness the power and convenience of air tools for all kinds of DIY projects or professional applications, whether you’re a home tinkerer or a professional mechanic.
These machines supply air tools with power, and they allow you to pump up your vehicle tires faster than any gas station machine. Plus, you can clean quickly around your workshop using air power! In short, they’re a universal tool for nearly any task.
But which are best?
We’ve scoured the market to find the absolute best models currently available. We compared specs, features, prices, and ratings.
We compared expert reviews, buyer reviews, and every single source of information we could find about our recommendations. In our own in-depth reviews, we’ve consolidated all that information to bring you concise, informative overviews of all our favorite air compressors.
Here on our homepage, we’ll take a closer look at three great stationary air compressors that are ideal for home garages and workshops. At the bottom of this main guide, you’ll find a guide to choosing the right one for you, as well as links to more specific guides to the best portable compressors, 12V units, and much more!
Best Air Compressor Reviews 2018 – Home & Shop
1. Industrial Air
Our most budget friendly recommendation comes from Industrial Air. It’s perfect for the ambitious DIY craftsman and home mechanic who wants industrial quality without a massive footprint or price tag!
This one packs a powerful motor and large air tank into less than a 2’X2’ footprint. It’s quiet, compact, and runs on 120V power–perfect for the home shop. We think it’s the best you can do on 120V without upgrading your whole power supply for a larger compressor.
It’s compact. We know that a lot of ambitious DIYers and home mechanics don’t always have the space for their dream tools in an average home garage. The Industrial Air unit makes it easy to upgrade to the power and efficiency of air tools without taking up half your workspace. This one fits in a space smaller than 2 square feet, and it’s only 4 feet tall.
It’s relatively quiet, compared to other 30-gallon compressors. If you’re one of the many home DIYers who don’t live in a secluded area where they can make all the noise they want, chances are you have to be mindful of your tools annoying neighbors. The Industrial Air puts out a maximum of 78 decibels–below the 80-decibel benchmark for ear protection, and much quieter than other stationary units.
Previous buyers said it was much quieter than other compressors they’d owned previously. That’s thanks to the belt-driven design, as well as the motor itself. The noise factor is one of the top reasons we recommend this one for domestic use, in home garages or workshops. It allows you to tackle all your DIY ambitions without disturbing neighbors.
It’s much more powerful than portable models, and makes a great first stationary compressor. This one would also be a solid budget option for people who just need to power basic, consumer-level tools. This model is equipped with a 1.9HP engine that runs on two cylinders, for fast and consistent performance.
We like the motor on this one over other 30-gallon models because it’s powerful enough to bump the working PSI up to 155. That means there’s more air packed into the 30-gallon tank than you’d find on other models at the same size.
In fact, it gets as much mileage out of its tank as many 60-gallon units which run at lower PSI. So, you get a longer running time for your tools. It’s a smart design which gives it more of the performance of a full-size unit, without taking up as much space.
Between the powerful motor and the high compression rate in the tank, this unit can supply up to 5.7 CFM for your air tools. That’s significantly better than portable electric units, and it’s enough to power most smaller to average-power air tools easily. We recommend this one for all basic home DIY carpentry and mechanical tasks, from impact wrenches, drills, and brad nailers to pumping up tires and spray-cleaning equipment.
Previous buyers said the Industrial Air was surprisingly powerful and effective with their tools. They said it could get from empty to fully pressurized in about 5-6 minutes. Reviewers said it performed excellently for general home and auto work, with no lag for their tools.
Home woodworkers in particular said this model worked much better for their sanders than other compressors they had used in the past. That’s where that efficient tank usage really comes in handy!
It has all the key features of the full-size models, in a smaller package. There are dual pressure gauges, a simple regulator, and an easy-access oil port for keeping the machine maintained without any hassle.
It’s easy to move around. This one weighs less than 200 pounds, and it’s mounted on large pneumatic tires which make it easy to wheel around like a dolly. While we still consider this a stationary unit, it’s certainly the most portable one we’ve seen in a long time.
It works on standard 120V electric feeds. We know that most casual/home DIYers and mechanics don’t often have the resources they’d need to install a full 240V feed. After all, it can easily cost hundreds of dollars just to get the electrician over to run the cable–and that’s if you don’t have to make any special modifications to your home furnishings or internal wiring.
For the average home workshop, that’s impractical and cost prohibitive. This machine allows you to have the high power supply of air tools on a standard home electric supply. And, if you decide to upgrade to 240V at some point in the future, it can switch over!
Even though it’s a budget-priced compressor, it’s built ruggedly, and guaranteed to last. The tank is built from cast iron, and all the motor and compressor parts are either cast iron, steel, or aluminum. Previous buyers were especially impressed by the balanced cast iron flywheel, which they said ran completely vibration-free. That’s part of the reason this one is so quiet.
It comes with oil in the box. It’s synthetic, just like the compounds that ship with more expensive compressor motors.
