Best Air Compressors

Contents

Best Air Compressors 2017 - Buyer's Guide and Reviews

These days, when working in the garage or on the job you need high-quality tools to make sure that you can finish your work quickly and effectively. One of the most important pieces of equipment that you can have on any job site is an air compressor. Since most new power tools run on compressed air, having this machine is indispensable in many cases. Also, compressors are versatile devices that can be used for all kinds of purposes, from filling car tires to spraying auto paint.

Today we are going to dive into the world of air compression and go over all of the different aspects of these machines to provide you with a comprehensive view of the subject. Not only will we discuss the ins and outs of compression itself, but also provide you with information on how to choose a model that’s right for you and showcase many high-quality devices that you can find online. Overall, by the end of this article, you should become an expert in air compression.

What is an Air Compressor?

Simply put, this is a device that pulls air in and pressurizes it so that you can get a sustained burst of air coming out. The way that most compressors work is that they have a reserve tank which stores the air, and the machine pumps new air in until the reservoir is fully pressurized. Then, using a hose, you can access this pressurized air for a variety of tasks.

There are multiple kinds of air compressor as well as systems for pressurizing the air inside. Most of the time, these devices are used to operate power tools that utilize hydraulic or pneumatic power to work. In other cases, you can use an air compressor for household chores such as inflation or cleaning.

An easy way to think of how an air compressor works is that you are converting electrical or combustion energy into air pressure. As the tank fills, it is storing that energy to be used later when operating the machine.

Top 10 Air Compressor Comparison chart

PRODUCT 

IMAGE

MODEL

WEIGHT

EDITOR RATTING

PRODUCT

PRICE

DEWALT DWFP55130 air compressor

DEWALT DWFP55130 air compressor

41.9 pounds

Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air compressor review

Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP

59.6 pounds

BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT 3-Tool Air Compressor

BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT 3-Tool

45.1 pounds

PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Air Compressor

PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK

34 pounds

Senco PC1131 Air Compressors

Senco PC1131 Air Compressor

60 pounds

Hitachi KNT50AB Air Compressor

Hitachi KNT50AB Air Compressor

47 pounds

Rolair D2002HPV5 Pancake Air Compressor

Rolair D2002HPV5 

62 pounds

California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra Air Compressors

California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra

5 pounds

Campbell Hausfeld 3-Gallon Air Compressor

Campbell Hausfeld 3-Gallon 

20.5 pounds

Viair 40047 400P-RV Air compressor

Viair 40047 400P-RV

17.8 pounds

How to Choose the Best Air Compressor

If you haven’t worked with these kinds of devices before you may be wondering which factors and features you should be paying attention to when making a decision. Fortunately, there aren’t a ton of different things to memorize, but we’ll go over the basics so that you can understand what each listing means when going over the product details.

Size

This is probably one of the most important aspects to look at in a compressor as the size of the unit and the reserve tank will tell you how well it will work for your needs. For example, if all you need to do is inflate various items around the house, you won’t need a huge compressor to do that. Conversely, if you are working on a job site and need to operate large equipment, then a hefty air compressor will be necessary to ensure that you’re getting the power you need.

To figure out the best size for you, you should look at the overall weight of the unit to see how moveable it is while working, and see the size of the tank. This will be measured in gallons, with larger tanks being able to provide longer sessions than smaller tanks. As we will discuss later, the compressor recycles every so often to maintain the same level of pressure, so having a larger tank means that it doesn’t have to do that as much, meaning that you can get better performance overall.

Compression Type

When talking about consumer air compressors, there are two basic types that you can find. If you are looking for an industrial or commercial compressor, however, then you will need a machine that can handle large output, which means it has to use a different method of pressurization. Here are the basic types and how they work. We will go over them more in detail later, but here is a brief overview.

Piston

Most consumer compressors utilize a piston-style motor because it is easy to use and cost-effective to build. The way that these work is that the pistons drive air into the tank much in the same way that they operate in your car. To keep things running smoothly, they are usually ran with oil for lubrication.

Rotary Screw

This type of compressor is much more efficient and reliable than piston models; however, they are more expensive as a result. The way that they work is that they use two screws to move the air continuously without having to recycle like a piston. Also, these don’t require oil as the screws don’t actually touch each other.

Centrifugal

This compressor type is only used for industrial applications, so you probably won’t need to find any that work like this. We’ll go over it in more detail later on, though.

Model

Another thing that you should be looking at with your compressor is the model type. This refers to the shape and design of the compressor so you can know how it will fit in your workspace. For the most part, you’ll find either inflator, pancake, or hot dog compressors for consumer purposes, so let’s look at what they have to offer.

Inflator

This class of compressor doesn’t use a reserve tank to build pressure, but rather compresses the air as it moves through the hose. Inflators are relatively cheap and easy to find, but they are only to be used for light applications, such as filling sports balls or tires.

