Whether you’re a contractor or a homeowner, an air compressor is a handy piece of equipment to have in your kit. Air compressors have so many users around the home and the job site. After you own one for a few months, you wonder how you ever managed without one.
You’ll never have to use a manual tool again. Link it to pneumatic tools like impact wrenches and die grinders, or use it to paint your roof with a sprayer instead of a brush. With an air compressor, you’ll save yourself the unnecessary time, energy, and hassle involved with many tasks around the home or the job site.
Choosing the best air compressor available is not as easy as you would expect. Search around an online retailer, and there are dozens of models available form a variety of manufacturers. How do you know which one is the best option for you?
The needs of homeowners and contractors differ tremendously. A DIY machine won’t last long in demanding workplace conditions, and an industrial model is overkill for home use.
In this review, we’ll help you find the best air compressor.
Our Top Picks
- 1 Our Top Picks
- 2 The Best Air Compressor Reviews
- 2.1 Bostitch BTFP02012 Oil-Free Compressor – The Best Overall Air Compressor
- 2.2 Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP – The Best Premium Air Compressor
- 2.3 Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor – The Best Budget Air Compressor
- 2.4 California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S
- 2.5 DeWalt DWFP55126 Pancake Compressor
- 2.6 California Air Tools 8010 Ultra Quiet
- 2.7 Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP
- 2.8 Briggs & Stratton Air Compressor 074045-00
- 2.9 Makita AC001 Compact Air Compressor
- 2.10 DeWalt DWFP55130 Heavy Duty
- 3 Air Compressor Buyers Guide
- 4 Air Compressor FAQ
- 4.1 How do I choose the right air compressor?
- 4.2 How does an air compressor operate?
- 4.3 Do I need to drain the compressor after use?
- 4.4 How often do I change the oil in oil-based machines?
- 4.5 When do I need to replace the intake filter?
- 4.6 Can I run my compressor on a generator?
- 4.7 What happens to the air compressor if I get water in the air line?
- 5 Conclusion
In case you don’t have the time to go through the entire review, here are our top picks. There are options for homeowners and contractors based on your needs and your budget.
Best Pick: Bostitch BTFP02012 Oil-Free Compressor
- Note:Item does not includes hose or gun kit
- 150 max PSI 6.0 gallon tank (22.7 L) and 2.6 SCFM* delivered @ 90 PSI pump
- High efficiency motor for easy start up in cold weather ; BOSTITCH high efficiency motor for easy start up in cold weather or extension cord application [14 ga or larger, 50 ft. (15.2 m) or less]
- 78.5 dBA** operational noise level for a quiet work environment
- High flow regulator and couplers to maximize air tool performance
For homeowners and contractors that only need a compressor for light work, this model is your top choice. The Bostitch is the ideal balance of power and user-friendly operation. The long service life and oil-free operation make it the perfect choice for around the home.
Premium Pick: Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP
- Cast iron pump with Big Bore cylinder and piston is engineered to provide faster recovery time for improved performance
- Low AMP draw reduces incidences of tripped breakers at start up. The 4.2 gallon twin stacked tank sustains an operating pressure of 130 PSI, and delivers 40 PSI (4.8 CFM) and 90 PSI (4.2 CFM), enough for two nailers
- Pump is oil lubricated for cooler running temperatures and reduced wear. Built in thermal overload for additional motor protection. Compressor Oil (181122 A). 1/4 inches Universal Quick Coupler (447013 E)
- Roll cage construction provides complete protection to withstand extreme jobsite environments. Lever handle ball valve tank drain valve improves upon standard petcock design for easier maintenance
- Large automotive style industrial air filter for increased air intake and greater efficiency. Durable cast iron cylinder reduces wear and increases pump life; removable for easy maintenance. Oil sight glass for fast, easy and efficient maintenance
Contractors that want top performance from their air compressor should look at the Makita MAC2400 Big-Bore. Makita earns a spot several times in this review, but this machine is the standout for heavy-duty use. This air compressor has everything you need in the most demanding work conditions.
Budget Pick: Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor
- 150 psi max tank pressure stores more air in the tank for longer tool run times
- 2.6 SCFM at 90 psi allows for quick compressor recovery time, per ISO1217
- Six-gallon pancake-style tank for stability, includes water drain valve and rubber feet
- Low-amp 120-volt motor starts easily in cold weather or with extension cord
- Durable oil-free pump for long life and no maintenance
For those homeowners looking for an affordable but functional air compressor, take a look at the Porter-Cable. This machine is economical, reliable, and comes with a decent price tag. If you’re working with a tight budget but want the best value you can find in an affordable machine, this model is your top choice.