It’s very affordable. This one costs cheap, and we’ve seen it cost . It’s ideal for people who need to run air tools around the workshop, but don’t want to spend an exorbitant amount for something they won’t be using professionally.
The petcock drainage valve at the bottom of the tank allows you to drain water, but it’s not as easy to use or accessible as a ball valve. We found that most previous buyers ended up replacing the factory valve with a ball unit for convenience.
It’s more powerful than portable units, and it’s definitely more powerful than other 30-gallon units we’ve seen. However, the Industrial Air is a relatively small stationary compressor. It’s fine for the home carpenter and mechanic, who uses tools on the smaller to average end of the spectrum. You shouldn’t expect it to power larger/dual sanders, grinders, or sprayers. It’s also not for more industrial or shop-style tools (like big impact wrenches) which have larger air draws.
It runs hot, and collects a lot of water. This is a great budget compressor, but it’s not as smartly-designed or well-built as our more expensive recommendations. We’d recommend draining it after every use, and attaching cooling fins or a protective insulation around the air feed between the cylinders and the tank to prevent burns.
Our midrange choice comes from Puma Industries, a smaller company with a very loyal following among buyers who have discovered the brand. They make rugged and affordable power tools which are great for the serious hobbyist or DIYer who wants something industrial-quality without the big size or price tag.
This model is our top pick for home garages and workshops which use a wide range of air tools, without any extremely large power needs. It’s more powerful than the Industrial Air, and it does much better with continuous use tools which need a constant supply of air.
It’s a more powerful unit than the Industrial Air. Here’s a run-down on the Puma’s specs: it’s powered by a 3HP electric motor, which produces up to 135 max PSI, and 12CFM at 90 PSI, your standard air tool requirement. 12 CFM is enough to power most air tools that DIY mechanics and carpenters would come across, both continuous use tools and firing-style implements. We think it’s an excellent choice for a busy home garage, small farm, or DIY woodworking shop.
The 60-gallon tank provides plenty of running capacity for continuous tools like sprayers and blasters without taking up much space at all. It takes up almost exactly the same footprint as the Industrial Air–it’s just slightly taller. In fact, the Puma is one of our favorite compressors on the market for continuous tools, since it has such a large air capacity for the price.
Its compatibility with continuous-feed tools makes it a better woodworkers’ or mechanic’s station than the Industrial Air. Previous buyers said it’ll run 120PSI continuously without any issues, while the Industrial Air would need to cycle almost constantly to work at that rate.
Puma buyers used their units to run blasting cabinets, and tools ranging from 1200 ft/lb impact drills to 4500 lb scissor jacks with no problems or lag. They also said it ran 40lb sandblasters for 5 minute bursts with no issues. In short, the Puma is an excellent choice for most day-to-day DIY or casual shop jobs that don’t require any especially large tools.
The motor is safe and quiet. It’s belt-driven, like the Industrial Air unit. The single-phase induction motor is also overload-protected, so you never have to worry about the machine overheating or burning out.
It’s compact. This one’s less than 2 feet across. For a 60-gallon tank, that’s some efficient use of space! You’ll be able to fit this very easily in your garage or basement shop. It’s mounted on wheels which have ball bearings for easier maneuverability. They also have puncture-proof tires, so you never have to worry about rolling it over debris or fittings which are on the floor.
It’s OSHA compliant. This isn’t a machine we’d use for a larger shop, but it’s definitely suitable for use around a smaller shop or a farm where a compressor is handy for powering smaller tools and pumping up tires. OSHA compliance means you can use this legally on a worksite without any insurance or safety issues for your workers.
It’s extremely well-built. It’s made from cast iron, with all-metal parts on the motor and fittings. We read reviews from buyers who had run these machines for nearly two decades with no issues. They said that while the company might be a small off-brand without much market share, they make extremely reliable durable power tools.
It’s covered by a 1-year warranty. Previous buyers reported that they rarely if ever needed to get in touch with Puma, since their machines performed so reliably and held up perfectly.
It’s very affordable. The Puma is usually expensive, so it’s a perfect midpoint between entry-level garage compressors like the Industrial Air and the high power models. Buyers said the Puma’s balance between power, capacity, and price makes an excellent upgrade for people looking to move to a more “serious” stationary compressor without spending a premium.
It’s oil-lubricated. That means you’ll need to be on top of doing maintenance and upkeep on your unit, which can be a bit of a pain. The gauge isn’t quite as convenient as the Industrial Air’s, either.
It needs a 240V electric feed. That’s a key difference between this one and the Industrial Air. You’ll need a pre-existing 240V feed, or else you should budget in money for an electrician to come and install one for you.
It’s heavy. This weighs about 300 pounds. You’ll need a lift gate to get it off a truck, if you don’t own a forklift.
There’s no decibel rating listed, and previous buyers said this one is fairly loud. Reviewers said they’d certainly used louder compressors, but this one still makes a decent racket.
