An air compressor is a sound addition to any home or professional tool kit – but you have to think of a compressor as a means to an end, rather than a power tool in and of itself. With a compressor alone, your projects are pretty limited – instead an air compressor makes it possible for you to use other pneumatic tools like nail guns, air ratchets, blow guns, impact wrenches or even sandblasters, all of which require compressed air in order to function.
So, while an air compressor may not be very exciting on its own, when you think of its potential to open up the use of so many other tools, its versatility makes it much more interesting. If you’re interested in adding this powerful player to your collection and you wonder about the best air compressor, read on to explore the collection of air compressor reviews we’ve assembled to get you started.
Air Compressor Comparison Chart
|Brand/Model (Click Item Text to Scroll to Review)||Rating|
|1. Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor|
Our Top Pick for 2019
|2. VIAIR 400P Portable Compressor||9.8/10||CHECK PRICE|
|3. Bostitch BTFP02012 6-Gallon 150 PSI Oil-Free Compressor||9.6/10||CHECK PRICE|
|4. PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor||9.5/10||CHECK PRICE|
|5. PORTER-CABLE CMB15 1.5-Gallon Oil-Free Compressor Kit||9.5/10||CHECK PRICE|
|6. Senco PC1010 1 Horsepower Peak Electric Oil-Less Compressor||9.4/10||CHECK PRICE|
|7. DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI Pancake Compressor||9.1/10||CHECK PRICE|
Best Air Compressor Reviews
1. Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air CompressorCLICK TO CHECK PRICE
With a big bore cylinder and piston, this cast iron pump combines superior bore and stroke to deliver the maximum performance on the market – and it’s our No. 1 pick. This compressor is also relatively quiet – it offers dramatically lower noise levels than many models, largely thanks to its 1720 RPM pump that ensures larger displacement at lower RPMs. As a result, the MAC700 performs cooler and at about half the RPMs of its competition. In addition, its low amp draw reduces your chances of having tripped circuit breakers and voltage drops that can ultimately lead to premature motor failure. This particular compressor comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Overall, this compressor delivers higher output, improved job performance and less noise than many of its competitors – plus, thanks to its cast-iron construction, it shows high durability in even the toughest and most abusive of job sites. Other premium features of this model include its tank drain valve, designed for easier maintenance, its convenient oil drain and oil sight glass, plus finned discharge tubing that efficiently dissipates heat.
Users love the best-in-class engineering and innovative technology of this model, along with its quick and easy maintenance. Overall, reviewers report that this compressor has a tolerable noise level and delivers a consistent amount of air pressure. Some users wish the unit were lighter – its weight can make it less portable and more difficult to store. In addition, some say it can be extremely loud when used within a small or confined space.
2. VIAIR 400P Portable CompressorCLICK TO CHECK PRICE
This unit is a powerhouse, capable of inflating up to 35-inch tires from 0 to 30 PSI in under five minutes. As a larger portable compressor kit/unit, it features a maximum working pressure of 150 PSI and a maximum duty cycle of 33 percent. With this kind of power and reliability, the 400P is loved by off-road enthusiasts all over the world. It’s a great choice for a compressor to keep handy for on the road.
With this kit, you’ll get the compressor, a carrying case, an eight-foot power cable, a heavy-duty sand tray with vibration isolators and an inline fuse holder. The compressor also features a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. VIAIR is recognized across the globe as a top manufacturer of performance air compressors for mobile pneumatic applications. And this model is inexpensive enough that many users report keeping one in each vehicle they own.
Reviewers report that this is a great unit to keep in the car for all your adventures – it allows you to quickly and easily fill tires and get back on the road, whether you’re enjoying off-roading adventures in the mountains, on the beach, in the mud or more. Many users report that this model delivers a lot of power for a portable unit, though some reviewers note that it can quickly run hot. According to most users, it’s quick and easy to set up and very intuitive to use, though some reviewers say it’s a bit slower than expected when filling larger tires.
3. Bostitch BTFP02012 6-Gallon 150 PSI Oil-Free CompressorCLICK TO CHECK PRICE
With its high-efficiency motor, this compressor starts like a dream, even in cold weather, and it features a 78.5 dBA operational noise level to give you a quiet work environment. In addition, its couplers and high-flow regulator help maximize the performance of your pneumatic tools.
This Bostich model also boasts an oil-free, maintenance-free pump and a maximum tank storage of 150 PSI, which gives you long tool-use time, plus quick recovery. And with two universal couplers, this compressor can support two users at the same time. At a relatively light 29 pounds, this compressor unit can be stored and carried with ease, while the rubber-grip feet add to the compressor’s overall stability.
