Do you have a brand new set of pneumatic tools but nothing with which to breathe life into them? Take a look at our air compressor reviews and soon you’ll be drilling, nailing and hammering away!
Air is not just instrumental for our continued existence, it has become equally important in helping build up your society into what it is today. It is almost inconceivable to visit any kind of job site today and not encounter tools that depend on a continuous, pressurised stream of air to operate correctly.
A century or so ago this would have been possible only with industrial-grade bulky monstrosities, but thanks to never-ending improvements today’s compressors are much smaller, even portable, and more than up to the task.
Even though their working principles remain largely the same, there’s a whole host of different models to choose from based on size, output, lubrication and various other criteria. To help you make sense out of all of this data, we’ve rounded up what we believe are the best when it comes to keeping a good balance of portability and performance.
The guide is split up into three major sections. The first deals with the cream of the crop, machines which will perform admirably and can take a beating. After that we’re looking at more affordable alternatives which are still capable of handling most DIY jobs without any hiccups.
The final segment is intended as a general guideline on what you should keep in mind before committing to any one compressor and its aim is to offer a broader look at some of the most frequently mentioned characteristics and how they tie in to a given model’s quality and your preferences.
By the time you’re through with the guide, choosing the right compressor will stop being a mystery. So, let’s get started!
|Name||Maximum PSI||Weight (pounds)||Dimensions (inches)||CFM (at 90 PSI)||Price|
|DEWALT D55146 4-1/2-Gallon||200||80||34 x 24 x 17||5.0||$$$$|
|Makita MAC5200 Big Bore 3.0||140||104||29 x 19.5 x 19||6.5||$$$$|
|Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP||130||81||20 x 18 x 18.8||4.2||$$$|
|Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP||130||59||18 x 22 x 10||3.3||$$|
|PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK||150||34||18.3 x 18 x 19||2.6||$|
|DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon||165||32||17.2 x 16.6 x 20.1||2.6||$$|
|Senco PC1010||125||20||14 x 13 x 10||0.7||$|
|PORTER-CABLE CMB15||150||20||15.5 x 13.2 x 20.5||2||$|
Premium Air Compressor Reviews
1. DEWALT D55146 4-1/2-Gallon
When dealing with various kinds of home improvement tasks that require the use of pneumatic tools, a portable yet very powerful machine is required to power these tools without the annoyance of having to stop every so often because you don’t have sufficient air flow and your tools keep stalling.
The engineers over at Dewalt know exactly what frustrates you and have introduced the latest in their line of heavy-duty yet portable compressors, the D55146.
When reading up on this machine’s schematics, we were immediately struck by how much SCFM or standard cubic feet per minute of air it could produce.
Most other models’ outputs are much lower, and the manufacturer claims this compressor can beat most of them by as much as 80 percent when it comes to the amount of usable air the tools you connect to it can take advantage of. Sure enough, we were able to use 3/8’’ drills and even grease guns without any hiccups.
It comes with two hose connectors, meaning you can hook up two tools that don’t require a high CFM to it and use them simultaneously, saving precious time on larger projects.
At 200 PSI, the pressure it can build up is impressive as well.If you feel that you’ll be using it for some challenging projects that require more pressure than other portable compressors are capable of handling, there’s really no question about whether to get one.
Surprisingly, it is ultra quiet as well. Once the 4 and a half gallon tank is full and operational, the compressor clocks in at 78 decibels when having to re-pressurize, which is tolerable even without protective gear. Given the fact that this is an oil-free compressor, and these are notorious for the amount of noise they produce, this is really quite the bonus.
Even though it weighs 80 pounds, the D55146 is portable thanks to its two wheels that allow for easy transportation. It doesn’t even take up that much space either, so you can store it in a shed or your garage without having to move much of your other stuff around.
The weight certainly has its advantages – it is incredibly solidly built and capable of withstanding a lot of punishment. Satisfied customers have reported using it for years in a myriad of different and harsh conditions the D55146 managed to get through with ease every time.
The only real drawback to this compressor is its awkwardly-placed drain valve. Due to condensation, its tank needs to be regularly drained of liquids, and the valve on this one requires you to prop it up at a 45 degree angle. Even so, since it is an oil-free model, maintenance is easy and doesn’t need to be carried out as much as with gas-powered compressors.
Nevertheless, given the D55146’s overall performance, great CFM output and versatile nature, we’re confident in awarding it the title of best air compressor we’ve reviewed.
Its unparalleled reliability and reasonable price given its features are more than solid selling points for any carpenter or other kind of handyman that wishes to ad a strong asset to his tool arsenal.