While this is a very capable unit for most continuous use tools at the DIY and light commercial level, it’s not powerful enough for the sort of industrial air tools that some professional mechanics or builders might use. Make sure you check your CFM ratings if you’re going to be using this commercially.
Our top quality recommendation for a stationary air compressor, the Powermate is a big powerful unit built in the USA. It can handle pretty much anything the DIY mechanic, carpenter or small shop owner can throw at it.
We recommend it for grinding, nailing, drilling, blasting, and even spray painting continuously. It has a powerful motor, a big tank, and rugged build quality which means it’ll last for years. If you’re looking for the best stationary air compressor for your busy garage, farm, or shop, this is a solid bet.
It’s more powerful than the Puma, thanks to upgrades in all the key areas:
First, it has a 22-amp motor which cranks out 4.7 HP–more than 1/3X more powerful than the Puma. It’s a 3-cylinder motor, which allows the Powermate to perform like a multi-stage compressor, even though it’s only a single-stage system.
The result is a rating up to 155 PSI max working pressure, an extra 20PSI more than the Puma. That means you can power more air-intensive tools, and get better performance from continuous tools at 90 PSI.
Second, the motor it’s mounted to an 80-gallon tank, adding an extra 33% capacity to the Puma’s tank. That allows for a longer continuous power supply for all your tools, which cuts down on lag. In the case of most tools, it totally eliminates lag.
So, the more powerful motor allows for a higher working pressure, which means more air is packed into the same amount space inside the tank. Plus, you’ve got a bigger tank to work with in the first place! The result is a slightly higher CFM rating than the Puma, and much better performance with tools that require a continuous air feed.
The motor and tank work together to crank out 14 CFM. That’s rated based on the usual 90PSI standard, but Powermate have tested this one to work specially with tools that need 14 CFM on a continuous basis. It’s our top choice for people who use a lot of continuous feed tools, like grinders or blasters. For other tools, it simply offers better performance–especially if you’re nailing quickly, or nailing in tandem with a partner.
This one’s appropriate for nearly any task, from spray painting to grinding to nailing continuously. It has both the storage capacity and the sheer power to keep all but the most industrial tools supplied easily.
Previous buyers used it for everything from impact drills to auto shop work. They said it seemed to never exhaust its air supply, and kept even the most demanding tools fully-powered.
It’s the best of the three in terms of build quality. This one’s built entirely in the USA, from heavy-duty components. It’s all cast iron and steel. The tank, crank cases and flywheel are all solid cast iron, and there are also stainless steel flex valves from Sweden. Overall, the Powermate is totally rugged. We couldn’t find any complaints about broken parts from previous buyers.
To help the motor cool off more efficiently, there’s a wire guard around the best assembly, rather than a solid casing. It allows ventilation from all directions, and you can even add a second fan next to your compressor if you want to make sure you can run on hot days where normal casing would make the motor overheat and shut off. Like the Puma, there’s overload protection built into the motor, so you don’t have to worry about it being damaged.
The Powermate makes up for the downsides of oil lubrication with an easy-to-read gauge and convenient filling cap. It also comes with a special synthetic oil included in the box, which allows it to run smoother, longer, and with much less maintenance.
It’s covered by a 2-year warranty.
It’s very loud. This one makes 83db worth of noise, so you should never run it without ear protection.
It’s the largest unit here. This one’s nearly 3 feet wide, and 77 inches high. You’ll need a decent chunk of space in your workshop or garage to park this.
It’s heavy, too. The Powermate weighs around 350 pounds, so you won’t want to move it around frequently.
Previous buyers said that the motor has a tendency to set the wheels moving around the shop floor while the Powermate runs. You’ll want to make sure you can bolt or strap it to the floor or wall for security.
One other reason to secure it in place is that it’s very top heavy. Not much is going to move a 350-pound compressor, but it’s much better to be safe than sorry. Make sure it’s strapped into place and can’t tip over. We’re going to assume that’s why this one doesn’t list OSHA certification–another downside, and something which may prohibit commercial use of this one.
This certainly isn’t a casual purchase. We’d recommend it only to the most ambitious DIYers, or people who will use it professional on a farm or in a shop.
Which is the Best Air Compressor for You?
The Industrial Air is the best choice for casual home DIYers who want more power and capacity than a portable compressor can provide without taking up too much space, power, or money. It’s the most compact of our recommendations, and it’s the only one which can work on standard 120V power. It can handle all kinds of basic air tools, from brad nailers to impact wrenches.
However, we wouldn’t recommend it for lots of continuous tools, like a sander or grinder, or larger-scale impact wrenches and nailers. It’s best for short bursts, on smaller or average size tools. It’s also just too small to function well in a bigger shop, with more industrial-scale tools.
We strongly recommend the Puma for people who still have a smaller shop, but want more overall power and some added versatility for continual-power tools like grinders, sanders, and blasters. It more than doubles the air power of the Industrial Air, and it doubles the air capacity as well. So, you can run bigger tools–for longer.
