Best Air Compressors – Review and Buying Guide
That’s all it takes to land you the best air compressor.
First, you have to decide on their power source; with gasoline, electricity, and battery your options. Second, you have to balance tank capacity with portability, with both of them inversely proportional. Third, after you’ve taken your projects in stride, you’d have to decide the compressor’s horsepower and flowrate (measured in CFM).
Don’t have the answers to these questions?
That is where this article will help. To help everyone, we have included electrical, gasoline and battery-operated units. While some of our recommendations are ultra-portable, others have huge tank capacity. Our list also includes a few heavy duty compressors to sort out your bigger projects.
Best Air Compressors
Makita MAC5200 3.0 HP Big Bore – Best Portable Air Compressor
Starting with its motor, the 3HP motor of the Mac 2500 has a huge RPM rating of 3420RPM. Such impressive RPMs provide the motor with two benefits. First, it enables the compressor to do heavy duty tasks and second, it produces less noise than its competitors. What’s more, in addition to being fairly quiet, the motor offers another benefit: its big bore, which, in turn, equips it with a large piston. The size of the piston, meanwhile, allows the motor to produce a consistently big output for sustained periods.
In case you are wondering, the fact that this compressor has high power output doesn’t mean it isn’t portable. Instead, thanks to its two small wheels and a fairly compact size, you could both maneuver the machine easily and store it in tight spaces. Similar ease is on offer when you look at the maintenance requirements of this unit. For, coming to your help is its discharged copper tubing. This tubing has a finned design which increases the heat dissipation of the machine. Add it to the tank drain valve, which allows easy drainage of water, and maintaining this unit is a cinch. Finally, to make sure all your items remain safe, the MAC2500 comes with a built-in storage compartment. You could easily store your job-related tool inside this compartment.
California Air Tools CAT-10020 – Best Quiet Portable Air Compressor
The CAT-10020 produces a noise level of 70 dB while running, which means you could have a normal conversation standing next to it. It is also easy to maintain and has a tank capacity enough for small tasks.
The standout feature of the CAT-10020 is undoubtedly its ultra-quiet operation. While other compressors require you to wear ear mugs, this compressor’s 70 dB noise level allows you to converse while standing beside it. That said, the quietness of this compressor has come at a cost: its 2.0 horsepower is only suitable for small tasks.
That means that you’d best utilize this compressor for your domestic needs as it is NOT built for heavy-duty tasks. Since you’d be using it at home, the CAT-10020 has loads of safety features to make it harmless. Take, for instance, its easy start valve. Despite being located underneath the compressor, the valve is easy to reach and drains the whole tank in just a few minutes. Similar safety is on offer with the auto shutoff and low draw options of this unit.
The former turns off the compressor when it gets overheated– so that both you and the unit remains safe. As for the latter, it decreases the inrush current when the motor is just starting, hence allowing the compressor to run effortlessly on a 15A circuit. Finally, in addition to having two wheels, a sturdy handle and compact build of this machine make it easy to move. And if you are working on a slope, the wheels come with a bolt using which you can tighten them up and ground the whole unit.
Senco PC1131 – Best Double Stage Compressor
While not belonging to as famous a brand as CAT, the 2.0 HP PC1131 compressor has attracted rave reviews from its users. It is despite the fact that it doesn’t come cheap either. So, you may wonder, why it is so famous. Let’s find out.
Senco has gone for a cast iron cylinder in the PC1131 compressor, a configuration which has provided the unit with two benefits. First, since cast iron is sturdy, it protects the whole unit against excessive vibrations.