2. Makita MAC5200 Big Bore 3.0
If the previous compressor is still a bit on the low side for you when CFM is concerned, Makita has a compressor of their own that can deliver that extra air and has more interesting features to boot. Named so for its motor’s large bore, the MAC5200 Big Bore 3.0 is a powerhouse that delivers air on demand and with a short turnaround.
The best thing about this compressor is its powerful motor. At 3 horsepower, it can afford to have a larger bore, and that enables it to have a larger piston as well.
Since the piston travels a longer distance than what we’d come to expect, the amount of air it can pump out is much greater, 6.5 CFM at 90 PSI to be more exact. Since the compressor has two hose connectors that can power a couple of framing nailers at the same time. Given the fact this is a portable compressor after all, this is quite impressive!
At 140 PSI, the MAC5200’s maximum pressure output is noticeably smaller than that of the previously reviewed compressor, but it makes up for that with a higher CFM and, equally important, very short recharge time.
Users universally praise how fast it can get the air inside its 5.2 gallon tank back to the desired pressure once it falls below a certain point.
Weighing in at above 104 pounds, this is certainly a heavier compressor, which is understandable given its increased performance. It has two sturdy wheels though that allow you to move it around. Another great feature this device comes with is a compartment you can use for storing its accessories and fittings you need at hand, making it even more useful. You can even hang tools that are currently not in use on it for easy access.
We wouldn’t exactly call it a drawback, but at 90 decibels, this compressor is quite loud. Understandably so, given the large motor and output. Be sure to always protect your ears while working with it and there should be no problems.
However, there is one drawback most customers express dissatisfaction with – the wheels. Some versions come with rigid plastic wheels that were designed with stability and durability in mind, but which sometimes exhibit problems when the machine needs to be moved over various terrains such as sand.
Makita have taken this into account however and newer versions have more suitable wheels, so be sure to check that this is the case with your chosen compressor before you spend money on it.
Even so, the MAC5200 Big Bore 3.0 is one of the best air compressors we’ve seen. A very high CFM gives it the output needed to maximise work efficiency and its large tank ensures that all the pneumatic tools connected to it have a steady flow of air that can be replenished very quickly.
If you are a serious contractor that requires a machine with serious capabilities, look no further.
3. Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP
So far our air compressor reviews have featured models that can easily perform any task you’d find on a given job site, but if you’re primarily interested in DIY work and home improvement tasks, you’ll probably want to tone it down a little in regards to both power and price.
This is why Makita, always keenly aware of its customer base’s differing requirements, has put out a model that is a bit less powerful than the MAC5200, but more than capable of handling any home-oriented task.
Similarly to its bigger cousin, the MAC2400 features a motor with a big bore and solid 2.5 horsepower that can crank out 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI. This is totally adequate in powering any single home use tool like a stapler, riveting gun or impact wrench.
If you match the tools you are using to the machine’s CFM rating, you will be able to avoid having to deal with an increase in charging frequency.
From a construction standpoint, the MAC2400 is very well made. Most of its parts are high-quality steel and some of the engine’s components are made from cast-iron. Less plastic means more weight, and 81 pounds is nothing to scoff at. When durability is concerned though, this model is sure to last many years.
The 4.2 gallon tank is split up into two smaller tanks housed behind its rollcage. In general, this machine is best used for jobs that do not require a continuous supply of air.
If you are planning on it to help you change a tire or get some riveting done, you’ll find that the MAC2400 is more than up for the challenge. If on the other hand you need continuous work done such as spray painting or airbrushing will expose the smaller tank’s limitations.
Since this is an oil-lubricated air compressor, regular maintenance is in order. An oil indicator at its front gives a clear overview of its color and state, allowing you to know precisely when it needs exchanging.
An added benefit of this type of lubrication is the reduced noise levels you’ll be exposed to. At 79 decibels, this is a relatively quiet model and not too harsh since an oiled-up engine doesn’t create as much.
A conspicuous omission by Makita is the MAC2400’s lack of wheels. You’d think that a 81-pound piece of machinery such as this would benefit from a pair, but sadly they are not included. If you want to make it portable not just on paper but in the real world as well, you’ll need to use a dolly or similar contraption.
Assuming you don’t plan on moving it around much, this might very well be the best home air compressor. Its output is more than capable of satisfying any home-grade tool and then some, while its great build and straightforward controls make the MAC2400 perfectly suited for beginners and veterans alike.
Its somewhat diminished capabilities are reflected in a smaller price, so if getting the best quality compressor reasonably is your top priority, you definitely shouldn’t pass this model up.
4. Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP
We’ll wrap the premium section of our air compressor reviews up with another model from Makita. If any of the previous Makita compressors we’ve reviewed still seem too big for you, then the MAC700 should be right up your alley given its smaller size, weight and power requirements.