It’s the best choice for small businesses like a farm or handyman shop who need a midsize model, since it’s OSHA certified. It can handle any average-size tools.
The Powermate is our ultimate recommendation for ambitious DIYer’s, farmers, or home mechanics who have lots of projects and tools to supply. It’s the largest compressor here, and it puts out the most power in terms of both CFM and continuous feeds. If you’re using tools that require 10 CFM or less, you’ll be good to go!
On the downside, it’s too big and loud to fit in a casual DIYer’s garage, and it’s not OSHA-certified for workplaces. It’s a better bet for people who are serious home mechanics or craftsmen who don’t have employees using the compressor, or neighbors close by.
Our Complete Buying Guide to the Best Rated Home Air Compressors
Choose a format:
Air compressors are available in either portable or stationary designs. (We’ve focused on stationary compressors here on our homepage, but you’ll find links and featured reviews of portable models below). You’ll want to choose the format that works best for your needs before you start shopping.
Stationary models provide the most power overall. That’s because they can have big motors and large air tanks which would be too heavy and bulky for a portable model. They’re the best choice for large tools and long jobs.
They have the most power up front for big tools with higher air pressure needs, and they have the most capacity in the tank for running tools like grinders and blasters, which need a continuous feed of air. We recommend stationary models for anyone who has a serious home workshop, farm, or small business which depends on air tools.
If you’re shopping for a stationary air compressor, you don’t need to choose between fuels. All stationary models run on electricity, since they’re designed to be installed inside, close to a power source. However, you will have to choose between 120V and 240V units. 120V units are easier to install, since they don’t need a special hookup.
They’re the better choice for smaller workspaces and casual DIYers who either can’t afford a 240V hookup, or simply don’t need one for their projects. 240V provide a lot more power, and they’re the better choice for medium-size to larger workshops which require an air supply for bigger tools and longer jobs. However, you’ll need to have a 240V supply in your shop, or pay to have one installed.
Portable air compressors are ideal for small jobs, and for people who don’t have a dedicated space in their workshop to devote to a big stationary model. And, of course, they’re the best choice for working on projects you can’t bring into your shop.
Portable models work anywhere you need them to, so they’re very useful for using air tools on jobsites, pumping up a tractor tire in a pasture, or for small workshops where it’s important to be able to store your air compressor away when you’re not using it.
These models are available in a whole range of power levels, from small electric compressors for nailing and carpentry projects to big gas-powered units for grinding and blasting. You’ll want to think about what sort of power scale you’re looking at for your intended projects–see our section on Power below!
If you’re considering a portable air compressor, you’ll also want to think about how you’ll actually be powering your unit. Portable air compressors are available in both electric and gas formats.
Electric units are cleaner to use, lower maintenance, and safe for indoor projects. With that said, they’re less powerful, and they do require an electric supply wherever you’re working. Gas-powered portable models work absolutely anywhere, and they can rival stationary electric compressors in terms of sheer power. On the downside, they’re not safe to use inside, and the nature of a combustion engine means they have a lot more upkeep and maintenance to attend to.
Choose a stage:
All air compressors have a set number of stages in their design. Each stage is a point of compression between the motor cylinders and the pressurized air storage tank.
A compressor with more stages is more expensive to buy and larger to store/carry, but it will allow for a higher level of pressure inside the air tank (more sheer power and longer running times for big tools). We’ve focused on single-stage air compressors in our guides, since dual-stage units tend to be cost-prohibitive for most buyers.
However, if you’re running a larger, professional shop, you may want to look at a dual-stage compressor. They’re the best choice for industrial-scale tools and operations where several workers will be using the compressor at the same time.
Know how much power you need:
The most important part of shopping for an air compressor is figuring out how much power you need. Regardless of how nice your new compressor is, if it doesn’t have enough brute power, it won’t perform the way you want it to.
Choosing an underpowered air compressor can burn out compressor motors, damage parts, and cause your tools to perform in ways that are both unsafe and unproductive. It’s very important to know your power needs up front, and understand how to choose a compressor which can properly supply your projects.
This section of our guide will help you figure out exactly how to look at power specs, compare compressor power scales, and figure out what you need to look for in your new unit. Remember to always round generously, and give yourself more leeway than you think you’ll need!
The first thing to do is make sure you understand the specs and numbers that are used to rate how powerful an air compressor is. Power is measured in three standard units:
Horsepower tells you how powerful the motor on your compressor is. It can look impressive while you’re shopping, since it’s the same unit you’d use to measure a powerful sports car engine. However, horsepower is usually irrelevant (and often misleading) in terms of air compressors.
As a general rule, a higher horsepower is good, since it usually translates to higher air pressure and faster performance. Higher horsepower does usually mean that the motor can recompress your tank more quickly after you use a tool. However, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
We’d certainly encourage you to look at the horsepower on your unit, but also look past it to make sure that high horsepower number actually translates to high PSI and CFM, which are the two more important units.