Second, with reduced vibrations, the noise coming out is also low. Though not related to its material of construction, the cast iron cylinder has another unique feature; low refill time. For, despite having a capacity of 4.3 gallons, the tank has a recovery time of just over a minute – 67 seconds, to be precise. In addition to the refill time, the recovery time of the PC1131 is also worthy of a mention here. For instance, if you want it to increase its output from 90 to 120 PSI, the unit will take only 16 seconds. It means that this unit has a near-negligible refresh rate. Senco’s decision to opt for a twin tank looks wise when you come across the CFM of this model. For, in other compressors, the CFM drops with the increase in pressure. In the PC1131, however, its twin tank configuration provides the rated 4.3CFM even at 100 psi. Lastly, just like all the best air compressors on the market, the PC1131 from Senco has an automatic safety shutoff feature. It turns off the unit in the instance of overheating, hence saving it from damage.
Viair 70p Heavy Duty – Best Air Compressor for Cars
One of the most affordable, small-sized air compressors with a satisfied consumer base is the Porter Viair 70p air compressor. Simple in design and compact in size, this unit’s simple layout and paltry weight make it a must-have for your vehicle.
Unlike the case with most car compressors – which are suitable only for pumping up tires, the 100 PSI capacity of the Viair makes it useful with lower power tools as well. It comes with vibration isolators which separate the cylinder from the whole unit to reduce both vibrations as well as noise. What’s more, the Viair 70p allows you to check tire pressure on the go.
It requires a 12V supply, the same as the cigarette lighter in your automobile. Then there is its power gauge which tells you the final pressure in your tire once you’re done inflating it. Moving on, the 16 feet power cord and 4 feet air hose of the compressor deserves our attention. The length of both of them allows you to move your compressor at a considerable distance from its power source. That means you could do compression tasks even at some distance from your car. Equally important is the ability of this compressor to continue working for longer periods. Other tire inflators start losing steam within minutes of you starting them up. The Viair 70p, however, has a duty cycle of 30 minutes at 30 PSI. Finally, to complement other features of this compressor – which make it a must-have for your car – its weight comes into play. For, it has a paltry weight of 5.5 pounds, which, when seen alongside the compact dimensions of this unit, means it would require negligible storage space.
PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK – Best Pancake Air Compressor
Most people turn to pancake compressors looking for the stability that comes with the design. The Porter cable C2002 provides the same stability, however, its utility doesn’t stop there.
Starting with its tank capacity, and it has to be said that Porter Cable were generous in providing this unit with a 6-gallon capacity. Such a capacity allows this unit to run two framing nailers simultaneously.
It also has enough juice to refill medium-sized power tools within five minutes. The tank also contains a water drain valve which is easy to operate and makes expelling water from the tank a cinch. It leaves no water behind the tank, hence reducing any chances of rust. Then there is the rubberized base, which stops vibrations from the unit transmitting to the floor, hence reducing noise. User-comfort is another area where the C2002 deserves to earn plaudits. Apart from having no pointing edges to harm its users, its mini size and handle make this unit easy to transport. And while the package only has a dry-air compressor, we could vouch for its usefulness even in cold environments. More importantly, the dual output system of the compressor increases its utility. You can use bigger output nozzle for framing and carpentry tasks. As for the smaller output nozzle, our tests revealed its utility for domestic tasks like inflating tires. Belying the meager price tag of this model is a kit of accessories included in the package. The kit includes a 25-foot nylon hose, tire chuck and gauge, a blow gun, and quick couple plugs among other attachments. That said, some users have complained that the accessories aren’t as high quality as the unit.
Industrial Air ILA3606056 – Best 60 Gallon Compressor
Experts recommend having a 60-gallon air compressor if you want to have enough power to control most power tools. In other words, if you’re looking for a heavy duty compressor, a 60-gallon tank capacity is what you should be looking for. And that is where this compressor comes into play.
Thanks to its impressive 3.7HP induction motor, the Industrial Air is capable of providing a massive 155 psi. It provides 13.4CFM at 40psi and 11.5CFM at 90psi, which means you won’t experience any pressure drop problem with this machine. Fortunately, unlike other heavy-duty compressors, the Industrial Air has gone for a voltage spread motor to save us a lot of money in its running costs.
