- The Best Air Compressor
- 1. PORTER-CABLE Oil-Free UMC Pancake Air Compressor
- 2. CRAFTSMAN 6 Gallon Air Compressor
- 3. Campbell Hausfeld Portable Air Compressor
- 4. DEWALT Pancake Air Compressor
- 5. California Air Tools Aluminum Tank Air Compressor
- 6. PORTER-CABLE Air Compressor Kit
- 7. Makita Big Bore 2.5 HP Air Compressor
- 8. WEN Oil-Lubricated Portable Horizontal Air Compressor
You may not have considered investing in an air compressor before, and you may not even know why you need it. But this tool can make some of the more challenging DIY and home improvement tasks much more enjoyable and save you a lot of energy. Good quality air compressors do much more than inflate tires.
So why do you need an air compressor?
Firstly, it means you can afford more power tools! Electric power tools tend to be very expensive, whereas pneumatic tools (those powered by air) are much cheaper. Once you have an air compressor, there is a whole range of appliances and power tools that you can use with it.
Secondly using pneumatic tools means that they are less likely to require maintenance compared to the traditional electric version. Less maintenance means less time spent fiddling and fixing your tools, and more time on your projects.
Next, an air compressor saves you energy. Your tools will run from compressed air, so they have a much lower power consumption.
Lastly (although there are many other reasons we could go into), an air compressor is highly versatile. Not only can it fuel tools, but powerful blasts of air can clean workshops from dust. You can also attach a sprayer and use it for professional spray painting in a fraction of time.
So here we give you a rundown of some of the best air compressors available, designed primarily for home use. We also go through the key features and frequently asked questions to give you all the information you need before buying a product.
The Best Air Compressor
Electric – corded
13 piece accessory kit
150psi max tank
Our top choice for the best air compressor is the PORTER-CABLE Oil-Free UMC Pancake Air Compressor. This is an electric, oil-free compressor, so it requires very little maintenance. This product scores highly for portability as it weighs only 30lbs, has an easy-to-carry handle, and a pancake style tank, which means that it is more stable when standing up. There are also rubber feet on the base for further stability. As it is a corded compressor, you will need to have access to a power plug or an extension cord to be able to operate it. The maximum air pressure on this machine is 150PSI, and it runs at 2.6SCFM at 90PSI, with a quick recovery time when it needs to be refilled with air.
The Porter-Cable has a six-gallon tank (22litres) and can run off regular household circuits. The high-efficiency motor has replaceable brushes which should extend its lifespan and has a High-Flo air regulator that protects it against any large pressure drops. The 13-Piece Accessory Kit includes a 25-foot nylon hose, a tire chuck and gauge, a blow gun, a quick coupler, and plugs. While it is quite loud to operate, the long air hose means that you don’t need to stand too close to the noise. There is a break-in procedure required to get this tool working optimally, although the instructions for this can be a little confusing. A one-year limited warranty is included with this air compressor.
Accessory kit included
150 max PSI
13 piece accessory kit
One year warranty
Pancake compressor design
There are a lot of similarities between the CRAFTSMAN 6 Gallon Air Compressor and our best choice of the Porter-Cable. With this model, you get a stable pancake-style design that is unlikely to topple over, and at a weight of 30lbs, it is still perfectly portable. This is a corded electric compressor, with an oil-free pump, so again, the maintenance required is very low. It is also designed with an easy-start high-performance motor that is reliable even in cold weather.
The Craftsman performs at 2.6SCFM with 90 PSI, so it refills pretty quickly and works from a standard power outlet. You get enough power for it to work adequately for home use. It also has two couplers on the top of the compressor, which gives you the flexibility to attach two air tools. As with the Porter-Cable, you get a thirteen piece accessory kit which includes a blowgun, hose, tire gauge, and numerous other parts that will help you with your home improvement goals.