Also, we think it’s a good idea to look for multi-cylinder engines rather than simply a larger engine with higher horsepower. Smart cylinder designs can help single-stage compressors perform like dual-stage models without the cost or heft.
To summarize, horsepower is a nice spec to be aware of, but it may not always translate into direct results. You’ll want to look for longer duty cycles, higher max PSI ratings, and larger CFM ratings to tell you whether your machine’s HP is being used productively.
Air tools aren’t measured in horsepower, so you’ll need to use your other units to help you translate a horsepower spec into a real sense of how your tools will perform. Expect to see compressors with horsepower ratings starting around 1HP for small portable units to 5+HP motors for larger stationary units.
Air pressure (measured in PSI, or pounds per square inch):
Air pressure essentially means how tightly packed air is in your compressor’s tank. It’s also the unit that measures the force with which the air comes out a hose into your tool. PSI tells you two key things. It tells you how large an air tool you can use with your compressor, and it tells you how efficiently your compressor is using your air tank.
Most air tools run at a standard of 90 PSI, and that’s well below the threshold most compressors produce. So, in terms of PSI alone, a compressor usually won’t limit you to using certain tools.
However, some larger, industrial-scale tools do require a higher PSI level. If you use larger tools, double-check to see what PSI you’ll need to run them. You’ll need to find a compressor with a maximum working PSI rating higher than that number, with a comfortable safety threshold of 20 PSI or so.
The key thing to think about with PSI is what it means in terms of your air tank. The tank on your compressor is your reserve of air–it’s the amount of air you can use before the compressor motor has to kick in to recompress the tank. If your compressor has a higher PSI, it means that it’s using its air tank very efficiently.
In concrete terms, that means more air molecules packed inside the tank, which is more fuel for your tools. For example, a 2-gallon tank at 150 PSI performs on par with a 3-gallon tank that’s compressed at 100 PSI. The 2-gallon tank can give you equal run-time on your tools to the 3-gallon tank, simply because it has more air packed per gallon.
That’s why PSI is an important spec to read: it can tell you how well your compressor will perform for repeating tools like nailers, when you’re nailing quickly, and for tools which require a continuous air feed. If you’re using tools that use air volume quickly, a higher PSI will translate to longer running time for your tools, with fewer breaks to wait for the compressor to catch up to you.
Air volume (measured in CFM, or cubic feet per minute):
Air volume means the physical amount of air your compressor can supply to a tool in a minute of runtime. It’s similar to PSI, in that it translates to power, but CFM measures the physical volume of air, while PSI measures the force at which the air is moving.
CFM is the most important spec to look for while you’re shopping. Higher horsepower and PSI are nice, because they mean you can work more steadily, quickly, and conveniently. With that said, both HP and PSI are irrelevant if your compressor can’t supply enough CFM. CFM requirements, unlike PSI requirements, differ from tool to tool.
Without the requisite CFM, your tools can’t perform properly. You’ll risk overload your compressor, and have a frustrating time while you’re trying to work. So, the CFM requirements of your tools will dictate which compressors will work properly for your needs.
Thankfully, CFM is pretty easy to navigate. PSI and HP can be measured in different ways by manufacturers to make their products look better. CFM, on the other hand, is always measured the same way: at the standard 90 PSI. So, a CFM rating tells you the volume of air your tool will get at 90 PSI.
CFM ratings range from 0.5 to 15+ for larger, industrial-grade tools. Since most air tools top out at 90 PSI, CFM ratings tend to be conservative. If you have a compressor rated at 5 CFM for instance, but only need to run tools that use 50 PSI, say, you’ll probably end up with something more like 7 CFM for those tools.
Smaller tools like brad nailers, impact wrenches, and drills will generally require about 0.5-5 CFM at a standard 90 PSI. Larger tools like shears, sanders, and bigger impact wrenches will probably need something in the 5-15 CFM margin.
How to figure out how much power you need:
To judge how much CFM you need in your new compressor, start with your most power-intensive tool as a benchmark. Choose the tool with the highest CFM at the highest PSI rate. That’ll be the most demanding high water mark for your compressor. For instance, your most powerful tool might be a standard 90 PSI sander which requires 7 CFM.
Take that CFM rating, and then add an extra 50%, to give yourself a safety margin. That’s important, because CFM can fluctuate in real-world usage, so you want to make sure you’re accounting for different conditions in temperature, humidity, and so forth. Using the same theoretical sander for our example, you’ll end up with about 10 CFM as a benchmark to look for in your new compressor.
One other key consideration to make before you decide on your CFM benchmark is the type of tools you’re using, and how you’re using them. CFM is usually rated at 25% duty cycle. That means it’s assuming that you’re actually pumping air for 15 seconds out of every minute (ergo, 25% of the time).