Pancake/Hotdog

If you need something with a bit more punch that can operate some light power tools, then these compressors will work great for you. The name refers to the shape of the tank, and both pancake and hot dog models can have as little as two gallons or as much as six or seven-gallon capacity. In some instances, a hot dog compressor will have two tanks to increase the output and reserve space.

Wheelbarrow

If you need to operate high-powered machinery, then you need something a lot bigger and more powerful than a pancake compressor. These units are known for being extra large and requiring a wheelbarrow design to move from one place to the other.

Specs

When you look at different compressors, you will see that certain numbers and specifications come with each one. Here is a breakdown of those numbers so that you understand what they mean and how they can affect the compressor’s performance.

PSI

This acronym stands for pounds per square inch, and it refers to how pressurized the air is as it comes out of the machine. The PSI rating will determine what kind of tools you can use, as some require more pressure than others. Also, many compressors will have a “max PSI” output which means that you can use it at that pressure for a while, but you can’t rely on it for too long. Instead, focus on the operating PSI as that will be your standard rate.

SCFM

The other important thing to know about a compressor is how much air can move through the system. This again will determine what tools you can use as higher powered units need more air than others. SCFM stands for standard cubic feet per minute, with smaller compressors offering about 2.5 SCFM and larger ones going up to 10 or more.

Amps

Most compressors are plugged into an outlet to work, which means that you don’t want to blow a fuse every time you use the machine. To ensure that that won’t happen you’ll want a motor that draws little amps as it operates. Usually, twelve is a good number as that won’t trip a breaker or cause electrical problems. Also, voltage matters as smaller units will require about 110 volts and larger ones will need 220.

Recommended Of 10 Best Air Compressor For the Money Reviews

1. DEWALT DWFP55130 air compressor

As far as consumer brands go, DeWalt is one of the best for power tools. The DWFP55130 is an excellent air compressor that can perform a variety of tasks with equal ease. Although the motor is not that large with 1.1 horsepower, you get plenty of pressure and output which means that this model is ideal for many small tools like nailers or staple guns.

As far as performance goes, this unit provides up to 3.0 SCFM at its operating PSI of 150. If necessary, you can increase the pressure up to 200 PSI, but that will reduce the overall output as well. This particular model comes with a 2.5-gallon tank, meaning that it does have to recycle frequently, but fortunately it operates quietly, so it won’t be much of a problem on the job.

The other great thing about this compressor is that it is compact and relatively lightweight for its class, weighing only 36 pounds. It also comes with a roll cage and handlebar for easier moving and better durability. Also, you can operate the compressor in the vertical or horizontal position, allowing you to store it where it’s out of the way.

Pros:

Cons

  • Powerful 1.1 horsepower motor
  • Delivers 3.0 SCFM
  • Max PSI of 200, operating PSI of 150
  • 2.5-gallon tank
  • Quiet operation (71 dB)
  • Compact size weighs 36 pounds
  • Carrying handle for convenience
  • Works both horizontally and vertically
  • Uses 12 amps
  • Oil-free pump requires less maintenance
  • Roll cage protects components
  • One-year limited warranty

  • In rare cases, the unit may struggle to hold pressure sometimes
  • In rare instances, the valve may start leaking air
  • May still be considered loud by some users

Highlighted Features

  • 1.1 HP motor
  • 3.0 SCFM output
  • Max PSI of 200
  • 2.5-gallon reserve tank
  • 12-amp motor
  • Lightweight design
  • Oil-free pump
  • Roll cage surrounding components

2. Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor

Another great brand for power tools is Makita, and this Big Bore Air Compressor is one of the best ones that the company makes. In fact, as far as consumer products go Makita is one of the top five businesses in the industry.

When looking at performance, you’ll see that the powerful two-horsepower motor delivers exceptional results. This unit also has a 2.6-gallon tank for better pressurization, meaning that you can get up to 130 PSI and an output of 3.8 SCFM. While you don’t get as much pressure as the DeWalt above, you get far better results because of the higher SCFM rating, meaning that this machine can work with a greater variety of tools. Best of all, it still only draws 12.4 amps, meaning that you don’t have to worry about tripping a breaker or anything.

Pros:

Cons

  • Powerful two-horsepower motor
  • Durable cast-iron construction
  • Large 2.6-gallon hot dog tank
  • Delivers up to 3.8 SCFM
  • Max PSI of 130, operating PSI of 90
  • Draws only 12.4 amps for easy startup
  • Durable brass coupler
  • Compact design
  • Carrying handle for more comfortable transportation
  • Oil lubricated for smoother operation
  • Quiet operation
  • One-year limited warranty

  • In rare cases, the PSI might not stay above 100
  • In rare instances the motor might not cut out, meaning that it stays running
  • Not as quiet as other models

Highlighted Features

  • 2HP motor
  • 2.6-gallon reserve tank
  • 3.8 SCFM output
  • Max PSI of 130
  • 12.4-amp motor
  • Oil lubrication
  • Quiet operation

3. BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT 3-Tool Air Compressor

As we’ve mentioned, many consumer air compressors are designed to work with light power tools such as nailers and staple guns. To keep things even easier for you, this compressor from BOSTITCH comes with two nailers and a staple gun so that you don’t have to buy them separately. And, because they are all made by BOSTITCH, you know that the quality is already there.