For, while other compressors require different wiring for 208V and 240V, the spread motor of this machine supports both with the same wiring. Quality of craftsmanship is another notable point about this model. It has employed cast iron in the machine to stave off any vibration problem. To get rid of rust, aluminum is used both in the compressor’s head and valve plate – two areas which are especially susceptible to rust in other compressors. However, a regulator is NOT provided in the package. Positioned atop the compressor is the pressure switch, which some people also refer to as the on/off switch. Regardless of what you call it, this switch will keep you safe. For, it blows the valve open once the compressor exceeds the safe limit. And not until you’ve manually turned on the machine would it allow the compressor to get up and running again. Finishing on a low note, maneuverability is not a high point of the Industrial Air Compressor. The 220 odd pounds weight of the machine is as much to blame as the absence of wheels for this shortcoming. Still, if you ask us, not many air compressors with a 60-gallon capacity are mobile.
Q Industries MV-50 – Best 12V Air Compressor
The Q Industries Air Compressor won’t only inflate your flats but also keep the air pressures correct. Add to this its ability to power directly from your vehicle’s battery, and this portable compressor makes for a must-have the item in your itinerary.
The Q Industries MV-50 is a cinch to connect to your car’s battery, thanks in no small part to its alligator clips. Designed especially for car batteries, these clips are supplemented with a 16-foot air hose and an easy-to-twist brass inflator. Both these features make the compressor convenient to use. Unlike other 12V compressors, the Q Industries MV-50 is much more than a tire inflator. Instead, thanks to its ball inflation needle, two adaptor nozzles, and an extra fuse, you could use it for filling up your soccer balls, inflatable water tubes, and even bicycle tires.
As we found out during testing, the MV-50 is very easy to use. Just attach one end of the compressor to your battery via alligator clips – while attaching its other end to the tire via 16ft air hose, turn it on, and the MV-50 will inflate a full-size tire within 2 minutes. Increasing the utility of this air compressor is its 120 PSI capacity and 2.45CFM flow rate. Such high-pressure range means this compressor can inflate anything from a sedan’s tire to the same of an SUV. And if you still want more, the MV-50 delivers by providing a carrying bag in the package.
Campbell Hausfeld 6 Gallon – Best Air Compressor for Framing Nailer
The Campbell Hausfeld 3 Gallon compressor is one of the least expensive in the market. However, that is not the reason why we included it in this article. Instead, it was the performance of the Hausfeld which has made it worth having.
The first thing most users want from their air compressor is low maintenance, and the Campbell Hausfeld provides just that. It has gone for the oil-free pump which requires no maintenance and nothing in terms of monthly checks. It has a 1HP induction motor which provides 3.5 SCFM of air at 40 PSI (and 2.4 SCFN at 90 PSI), with a maximum limit of 125 PSI. Such pressure is brilliant for tools like finish nailers, air spray guns, light-duty staplers, and pinners. What makes this compressor convenient are two features, the first of which are its dials.
Easy to read, these dials do not suffer from the problem of bad positioning which is so often the case in vertical compressors. For, they are positioned at the compressor’s tip, hence making them easy-to-read. The second feature which also has an impact on its portability is its compact design. A rarity for a horizontal compressor – since they protrude sideways – this compressor’s compact design is supplemented with a carrying handle. Finally, while it would take a whole 75 seconds to fill your tank at first, the Campbell Hausfeld, from then on, would require only 35seconds for recycling.
Industrial Air CTA5090412 – Best Gas Operated
Provided you’re looking for a gas air compressor – which means you would be doing your work in open spaces – the slightly expensive Industrial Air CTA5090412 deserves a shot. It will keep running even when there are no power outlets or batteries around.
One thing about this compressor that might unnerve you at first is its under $600 price tag. After all, not many compressors belong to this price spectrum. However, in case you need some helping hand from the compressor, its power and tank capacity would do.
