The Best Air Compressors for Your Home Garage Reviewed [Updated July 2020]
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A solid air compressor is an integral part of any craftsman’s toolbox. Air compressors not only power a wide variety of tools such as air ratchets or pneumatic nail guns but they also can be used in their own right as a tool for trimmings, finishes, and more. As such, it’s one of the more versatile tools you will need in your arsenal.
Choosing the correct air compressor can be a difficult task, especially if you are new to the construction and tool world. The selection can get even more complex if you need a specific compressor for a certain use, such as in your home’s garage.
Our review covers the top 5 air compressors for garage use and covers important features about the ideal compressor. Our selections have been made based on overall quality, performance, and suitability for home and garage use. We also consider other features such as tank capacity, psi and CFM ratings, and maintenance requirements.
At the top of our list of recommendations is the Dewalt Pancake Air Compressor. The Dewalt is a high-capacity portable air compressor that is ideal for both professional and home uses. The Dewalt is only 30 lbs meaning that you can practically take it anywhere there is an external power source.
Two of the most important features of the Dewalt are its high tank capacity and high pressure ratings. The Dewalt has an above-average tank capacity at 6 gallons and can put out a maximum of 165 psi. That is about 30 psi higher than the max ratings on either the Makita or CAT 8010. The high performance makes it suitable for a number of uses from filling tires to finishing nailings and woodworking.
The Dewalt is powerful but a bit on the louder side. It produces around 75 decibels at operating capacity which is about as loud as a standard TV at half volume. 75 decibels is not incredibly loud but it is closer to the “loud” range than the other compressors we have covered so far.
The Dewalt also has a standard 120V power supply and a 10A amp-draw. It should run on most standard home outlets, provided there are no voltage drops. The console cover features knobs and dials to indicate the current pressure and is removable for maintenance purposes.
One highlight of the Pancake is its unique design. The tank is a flat oval-shape with the console and handle directly on top. The placement makes things easy to carry around and gives it good balance as the console is not oriented to one side. The handle is made from a thick and durable plastic and the rubber feet on the bottom give good traction and minimal slippage.
Why we like it
The Dewalt DWFP55126 pancake air compressor is a powerful home compressor which is suitable for almost any job imaginable required around the house. The DWFP55126 is extremely powerful for a portable compressor and weighs only 30 lbs so it’s perfect to take on the job site or to different areas of the house. The flattened oval shape gives it a very small profile and makes it unobtrusive. It has an extremely high max psi and takes very little time to refill given how large the tank is.
The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore markets itself as a revolutionary air compressor suited for home and garage use. The MAC2400 is a 130 psi, 3.2 gallon capacity, 120V electric portable compressor that is tough enough for a wide range of jobs varying in intensity.
The Makita features a powerful 2.5 HP motor that generates a low 1720 RPM. Despite what you may think, a higher RPM on a compressor motor is not always better. A lower RPM draws air more efficiently. The MAC2400 has Makita’s trademark “Big Bore” cylinder system which can pump a larger amount of air than average due to the increased volume. The Big Bore cylinders are made out of a durable cast iron and can be removed for individual cleaning.
The Big Bore is also a low power unit. It only draws on 5 amps of power which means it can be used with a normal home breaker without the worry of outages. It boasts a larger than average 4.2-gallon twin stacked-tank setup and can generate a sustained 90 psi at 4.2 CFM. It has a maximum air output of 130 psi. A built-in industrial-strength air filter increases air intake and reduces wear.
The MAC2400’s frame is made from steel and has an effective roll-cage design. The entire pump is engineered oil-free which cuts down on overall lifetime maintenance. The front panel features dials and knobs that indicate the current pressure and let you make changes as you see fit.
Why we like it
The Makita AC2400 Big Bore is a good garage compressor that has enough power for some more heavy-duty jobs. It has a strong 2.5 HP motor and can generate a good amount of CFM at high psi ratings. The roll cage is durable, the unique cast-iron pistons are removable for cleaning, and the oil-free design cuts down the hassle and cost of maintenance. Overall, it is a solid compressor for garage use and is a smart, affordable choice.