Accessory kit included
Ten piece accessory kit
110 max PSI
0.36CFM at 90PSI
If you are looking for a compact, easy-to-use electric air compressor, then the Campbell Hausfeld Portable Compressor is one of the best options. This is ideal for inflating tires and balls and completing small airbrushing tasks, with a three-gallon tank that weighs just over 20lbs. You can expect to have to refill this tank quite frequently, and you will need to use an extension lead for power.
The portable compressor has highly visible, well-placed gauges, and as it has an oil-less pump and motor, it is almost maintenance-free. The airflow on this machine measures 0.36CFM at 90PSI, and it has a maximum PSI of just 110. Included with the Hausfeld is a ten-piece accessory kit that has inflation needles, plugs, a female coupler, a hose and blow gun plus a few other pieces to get you started. It is by no means a heavy-duty compressor but it is a good entry-level model.
Only suitable for small tasks due to tank size
Relatively low power
165 max PSI
2.6SCFM at 90 PSI
Rubber leg covers
Our best value pick for an air compressor is the Dewalt Pancake Air Compressor. This is another portable option, with a tank size of six gallons that operate when plugged into an electric power source. It weighs 30lbs/14.5kgs and has a noise level of 75.5decibels.
One of the best features of this machine is that there are two fitted couplers, enable two air tools to be used at the same time. It also has a maximum PSI of 165, which is more than many other similar-sized products and can deliver 2.6SCFM at 90PSI. There is a wrap cord for easy storage, a high flow regulator, and the motor is oil-free so that limited maintenance will be required. The rubber leg covers will also prevent any scratches on your floor and it is easy to start even in cold weather. The Dewalt air compressor performs very well for relatively small tasks, and it is very easy to operate; however, there can be some loose fittings when trying to add attachments.
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Two universal couplers
Some attachments are not secure
Aluminum air compressor
8-gallon tank capacity
Air filter included
Our best value pick is the California Air Tools Aluminium Tank Air Compressor. If you want a quiet air compressor, then this is worth considering as it has a noise level of just 60dA and is described as being ultra-quiet. This machine has an 8gallon tank, making it heavier than smaller models, and it weighs in at 48lbs. However, a wheel kit is included with this so portability is not much of a challenge, although you will need to be near an electric power supply.
The California Air Tools compressor is oil-free, so maintenance is minimal and it also includes an air filter and a high flow regulator which helps with the durability of the motor. Product descriptions state that it has a life cycle of around 3000 hours before there are any signs of wear or tear. This particular compressor has a 1.0HP motor and a maximum air pressure of 120PSI. You will need to buy connectors and accessories to get full use from this machine.
Wheel kit included
No fittings included
Corded electric model
2.0SCFM at 90PSI
Starts easily in cold weather
Water drain valve
Hose and accessories included
Another offering from Porter-Cable, this air compressor is a compact design. PORTER-CABLE Air Compressor Kit weighs only 20lbs and measures just 17 inches tall, so is a highly portable model. Despite its size, it has 150PSI max pressure and a durable motor that activates quickly even in very cold weather. It delivers 2.0SCFM at 90PSI.
Included in this set is a 25ft hose, although you may want to switch this for a more durable version, plus eight different accessories including nozzles, inflation pins, and a connector. With it being an electric model, you will need access to a plug or a good extension cord. This is advertised as being a quiet air compressor, but at nearly 80decibels it is one of the louder compact options available. While the Porter-Cable has rubber feet to prevent marking, this doesn’t actually help with the stability. It is much less stable than a pancake compressor and falls over very easily.
Not very quiet
Cast iron pump
Roll cage construction
Industrial air filter
Oil sight glass
Our premium pick for the best air compressor is the Makita MAC2400 Big Bore Compressor. The product we reviewed is just the compressor, but it is available in kits with an air hose, couplers, and plugs. This 4.2 gallon compressor is highly durable, made with a cast iron pump and Big Bore cylinder for enhanced performance and a roll cage construction to protect it in extreme weather conditions. It has a maximum pressure of 130PSI, and it delivers 4.2CFM at 90PSI.