For, in addition to having two tanks of 2-gallon capacity each, the Industrial Air boasts a power of 5 HP thanks to its Honda OHC/OHV motor. This motor is oil-free which means it requires less maintenance and it has a two-piece cooling system to prolong the life of the unit. The best use of this compressor would be on off-site jobs. For, its configuration is such that you are given the option to either individually set up both tanks or disassemble them for huge portability. When added, both these tanks can rack up to 155 PSI, enough power for equipment-intensive projects. Lastly, if you’re still worried that the compressor costs more – and need some extra assurance before pulling the trigger on its purchase, its 2-year limited warranty must come handy.
DEWALT D55146 – Best Compressor for the Money
If you’ve ever wondered what sticking wheels to a large object could do, look no more than the Dewalt D55146. So brilliant is the placement of wheels that they have turned an otherwise, awkwardly large unit into an extremely mobile one.
Starting with the best this compressor has to offer, and undoubtedly its wheels come into play. Comprising a 10’’, non-flat foam, these tires could withstand the abuse which comes with outdoor job sites. Also, its collapsible handle and vertical stand make the DeWalt D55146 easy to store.
Turning our attention to its power, and a 120-volt electric motor powers the 4.5-gallon storage tank of this unit. The tank, in turn, boasts 225 Max PSI which belies its compact size. And since it will run most of the time at 90 PSI, the tank will have a quick refill time. One characteristic of this compressor which has made it endearing to its users is its quick refill time. For, its users have reported that to build up pressure from 160 to 200 PSI, all this compressor requires is a paltry 20 second time. Finally, this compressor produces a noise level of 78 dbA. Though not as quiet as some of the other compressors in this review – with the abovementioned Campbell Hausfeld producing a 68 dB noise level – you could still have a conversation in normal voice standing around this compressor.
Electric Vs Gas Powered Air Compressors
No other factor impacts the performance of a compressor as directly as that of its power source. So, before you decide your favorite compressor, it’s imperative to look at its power source.
Visit any industry, and there’s a very good chance that they are using a displacement compressor, which means they are very common. Examples include Piston Compressors, Tooth Compressors, Screw Compressors, and Scroll Compressors.
Such compressors have a cavity which includes a piston and a specific volume of gas. The piston moves forward and backward repeatedly. When it goes back, it creates enough space for outside air to enter the cavity at atmospheric pressure. When the piston moves forward, it increases the pressure of their air by decreasing its volume, before finally ejecting it.
The best thing about displacement compressors is their ability to provide constant flow. That is, provided you keep their motor RPM at a constant, their outlet pressure and air flow rate would remain constant.
Unlike displacement compressors which provide a constant flow, centrifugal compressors provide a constant pressure. They have a rotating impeller in their middle which draws in air from the outside via its moving radial blades.
As soon as the air enters inside, the radial blades – as they are moving – convert the air’s kinetic energy into pressure. That’s where they differ from displacement compressors. For, while displacement compressors eject air after only one cycle – hence providing a constant flow – you could decide the cycles of a centrifugal compressor’s rotating impeller – to provide a specific or higher pressure.
Modern centrifugal compressors use electric motors to drive their impellers. Hence the reason why they don’t have a gearbox and are thus oil-free.
GAS POWERED ADVANTAGES
ELECTRIC POWERED ADVANTAGES
Some of you might already have picked their compressor from the abovementioned list. Others might be looking for more information to close the deal. Regardless of which category you belong to, this buying guide will help you to make an informed decision.
What to look for
For the purpose of simplicity, we have divided the air compressor buying guide into two parts. In the first part, we’d ask you questions – before giving answers – about your ideal compressor. In the second, we’d nudge you towards the features which separate the best air compressors from the other models.
As stated earlier, most air compressors on the market have one of two types of motors: electric and gasoline. Electric motors require less maintenance and operate quietly, so you could use them in indoor spaces. Conversely, gasoline motors might produce more noise and toxic fumes – so you can’t use them in confined spaces – but they produce heavy duty tasks more efficiently.
Regardless of the motor you choose; make sure it is oil-free. Such motors have a reduced running cost as they don’t require you to change their oil intermittently.