The Best Air Compressor Reviews
Choosing the best air compressor for your needs as easy as reading through this list and identifying the right machine to suit your needs. We help you out along the way by pointing out which air compressors are suitable for DIY, semi-industrial, or industrial use.
After you narrow down your top choices, check out our buyer’s guide section. We’ll provide you with some extra information about air compressors that you might find useful when making your purchase.
Bostitch BTFP02012 Oil-Free Compressor – The Best Overall Air CompressorThis model wins our award for the best air compressor in this review. The Bostitch comes with plenty of unique features, including a high-efficiency motor that starts up in the coldest working conditions. Many compressors fail to do the job in cold weather, but this model has all the power you need to operate in the most demanding environments.
This electric model is an oil-free compressor, making the ideal choice for homeowners that don’t want to bother with the maintenance of the machine. Users can expect a long service life thanks to the top-quality design and components used in the manufacture of this compressor.
The high-flow regulator provides optimal performance in a variety of working conditions.
It’s common for air compressors to make plenty of noise during operation. However, with the Bostitch, you get a machine that runs quietly, operating at less than 79-decibels.
This model is the best air compressor available for overall use. Contractors may also get away with using this machine if it’s for lightweight jobs.
- The Best overall performance and value in this review
- Efficient engine
- Good noise baffling
- Works well in cold weather conditions
- Oil-free operation
- Long service life
- Max 150-psi
- Weight 30.9-lbs
- Not suitable for heavy-duty use
Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP – The Best Premium Air Compressor
When it comes to selecting the best premium air compressor model, one manufacture comes to mind – Makita. Anyone who owns a Makita power tool will tell you that it’s the best. The MAC2400 Big-Bore air compressor is a masterpiece of engineering, and it’s well worth the money, even if the price tag is through the roof.
If you’re a contractor looking for a heavy-duty machine that will never die on you, then this Makita model is the best in its class. This model only produces a maximum operating pressure of 130-psi, but that’s more than enough pressure to handle most jobs.
This Makita model is also suitable for homeowners that want more machine for their money. It might be overkill for use around the home, but it’s not as powerful as an industrial unit and makes for a suitable DIY air compressor.
The quiet operation, powerful motor, and top-quality design of this compressor make it the best premium choice in this review. The machine offers a good balance between DIY and semi-industrial tools.
- Quiet operation
- Long service life
- Suitable for industrial use
- Top-quality design and construction
- Max 130-psi
- Weight 81-lbs
- Not ideal for home use
Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor – The Best Budget Air CompressorThis model wins our top spot for the best budget air compressor available. This user-friendly model offers you effortless operation, and plenty of functionality, at an affordable price point. The compact design makes it easy to store and transport, with the entire machine only weighing 31.3-lbs, making it one of the lightest available.
This air compressor features a powerful electric motor that pressurizes the air in the tank up to 150-psi. This model is the ideal choice for home use. However, contractors that use a compressor occasionally can also benefit from buying the Porter-Cable for its value, and it’s long service life.
This machine is the best option for homeowners looking for a budget compressor at an affordable price. This machine is not cheap; it’s a budget buy that offers you the best value for your money in this review.
- Reliable, user-friendly operation
- Portable and compact
- Excellent engine economy
- Affordable and great value for money
- Max 150-psi
- Weight 31.3-lbs
- Not suitable for heavy-duty use
California Air Tools CAT-1P1060SThis oil-free air compressor is a top choice for home use. The machine has an output of 120-psi, which is more than enough pressure to handle any domestic tasks around the home or garage.
The oil-free operation of this compressor reduces maintenance and allows for a quick-start every time. The compressor frame comes with rubber feet to absorb the vibration of the compressor and limit the noise from the machine.
This machine runs quiet, and considering the power available, it’s surprising to see it reach a maximum noise level of 56-decibels.
This machine offers reliable operation, and the efficient motor ensures that you get extended service of this machine, without chewing up too much electricity. The rubber feet on the unit are a great touch to reduce noise, but makes the compressor challenging to move around the workshop.
- Compact and portable
- Oil-free operation
- Not easy to move around
- Powerful motor
- Max psi-120
- Weight 29-lbs
- Underpowered compared to the top choices in this review
DeWalt DWFP55126 Pancake CompressorThis electric model comes with an extension cord to improve its range around the workshop. DeWalt is another premium power tool brand that produces some of the best quality power tools available.