While this is an electric corded device, oil is required to operate it. The pump itself is oil lubricated to maintain cooler running temperatures which will preserve its lifespan and reduce the amount of wear and tear. As oil is involved, there will be a degree of maintenance in this, but it is made easier with a sight glass and lever-operated valves. The Makita has a 2.5HP, four-pole motor, and an industrial air filter, so you can expect it to perform at a higher level than other electric compressors. It is a heavy-duty yet easy to use compressor.
Small capacity of air in the tank
Some maintenance required
Handle and wheels for easy transportation
¼ inch NPT quick couple
Quick drain valve
The WEN Oil-lubricated Portable Horizontal Air Compressor has a six-gallon tank in a hot-dog style, and while it may be portable, you won’t want to carry it far as it weighs just over 50lbs. Luckily it has two wheels attached for easy moving plus a rubber footed leg to keep it balanced. The 13A motor is powered by electricity, so it will need to be plugged in, and it is oil-lubricated, so you will need to keep an eye on oil levels and top them up accordingly. Be advised that not all orders come with oil pre-loaded so you will need to add some before the first use to avoid any damage.
This air compressor generates a flow of 3.2CFM at 90PSI, which is relatively high compared to other models and has a maximum pressure of 125PSI. There is a pressure regulator gauge so you can pre-set this precisely for your needs. Already fitted on the WEN is a 1/4inch NPT quick-coupler which makes it easier and quicker to attach hoses and appliances. You will also find an auto-shutdown function which is activated as soon as the desired pressure level is reached. This product comes with a two-year warranty and is ideal for DIY projects or tasks such as spray painting and filling tires.
Oil not included
Features To Consider With Air Compressors
Gas vs. Electric
If you plan on using an air compressor on only the odd occasion, and in your house or garage, then a traditional electric powered model will be acceptable.
However, if you will be using it in areas where there is not always direct access to a power supply, then a gas (petrol or diesel) version will be much more convenient. This style of air compressors is recommended for professional users.
Horsepower (HP) measures the quantity of work an engine performs. In a compressor, the power of the motor that compresses air is measured in HP. For a typical, portable air compressor you can expect to find horsepower ratings of between 1.5 and 6hp.
However, do not be tempted to always opt for the higher horsepower, thinking it will get the job done quickly. It needs to be considered in conjunction with the PSI and CFM (see below). If you have two machines with identical PSI and CFM measurements, then the one with the lowest horsepower will have a comparatively high-efficiency motor. It will save energy but without impacting the performance.
Two other points to note when it comes to power.
Firstly, for standard power outlets, a motor must have a rating of 2HP or lower to be able to function. Any higher and they will not be compatible.
Secondly, when comparing gas to electric models, a gas-powered compressor will need to double the amount of horsepower to perform in the same way as the electric model. So a gas or diesel-fueled machine with 4HP will do the same level of work as a 2HP electric version.
Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI)
Pounds per square inch (PSI) measures the pressure that is generated in the tank. Typical measurements for a compressor used for DIY will be around 115PSI. For lighter use, hobby machines, 90PSI is adequate. Commercial air compressors will have higher working pressures, usually over 140PSI.
As with many of the other measures of an air compressor, it is essential to match the pounds per square inch with the tool that you will be using. If the pressure is too high, you can damage your device; too low and it won't perform optimally. The required PSI is usually stated in the manufacturers' description.
Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM)
Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM) is the measurement of the airflow a compressor is capable of delivering within one minute. This is a significant consideration when it comes to buying the best compressor as it needs to be compatible with the tools that you are planning to attach it to.
Most smaller air tools will require 0-5 SCFM, and more extensive tools will need more than 10 SCFM. All devices will have their requirements for air volume and pressure written on their product details, and you will need a compressor that matches this for optimal performance.
To determine if you have the correct match, look on your air tool description for the Average Air Consumption, which is displayed as Standard Cubic Feet Per Minute (SCFM). You then multiply this number by 1.2 to get the minimum required CFM.