When looking at the performance of the compressor itself, it uses a high-efficiency motor and a large six-gallon tank to deliver excellent results. You get up to 2.6 SCFM and a max PSI of 150 (operating PSI of 90) which is perfect to run the tools you get with this machine. Speaking of which, the compressor comes with both a brad and a finishing nailer so you can work on a variety of projects without having to buy new tools.

Overall, this particular model is great for lighter work as it doesn’t provide the same kind of power as the Makita or DeWalt, and the whole thing only weighs 29 pounds, meaning it’s far more maneuverable than the others.

Pros:

Cons

  • Powerful high-efficiency motor
  • Delivers 2.6 SCFM
  • Max PSI of 150, operating PSI of 90
  • Six-gallon pancake tank
  • Oil-free operation for lower maintenance
  • Quiet operation (78.5 dB)
  • Impact-resistant shroud
  • Extra long fifteen-foot hose
  • ​Comes with two nailers and one staple gun
  • Rubber feet for stability
  • Lightweight design weighs 29 pounds
  • One-year limited warranty

  • Pressure regulator knob can break somewhat easily
  • Nail guns are not heavy-duty
  • Some components are not as durable as others

Highlighted Features

  • ⅓ HP motor
  • 2.6 SCFM output
  • Six-gallon reserve tank
  • Max PSI of 150
  • Oil-free pump
  • Hose, two nailers, and a staple gun included
  • Lightweight and compact design

4. PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Air Compressor

One of the biggest issues with most air compressors is that you have to buy a host of accessories with the machine for it to work with any of your tools. For example, hoses and couplers are necessary to hook the compressor up to anything, and there are plenty of other attachments that are required to do various tasks. Thus, the fact that this compressor from Porter-Cable comes with a thirteen-piece accessory set means that you get more bang for your buck.

Not only is the inclusion of attachments a great reason to buy this compressor, but also the fact that it delivers up to 2.6 SCFM with a max PSI of 150. Overall, this unit is perfect for smaller jobs and tools.

Other features of this device include an impact-resistant shroud to protect the internal components, a carrying handle for easy transportation, and rubber feet for stability. One of the accessories is a twenty-five-foot hose, meaning that you have a much greater range than other units. Finally, the motor draws low amperage to avoid burnouts, and the pump is oil-free to make it require less maintenance and provide cleaner air.

Pros:

Cons

  • Durable electric air compressor
  • Provides up to 2.6 SCFM
  • Max PSI of 150, operating PSI of 90
  • Comes with thirteen-piece accessory kit
  • Includes 25-foot hose
  • Large six-gallon pancake tank
  • Durable impact-resistant shroud
  • Carrying handle for easy transportation
  • Oil-free pump for lower maintenance
  • Low-amp motor
  • Rubber feet for stability
  • Weighs 34 pounds
  • One-year limited warranty

  • In rare cases, the nozzle may start leaking air
  • Cable can get hot in some instances
  • Some components are not as durable as others

Highlighted Features

  • ½ HP motor
  • 2.6 SCFM output
  • Max PSI of 150
  • Six-gallon reserve tank
  • Oil-free pump
  • Lightweight design

5. Senco PC1131 Air Compressor

As we mentioned above, the output of an air compressor is hugely important as it will determine what kinds of tools you can use. Nailers and staple guns are fine with 2.5 SCFM or something similar, but what happens if you need more air to power something bigger? Well, the PC1131 Air Compressor from Senco has a much higher SCFM rating, meaning that you have many more options with this device than you do others.

A powerful 2.5 horsepower motor drives this machine, and along with a 4.3-gallon tank, you can get up to 4.4 SCFM at an operating PSI of 100. That, coupled with an oil-free pump means that you can do a lot more with this machine than you could with the others we’ve seen. Overall, this compressor is built for durability and performance more than anything.

Pros:

Cons

  • Powerful 2.5 horsepower motor
  • Cast-iron construction for durability
  • 4.3-gallon twin tank design
  • Delivers up to 4.4 SCFM
  • Max PSI of 200, operating PSI of 100
  • Oil lubricated pump for smoother operation
  • Carrying handle for easy transportation
  • Rubber feet for stability
  • One-year limited warranty

  • In rare cases, the unit may leak air
  • Some components are not as durable as others
  • Gauges can be hard to read

Highlighted Features

  • 2.5HP motor
  • 4.4 SCFM output
  • 4.3-gallon reserve tank
  • Max PSI of 200
  • Oil lubricated pump

6. Hitachi KNT50AB Air Compressor

Next, we have another compressor that comes with a variety of accessories to help you get started without having to search around for tools and attachments. The KNT50AB comes with both a high-quality brad nailer and a twenty-five-foot hose so that you can get to work right out of the box. You even get goggles with all of it and lubricant to help ensure safety and longevity of the machine.