It’s no different with the DWFP55126 Pancake Compressor, and they continue to improve their reputation with this machine.
This machine starts with the power switch, or through the extension cord. DWFP55126 Pancake Compressor features the same circular design as the other DIY models in this review, but the top-quality components make it a standout.
With operating pressures of up to 165-psi, it’s one of the more powerful compressors in this review, and a good choice for contractors. The unit comes with a high-flow regulator and couplings for optimal performance.
However, when it comes to finding fault in this machine, we have to moan about the price tag. For a few dollars extra, you could get the Makita, and as good as DeWalt are, we think Makita is the better option.
- Quiet, user-friendly operation
- Good choice for contractors
- The electric motor features an extension cord
- High-flow air regulator
- Suitable for use in cold weather
- Max psi-165
- Weight – 32.2-lbs
- Expensive, but more affordable than the Makita
- Not the best choice for home use
California Air Tools 8010 Ultra QuietThis model from CAT offers the user extremely quiet operation, with noise levels reaching a maximum of 60-decibels. The machine is also efficient, drawing low amperage during operation.
The oil-free design of the electric motor means that there’s less maintenance involved with this machine, and it works in cold weather as well. With most air compressors, you need to have them standing on level ground, or the tank won’t fill.
With this CAT model, you can use the compressor on elevated surfaces or declines without the unit cutting out. You also get a long service life of 3,000-hours, which will last a homeowner for a lifetime.
This CAT model is a good choice if you want a machine that delivers premium performance in any operating condition.
- Reliable and quiet operation
- Suitable for use on uneven surfaces
- Oil-free operation
- 3,000-hour service life
- Max 120-psi
- Weight 54-lbs
- Good choice for homeowners
- Not ideal for heavy-duty use
Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP
Makita makes another appearance in this review with another top-quality machine for contractors. This air compressor features a 2.0-HP motor that pressurizes the tank up to 130-psi. The big bore cylinder on this gas-powered model ensures you get peak performance in the most demanding working conditions.
The machine runs quiet, and the oil-lubricated pump reduces wear-and-tear on the motor, extending its service life.
The frame comes with a built-in handle that makes it easy to wheel this compressor around.
This Makita machine is another top choice for contractors and homeowners that demand more performance from their air compressors. Unfortunately, it’s an expensive compressor, but well worth the money if you think you’ll use it frequently.
- Top performance for contractors
- Quiet and powerful operation
- Easy to move around
- User-friendly operation
- Max psi-130
- Weight 59.6-lbs
- Oil-lubricated pump
- More maintenance than other models
Briggs & Stratton Air Compressor 074045-00
Briggs & Stratton have a reputation for building some of the best motors in the industry. Whether you’re buying a lawnmower or an air compressor, if it has a Briggs & Stratton motor, it’s up to the task.This air compressor features Quiet Power Technology, muffling the roar of the motor during operation. The machine comes mounted on a frame with rugged wheels and a carry handle to help you wheel it around the factory. You also get a 1-year warranty with this compressor.
Briggs & Stratton offers you a great compressor at an affordable price. Contractors that need more range out of their compressor will enjoy the wheels and carry handle for easy movement around job sites.
- Very quiet
- Oil-free induction motor
- Compact and Portable
- User-friendly operation
- Max 125-psi
- Weight – 61-lbs
- Not suitable for industrial use
Makita AC001 Compact Air Compressor
Homeowners that want to invest in the best equipment, this Makita model is an excellent choice. This machine puts out 125-psi, which is more than enough pressure for any task around the home or garage.
This air compressor isn’t as powerful as the Makita Big-bore series, but it still offers excellent functionality for DIY use. The lightweight and compact design of the machine makes it easy to store away and transport to other job sites.
This model works on an electric motor and offers you quiet operation. The user-friendly lever handle makes working with the compressor a breeze and reduces fatigue in your hands and fingers during use.
This model also features a roll cage to protect the motor and compressor; However, since we don’t recommend this model for industrial use, it’s a feature that most homeowners won’t need.
We don’t recommend this model for contractors, and they would do better with the Big-Bore series instead. However, homeowners will love this machine, and it will be the last air compressor you’ll ever need.
