Technology has greatly evolved in the past decade to create more opportunities on multiple fronts, including work, enjoyment as well as overall innovation. One such device is the air compressor; whilst not a piece of equipment that you would see an everyday person purchasing, it is still a useful tool that has many uses that can be used to your advantage.
The air compressor has multiple uses, although it is the intended purpose that will help you determine what the best air compressor is for you. First and foremost you should have an idea of your intended purpose of the air compressor, if you’re using it for work related reasons, home use or as some other form of tool.
Air compressors have multiple applications and can be used for airbrush painting, nail gun operation, high pressure washing, filling air canisters and even used in snow machines. For the most part let’s assume that the intended purpose centers on household handy work and the intention is use around the home.
Your Ultimate Air Compressor Guide
Best Air Compressor Reviews
1. Porter-Cable C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor with 13-Piece Accessory Kit
Porter Cable is considered as one of the most reliable air compressors in the market. This is because it mixes function with style; the six-gallon air compressor is designed to be very portable, that you can take it anywhere with ease.
It’s also pretty powerful for something this size, and can easily power a number of small pneumatic tools. The tank is shrouded with the motor and handle above it for greater support.
What's to like about the Porter-Cable C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor with 13-Piece Accessory Kit
It’s comfortably portable as worded by a user because it is sleek, easy to carry, and doesn’t have sharp corners at all. The capacity is enough for a day’s work of an avid handyman as the PSI and air power is more than enough to cover hours of building, cleaning, or maintenance.
The hose that comes with the package is made of high-quality material, ensuring that you can trust it to have no air leaks whatsoever. It also comes with a 13-Piece Accessory Kit with a 25-foot nylon hose, blowgun and attachments, tire chuck, tire gauge, quick coupler, plugs and Teflon tape.
What's not to like about the Porter-Cable C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor with 13-Piece Accessory Kit
Most of the negative reviews posted by owners centered on the failure of the regulator valve. Some were defective upon unboxing while some valve’s deteriorated after only a few months’ use even though the work load is light and involved only a few minutes usage of small pneumatic tools over time.
Be wary about the warranty schemes of this product before you purchase; some users reported that Amazon doesn’t take the product back after a certain period while Porter-Cable’s warranty is limited.
2. Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor
This air compressor is aimed at DIY enthusiast and builders who like to tinker around building stuff in their home, repairing vehicles, and whatnot. This is slightly higher than consumer-grade air compressors because of its capacity and it is aimed at powering a number of air tools, not just inflating tires and airbeds.
Compared to other air compressors of its kind, the Makita MAC700 is quite on the pricey side. However, for the function, you’re definitely getting what you’ll pay for.
What's to like about the Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor
For the size, it’s pretty powerful. 2.6-gallon tank sustains an operating pressure of 130 PSI, and delivers 40PSI (3.8 CFM) and 90 PSI (3.3 CFM). You’ll be able to use your pneumatic tools such as brad nailer and painter without encountering any problems or shortage.
Once you use up the compressed air, Makita MAC700 recycles quickly and fills the tank in less than a minute. Users also said that the machine is well built and of high quality materials made to last. Despite the size, it’s also fairly quiet compered to other models, so you can use it indoors without disrupting anyone.
What's not to like about the Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor
Apart from the heaviness (it weighs 59.6 pounds), users didn’t have any complaints apart from those who received a damaged one out of the package. What’s bothering is that many buyers received broken machines even though Makita promised, “every tool is thoroughly inspected and tested before leaving the factory”.
Makita has very limited warranty even though it’s not the buyer’s fault why they received a defective item. Good thing Amazon replaces the machine without questions asked.
3. Viair 85P Portable Compressor
This air compressor is portable, made exclusively for inflating tires, airbeds, sports equipment, and flotation devices. Viair is known to produce high quality air compressors and this model has been one of the most-bought in Amazon for this type.
The Viair 85P model is the newest to be released with the 70P as predecessor. Users of the 85P won’t see much difference from the latter, except there’s a little bit improvement in the time it takes to inflate objects.
