For those new to the subject, choosing an air compressor can be a daunting task. Ranging from ultra portable to heavy as a rock, there’s an endless selection to choose from.
Some are designed for use around the home. Others are designed for heavy duty industrial usage. There’s also the small matter of noise to consider, some are loud enough to make ear protection very much mandatory.
On this site, you’ll find a detailed buying guide and a range of unbiased, in-depth reviews. I’ll start with the former and my top five picks for 2015.
|Compressor||Model||Max Pressure||Air Flow||Tank Size||Weight||Sound||Price|
|California Air Tools CAT-6310||120 PSI||3.8 CFM||6.3 gal||49 lbs||60 dB||$$|
|Porter Cable C2002-WK||150 PSI||3.5 CFM||6 gal||34 lbs||82 dB||$$|
|Senco PC1010||125 PSI||1 CFM||1 gal||20 lbs||73 dB||$$|
|Makita MAC5200||140 PSI||6.5 CFM||5.2 gal||104 lbs||90 dB||$$$$|
|Campbell Hausfeld FP209499||120 PSI||1 CFM||3 gal||19 lbs||84 dB||$|
Top Ten Air Compressor Reviews
California Air Tools CAT-6310: CAT’s most affordable compressor isn’t just excellent value, it’s one of the quietest compressors currently on the market. At just 65 decibels, it makes less noise than a hair dryer. And it still manages to handle most household tasks. If you want to use air tools indoors, during the night or simply while talking to a friend, this is the perfect purchase. Read my full review here.
Porter Cable C2002-WK: A regular best seller on Amazon, the C2002 offers 150 PSI and a wealth of attachments for less than 150 dollars. Thanks to its minimal size and weight, it’s also a good choice for those who value portability. Unfortunately, quite a few customer reviews complain of durability issues. Read my full review here.
Senco PC1010: Senco’s most popular compressor does two things, very, very well. First off, it weighs just 20 pounds. And secondly, it’s one of the lightest compressors currently on the market. Combine it’s reputation for reliability and you have the best value compressor currently on the market. Read my full review here.
Makita Mac5200: It’s big, it’s heavy and it’s expensive. But it gets the job done every time. For round the house jobs, you can, and probably should spend less. But if your occupation depends on access to compressed air, the Makita Mac5200 is definitely worth considering. Your ears will thank you for it. Read my full review here.
Campbell Hausfield FP209499: Can’t spend more than a hundred dollars? This is what you buy. At just 80 dollars, you’ll have to sacrifice on power. But unlike most budget compressors, it gets the job done, scoring highly in terms of both reliability and durability. Another bonus of the FP209499 is it weighs just 19 pounds, making it perfect for small tasks around the home or garage. Read my full review here.
Dewalt D55168: If you need a compressor that can run and run on a single charge, you need one with a massive tank. And as you can probably see from the image on your right, the D55168 has one of the largest that you can get without running through your bank balance too. You also get the benefit of owning a Dewalt appliance. Read my full review here.
Senco PC1131: The PC1131 is not a best seller like it’s little brother. This probably has something to do with it being about twice the price. For your money however, you do get five times the horsepower, four times the capacity, all while keeping many of the perks of what made the PC1010 so popular. Read my full review here.
Rolair AB5: The AB5 is definately overpriced but if you’re a carpenter, it does tick all the right boxes. It’s powerful enough for woodworking while remaining small, light, and most importantly quiet. Keep in mind, however, that there is a trade off: It’s small, quiet but not particularily powerful. Read my full review here.
Rolair JC10: The second Rolair to make the top ten, the JC10 is again a little on the pricey side. In fact, at $239, you could easily get twice the power for less elsewhere. But then I suppose you wouldn’t be getting the reliability and design quality that Rolair are famous for. Unlike the AB5, the JC10 is also powerful enough for most household tasks. Read my full review here.