For most tools, like impact wrenches or nailers, that’s not a concern. Since they use short bursts of air, you probably only need 15 seconds worth of total air supply over the course of using them for 1 minute.
However, if you’re using tools that require continuous air supply, like sanders or blasters, you should take that 25% rate into consideration, and adjust your CFM benchmark accordingly. For example, take a small woodworking sander which needs 3 CFM at 90 PSI. It’s tested at its normal working setting, which for a sander means 100% duty cycle.
However, the compressor is tested at a 25% rate. To get to your realistic benchmark for continual supply, you simply multiply the tool’s CFM rating by 4. So, to power your 3 CFM sander, you’ll really need a 12 CFM compressor, or a (rare) compressor which works at a higher duty cycle.
That’s it! Now that you’ve got your power needs all figured out, let’s look at some other important things to think about with your new compressor.
Other Important Factors to Consider in a Good Air Compressor
One of the biggest downsides of any air compressor, whether it’s portable or stationary, is the racket these machines make. Air compressors are inherently loud, and even the quietest compressor makes a noise comparable to a gas generator.
You’ll find that most models run at somewhere between 50 and 100 decibels. For some perspective, normal conversation between 2 people is generally considered to be a standard 60 decibels.
Most generators run close to that mark, while most air compressors tend to be closer to the 80 decibel mark. Quiet air compressors are generally considered to be under 75 decibels, although there are no official standards for using the term “quiet” in marketing materials. Make sure you take a look at the actual decibel rating on the models you’re comparing, to be sure they actually live up to the noise level description.
As a general rule, the quieter the compressor, the better. Low noise levels are an indication of smart design and good build quality, and they make a machine more pleasant to use.
However, increased noise is a fact of life as you go up the scale from small compressors to large, industrial units. Look for the lowest decibel rating possible, and remember that the decibel scale doesn’t work like your average numerical rating system.
Going from 20-30db, for instance, doesn’t mean you’re adding 33% more noise. It actually means you’re doubling the amount of noise–each 10db is a doubling of the noise factor. So, each increase in decibels is exponential rather than proportional. That means that even a slightly lower decibel rating can make a significant difference in noise levels on your compressor.
When you’re shopping, you’ll want to think about where your air compressor will be located, and when it will be used. If you’re going to run your machine in a quiet residential neighborhood, you probably need to shop for a “quiet”, low decibel unit. Make sure you can protect your own hearing, and minimize disruption for neighbors and the other people living in your house or near your workshop.
There are a few key features to look for while you’re shopping, as far as noise is concerned. Oil-lubricated compressors tend to run much quieter than oil-less compressors.
Belt-driven motors are quieter than direct-drive motors, and wider belts tend to make less noise than narrow belts. Some models have silencers built in, or noise insulation around the motor assembly.
More than any particular feature, the key thing to look for is an efficient compressor. If your compressor is more efficient, it won’t have to run the motor as often to refill the air tank, and nothing reduces noise more than the motor shutting off!
So, if you’re looking for a quiet air compressor, look for an oil-lubricated, belt-driven model with a low decibel rating and an efficient tank and motor combination.
We recommend hearing protection as a general precaution while you’re working with any air compressor, but it’s essential when you’re using a machine over 80 decibels, as these noise levels can lead to hearing loss-especially if you’re working with the machine for several hours at a time.
Pay attention to the housing:
While the motor and internal compressor components are clearly the most important features on any air compressor, you should also be aware of the external housing components and other features of the design, since they can have a big impact on safety, durability, and even performance.
First, you’ll want to think about safety. Air compressors are powerful machines, with fast motors and air tubes which work at very high speeds. That means they often get very hot, and can give you serious burns if you brush against the wrong pipe or motor component by accident. Look for protective shielding around the motor assembly, whether it’s plate metal or a wire caging.
You’ll also want to remember that heat can pose safety risks for your air compressor’s motor. Look for overload and overheating protection in the motor, whether it’s a fuse system or an automatic shutoff feature.
You’ll also want to think about cooling in terms of your compressor’s performance. As we’ve said, compressors run hot, and a motor that’s running too hot poses safety risks to you and your compressor’s motor.
The housing on your particular model can make a big difference in helping the unit run cooler and safer. If your motor can stay cool, it will have a longer running life, and better performance every day.
That’s why we prefer wire caging or perforated metal housing which allows for better airflow around the motor. You’ll also see a lot of built-in fans on larger compressors, to help the machine cool down. Cooling features are especially important if you’re going to be running your machine outside in sunlight or especially warm conditions.
Rugged housing, especially around the motor assembly of your compressor, is also essential to helping your machine have a long, healthy working life. Whether you’re working indoors our outdoors, with a portable machine or stationary unit, you never know what parts could go flying or bump into your tools in the shop or on the worksite.