What's to like about the Viair 85P Portable Compressor
This machine is very lightweight, weighing only 1 pound. You can easily take it wherever you go, especially if you love biking, camping, or going on road-trips. The manufacturer suggests buying multiple air compressors to be stored in your garage, in the trunk of your car, or in your RV.
This is because it’s best used during emergency situations; it can use the lighter socket in your car to work and efficiently pump air into your flat tire in minutes, depending on the size of your tire. This 12-Volt air compressor also comes with a built-in LED work light so you can easily use it even at night.
What's not to like about the Viair 85P Portable Compressor
One thing that users of the previous model missed is the 85Ps lack of carry bag. You have to get a separate bag for this for a secure storage or opt not to throw the box to safe keep the air compressor when not in use.
Also, be careful when using this compressor when plugging it onto your car’s lighter socket. Owners suggest turning the engine of the car on when you use it, or you’re putting the fuse at risk of exploding.
4. Industrial Air Contractor CTA5090412 4-Gallon Grade Direct Drive Pontoon Air Compressor with Honda Engine
Gas air compressors aren’t really considered “consumer-grade” compared to the all the above electric counterparts. This is because running a gas air compressor is quite costly.
Buying one itself is also costly as opposed to electric air compressor. These compressors are intended for big pneumatic tools and powering up machines for long periods of time. If you don’t intend to use it this way, then steer clear away from industrial air compressors.
What's to like about the Industrial Air Contractor CTA5090412 4-Gallon Grade Direct Drive Pontoon Air Compressor with Honda Engine
This air compressor boasts of its 5-horsepower Honda engine that can power up to maximum of 155 PSI, maximum CFM at 90 PSI of 5.0, CFM at 40 PSI of 6.9 for optimum tool performance. It has all the power and durability to work long hours in a day, everyday. For increased lifespan of the machine, this comes with its own cooling system that lowers operating temperature.
It also features an Overhead Cam/Overhead Valve (OHC/OHV) design provides easy starting, smoother engine performance, lower fuel consumption, and lower emissions. For an added peace of mind, this machine comes with a two-year limited warranty from the manufacturer.
What's not to like about the Industrial Air Contractor CTA5090412 4-Gallon Grade Direct Drive Pontoon Air Compressor with Honda Engine
The only con is the weight of this machine at 76.1 pounds. It’s difficult to transport and move in areas so you have to put it atop a wheeled pedestal or cage so it’s easier to operate it, especially if you’re a builder who does jobs practically everywhere.
Other than that, it’s a pretty good heavy-duty air compressor that is easy to maintain because of the oil-less compressor. It also run great with just little fuel, easy to start up, and has enough PSI to do a builder or DIY enthusiast’s daily job.
What is the purpose of your air compressor? Are you going to be using it for heavy-duty tasks that will require a lot of power or simple at home tasks such as tire inflation, painting or anything similar?
Essentially there are two types that can accommodate you and they are either piston compressors or portable compressors, with the latter being more appropriate for less intensive and non-industrial tasks.
Piston compressors are the motor-reliant ones that build up on the air pressure when they get depleted, requiring tanks, which store the compressed air. On the opposite side of spectrum is the portable air compressor, which requires constant power in order to cycle the compressed air through the device, where they will continuously deliver air.
To delve down into further details, piston compressors can be split up further into different categories including single-stage and two-stage. Single stage air compressors work by first drawing in air, compressing it to its final pressure in a single stroke. With this you can expect to reach up to around 150psi, with the single stage having a higher CFM (Cubic feet per minute) compared to the two-stage pump.
Two-stage compressors work a little differently, although the overall concept is the same. The first step involves the air compressor bringing in air and compressing it to its immediate pressure.
It is then piped and the air is allowed to cool (usually through an intercooler) before it can progress to its second stage, where it is compressed. These two-stage compressors can reach up to 200 psi and are able to obtain this higher pressure because they are cooled in between stages.