This compressor has been rated at 3.3 CFM at 90 PSI, and can reach a maximum pressure of 130 PSI. This is the tipping point below which a compressor wouldn’t really be as useful anymore since the amount of air supplied to various pneumatic tools would not be enough for them to operate continuously without the machine having to bring more air up to the desired pressure.
It has only one hose connector, trading in functionality for increased air pressure delivered to one tool at a time. This is why it is more than capable of handling most tools used for DIY and other small scale projects and is generally well-suited for any kind of work in your home that requires the use of air-driven tools.
Weighing in at just shy of 60 pounds, this is the lightest model so far. Don’t let the large carrying handle fool you though – there are no wheels to make transportation easier. You’ll have to set it up somewhere and use it as a stationary model if you don’t want to develop a hernia from lugging it around.
The weight makes it durable and robust though since most of it is comprised out of high-quality materials, the motor and most associated parts being out of cast-iron.
Regarding noise levels, the MAC700 is fairly quiet, clocking in at 80 decibels. It has rubber feet that allow for more stability while reducing overall sound levels as well. Expect this to drop even more if you put It on a carpet.
Like the MAC5200, this air compressor is lubricated using oil. There’s a prominent red dot at its front that tells you exactly how much oil is left as well as the state it is in. You can quickly glance at the color and judge for yourself whether it is time to make an oil-change.
Power requirements are modest and in line with what you’d expect from a 2 horsepower motor. This makes it not really suitable for the continued operation of various pneumatic tools that depend on a constant air supply, but is entirely capable of satisfying the needs of tools which are used more times in quick bursts.
This is in line with its duty cycle of 50 percent, meaning that it should be left idle for half an hour for every full hour of operation in order to ensure that it continues to run smoothly.
All in all, the MAC5200 is a solid compressor that will satisfy the needs of DIY enthusiasts and small-scale professionals alike.
When it comes to putting out air for a single tool, it can compete with other top rated products without falling behind much, and at a significantly lower price tag than the other models in this section, it is arguably the best air compressor you can buy for the money.
More affordable Air Compressor Reviews
1. PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK
As the price of air compressors decreases, so does their overall output, but unlike with most any other type of machine, this doesn’t have to mean that it can’t perform as well, just that it takes a bit more to do the same.
A great example of this are so called pancake compressors that got their name because of their odd tank shape. Models such as the Bostitch BTFP02012 have been lauded over for some time now, but we’re reserving the title of best small air compressor for the C2002-WK.
This oil-free compressor has a 6 gallon tank in which air can be pressurized to a maximum of 150 PSI. The highest achievable CFM at 90 PSI is 2.6, enough to power most impact wrenches and ratchets. A smaller tank means less air, but it also needs much less time to get going.
At just under three minutes from an empty tank to a fully operational compressor, this is the type of time-saving machine that any home user or hobbyist can rely on to do the job quickly and effortlessly.
It is an oil-free unit, meaning that you don’t need to spend as much time or cash on maintenance. You do however need to bleed the tank after every use in order to ensure the unit lasts for as long as it should.
If your requirements don’t justify the purchase of a more powerful model, then the C2002-WK will be everything you need from an air compressor, at a price that can hardly be beat.
2. DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon
Like Makita, DeWALT take the needs of different customers equally seriously and have devised a pancake model ideal for smaller projects that won’t cost an arm and a leg but is still very much capable to perform under pressure.
In general, its performance and characteristics are comparable to Porter-Cable’s model. The size of its tank is identical, as is the CFM you can expect from it. One difference in that respect though is evident in the quality of its couplers and flow regulator. These have been designed to cause as little loss in pressure as possible when it arrives to a tool, causing lower power consumption and less strain in operation.
Its gauges and hose connector are protected by an easily-removable plastic cover that keeps them safe from harm when the machine isn’t working. As with other oil-free models, regular bleeding is essential to its longevity, and DeWALT have made this very straightforward with a faucet-like ball drain valve.
With just 62 pounds of weight, you’ll be able to easily transport the DWFP55126 from site to site. It rests on three rubberized legs that keep it stable and reduce noise. Speaking of which, this is really an ultra quiet model, producing a very tolerable 75,5 decibels when the motor is active.
We wouldn’t quite call it the best portable air compressor, but the DWFP55126 is certainly up there with the top-rated ones. Its great air flow and ability to produce so much pressure while remaining very quiet are all enticing advantages you should make use of.
3. Senco PC1010
So far, all the products featured in these air compressor reviews had either wheels to move them around or would have given you quite a workout if you attempted to move them manually. For the lightest of jobs, you don’t really need an 80 pound monstrosity, and this is why the PC1010 from Senco is the kind of ultra light, small machine you’ll appreciate.