Make sure that all the key components, especially delicate valves and pipes, are covered by a protective shielding. If you’re using a portable unit on a worksite, you may want to look for roll-bar style caging. In the workshop, wire cages or perforated metal will be sufficient.
Look for little features and conveniences:
Finally, you should approach any new air compressor purchase with an eye for detail. Little features like drainage valves, pressure gauges, and so forth might seem unimportant–after all, you can just replace them later, right?
However, all those little features can add up to significant differences in how pleasant your compressor is to use, and they can have serious impacts on its working life and performance. We’ve also found that replacing parts will void many warranty policies, so we think it’s better to simply buy a well-thought-out machine in the first place, and save yourself the headaches and risks of upgrading your compressor later.
It’s also important to know what you’re getting when you receive your unit. Know up front whether you’ll need to purchase any extra components or fittings to get up and running!
Here are some of the minor features you shouldn’t overlook when you’re shopping
All air compressors collect water in the course of operation. As water collects in the air tank, it can eventually cause rust, which leads to small pinhole leaks in the sides of the tank.
Each tiny leak means lost pressure, and loss of performance for the machine. That’s why air compressor tanks almost always come with a drainage valve (or, in the case of more expensive models, a water separator).
Valves might look pretty uniform from the outside, but they can range from simple and convenient to downright infuriating. Make sure you have clearance under the tank to get the drainage valve.
Then, check the type of valve: is it a drain cock or a ball valve? Ball valves are much easier to use, and unlike drain cocks, they don’t require tools. Always choose a ball valve when available. If you’re going to be buying a compressor with a drain cock valve, make sure there’s enough room for you to use tools to open and close the valve.
Pressure gauges are absolutely essential to using an air compressor. Make sure your new compressor’s gauges are correct when it arrives, and if they aren’t, insist on a replacement. Operating with an inaccurate PSI is unsafe and very impractical. You could blow a tire or damage your air tools beyond repair, let alone cause yourself serious harm.
Be sure that the pressure gauges are easy to read, located somewhere you can keep them in eyesight as you work. All compressors should include a gauge for the tank, and a gauge for the output hose.
Overload and heat protections are an essential feature to look for on any power tool. You should be assured that your machine will never work so hard as to overheat, burn out, or otherwise damage itself while you’re operating it. Look for basic thermal and electrical overload protection on your new compressor. You’ll usually find a fuse for protecting electrical components, and an automatic shutoff for preventing overheating or burnouts.
Make sure the fuses, reset buttons, or other safety switches are easy to access, and inexpensive to replace if necessary. Be sure to check that the safety features are rated to current electrical standards, and ask an electrician if you have any questions.
Extra parts and accessories:
Last of all, you should always be aware of what parts will be included with your compressor, and which ones you’ll need to purchase separately. Check to see if an air hose is included, and whether you’ll need to get any extra fixtures or attachments. Knowing what’s included will help you figure out how much extra cash you’ll need to budget for accessories and add-ons.
Guides to Other Kinds of Top Rated Air Compressors
Top Portable Air Compressor
Portable air compressors are an excellent solution for using air tools on worksites, around the house, and in other situations where you need air power outside of your workshop. There are all sorts of portable units on the market, from small, ultra-quiet units to industrial-scale gas monsters that can compete with the most powerful stationary units. We’ve covered all the different options, and rounded up three of the best portable units on the market today in our special guide!
One of our all-time favorites is this NorthStar unit:
It’s quite simply one of the most powerful air compressors on the market, portable or otherwise! The NorthStar is a rugged, industrial machine with a gas engine and a big, efficient air tank. It can power any air tool you could want to use, up to 24.4 CFM!
We like this one because it works absolutely anywhere, since you don’t need to rely on having an electric supply nearby. Plus, it can power all the big industrial-scale tools like blasters or grinders which make other portable units struggle.
It has a 100% duty cycle, which means it provides an extremely high volume of air without needing to take breaks, and the cast iron and steel construction means this thing can last for years of daily use. It’s our top portable recommendation to commercial operators and contractors, as well as people like farmers and handymen who need lots of air power on the go.
See our full review of the NorthStar, and have a look at our other top portable recommendations here!
Best Small Air Compressor
One of the downsides of using air tools can be the size of the air compressor you need to supply them with power. Small portable units give you the power and convenience of air power without all the bulk.
These machines are ideal for home workshops that don’t have space to dedicate to an air compressor when it’s not being used. You can store these units away easily, and pack them in a vehicle without needing lots of space.
They’re also very convenient to use around the house, or in tight spaces on a worksite. However, they can also be one of the most difficult types of compressors to shop for.
Small air compressors can be quiet and powerful, but they can also be weedy and make a racket. We’ve searched through all the compact models out there to come up with our Top Three! You can find all our recommendations, and read our helpful tips for finding the best small portable air compressor for your needs in our dedicated guide!