For example, if an air drill has an average air consumption of 4 SCFM, then your minimum CFM is 4.8 (4 x 1.2). Look for an air compressor that has 4.8CFM or slightly higher.
Tank size is another key consideration for an air compressor as this will affect its performance. This determines how much compressed air the machine can hold. Once you have identified the SCFM of your tool (see above), then you can calculate the minimum tank size required by multiplying that figure by 6. For our air drill example, this would be 4 x 6 = 24litres. This is the absolute minimum tank size you would need.
In addition to this calculation, you also need to consider how large the task is that you need to complete. If you plan on spray painting a small door, or only drill a handful of nuts and bolts, then selecting the minimum tank size will be fine. However, if you need to spray an entire car, or have an extensive drilling project, choosing a larger tank will mean that you have to refill it less often. As a result, you can complete the task in a shorter period, because you don't have to keep stopping to top-up the air.
Oil Or Oil-free
An oil-free compressor is best suited if you want less maintenance. Many electric models have an oil-free pump but may use oil in the cooling mechanics or as a lubricant, so you should check that.
Oiled compressors will usually give you a greater output and often run quieter and more smoothly, although there is a small risk that you are adding contaminants to the motor. A gas-fueled compressor will definitely require oil.
If you opt for an oiled compressor, you will need to ensure you top-up the oil regularly, and with the right type. This will keep the motor lubricated and prevent overheating.
When choosing the best air compressor, you have the option for portable or stationary models.
Portable air compressors should be light enough to carry or have wheels to allow you to move it without too much trouble. Tank capacity plays an important role when choosing the best portable air compressors. The size can vary from 2 to 10 liters for a portable compressor, so there is a vast selection available. The larger tank works best for tools that need a high volume of air and for a continuous period of time however they will be heavier so not always the best choice if you will be moving it around a lot.
If you need a 20-gallon air compressor or more, then you may need to consider stationary, industrial air compressors. These give you greater horsepower, are heavy-duty, and are ideal for continuous use; however, they will need to be fixed to an area and connected directly to your electrical circuit. Workshops or garages may find this the best solution, but it isn't recommended for home use.
Air Compressor FAQ
Q: What is the use of an air compressor?
Air compressors have multiple uses, either in a professional industrial environment or for home DIY projects. They can add power to existing tools or appliances to make completing the task even quicker. For example, they can be used to power nail guns or drills, or for pumping up tires, reducing the amount of manual effort needed on these occasions. An air compressor takes the power of petrol or electric motor and converts this to compressed air, and it is this air that will power your tools.
Q: What size air compressor do I need?
A compressor is fitted with a pump. This pump pulls the air in and then squeezes it into a tank. It will continue to force the air in, compressing it in the tank until the maximum capacity has been reached. Therefore, the size is determined by the capacity of the tank and measured in liters. It is best to opt for a tank that will hold enough air to complete the particular task you are doing, and this will require a bit of calculation.
Firstly, you need to find out what your SCFM is for the tool you will be using. SCFM is the required airflow and will usually be written in the product description as 'average air consumption'. For example, a spray gun may state 8 SCFM, and an air drill may state 4 SCFM.
Once you have this figure, you multiply it by 6. So, for our air drill, you multiply 4 SCFM by 6, giving you 24. Therefore the smallest size compressor you should get = 24 liters.
The larger the air tank is, the longer your tool will run for and the better performance you will get; however, the cost and weight will, of course, be more.
Q: Do I have to refill an air compressor?
Yes, you will need to refill an air compressor. There is a limited amount of air that can be held at any one time in the compressor, and when this supply has been depleted, you need to add more air. This is very easy to do, usually just by disconnecting your device from the compressor and then turning the compressor on. Once the tank has reached its maximum capacity, the motor will automatically cut-off.
Some larger, more advanced models will automatically top-up the air for you, so you don't need to stop working to do this.
Unless you opt for an oil-free compressor, you will also need to refill oil levels frequently.