As far as performance goes, this compressor delivers up to 2.8 SCFM from a six-gallon pancake tank. The max PSI rating is 150 with an operating PSI of 90 which is perfect for the nailer provided or any other that you may use. Moving the compressor is easy with a soft grip handlebar on top and rubber feet for stability. Overall, this is an excellent medium-range compressor made all the better with the inclusion of these accessories.

Pros:

Cons

  • Powerful high-efficiency motor
  • Six-gallon pancake tank
  • Delivers up to 2.8 SCFM
  • Operates at 90 PSI with a max of 150 PSI
  • Comes with high-powered brad nailer
  • Goggles and a 25-foot hose included
  • Rubber feet for stability
  • Carrying handle for easy transportation
  • Durable brass coupling

  • Nailer may jam after repeated use
  • Unit may be loud
  • In rare cases, the hose may leak at the couplers

Highlighted Features

  • ½ HP motor
  • 2.8 SCFM output
  • Six-gallon reserve tank
  • Max PSI of 150
  • Includes goggles and air hose

7. Rolair D2002HPV5 Pancake Air Compressor

If all you are operating are a few nailers or staple guns, then you can easily use the compressors we’ve already seen to get the job done. However, if you need to run something much more powerful like a spray gun or a jigsaw, then you require more output to get the level of performance that you need. That’s where the D2002HPV5 Compressor from Rolair comes in.

As far as the motor and tank size go, this unit seems like any of the others we’ve seen thus far. However, as far as output goes this machine blows them out of the water with a whopping 7.8 SCFM at 90 PSI. This means that you can run a much wider variety of tools, including those that would be impossible with something smaller.

Overall, this machine is still portable enough to make it convenient while being powerful enough to run most of the tools you can find on any medium-sized job site.

Pros:

Cons

  • Powerful two-horsepower motor
  • 4.5-gallon pancake tank
  • Delivers up to 7.8 SCFM
  • Max PSI of 150, operating PSI of 90
  • Splash lubrication provided for smoother operation
  • Roll cage protects internal components
  • Carrying handle for easy transportation
  • Durable cast iron construction
  • Rubber feet for stability
  • One-year limited warranty

  • Can be cumbersome and heavy
  • Not as much pressure as other models
  • In rare cases, the unit may leak

Highlighted Features

  • 2 HP motor
  • 7.8 SCFM output
  • 4.5-gallon reserve tank
  • Max PSI of 150
  • Roll cage protects components

8. California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra Air Compressor

This next compressor is designed for larger jobs, which is why it is a wheelbarrow-style model. You get a decent sized 5.5-gallon tank that provides more than sufficient air all of the time without needing a ton of time to recycle. In fact, it only takes fifty seconds to refill each time, making this one of the quickest units for its size.

What really sets this model apart from the pack, however, is the lack of noise. Most compressors (especially this big) can be super loud, meaning that they are mostly designed to be used on worksites or outdoors. However, this particular unit only creates sixty decibels, which is a little less than regular human speech. That means that you can have this machine in your workshop or next to your showroom without having to worry about it being a distraction for clients or being too loud for your ears. Considering the performance and size, that is incredible.

Speaking of performance, this unit provides up to 3.10 SCFM with a max PSI of 120. That means you can operate most mid-size tools such as nailers and staple guns. The pump also doesn’t use any oil, meaning that you get cleaner air without all of the maintenance required when having to lubricate the system. Finally, the whole thing is made of heavy-duty materials and is easy to maneuver, thanks to a soft grip handle and thick rubber wheels. Overall, this is an incredible compressor made all the better with its ultra-quiet capability.

Pros:

Cons

  • Powerful one-horsepower motor
  • Delivers up to 3.10 SCFM
  • Operating PSI of 90, Max PSI of 120
  • Wheelbarrow style compressor
  • Ultra quiet operation at 60 dB
  • 5.5-gallon reserve tank
  • Oil-free pump means cleaner air
  • Less maintenance required
  • SP series is designed to last longer and recycle less
  • Soft grip handle for easier moving
  • Durable rubber tires won’t get flat
  • Weighs about 46 pounds overall
  • Durable cast aluminum housing
  • Dual valve plate design
  • ​Only draws 8.5 amps
  • Overheating protection built in
  • Fills completely in 130 seconds
  • Recycles in less than a minute