This compressor is touted as ideal for professional use, but its affordable price means it can also make quick work of more standard household projects without a big hit to your budget. It also comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Reviewers love that this compressor offers a substantial value and an overall affordable price. It gets high marks for lots of air power and fast recovery, plus a substantial tank size and sturdy, rugged design. Reviewers also love its easy-to-access control panel. However, users do caution that the unit can get a little noisy when used in small workspaces, though it’s likely not loud enough to bother your neighbors. Some users also report that this unit still feels a little heavy to them, especially when compared to other lightweight models on the market.
4. PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC Pancake CompressorCLICK TO CHECK PRICE
With its pancake-style tank, this compressor offers high stability, combined with longer air tool performance and a six-gallon capacity – plus including a 13-piece accessory kit. This compressor’s 150 PSI max tank pressure can store enough air for long air-tool run times, and it also features quick compressor recovery time.
Both plug and air coupler are factory-installed on this unit both to prevent leaks and to cut down on user labor – the compressor tank features rubber feet and a water drain valve. With its low-amp, 12-volt motor, this compressor starts up easily, even in cold weather – and its oil-free pump means long life with minimum maintenance. In addition, replaceable brushes also help extend compressor life. This compressor is lightweight and compact – plus it features two regulated, factory-installed high-flow air couplers, which means it can handle two users at the same time.
Users report that this is a high-quality compressor that’s good for medium- and heavy-duty tasks around the house. Reviewers are especially drawn to its sturdy construction, smooth-running motor and its power. And with its affordable price, this model is described as an excellent value. Some users report that this unit is very loud, with an 82 dBA rating, so you may not want to use this compressor in close quarters, and it’s wise to invest in some safety earplugs or other hearing protection and then use them regularly. Reviewers also say that this model is best used for shorter, less complicated projects.
5. PORTER-CABLE CMB15 1.5-Gallon Oil-Free Compressor KitCLICK TO CHECK PRICE
This air compressor offers a large,1.5-gallon tank in shroud that is both portable and easy to carry. In addition, it boasts a quiet run time thanks to its low-noise motor at 79 dBA, and its fully enclosed design translates to full protection from hot moving parts. With this compressor comes a 25-foot coil hose and an eight-piece accessory kit to help you get started. The unit also comes with a one-year warranty on all compressor components.
This air compressor’s low-amp 120V motor starts easily, even in cold weather, and its oil-free pump can help guarantee a long life without much complicated regular maintenance. Weighing in at just 20 pounds, this is one of the lightest air compressors reviewed here, though its performance still packs quite a punch.
Reviewers give this compressor high marks for its quick recovery time and longer run times, plus its light weight. They say it’s powerful yet compact, which can help meet a variety of needs. And although the 79dBA noise level is generally tolerable, you’ll want to think carefully about using this compressor in confined spaces or too near your neighbors. In addition, some users caution that the accompanying accessories are fairly low-grade, so you may consider eventually purchasing your own, higher-quality accessories. Overall, with its reasonable price and solid performance, this compressor is billed as a great value, especially if you’re purchasing your first air compressor.
6. Senco PC1010 1 Horsepower Peak Electric Oil-Less CompressorCLICK TO CHECK PRICE
This ultra-light and ultra-quiet compressor unit features a direct drive induction motor/pump, plus a one-gallon air capacity and a quick-disconnect coupler.
Users report that this compressor is both affordable and versatile, delivering just the right amount of air power for both light- to medium-duty jobs. This is one of the fastest compressors on the market for its size, featuring a direct-drive 1 HP (peak) and 5 HP (running) motor that can deliver 20 to 44 drives per minute. Its one-gallon aluminum cylinder takes 128 seconds to pump up air and a mere 35 seconds to recover.
This compressor is also one of the lightest and quietest you can find – weighing in at only 20 pounds and featuring a 73 dBA noise level. Its lube-free pump and oil-free motor also guarantee quick and easy routine maintenance, including cleanup after a job.
This Senco unit also features a variety of additional safety precautions, including an air intake filter, a thermal overload/reset button, an air tank drain valve, a quick-disconnect switch, a ventilation opening, a safety relief valve, a 115-volt electric power cord and a protective shroud. Its handle also features a non-slip grip, and it’s covered by a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Reviewers love this compressor’s light weight and quiet operation, plus its amount of pressure and fast recovery time – most users say it’s ideal for light renovation use. Overall, this compressor gets high marks for being well made and a great value. Some users would like to see more power, while others report that air pressure takes longer to build up than they’d like.
7. DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI Pancake CompressorCLICK TO CHECK PRICE
This pancake compressor comes complete with a high-efficiency motor that guarantees easy start-up even on the coldest of winter days. Both its high-flow regulator and its couplers help maximize pneumatic tool performance, and its oil-free pump helps ensure a long life and low-key maintenance. The unit features a 165 max PSI six-gallon tank and a 90 PSI pump, which gives you a long run time and a quick recovery interval. In addition, it comes with a console cover that helps protect controls, but is also removable for easy maintenance. This unit comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Noise is not an issue with this compressor – with a 75.5 dBA motor, you can enjoy pneumatic tool use without alarming or irritating your neighbors. With two couplers for multiple users and a ball drain valve for easy and thorough tank draining, this compressor is easy and convenient both to use and to maintain. DEWALT is one of the best-known and most trusted brands in power tools – they rank highly across a number of different tool categories on our site, including wood routers and chainsaws – so you likely can’t go wrong with this choice. Overall, DEWALT is known for producing powerful air compressors with solid reputations.
Reviewers give this compressor high marks for being a good value with an affordable price. In addition, it’s easy to maintain and users say it offers about twice the power of similar units, plus it’s easy to drain. However, even though it’s marketed as light and portable, some users say its weight is a little more hefty than they’d expect for a unit that’s truly portable.
How an Air Compressor Works
Believe it or not, air compressors are a fairly recent addition to the world of construction projects and power tools. Traditionally, air-powered tools have been powered by a complex system of belts, pulleys, wheels and other large mechanical components, that was both overly complicated to use and cost-prohibitive for smaller professional shops or at-home users.
The air compressor functions by employing a twofold process that causes air pressure to rise while volume drops, and most are powered by either gas or electric motors. Most compressors on the market today use reciprocating piston technology, which comprises the following parts: piston, cylinder, crankshaft, connecting rod and valve head.
Inlet and discharge valves – basically, small metal flaps – are located at one end of the cylinder – the inlet sucks in air for the piston to compress, while the discharge valve then releases the compressed air. In some models, pressure is applied using rotating impellers, but the more common mechanism featured in most of the units reviewed here, is positive displacement. With this method, air is compressed within separate compartments that reduce its space. Positive displacement is the method employed by most air compressors you’ll see in use by construction workers, craftspeople, mechanics and home-improvement weekend warriors.
While some of the smallest air compressor models comprise simply a motor and pump, most of the models you’ll see will also include a storage tank, which allows them to collect air at various pressure levels and store it until it’s needed to power the pneumatic tools connected via the unit supply line. While this is happening, the motor also turns off and on quickly and repeatedly in order to maintain desired pressure.
The piston’s rapid back and forth motion effectively creates a vacuum, filling the space in front of the piston with air, which is then sucked through the inlets from the outside. That same air is then compressed when the piston extends, which gives the air enough strength to force through the discharge valve and into the tank, all while holding the inlet shut. As this process continues and more air enters the tank, the pressure continues to increase.
Interested in learning about how other power tools work? Check out any of our other tool guides, including this one: Best MIG Welder Reviews for 2019.
Types of Air Compressors
Generally, you can find air compressors in four major types: pancake, hot dog, twin-stack and wheelbarrow. The major defining characteristics of each are outlined below.
This style of compressor looks like exactly what you might think – it has a round, flat storage tank typically attached to four rubber-grip feet, and it looks a lot like a pancake. The benefit of this design is that it offers a high level of stability when set on the ground, plus it’s a compact type of design, which makes it a good choice for smaller workspaces. The pancake style also requires very little maintenance, and is perhaps best for filling tires and completing small projects around the house. The DEWALT and PORTER-CABLE models reviewed here feature this type of design.
Hot Dog Compressors
As you might expect, this design features a single, cylindrical tank sitting on top of a stand. This design lets the compressor be stored up against the wall, where it can stay out of the way. This version usually also features a handle that lets you carry it around a job site with ease, so portability is a plus. Hot dog compressors are great for hobbyists and those who like to complete craft projects at home. They’re typically a little louder than pancake versions, but still reach nothing like the noise level of more industrial compressors.
This type of compressor features two cylindrical tanks that are stacked on top of one another – like double hot dogs. This kind of setup not only gives you double the air capacity, but it also means it’s more compact. These compressors are especially good at powering brad and nail guns. A twin-stack compressor is still considered portable, but with its greatly increased capacity, it might need two people to carry it.