Next, for the power equation, NEVER equate a compressor’s power supply to its power output. That is because due to friction or other losses inside the compressor, its power supply is more than more output. So, you need to check both.
Power supply, because it would give you a rough sketch of the compressor’s running cost. Power output, because.
Also known as Cubic Feet per Minute, a compressor’s CFM will determine how fast (or slow) it will pump air. Greater the CFM of an air compressor, the more air it will deliver in less time, and the better suitability it will show for heavy duty tasks.
As for the tank capacity, while it isn’t as important as a compressor’s CFM, tank capacity does matter. Compressors with more tank capacity require less frequent refilling, which means fewer mid-work breaks. On the flipside, no one recommends having a compressor with unlimited tank capacity because that would pose portability and mobility problems.
Want your compressor to operate (relatively) quietly? One way to do that is to go for the belt drive system. They have a belt which connects the pulleys inside the compressor to the air compressor pump. Consequently, in addition to operating quietly, they provide more versatility by allowing you to adjust the pressure and CFM of air.
That said, there is one major concern which might deter you from going for the belt-drive system. For, they don’t operate at lower or sub-zero temperatures. However, if you are going to use your compressor for everyday task, this shortcoming of the belt-drive system shouldn’t affect you.
You know what’s the thing which all best air compressors have in common? They’re all shrouded. Put simply, they have an outer casing which
protects them from damage. Oblivious to the inner vibration, the outer casing (or shrouding) enables the compressor to withstand maximum load.
However, as veteran workers might tell, compressors with shrouding are much more expensive than their un-shrouded counterparts. That is, because, shrouded compressors are a mostly heavy duty, hence the reason why they can withstand vibration and maximum load.
A stage means the number of times a compressor will compress your air. The greater the stages, the more will be the compression, and the higher will be the output pressure of the air.
Deciding on whether you need a single or a double stage compressor depends on your needs. If all you want your compressor to do is to inflate football or tires, a single-stage unit would do. Conversely, if you engage in heavy duty tasks, such as gas chromatography, a double-stage compressor would suit you just fine.
Want your air compressor to be the best? Here are some features which you might want to consider.
Auto Stop/Start Option
Having an air compressor with this feature makes it safe to use. For instance, some people keep on using their
compressor even when its air pressure drops below the designated limit,
a scenario which might damage the compressor’s motor.
However, if you have the auto stop/start option, your compressor
would automatically shut down whenever its air pressure is below the designated limit. So you would have no choice but to
refill it again before getting on with your work.
Ball Valve Drain
Check out any worn-out compressor, and it might have some pinhole leaks and rust. Such problems, which end the life of a
compressor, arise when the compressor’s
tank isn’t drained regularly. That’s why you need a ball valve drain.
Working like a faucet, the ball valve drain is easy
to operate and makes expelling water from the tank a cinch. It leaves no water behind the tank, hence reducing any chances of rust.
There’s another drain, known as drain cock, however, since it needs pliers to open, we recommend ball valve drain.
Adjustable Exhaust and Thermal Protection
Want your workplace to be clean?
Then go for the compressor which provides an adjustable exhaust.
As implied by its name, the ‘’adjustable’’ exhaust allows you to direct the exhaust pipe of your
compressor away from your work area, hence making you safe from fumes or dirt.
As for thermal protection,
it is a must-have feature if overloading is a frequent occurrence in your work. Compressors having thermal
protection have a built-in temperature gauge which measures the temperature of the device.
As soon as the temperature reaches above a certain limit – whose value comes preset – the gauge directs the compressor
which then shuts off the machine. This feature saves the compressor’s motor from getting damaged due to overheating.
There you have them; ten of the best air compressors for every task. Whether you need them for inflating tires, framing nailers or operate other power-tools, the range of these compressors is so huge that you should get one that meets all your needs. To further help you out, we have also mentioned the specialty of each compressor in this review. It means that you don’t need to compare one compressor with the other – for we have done it already. All you have to do is to determine your tasks, look at the price you can afford, and this list would have enough to help you make the selection.
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