  • In rare cases, the unit may still overheat despite internal protections
  • Can be cumbersome to move at times
  • Some components are not as durable as others
  • In rare instances, it may have trouble recycling at times

Highlighted Features

  • 1 HP motor
  • 3.10 SCFM output
  • 5.5-gallon reserve tank
  • ​Max PSI of 120
  • Oil-free pump
  • ​8.5-amp motor
  • Quiet operation

9. Campbell Hausfeld 3-Gallon Air Compressor

When you first glance at this next compressor, you would be right to think that it’s something built for mid-size job sites. It’s a rather large three-gallon hot dog compressor, so you would be forgiven for thinking that it has comparable performance levels to other models that we’ve seen with a similar appearance, weight, and design. However, this compressor from Campbell Hausfeld is only designed for light work and inflation, so don’t assume that it can power high-end tools like brad nailers and finishers.

Oddly enough, this particular model only delivers up to 0.5 CFM with a max PSI of 110, making it mostly ideal for inflation of tires, balls, and other materials. You can use it for light pneumatic tools like staple or nail guns, but don’t expect it to do much more beyond that. It may sound like I’m knocking this unit, but the fact is that it looks like it’s much stronger than it actually is, so don’t get fooled by the size and design. According to most of the negative reviews, customers assumed that it would have more oomph than it does, which meant that they had to return it.

That being said, when it comes to inflators, this unit is incredible. Not only does it do the job well, but it comes with all of the accessories you need to get started right away. This compressor comes with a coiled hose, inflation nozzles, a blow gun, and other attachments so that you can connect it to all kinds of pieces that need compressed air. Best of all, because it has such a large reserve tank, you can use it for a lot of different items before it has to recycle, making it better than most other inflators. Overall, if you buy it for that purpose, you will not be disappointed.

Pros:

Cons

  • Durable ⅓ horsepower motor
  • Provides up to 0.5 CFM
  • Operating PSI of 90, max PSI of 110
  • Three-gallon reserve tank
  • Oil-free pump delivers clean air
  • Less maintenance needed overall
  • Soft rubber feet won’t scuff floors
  • Weighs only twenty-one pounds
  • Comes with ten-piece accessory kit
  • Includes hose, blow gun, and attachments
  • Inflation nozzles and tape also included
  • Ideal for inflating and light home projects
  • One-year limited warranty

  • No handles means that it can be hard to move and transport
  • Not as powerful as other models
  • Can be difficult to return if there is an issue

Highlighted Features

  •  ⅓ HP motor
  • 0.5 SCFM output
  • 3-gallon reserve tank
  • Max PSI of 110
  • Oil-free pump
  • 10-piece accessory kit included

10. Viair 40047 400P-RV Air compressor

Our final stop is with a portable air compressor that is specifically designed to be useful on the go. You can carry it with you in your car or truck, but this particular model is best used for campers and recreational vehicles. Overall, it’s designed for inflating RV tires, sports balls, and various inflatables (such as rafts or water toys) quickly and easily.

The reason that this compressor is not suitable for larger jobs is that it has to connect to your vehicle battery so that it can work. Using alligator cables, you can get up to forty minutes of inflation at 150 PSI. Filling your tires has never been easier or faster as this unit delivers up to 2.3 SCFM, meaning that you can go from flat to fat in just a couple of minutes.

Along with the compressor itself, this unit comes with a host of accessories to help you get started. Best of all, it all fits in with a carry case (included) so that you can keep everything together and handy at all times. You get a thirty-foot hose, nozzles, and attachments so that you can fill whatever you need. Overall, this is a great piece to have on camping trips or on the go.

Pros:

Cons

  • Designed for on-the-go inflation of tires
  • Connects to your car battery via alligator clamps
  • Delivers up to 2.3 SCFM
  • Max PSI of 150, operating PSI of 90
  • Comes with accessories to help you get the job done
  • Hose, fittings, clamps, and nozzles included
  • Compact and easy to carry
  • Bag included to store everything
  • Ideal for RVs or campers
  • Uses only 12 volts to operate
  • Runs for up to forty minutes
  • Thirty-foot hose reaches each tire easily

  • In rare cases, the unit may develop a leak
  • Not intended for other purposes besides inflation
  • In rare instances, it may drain your battery if left on for too long

Highlighted Features

  • Portable Inflator
  • 2.3 SCFM output
  • Max PSI of 150
  • Hose and accessories included
  • Compact design
  • 12-volt motor
  • 40 min runtime

Type of Air Compressor

I’ve already shown you a complete list of various consumer compressors, and I briefly went over the types that you can find out in the marketplace, but now I am going to dive into further detail about each kind of compressor and what they’re best suited for. While you may think that the design of each model is arbitrary, the fact is that they are built for particular purposes, so you should be able to make an informed decision based on the shape of the unit as well as its specs. Here are the most common types of compressor that you can find.