Our current recommendation for the most powerful compact unit is this Makita compressor:
At just 1.5 cubic feet in size, this Makita packs some serious muscle for its small footprint. It has a 2.5 HP motor and a pair of air tanks totaling 4.2 gallons. This combination allows it to crank out 4.2 CFM for your standard 90 PSI air tools, with a fast refill time and low RPM, thanks to the larger bore size.
This is also a heavy-duty little machine. It has cast iron engine components, and a rugged metal build which can handle daily job site use, or anything the DIYer can throw at it! We especially like how many smart features are packed into such a compact, affordable unit. There are cooling fins around the engine assembly, dual output valves for working in pairs, and an oversized intake filter which allows the machine to run faster with more efficient cycles.
All in all, we think it’s the best compromise between portability and power that we’ve seen in the compact range.
Read our complete, in-depth review of the Makita, and check out the rest of our recommendations for small portable air compressors here!
Top Rated Quiet Portable Air Compressor
Aside from size, the other big downside of a lot of air compressors on the market is noise. These machines are LOUD! Many models can be over 80 or 90 decibels, which spells danger for your eardrums.
However, you don’t have to settle for a racket! There are plenty of quiet portable units out there which make working with your air tools endlessly more pleasant. You’ll be able to ditch the ear protection, and even have a normal conversation over your compressor’s motor.
Just as with small units, though, it can be pretty tricky to find a model which cuts down on noise without cutting into your power supply. We’ve got you covered, as always, with a special guide specially for the best quiet units!
Our all-time favorite quiet unit is the Rolair JC10:
The Rolair is one of the quietest units on the market, period! It runs at a maximum volume level of 60 decibels, which is approximately the level of a normal conversation.
That makes it ideal for working in your indoor workshop, or doing DIY tasks around the house. You can have a conversation while it’s running, and listen to the radio without damaging your ear safety.
It’s also powerful, with 2.35 CFM for all your light air tools, from trim to framing implements. We also love the Rolair for its exceptional build quality and reliability. It has a sturdy metal roll-cage frame, and an aluminum air tank which resists rust and corrosion while maintaining even more strength than cast iron. This is a great choice for people who work primarily in an indoor shop, or working on tasks in houses or on worksites where noise counts.
See our full review of the Rolair here, and find other quiet air compressor options in the complete guide!
Best Portable Tire Inflator
Portable tire inflators are one of the handiest tools you can keep in your car for an emergency. They’re ideal for when you get a flat, and need to inflate your spare without having to wait for a costly tow truck. These little devices can also help you make important maintenance adjustments to your tire pressure, which helps your car run more efficiently and safely.
With all of that said, a lot of these tools can be cheap and gimmicky, so we thought we’d put together a guide to help you get a sense of how much you’ll have to pay for a reliable option which can help you get back on the road when you really need it. We’ve selected a few winning workhorses from the market, and written our own in-depth reviews for all our recommendations.
Our top choice for an affordable portable tire inflator comes from the auto service experts at AAA:
This LifeLine unit is extremely popular with casual drivers who don’t do a lot of home mechanical maintenance, but want to be prepared in case of a flat on the road. It’s very lightweight and compact, which makes it easy to throw in the car without thinking about it until you need it.
Plus, it’s extremely inexpensive. You can get this for less than the price of a tank of gas. It’s a great insurance policy against flat tires on the road, at a much lower price than you’d pay for a tow truck or an actual AAA service person to show up.
It’s much better than other budget options, and it’s surprisingly powerful for such a small, light machine. We think it’s the least you can pay for an inflator you can count on when you need it.
See our full review, along with the rest of our recommendations for the best portable tire inflators here!
Top 12V Portable Air Compressor
Having a portable air compressor that runs off 12V car electricity is endlessly handy. You can pump up your spare tire if you get a flat, or top up all your bike tires on a family vacation, without paying a penny at the gas station air machine.
These units are also super useful for other inflatables, like sports balls, pool toys, and more! They’re a great choice for people who have lots of cars to maintain, as well as families who go on lots of road trips. We’ve compiled a handy guide to all the best ones, which you can see here!
Our current top quality slot goes to the Viair 88P:
This is a super powerful, efficient little machine which works wonders on 12V electricity. We love it because it hooks right onto your battery with alligator clips. Other 12V units usually have cheap plastic 12V plugs, which fall apart easily, and risk blowing your car fuse. The 88P solves that problem, which makes it both safer and more durable.
We also appreciate how quickly this thing works. It can pump up a tire from flat in under 5 minutes, and it’s one of the only 12V air compressors that can do so without taking a break to cool off. It’s ideal for people who have lots of vehicles to service, or folks who just want the ultimate peace of mind and convenience if they get a flat on the highway. The 88P is also super fast and convenient for blowing up bike tires, air mattresses, and other inflatables when you’re camping or taking a day trip to the lake.
Find the full review, along with the rest of our favorite 12V air compressors here.
Want to compare our top picks with the rest of the best air compressors on the market? Check out the best sellers on Amazon!