VIAIR 85P: Choosing a new air compressor can, and probably should, take a couple of hours. Choosing a new tire inflator however is actually pretty easy, it’s the VIAIR 85P. Unlike most of its lower priced competitors, the 85P is fast and most importantly, reliable. Which is kind of key if you’re stuck on the side of the road somewhere. Read my full review here.
Air Compressor Buying Guide
Air compressor reviews aren’t worth much if they confuse you. Here are eight things to consider when making your choice.
Air Speed and Volume
An air compressors power is primarily measured in PSI and CFM. PSI measures air pressure and CFM measures air volume. All air tools have strict requirements in terms of both pressure and volume.
Here’s how to calculate what you need:
Single Tool Use:
Write down the PSI and CFM requirements of your most demanding tool. Your new compressor should have:
- A PSI that’s equal or greater than what’s listed.
- A CFM that at least 1.25 times greater than what’s listed.
Multi Tool Use:
Write down the PSI and CFM requirements of your two most demanding tools. Your new compressor should have:
• A PSI that’s equal or greater than what’s listed on the most demanding tool.
• A CFM that’s at least 1.25 times greater than the sum of both tools.
You want to power an Impact Wrench( 5 CFM @ 90 PSI) and a Cut Off Tool (4 CFM @ 90 PSI) simultaneously.
• The most demanding tool requires 90 PSI.
• The two tools together require a total CFM of 5 + 4 = 9.
You need an air compressor with 90 PSI and (9 * 1.25) 11.25 CFM.
The size of an air compressors tank affects two things; max CFM and max running time. All air compressors have their max CFM listed on the box. So, there’s little reason for you to learn about the relationship between the two. If the CFM is big enough, the tank is big enough.
Max running time, on the other hand, is important to think about. The bigger the tank, the longer the compressor can run without being refilled.
If your tools only require intermittent bursts of air (nailers/staplers), a smaller tank will be sufficient. If they require longer periods of pumping however (sanders/grinders), you may want to consider something larger.
Keep in mind, that the bigger the tank, the heavier the compressor. And you can expect the price to follow the same pattern.
Single Stage v Two Stage
Piston air compressors can be categorized as either one stage or two stage.
• Single air compressors draw air in and compress it to its final pressure in a single piston stroke.
• Two stage air compressors draw air in and first compress it to an intermediate pressure. The air is then cooled down before it is compressed a second time to its final pressure.
Some people argue that two stage air compressors are more efficient, and therefore cost less to run. The primary difference between the two however is that the latter can generate more power.
Single stage air compressors offer a maximum of 150 PSI and 100 CFM. Two stage air compressors can exceed both of these.
Your choice between the two should be determined by your power needs. If they’re met by a one stage compressor, there’s little reason to spend more.
Air compressors are available in both stationary and portable form. The former is typically bolted down, the latter can be taken with you from job to job.
Just because an air compressor is labelled portable, that doesn’t mean that it can be moved easily. Some are light enough to carry with one hand. Others are heavy enough to require wheels.
Unfortunately, as portability increases, power tends to move in the opposite direction.
Air compressors are generally powered by either electricity or gasoline. Each power source comes with its own advantages.
• The primary benefit of electricity is that it’s cleaner. Electric air compressors don’t emit fumes and can therefore be used indoors. They are also better for the environment.
• Gasoline air compressors cannot be used indoors but they are significantly cheaper to operate. You also don’t need access to an electrical socket. They can be used just about anywhere provided you have a tank of gas nearby.
Oiled v Oil Free
Air compressors can be categorised as either oiled or oil free. The most obvious difference between the two is that the former needs its oil changed every now and then.
This takes all of two minutes however and shouldn’t really be used as a reason to go one way or the other. The real differences are:
• Oil compressors are more expensive and heavier. They do however last significantly longer. A well oiled compressor can last decades.
• Oil free compressors are cheaper and lighter. Over time however, they lose their lubrication and because they can’t be oiled, eventually break down.