Pancake Compressors

As the name would suggest, these models are shaped a bit like a pancake, meaning that they are round and somewhat flat. The reason for the pancake design is that they are usually smaller and more compact, meaning that they are intended for light compression work. That being said, we have seen some rather large pancake tanks, so it will be imperative to see the size of the unit to know how capable it really is. Overall, the best reason to get a pancake compressor is if you need something portable and stable that can deliver ideal results for your next project.

Pros:

Cons

  • Compact
  • Easy to use
  • Stable design
  • Medium output
  • Portable

  • Not as maneuverable as other models
  • Not ideal for high-powered projects
  • Can only be set up one way (horizontal)

Twin Stack Compressors

Most compression units come with a single reserve tank to use as means of providing enough air to work in between cycles. However, if you want something that is much more efficient and will last a lot longer without having to recycle as often, then a twin-stack model is an excellent way to go. The way that these units work is that they have two cylindrical tanks attached to each other. That way, you get double the reserve space and, if they are designed to be extra efficient, you can draw air from one tank as the other refills. That way you are not inhibited by recycle time and can keep on going without having to stop or lose pressure.

Twin-stack models come in a variety of sizes, from relatively small (such as five gallons or so total) to massive (twenty gallons or more). Pick a size that is right for you and get to work.

Pros:

Cons

  • More reserve air available
  • Higher output and pressure in most cases
  • Easier to use
  • More efficient than other compressors
  • Durable construction

  • Can be heavy and unwieldy
  • Not that portable and compact
  • Not all twin-stacks are built to be super efficient

Hot Dog Compressors

If you were to take a twin-stack compressor and split the tank in half, then you would wind up with a hot dog model. These units can either be small and portable or massive, depending on what you need. The best thing about hot dog compressors is that the cylindrical shape is highly stable and can usually work either vertically or horizontally. Thus, you can potentially mount your unit to the wall without any issues or tuck it under a work table so that it’s out of the way. Hot dog compressors are some of the most popular since the shape is so versatile. The output will vary depending on the size and make of the unit, so pay attention to those so that you can make sure you’re getting enough power.

Pros:

Cons

  • Stable and versatile design
  • Usually works horizontally or vertically
  • Easy to use and operate
  • Comes in small and large sizes
  • More common than other designs

  • May require wheels for easier maneuvering
  • Some units might not work in a vertical position
  • Without a handle, a hot dog compressor can be hard to move

Tire Inflators/12-Volt Compressors

As you’ve seen, there is a whole class of compressor out there that is designed for a single purpose: to inflate things. This type of air compression is not ideal for workstations or job sites as you don’t get the same level of pressure or output. Also, inflators usually don’t have a reserve tank, meaning that you can’t maintain high levels for very long. Also, you can’t increase the pressure as you could with a unit that has a tank.

For the most part, inflators are designed to work with little power, meaning that they can be plugged into your car or run off of battery power.Overall, the primary purpose is to inflate things like sports balls, car tires, and other inflatables like pool toys. These units are great to have on the go or in your vehicle, just in case your tires need air or anything.

Another aspect of inflators is that some units are meant to be used in emergency situations, so they also provide things like flashlights, distress signals, and other useful items to have in case you are stranded somewhere. Those are best for your car, while others might be better suited to keep in your garage as needed.

Pros:

Cons

  • Portable and compact
  • Useful in a variety of situations
  • Fill inflatables much easier than with a manual pump
  • Can be helpful in emergency situations
  • Ideal for flat tires
  • Doesn’t require a ton of power to work

  • Not as powerful as other units
  • Usually, they don’t have as much output or pressure
  • Cannot operate power tools
  • Not designed to last for long periods

Wheelbarrow Compressors

I briefly touched on these earlier, but essentially any compressor that has wheels and needs to be carried on one end can be classified as a “wheelbarrow” unit. For the most part, the reason that they have wheels is that they are heavier than most compressors; however, some models might be lightweight but have tires so that they are more maneuverable and easier to get out of the way.

As far as tank design, many wheelbarrow compressors have a hot dog style tank, but some can be either twin-stack or pontoon. A pontoon compressor is when there are two cylindrical tanks on either side, resembling a pontoon boat. These models can range from somewhat heavy (fifty pounds or so) to massive (a couple hundred pounds or more). In fact, some of the larger units may require being hooked up to a truck so that you can move it from place to place.

Pros:

Cons

  • High output
  • Better results
  • Ideal for heavy jobs
  • Sturdier and more reliable
  • Can be easy to move

  • Might require a truck to move
  • Tank design fluctuates
  • Wheels are not always reliable

Quiet Air Compressors

So far, I’ve shown you various designs of air compressor, but this next category refers to the level of noise instead of the shape of the tank. In some cases, you might need to use a compressor in an area that needs to stay quiet, which is where these models come in. For example, if you are a woodworker and have a showroom next to your workspace then you will need a quiet compressor to ensure that your clientele is not distracted or put off by the noise while you’re working. Similarly, if you don’t want to have to wear headphones or ear plugs while you work, then you might want to look into quiet air compression.