Wheelbarrow compressors look a lot like hot dog compressors, but with the added feature of having wheels and a handle attached to the tank so you can “drive” them around – just like a wheelbarrow. With their heavy, powerful motors, wheelbarrow compressors are best suited for heavy-duty projects. They are also designed to be tough and hold up to even the roughest terrain or most challenging job site.
Setting Up and Maintaining an Air Compressor
Maintaining your air compressor is a relatively simple task, but an important one. Making sure you give your air compressor some routine maintenance at least once per year, or according to your manufacturer’s guidelines, can greatly help extend the life of your machine.
First, you’ll want to regularly change the oil in your compressor. This is probably the most complicated part of air compressor maintenance – but it’s still extremely simple. The first step is turning on your machine so the oil has a chance to warm up – you should also open the fill cap so that air can get into the system. Then remove the drain plug and allow the old oil to drain out into a pan.
Once all the old oil is out of the system, simply replace the drain plug and refill your compressor with high-quality air compressor oil, ideally one recommended by your manufacturer. Don’t rush it – make sure you slowly fill the oil to the desired capacity as recommended by the manufacturer. If you have a dipstick, you can use it to help ensure the right level of oil.
You should also change your air filter on a regular basis, which is another simple task. You’ll start by locating and removing your machine’s used filter. You can usually do this by simply pinching it with your fingers and pulling it out, or with some models you might have to unscrew as many as four screws that hold the filter in place. To install a new filter, you simply perform the reverse of this process.
From time to time, you may also need to replace the compressor’s belt, which is very similar to replacing its filter. Some models house their belts behind a plastic “cage,” which can be removed simply by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place. Once that’s done, you can grab the belt and pull it over the largest wheel of the pulley system while rotating the pulleys – you can install your new belt by pulling it over the smallest pulley and then pulling it forward over the largest wheel.
Best Air Compressor Buyer’s Guide
As with any major tool collection purchase, you’ll want to first consider what you need an air compressor for, how much you think you’ll use it, how often, under what circumstances, etc. But in addition to the usual considerations, there are a few compressor-specific items you should keep in mind before you make your first air compressor purchase.
Depending on how much capacity you need and what kind of storage situation you have, you’ll need to settle on whether you need a pancake, hot dog, twin-stack or wheelbarrow compressor design.
Once you’ve decided on your design, think about how much horsepower you need – the higher the horsepower, the faster the compressor’s pump will be able to fill the tank with air. If you plan to use your compressor more for light- to medium-duty household tasks like inflating tires, painting or using a nail gun, a horsepower rating from one to 1.5 will usually suffice.
However, if you’re thinking more about heavier-duty projects like major construction or running power tools almost daily, you’ll need something heftier – a two or four horsepower motor may be more appropriate.
If you’re looking for something for either residential or light industrial use, you can choose from tanks that range from one up to eight gallons. Again, you’ll want to think about how you’ll use the compressor – the larger the tank, the longer your pneumatic tools can run before the compressor has to “recover” its air pressure. If you know you’ll need to have your compressor supply air for lengthy projects, you’ll want to go with the biggest tank size your budget will support.
Tool Air Volume and Flow Rate
In order for your pneumatic tools to work to their fullest potential, your air compressor has to deliver the right amount of pressurized air. So you should make sure you’re familiar with important terms that indicate what kind of pressurized air is being delivered. For example, you can consider specifications like CFM, SCFM and PSI ratings to help make your decision.
CFM and SCFM mean cubic or standard cubic feet per minute – and they equate to the air volume that’s powering your tool. PSI, on the other hand, translates to pounds per square inch, and indicates the pressure or the force of the air flow. Knowing what your tools need in order to work to their fullest potential will help you choose the air compressor that can deliver the full range of air volume and flow rate that you need.
By default, air compressors tend to be very noisy machines, so consider carefully how that noise might be welcomed by those around you. You may want to choose one of the lower-decibel models like the DEWALT or Senco versions reviewed here if you believe noise pollution will be an issue for you – or for your neighbors.
Summing It Up
Kudos to you if you’ve decided that an air compressor will be the next addition to your tool collection. It can open up a whole new world of DIY possibilities since it can power so many other tools and attachments. Whether you’re looking to power a drill, grinder, stapler, spray gun or sander, an air compressor can help set you up for success. In most cases, these machines are light, easy to maintain and highly portable, so they provide a high level of flexibility, no matter the type of projects you pursue.
Ultimately, the best air compressor for you will depend on your level of expertise, your personal preference and your expected project load. But by reading through the air compressor reviews presented here, you can make a start toward considering the features and characteristics that are most meaningful for you. Every model has its strengths and weaknesses, but with a little research and some careful thought, you can find the one that best meets your needs.