- Lightweight and easy to transport
- Top-quality design and components
- Quiet operation
- Max psi-125
- Weight – 23.1-lbs
- Expensive for home use
DeWalt DWFP55130 Heavy Duty
DeWalt gets its second mention in this review forthe DWFP55130 Heavy Duty model. If you’re a contractor looking for the toughest, most durable air compressor available, then this is the machine for you.
With operating pressures of 200-psi, it’s the most powerful machine in this review. Considering the power on offer with this model, it runs quiet and doesn’t cause much vibration. This rugged model can handle the most demanding working conditions, and the user-friendly operation makes it the ideal choice for indoor or outdoor use.
The machine is a bit heavy, but comparing it to other models in this review, the power to weight ratio makes it a class-leading compressor.
If you’re a contractor looking for the most powerful air compressor available, then this is the model for you.
- Suitable for all-weather use
- Reliable, compact, and portable
- Powerful motor
- Max psi-200
- Weight – 41.9-lbs
- User-friendly operation
- Overkill for home use
Air Compressor Buyers Guide
The air compressor is a handy tool to have in the garage or workshop. Its versatility for contractors makes it an indispensable part of their equipment. You can use an air compressor for a variety of tasks, from blowing up car tires to powering pneumatic tools.
However, there are plenty of different types of air compressors, all with varying operating psi and CFMs. What works for the homeowner will be a poor choice for the contractor and vice versa.
In this buyer’s guide section, we’ll look at everything you need to know regarding air compressors and which model is right for you.
Electric Vs. Gas Air Compressors
Air compressors are either electric or gas-powered, and the type of power plant in the machine determines the power and psi on offer. Electric air compressors are the most common type, but they have limitations on the range. You have to use an electric model with an extension cord, and if there’s no power outlet anywhere nearby, your air compressor will be useless.
Gas-powered models don’t have the same issues with the range as electric models. Gas-powered air compressors allow you to wheel then around anywhere you go. Take them on job sites, or wheel them around the factory.
Typically, gas-powered models are the top choice for contractors, but many businesses use electric models as well. With a gas-powered model, the tank capacity limits the run time of the machine. However, this shouldn’t be a concern, as all you need to do is fill the tank and continue with your work.
Gas-powered models are also more expensive, and you can expect to pay a premium for having all that pressure available.
SCFM Vs. CFM – What’s the Difference?
When evaluating the candidates for your air compressor, you’ll need to pay attention to the two most important specifications on these machines. The CFM and SCFM are the factors that determine the volume of air the compressor moves during operation.
Cubic Feet per Minute or “CFM” specifies the filling rate of the compressor. Gases like air change weight and density at different temperatures and humidity levels. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure your model can work in cold weather conditions if you live in the northern parts of the United States.
SCFM is a more comprehensive metric that stands for “Standard Cubic Feet per Minute.” SCFM measures the machine’s performance at a specific pressure and temperature, allowing you to compare the performance between models.
If you want the compressor to power pneumatic tools, then go for the highest number possible when selecting your machine.
Many homeowners and contractors make the mistake of thinking that larger tank size is the way to go. However, a large tank doesn’t mean much if the refill rate is higher than the maximum air draw of the compressor.
If the tank size is close to the SCFM or CFM rating, then go for the larger size tank. Larger tanks let you operate the compressor for extended periods when using pneumatic tools. You won’t have to wait for the tank to fill while using your air-wrench.
The compressors filling rate drops as the pressure inside the tank increases. This operation would make sense, since its more challenging to compress 150-psi than it is to compress the air to 50-psi, and the motor powering the pump requires a constant electricity source.
It’s critical to check the pressure measurement for evaluating the SCFM and CFM. Using this strategy gives you the best method for comparing the performance of air compressors.
When reviewing the air compressors, you’ll notice that some offer an “oil-free” operation. Oil-free compressors are the preferred choice, as they require less maintenance.
Oil-free models mean you don’t have to worry about oil leaks, keeping your home and workshop clean. There’s no disposing of old oil, and you don’t need to check the oil levels in the machine before operation. Let’s not forget about the environmental impact caused by dumping used oil.
Oil-based compressors also require you to replace the air dryers from time to time, increasing the maintenance costs associated with owning the machine.
However, oil-free compressors aren’t as durable as oil models, and they don’t offer you the same long service life you get from oil-based machines. Oil-free air compressors also tend to run louder than oil-free models.
When selecting your air compressor, make sure you also pay attention to the power output of the machine. The horsepower of the motor determines the power of the refill action of the machine. Look for machines with high horsepower if you’re a contractor.