Previously CFM was mentioned but you might be unsure of what that is or what it entails into choosing the best air compressor for you. CFM is a measure of volumetric flow that changes depending on the psi of the air compressor and is the measurement of the volume of air being transported through the air compressor. It is best to search for a compressor with a standard CFM (around 14.5 PSIA, around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, with 0% humidity).
You should also add a safety buffer of 30% on top of that depending on how many tools you will be using the compressor with and their combined SCFM. The same can be said about PSI, especially in the United States. 90 PSI (Pounds per square inch) will be the standard pressure that you require for home hardware tools to be used correctly with the air compressor.
Despite this, consider a higher shut-off pressure. Even though some hardware stores and the like will display their models with a shut-off at 125 to 135 PSI, which will not always be enough when conducting a job that requires a high amount of pressure. Overall, a greater PSI will make for an easier time using your air compressor device.
Air compressors can be large and cumbersome items, so you should consider the space you will be operating. Are you going to be working in a closed environment or will you be out in the open when you are operating your air compressor?
Alongside this even the best air compressor might be large and weighty, so is that the best choice for you if you do not want to have to carry it around with you everywhere?
Portability is a strong trait but can sometimes be at the cost of the overall equipment power. Once again, it is at your discretion to decide what the best choice is for you and how you will be using it.
Diving further into the possibility of a portable air compressor, you must think of your power situation. You may not always be blessed with electricity when you will be using the equipment.
If you’re next to an available power source at all times then you might want to consider a drive system that contains an electric motor, otherwise it might be better to choose a gas reliant one that is not dependent on a constant electrical power source.
Gas reliant ones can be much louder than the electrical powered air compressors, so if you are working in a confined space then you might want to purchase some air protectors as well.
Noise may be a big issue for you. Essentially the fan and engine are the source of the noise on an air compressor, with the fan sometimes being louder. This might be a problem as the noise of the fan can mask the engine, making it difficult to determine if the air compressor is still running.
If you like to work by ear when operating this type of equipment, consider purchasing an air compressor that has a slightly louder engine so you do not run the risk of opening valves or tinkering with the device when you think it is turned off when it is actually still running the engine.
Alternatively, you should find one with an ease to access power source (button or switch) so you can turn off the machine that way and prevent yourself from taking the risk altogether.
Tank size is another factor that will help you define the best air compressor for you. The tank is important, as it is the main location that the reserve air will be stored. The size of the tank does not determine the amount of air in the compressor nor does it determine the flow of the air compressor.
The style of the tank also changes depending on the type of air compressor that you purchase. It is good to know that the tank orientation will not affect the performance of the air compressor and it is merely an issue for floor space, overall size of the air compressor and the portability of the compressor (if you are intending to move it around or just keep it in one location for a large majority of its use).
If you are using the air compressor for tasks that require short intermittent bursts of air and are not on for extended periods of time then a smaller tank size is the best choice for you. Conversely, larger tanks are best for tasks that require a long amount of time operating the gas tank.
Finally there is the price of the air compressor. Initial price is not the only factor that you should consider as this can affect what the ongoing costs of maintaining the air compressor as well. Whilst a cheap air compressor may seem appealing at first, in some cases this can be more costly to maintain or not expect to reach a greater useful life span than that of a more expensive and assured model.
Adopting a rule for servicing costs can help to alleviate this. A common rule of thumb that you should follow is that servicing and energy costs will usually account for 80% of the system’s overall cost, whilst the initial purchase price will be about 20%.
As mentioned throughout, there are a lot of different features that go into the creation of an air compressor and determine how they operate. When deciding on the best air compressor you should investigate all of these features but not follow them as the be all and end all of criteria.
If you find yourself having a particularly difficult time in deciding the best air compressor for you, there are other ways in which you can get more useful information to help with your decision. If you are close by to a hardware store that has and sells air compressors, give it a visit and explain to them your situation.
There should be a sales person who will know about the compressors and give their opinion on what would be best to suit you. If you find yourself without that possibility, keep an eye out for reviews by professional reviewers or auction reviews to see firsthand what other users have said about the air compressor you want to buy.
Don't forget to also read our article on the "What are the best Portable Air Compressors?".