So what constitutes a “quiet” model? Well, human speech is registered at about 65 or 70 decibels, so if you can find a unit that stays around that level or less, then it will seem like a whisper compared to some of the larger and louder models.

Pros:

Cons

  • Less distracting
  • Usually provide the same level of performance
  • Ideal for work/showrooms
  • Easier on your ears

  • In some instances, you sacrifice output for less noise
  • Can be hard to find, depending on your compression needs

Commercial Air Compressors

So far, I’ve shown you units that are meant for individual use, meaning that they can power only one or two power tools at most. Those are what’s known as consumer compressors, and there is a limit to the level of output that they can deliver. However, if you work in a company that needs a massive air compressor to power a wide variety of tools or machines, then you will need a commercial unit. These are much larger than what we’ve seen so far, and they are usually installed in a building, rather than be portable and movable.

Some common places where commercial compressors can be found include medical facilities, warehouses, food industry factories, and auto body shops. Anywhere that needs a lot of compressed air for various applications will require a commercial unit to ensure that they get as much as they need at all times.

Pros:

Cons

  • Provides higher output and reliability
  • Ideal for large-scale applications
  • Centralized so that you don’t need multiple units
  • Installed so as to be more convenient

  • Can be expensive to install and maintain
  • Not intended for consumer use

Air Compressor Brands

I’ve shown you quite a few different air compressor models, and you probably also noticed that there is a wide variety of brands that make high-quality units. In fact, many air compressor enthusiasts like to buy based on brand rather than specs, as different companies have a tendency to produce similar quality models. That means that if you find a brand that you like you should be able to buy compressors from them all the time and get the same level of quality and craftsmanship.

Another thing to think about is that some companies specialize in air compression while others make compressors along with a broad range of other power tools. In the case of the latter, you may get high-quality results, but you might also be missing out as companies that only make compressors tend to be better overall. Thus, that is something to consider when making your final decision.

Makita

This Japanese company was started in 1915 as a business that sold motor parts and lighting equipment. For the first several decades, that was all that Makita did, including offering repair services. Then, in 1958, the company offered its first consumer product: the electric hand planer. Since then, Makita has moved into the world of power tools, most of them related to the field of woodworking. Drills, planers, and other tools are the staple of this brand, but when it comes to air compression, they still have the same attention to detail as everything else they make.

Makita

You can easily spot a Makita product thanks to its signature blue coloring. Only Makita uses that azure hue, so you won’t be able to confuse it with anything else. As with most Japanese companies, the brand is committed to making the best products possible.

DeWalt

This is another high-quality brand that makes an array of consumer goods and power tools. Started in 1924, DeWalt was first focused on woodworking machines for industrial uses. It wasn’t until 1992 that the company offered portable power tools for individual use. Before then, it mostly worked on an industrial scale, providing large-scale tools to be utilized in a variety of industries, such as wood, metal, and manufacturing. These days, many of DeWalt’s tools are cordless and designed to be as portable as they are reliable. While the business mainly focuses on woodworking and carpentry, you can find several high-quality air compressors in their impressive lineup of tools.

Campbell Hausfeld

As I mentioned, some companies specialize in air compression, and Campbell Hausfeld is one of them. Unlike DeWalt or Makita, this brand only makes compressors, which means that they know a thing or two about making high-quality materials. The company was founded all the way back in 1836 when horse-drawn wagons and agricultural equipment was their bread and butter. Then, in 1940, the business starts making air compressors. Before that, it was focused mostly on agricultural and industrial tools, but now it’s all about air compressors, welders, and power washers. In fact, you won’t be able to find any farming products for sale from the company.

Senco

Since 1935, this company has been all about innovation and making things easier for its customers. The first invention by the firm was the Springtramp Eliminator, which reduced most of the vibration that happened in early cars. In fact, this one device was so popular that the business was known as the Springtramp Eliminator Company for its first few years. That name would then eventually be shortened to Senco in 1951. The company made a few different inventions during that period, including fasteners and a pneumatic tacker.

Then, in the middle of the 20th century, they started dabbling in air compression. The reason for doing it was because they were already making pneumatic tools, so why not build compressors to power them? Thus, Senco became one of the top power tool companies in the world. Since they know what it takes to power pneumatic devices, their air compressors are always high-quality and built to deliver the best results possible.

Porter-Cable

Back in 1906, three men named R.E. Porter, G.G. Porter, and F.E. Cable started a business together. They first started a jobbing machine and tool shop, and then moved into portable power tools about ten years later. Their first major product was a lathe, and then they moved into sanders. The company was moderately successful until they were purchased by Rockwell International in 1960. That change nearly obliterated the brand, as that company started producing lower quality tools and phased out the name Porter-Cable altogether.

