Best Air Compressors

Best Air Compressors
Best Air Compressors

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While air compressors might not be at the top of every DIYers’ must-have list, these tools are actually very useful for a wide range of purposes. The right air compressor can do everything from inflating your car tires and pool floats to putting the “power” in your power washer to running pneumatic tools such as paint sprayers and air-driven nail guns.

There are portable air compressors and models intended to remain stationary—generally, portable models are best for homeowners or DIYers, while stationary models are better suited to professional purposes. Tank size is another important consideration, as the larger the tank, the more power the tool can provide. Still, for most DIY projects, a 4-to-6-gallon tank is sufficient.

Here are our favorite air compressors in several categories. 

Best Air Compressors 2021
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1 29 Gallon 2 HP 150 PSI Cast Iron Vertical Air Compressor
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29 Gallon 2 HP 150 PSI Cast Iron Vertical Air Compressor

Get quality air power to your pneumatic tools with this vertical air compressor
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The 29 gallon tank on this air compressor gives the boost you need to properly operate your pneumatic tools. This air compressor’s 2 HP motor allows up to 150 PSI of air. Features include a conveniently placed handle, smooth rolling wheels and a fully shrouded pump and motor for protection.

  • Air delivery: 5.9 CFM @ 90 PSI, 7.3 CFM @ 40 PSI
  • Twin capacitor motor for easy start up
  • Adjustable handle and semi-pneumatic wheels for easy maneuvering
  • Oil lubricated pump for reliable performance
  • Thermal overload protection
  • Dual pressure gauges and built-in quick coupler
2 17 Gallon 1.8 HP 150 PSI Oil-Free Air Compressor
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17 Gallon 1.8 HP 150 PSI Oil-Free Air Compressor

Plenty of power and quality in this oil-free air compressor
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This oil-free air compressor delivers 4 CFM @ 90 PSI, 5 CFM @ 40 PSI air flow for powering a wide variety of air tools. Low-maintenance oil-free design makes this an ideal shop compressor for DIYers and handymen. This oil-free air compressor sports a generous 17 gallon tank for longer run times with less recycling.

  • Oil-free pump for no-maintenance operation
  • Air delivery: 4 CFM @ 90 PSI, 5 CFM @ 40 PSI
  • 1.8 horsepower motor (rated)
  • 7 in. diameter wheels for portability
  • 17 gallon tank capacity
  • 150 PSI maximum
3 10 Gallon 175 PSI Ultra Quiet Horizontal Shop/Auto Air Compressor
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10 Gallon 175 PSI Ultra Quiet Horizontal Shop/Auto Air Compressor

This high performance air compressor delivers up to 140% more runtime* than other shop compressors
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This FORTRESS® ULTRA QUIET Series Shop/Auto Air Compressor is 80% quieter than similar workshop/auto compressors, with just 69 dBA sound output. The brushless 4-pole induction motor delivers 140% more runtime* while lowering heat and friction for 2X pump life**. This high performance air compressor has a specialized pleated air intake filter for enhanced filtration, lower noise and easy replacement. Comes with 7 in. flat-free tires, roll bar protected control panel with 2 in. gauges and brass universal coupler, so it’s ready to go right out of the box.

  • Oil-free pump for no-maintenance operation
  • Ultra quiet 69 dBA operation is up to 80% quieter than similar workshop/auto compressors
  • Brushless 4-pole induction motor lowers heat and friction to extend pump life up to 2X other compressors**
  • High performance 175 PSI 10 Gallon tank delivers up to 140% more runtime*
  • Front roll bar and metal control panel help protect vital components
  • Includes brass universal coupler for easy one-handed hose connection
  • Large 7 in. flat-free tires for effortless mobility
  • Regulated pressure range: 0-155 PSI (+/- 5)
4 8 Gallon 2 HP 125 PSI Oil Lube Air Compressor
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8 Gallon 2 HP 125 PSI Oil Lube Air Compressor

A portable air compressor for pros and hobbyists alike
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The 8 gallon tank on this air compressor provides the power you need to operate your pneumatic tools and equipment. This air compressor’s direct drive induction motor for more available power. Thermal load protection keeps the motor safe. Features include a convenient handle, smooth-rolling wheels and a fully shrouded pump and motor for protection.

  • Air delivery: 4.5 CFM @ 90 PSI, 5.5 CFM @ 40 PSI
  • Direct drive induction motor with thermal overload protection
  • Easy-to-carry handle and smooth-rolling wheels for hassle-free mobility
  • Clear view oil window lets you know when its time to refill oil
  • High impact ABS shroud for maximum protection
  • Easy-to-read tank and outlet gauges
  • Adjustable air regulator for more control
5 10 Gallon Oil-Lube Portable Air Compressor
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10 Gallon Oil-Lube Portable Air Compressor

Oil-lube portable air compressor is ideal for intermittent air tool use, painting, nailing/stapling, and blow guns
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This MCGRAW® portable air compressor is ideal for intermittent air tool use, painting, nailing/stapling, and blow guns. Featuring a powerful 1.6 HP running induction motor with thermal overload protection, handle and console cover for added protection, large rubber tires and ergonomic handle for smooth portability. This air compressor also features rubber foot stabilizers for reduced vibration and a conveniently located forward-facing drain valve for fast, thorough tank draining.