Air compressors are noisy machines, there’s no getting around this fact. Your choice of model however can greatly effect just how many decibels you have to deal with.
These days, it’s possible to find air compressors as low as x decibels but most range between x and x decibels. If you plan on working in the vicinity of your new purchase, don’t accept anything above x.
Five Reasons to Use Air Tools
I’ve been a heavy user of air tools for almost ten years now. I’ll admit, my first purchase was based solely on price. Over time however, I’ve come to believe that they are superior to electrical tools in almost every way.
Here are the top five perks of air over electricity.
First off, we have the price. After you get past the initial compressor cost, you’ll find that, like for like, air tools are approximately 50 percent cheaper to buy. This means that you can fill your garage with everything from nail guns to impact wrenches for half the cost.
Let’s not forget about the cost of electricity either. If you’re a heavy user like me, air tools mean a lower energy bill each month.
Speaking of heavy use, like for like, air tools are up to three times more powerful. They convert electrical energy into kinetic energy which results in higher levels of torque and more revolutions per second. This means more efficiency and less time spent on the job.
No electricity also means no motor. This makes air tools both lighter and smaller than their electrical counterparts. If you’ve got a small garage, this is a big advantage. You can fit about ten into a space that would only hold three electrical tools. And even if you’ve got a massive garage, who likes carrying heavy equipment around all day?
The lack of a motor also means that air tools have significantly less moving parts. This makes them less likely to break down and less likely to break altogether if you drop them. If you’re anything like me i.e. lazy and accident prone, this can be a major perk.
Finally, air tools are safer. They won’t give you a shock if they get wet. And they won’t burn your house down if you plug them in wrong. Regardless of how you feel about health and safety issues, there’s also another benefit; you can use them in the rain.
And One Reason Not To
In the interest of being unbiased, I have to admit that there is one major drawback of air tools; the compressors are anything but quiet. Unless you live alone, don’t expect to be able to use one indoors. And if you have neighbours in close proximity, don’t expect to be able to turn it on past 9PM. The good news is that, for the person operating the compressor at least, the sound can be blocked out completely with the right ear protection.
What Air Compressor Accessories Do I Need?
One of the most common questions asked by those new to the concept is just what accessories do they need. After all, compressed air isn’t worth much if you don’t have a way of getting it from the tank into your tool of choice.
The good news is that the answer to this question may well be no accessories at all. Most compressors come complete with plugs for all the most common tools. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule so be sure to check the manufacturers website before you buy.
Here are the most common accessories that you can buy, and what they’re for.
Second Hose: 99% of compressors come with a hose but over time, they’re typically the first thing to need replacing. You might also find that you need a particular strength hose to power particular tools. The best compressor hoses have 3 layers including some kind of weave or mesh. The best materials are rubber, nylon and PVC.
Hose Reel: A hose reel is simply device that coils the hose into a circular shape. Most have a handle and wheels for ease of use. Other features include locks at specific intervals and buttons that can reel in the hose with a single press. If your compressor of choice doesn’t have a hose reel, purchasing one will greatly increase its portability.
Roll Cage: A roll cage is a device that wraps around the tank of a compressor protecting it from puncture. Ideally, you’ll want one with a skid plate to protect the rest of your compressor too. If you plan on working on a building site, this is a very wise purchase. If you never plan on leaving your garage, this is a complete waste of money.
Adapters: If your compressor choice is incompatible with one of your tools/hoses, you will need to purchase an adapter. Adapters come in male and female form. They are not interchangeable. Anodized fittings generally last the longest. Quick connectors are ideal if you plan on using them daily. They are easier to attach, remove and clean.
Filters: After six months use, you’ll probably have to replace the filter. A clogged filter adds strain to the motor. At best, this reduces its power, and at worst, eventually destroys it. Different compressor filters guard against different chemicals, the most important to protect against being oil and gas.