Max PSI Air-Pressure
Another critical consideration for choosing your ideal air compressor is the psi the machine produces during operation. PSI, or Pounds per Square Inch, refers to pressure the compressor operates in a normal environment.
Air compressors require at least 90-psi to be effective. You should avoid compressors offering less than 100-psi. Contractors using pneumatic tools with the machine will require a minimum operating pressure of 125-psi to be effective.
Most air compressors operate in two stages. In the first stage, the machine builds the pressure in the air tank to around 90-psi. In the second stage, the machine boosts the pressure up to operating levels of between 125 to 200-psi, depending on the model.
The tank capacity refers to the volume of air stored inside the machine at full capacity. Tank capacity is only useful for contractors or workshops that have plenty of tools working at the same time through split lines.
If you buy a powerful machine with a high SCFM, then you don’t have to worry about the tank capacity, especially if you’re using the compressor for DIY projects. In most cases, the compressor will be strong enough to replace the air as so as you finish using your tools.
However, you need to note that air compressors with larger tanks typically cost more. Therefore, if you’re a homeowner looking for the best machine to use around the house, don’t focus on tank size as a significant qualifying component of your air compressor.
How Do You Set Up an Air Compressor?
Before starting a task with your air compressor, you need to learn how to set it up. If you’re using an oil-based machine, then check the oil level before you start it up. After checking levels, fill the compressor if necessary and fix the hose onto the air regulator valve.
After connecting the hose, clip on your pneumatic tool. Most air compressors come with universal connections for easy set up with your pneumatic tooling. Make sure that you connect the hose and tools before you turn on the machine.
If you’re using an electric model, make sure you don’t turn on the power switch until you finish setting up the compressor.
After turning on the power, the machine will begin the first filling stage, raising the pressure to around 90-psi. It’s critical that you don’t use the tools while waiting for the tank to fill. After the tank reaches its second pressuring stage and stops, the machine is now ready to use.
Use the regulator knob or switch to adjust the pressure to your ideal working conditions.
Air Compressor FAQ
If you’re still having a hard time choosing the best air compressor, then read through these frequently asked questions.
How do I choose the right air compressor?
Choose the right compressor to meet your needs. Contractors might get more value out of a powerful machine that pressurizes air up to 150 or 200-psi. However, these pressures aren’t necessary for home use.
For DIY compressors, look to buy a unit that offers between 125 to 150-psi. If you are planning on using plenty of tools with the machine, it might be a better idea to go with a model that offers top performance.
How does an air compressor operate?
Air compressors operate via a gas-powered or electric motor. The motor converts electrical energy into kinetic energy by taking the air around the machine and drawing it into the tank where the pump pressurizes it to the correct operating pressure.
The tank stores the pressurized air, and as the operator triggers the tool connected to the airline, the air rushes to the tool head. The user then uses the pressurized air to operate the machine.
Do I need to drain the compressor after use?
Yes, always bleed out the leftover air after you finish using the machine. Leaving the air in the tank may cause premature wear on the pressure seals.
How often do I change the oil in oil-based machines?
You’ll need to change the oil every 7,000 to 8,000 working hours. For heavy-duty use, this means you’ll probably be changing the oil every three months.
When do I need to replace the intake filter?
Some electric and oil-based models feature an air filter to prevent particles from entering the machine during use. If you notice any tears or holes in the filter, replace it as soon as possible.
Can I run my compressor on a generator?
Generators often cause fluctuations in power that can affect the performance of your air compressor. We recommend you avoid hooking your compressor up to a generator.
What happens to the air compressor if I get water in the air line?
This situation occurs due to a failed dryer or condensate trap. Take your machine to your local dealer for repair.
By now you should have a good idea of the best air compressor to suit your needs. Are you still on the fence with your purchase decision after reading through our buyer’s guide? Relax, let us do the work for you. Choose one of our top recommended models, and you can’t go wrong with your purchase.
For those homeowners and contractors looking for the best overall air compressor, we recommend our top choice – The Bostitch BTFP02012 Oil-Free Compressor. This machine is powerful and capable of performing in the most demanding work environments.
The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore is the best choice for contractors looking for a quality machine that offers top performance in any working environment. It’s a pricey piece of machinery, but anyone who owns Makita tools will tell you they last forever.
The Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor offers the best overall value for your money. This model is our budget choice, but it offers premium performance.
Choose the best air compressor and never go to the hassle of using manual tools again.