It wasn’t until 1981 that the business was saved by Pentair, who bought Rockwell and restored the brand to its former glory. It was around this time that the company also moved into air compression as it was merged with its sister business, Delta Machinery.

These days, Porter-Cable still makes a lot of high-quality power tools, including some world-class consumer air compressors. However, their specialty is still sanders and saws.

California Air Tools

Compared to most of the other brands on this list, California Air Tools is a relatively new company, having been started in 2002. While other businesses changed shape over decades, CAT has always been about one thing: air compression. As a result, these machines are built to much higher standards than other companies and provide some of the best compression possible for consumers. Not only do they make portable units but they also specialize in commercial compressors for large businesses and industries that need them. As for the name, the company was started in San Diego, California, so it just made sense. Their slogan is “we want to change the way you work.”

Craftsman

If you have ever gone into a Sears, then you are probably familiar with the Craftsman brand. This company was registered to the Sears Corporation back in 1927 with the sole purpose of consolidating the power tools made by a variety of different manufacturers. Sears doesn’t make the tools, but rather separate contractors do and then put the Craftsman name on them. Despite that kind of separation between brand and operation, Craftsman was named one of the most reliable brands in 2007. For decades the products that have that name are all synonymous with quality, with celebrity endorsers like Bob Vila singing their praises.

As far as air compression goes, the brand didn’t start carrying them until relatively recently, as its primary focus was mostly on yard and gardening tools such as lawnmowers and weed whackers. Even these days Craftsman puts a lot of emphasis on consumer tools, making a variety of drills, wrenches, and tool boxes. Overall, the compressors that have the name on them are of similar quality as everything else, even if Sears doesn’t offer a huge selection of compressors to consumers.

craftsman

Bostitch

When looking at the names of different companies, it’s remarkable to see how the owners came up with it. In this case, the name Bostitch refers to two things: Boston and stitching. In fact, the company first started by producing a machine that stitched coils of wire together. This was way back in 1896, and since then the brand has created a wide range of fasteners, including staplers, nailers, and fasteners. Since these tools are usually powered by compressed air, it made sense that Bostitch would go into the compression business. For the last several years, the company has become a leading producer of consumer-grade compressors, most of them designed to work with Bostitch tools.

Hitachi

When compared to the other businesses on this list, Hitachi is by far one of the biggest and the one with the most international reach. In fact, these days the company has a wide range of different segments, from consumer electronics to defense weapons to railway and urban systems. The business was started in 1910 and grew phenomenally fast over the decades to become an international powerhouse.

As far as compressors go, the brand started getting into air conditioners back in the second half of the 20th century (around the 1970s), so it made sense that the business would then start building consumer air compressors as well. While they didn’t start right away, Hitachi compressors have since become a cornerstone of the brand’s power tool division. Although the company has an extensive reach, the core components of high quality and expert service are felt throughout, including with its air compressors.

Hitachi

Rolair

Next, we have another company that was created specifically for air compression and nothing else. Started back in 1959, Rolair has had one goal in mind: produce the best compressors in the industry. Unlike major conglomerates like Craftsman or Hitachi, this American-based brand is all about air and nothing else. As such, the quality and reliability are much higher, and you can find a much broader range of products to suit your needs. Best of all, the company also makes all kinds of compressor accessories to ensure that you have everything you need to get the job done.

Central Pneumatic

Much like Craftsman, this brand is part of a larger company that produces a wide variety of products. Harbor Freight Tools is one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of power tools in the country, and Central Pneumatic is the name that they give to all of their air compressors and accessories. Because of Harbor Freight’s reach, the brand does have a substantial array of products, ranging from inflators to pancake compressors to larger more industrial models. No matter what size or output you need, Central Pneumatic probably has it.

Viair

Our final company is Viair, which is a portmanteau of “Vital Air” systems. Much like Rolair or California Air Tools, this brand is focused primarily on compressors and accessories, rather than diversifying and getting into other types of power tools. The company’s main specialty is producing fractional horsepower DC oil-less air compressors, and they make them exceptionally well. The brand sells units that are applied to a variety of industries, including automotive, health and wellness, and agriculture.

Final Verdict

After looking through the list of products featured, we have three top picks that will make your life so much easier when it comes to compression. First and foremost, we highly recommend the Makita Big Bore 2.0 for its robust power and portability. Also, it is much more reliable than other compressors in its class, so if you need to operate a few nailers, then this will be a fantastic choice. Second, we also love the Rolair D2002HPV5 as it has much more power and output so you can get the job done faster and more efficiently. Finally, the California Air Tools 5510SE is another high-quality and high-output machine that can provide more than enough air for any job, large or small.

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Mary T. White
 

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