  • Powerful induction motor with thermal overload protection
  • 10 gallons 135 PSI max tank for added runtime
  • Console cover provides added protection to key components
  • Oil-lube pump with cast iron cylinder for long life
  • Brass universal coupler for easy one-handed hose connection
  • Large rubber tires for smooth portability
  • Built-in regulator with large easy-to-adjust knob
6 8 Gallon 1.5 HP 150 PSI Oil-Free Portable Air Compressor
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8 Gallon 1.5 HP 150 PSI Oil-Free Portable Air Compressor

An ideal portable air compressor for brad nailing, stapling, inflating or light power tool use
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This maintenance-free and portable oil-free air compressor is ideal for brad nailing, stapling, and other small jobs. The compressor includes a quick connect coupler and easy-to-read gauges.

  • Oil-free pump for no-maintenance operation
  • 20% more PSI*
  • Over 70% more air tool run time**
  • Quieter than standard oil free induction motor compressors***
  • 4.1 SCFM for quick recovery and cycle time
  • Powerful 1.5 Running HP induction motor
  • Rubber Gauge Cover for Impact resistance/protection
  • Large rubber wheels and long handle for easy mobility
  • High impact shroud for maximum protection and lower noise level

What to Look for in an Air Compressor

Type

There are two types of air compressor: stationary and portable. Stationary air compressors are larger and are designed to stay in one location, like a workshop. Portable air compressors are much more versatile and more common for residential use since they can be moved easily.

Power Source

Air compressors can be powered by either gas or electricity, though electric models are more common. They require less maintenance, are quieter, and are suitable for indoor use. Gas-powered models are recommended only if you’ll be working outdoors with limited or no electricity. 

Tank Size

Smaller 4 to 6-gallon tanks are sufficient for most household projects, while larger tanks are better suited to large-scale projects or commercial use.

FAQs

What size air compressor do I need?

There are several factors involved in determining the size of the air compressor you’ll need. One is the way the tool works; tools that operate continuously, such as grinders or sanders, need an air compressor with a larger tank capacity than a tool that only operates in short bursts of power, such as a pneumatic nail gun. For most typical DIY purposes, an air compressor with a 4- to 6-gallon tank is big enough to handle most common tasks, but you could need a larger tank if you’ll be using a powerful tool for an extended period of time—for example, painting the exterior of your home.

The most important factor to consider, however,  is the airflow requirements of the tools you plan on using with your air compressor. This is measured in standard cubic feet per minute (scfm). Your air compressor needs to be able to meet and surpass the airflow requirements, which can vary a great deal between different types of tool. For example, when the air compressor is set at 90 psi,  the average pneumatic framing nailer or tire inflator only requires around 2 scfm to operate, while an angle grinder needs 5-8 scfm, and a random orbital sander might need more than 10 scfm. 

For a rough guideline when determining how much airflow you’ll need, check the required scfm ratings of all the tools you plan on using with the air compressor. Multiply the highest scfm rating by 1.5; for example, if you’ll be using a paint sprayer that requires 5 scfm, multiply 5 by 1.5, which gives you a needed scfm of 7.5. The higher the scfm, the larger the air compressor. 

Another number to consider is the pressure generated inside the air compressor, which is measured in pounds per square inch (psi). As a general rule, smaller tools, such as nailers and inflators, only require around 90 psi, while more powerful tools, such as grinders and sanders, might need as much as 150 psi to operate effectively.

How do you use an air compressor?

While the specifics can vary between different brands and models of air compressor, the following basic guidelines apply to most of them. 

  1. Position the air compressor on flat, stable ground within reach of an electrical outlet, and plug in the power cord. Don’t turn on the air compressor yet.
  2. Check the oil level. Typically, the oil gauge will be near the motor. Note, however, that many newer air compressors no longer require the addition of oil, as they have sealed systems. These air compressors are often sold as “oil free.” 
  3. If the oil level is low, add compressor oil—this oil does not have detergents or additives commonly found in automotive oil—to the oil tank until the oil level reaches the “Full” mark. The oil tank access cap is often found on the top of the air compressor.
  4. Make sure the drain valve is switched to the closed position. You’ll find the drain valve near the bottom of the air compressor. 
  5. Switch the air compressor on, and let it run until it reaches the pressure capacity. For most air compressors, that will be 100 to 115 pounds per square inch (psi). The pressure gauge is normally on the top of the air compressor. 
  6. Set the air control valve—it will be on top of the air compressor—to the recommended maximum psi of the tool you plan on using. 
  7. Connect the air hose to your air compressor. Some models have quick-connect fittings, while others require you to screw the hose to the fitting. Make sure the hose is tightly secured. You might need to use an adjustable wrench for this. 
  8. Connect the other end of the air hose to your pneumatic tool. 
  9. Use your tool as needed. When finished, turn the air compressor off, disconnect the tool, and unplug the air compressor from the electrical outlet.
  10. Unscrew the drain valve at the bottom of the air compressor—you’ll typically need an adjustable wrench for this—and allow any accumulated moisture to drain before storing your air compressor.

How do air compressors work?

While different air compressors can have different methods of achieving the goal, all basically work by pulling outside air into a chamber, which then compresses to greatly increase the pressure of the contained air. When you attach your pneumatically powered tool to the air compressor, the compressed air is forced through the relatively tight hose fitting, through the air hose, and into your tool. It’s something like turning on a garden hose, and then using your finger to partly close off the end of the hose; the water pressure increases due to the force of the water compressed within the hose squeezing through the restricted opening.

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