Upon first impression you should realize that this isn’t a heavy-duty model. Light home improvements are what this unit performs best, and viewing it as such will yield the best results. 0.7 CFM at 90 PSI as well as a small one gallon tank give further proof of this and would be hard-pressed to keep up with the demands of a nailer for example.
Still, one of this model’s finest features is its light weight. At just 20 pounds, taking it with you to any job won’t be a problem. Due to its compact size, you’ll even be able to place it on a counter top and work from there. A small capacity enables the PC1010 to fill up and pressurize very quickly.
Give it about 40 seconds to do this and you’re good to go. Another benefit of smaller size it how quiet the PC1010 is. At just 69 decibels, it is certainly a pleasure to work with. You can comfortably hold a conversation while it is on without missing anything.
At the end of the day, we find that the PC1010 is a small, specialized device which will take care of small-scale home improvement work in stride. If that is all you’ll ever need, then the PC1010 is as well.
4. PORTER-CABLE CMB15
Lastly, we’re turning our attention to another model by Porter-Cable, the CMB15. This surprisingly efficient and inexpensive machine will be able to take care of most home improvement or automotive jobs, and can even keep up with more expensive products in some cases.
We were pleasantly surprised by its high output, considering its smaller scale of course. 2 CFM at 90 psi is nothing to scoff at, especially when you consider that the CMB15 is as light as Senco’s model. It can store half as much air though, meaning you won’t have to wait for it to pressurize as often. Even when this does happen, the turnaround time is acceptable.
Adjusting the delivery pressure is easy thanks to an intuitive dial. To ensure safe and quiet operation, the CMB15 has a plastic shroud. To help you start working on various projects quicker, it comes with an assortment of accessories that don’t quite cover everything, which is still more than can be said for many other manufacturers. It comes with a 25 foot hose and adapter, a tire chuck, an inflation / deflation kit and some teflon tape.
The CMB15 has managed to positively surprise us with its capabilities. Porter-Cable have managed to put a lot of power into such a small package, and the accessories that come with it make it usable immediately. Add to this a very reasonable price, and you have one small machine that is well worth your money and your consideration.
If the tank was a bit larger this could have easily been our pick for best air compressor in the affordable department. Even so, this is certainly a top rated product.
Things to Take Into Account Before Making a Purchase
With the air compressor reviews taken care of, there are a couple of general rules you should be aware of before purchasing any model. We’ve written a bit more on the topic elsewhere , but here’s the gist of it.
CFM matters a great deal, PSI not as much – As we’ve seen, some compressors, even the small, portable ones, have a high pressure limit. This alone isn’t enough to satisfy most pneumatic tools’ requirements.
If the required CFM isn’t met, you’ll need to keep your compressor’s motor running longer / more frequently in order to keep up, or the tool might not work at all. Be sure to take an inventory of all your pneumatic tools and note down their requirements this can be avoided.
Oil vs. oil-free – Internal parts such as pistons need to be lubricated, but what with remains a matter of preference. Using oil leads to smoother and more quiet operation. On the ther hand, oil needs regular replacement once it changes color, and this can become expensive. Also, some tools can’t function properly when oil is involved, even in trace amounts and are therefore not suited for such a model.
Oil-free lubrication leads to less maintenance and lower running costs, but various internal components can be damaged more frequently and the tank needs to be bled regularly. Take these pros and cons into account and decide what you’re willing to deal with more.
Portability and power source – Portable models have a number of advantages, but also encounter certain limitations based on what is used to power them.
Those that run on electric motors are obviously hindered by having to be plugged into the electrical grid. If you’re working on a job site in a remote location, using a gas-powered machine is the optimum solution. Then again, with these you have to make sure that there’s enough gas in it at all times and always have a spare can at the ready.
The importance of draining – Making sure that your compressor is always dry is paramount when it comes to long-lasting, care-free operation. Ideally, you should drain oil-free models after every use, and even ever so often if the machine hasn’t been used for a while. Having the right valve for the job will save you a lot of hassle.
The market standard isn’t always the preferable solution though. It is best to look for a model that features a ball drain valve. This type of valve behaves similar to a faucet – you turn it on and the water simply flows out of the tank. No other tools required.
If there’s anything our air compressor reviews have demonstrated, it’s that the reviewed models differ greatly in their characteristics and capabilities. This is actually a good thing since it means that there are high-quality products available at every tier regardless of budgetary constraints or type of job that needs to be done.
Whether you’re a professional contractor that works on multiple sites in a short time period, or an enthusiast that’s just getting started with his first DIY projects and pneumatic tools, we’re sure there’s a suitable model for you in the guide. Endless new projects and possibilities await, so don’t let a lack of pressurized air stop you from realizing your plans any longer.