Next on our list is the Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor. The C2002 has a similar design and set up as the Dewalt Pancake we covered earlier and has a similarly high tank capacity and max psi. The C2002 has a 6-gallon tank and can put out a max 150 psi of pressure. Its operation rating is 2.6 CFM @ 90 psi.
The pancake-design gives the C2002 a low-profile that is unobtrusive and easy to store. The shroud handle covers vital components, and the handle is made from a thick durable plastic that is rounded at the edges for easy grasping. The C2002 is very light and comes in at just over 30 lbs.
The C2002 operates using a low-power 120V source. It has a relatively low amp draw of 10A which is enough to generate some serious power without the worry of tripping breakers. It should run on any standard home outlet.
One unique feature is the cold-weather start mechanism. This mechanism ensures that the engine runs efficiently in a wide range of temperatures. The cold-weather start is especially useful because air compressors can have problems working at low temperatures.
As is the case with many electric compressors, the C2002 has an oil-free design that cuts down on overall maintenance costs. However, the console is easy to remove to make repairs in the case that you do need to fix something.
Why we like it
The Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor is a great portable compressor that has enough power for higher-intensity jobs. The C2002 has a high-capacity tank and can run at a generous 2.9 CFM @ 90 psi. The cold-weather start mechanism is a good addition that improves efficiency and it draws little electricity for its overall power. The base is sturdy and the console-on-top design makes it easy to carry. On the plus side, it is exceedingly light at only 30 lbs.
Next on the list is the California Air Tools 8010, an ultra-quiet compressor that is perfect for mid-intensity home jobs. The 8010 has a hefty design and features an extra-large 8-gallon capacity tank. It weighs just over 50 lbs, which is still relatively easy to move.
The CAT 8010 is big but manages to be quiet. It only puts out about 60 decibels of sound when in operation. For reference, 60 decibels is about as loud as a normal conversation in public, so you can run the CAT 8010 without creating too much excess noise or disturbance to your neighbors.
The CAT 8010 has a 1.0 HP belt-drive motor and is rated at 3.0 CFM at 40 psi and 2.20 CFM at 90 psi. It has a maximum psi rating of 120; not as powerful as the Makita we covered previously, but still in the higher range for portable air compressors. It takes about 150 seconds to refill the tank from empty.
Speaking of portability, the CAT 8010 manages well on that front. Despite the larger size and tank, it is easy to move around thanks to the addition of two wheels on the back. You can tip the compressor on its side by grabbing the handle and wheeling it around. The wheels are made from thick PU-tires so there is little worry about cracking from rough surfaces.
The CAT 8010 has a relatively low amp-draw at only 8.5 amps. That is a solid power draw for a portable air compressor but is still relatively low when pitted against other comparable air compressors of similar specs. This means that you will have enough power for pretty much any home or garage job you can think of.
Why we like it
The California Air Tools 8010 is a competent mid-range portable air compressor that has a good mix of power and versatility. It’s most unique features are the above-average capacity tank and handle/wheel design. With an average operating capacity of 2.20 CFM @ 90 psi, it’s strong enough for pretty much any home use you can think of and can provide a large quantity of air before having to refill.
Rounding out our list is the Makita MAC700. The MAC700 is designed to emit as much power as possible while minimizing the necessary size of the compressor. The MAC700 is a 2 HP air compressor that can put out a max air pressure of 130 psi. It weighs just over 50 pounds which keeps it in the range of portable.
The MAC700 is fairly loud at 80 decibels. That means it is at the upper range of “quiet” air compressors and bleeds into the loud range. 80 decibels is about as loud as a garbage disposal at close range, so you may want to consider wearing ear protection during periods of prolonged use.
The MAC is extremely durable though. The outer shell is made from a tough steel and it features Makita’s signature “Big Bore” cast iron pistons. The pistons can be removed for deep cleaning. The extra-large pistons can move more air at once, giving the motor extra force.
The motor in the MAC700 operates at a suitably low 1,720 RPM. The lower RPM offers greater air displacement than higher RPM motors. Like most electric compressors, the engine is 100% oil-free so there are relatively few maintenance costs.
The MAC700 is designed to be portable and has a convenient handle located near the top. The handle has a durable rubber handle that minimizes vibrations and does not get slick from moisture. On the bottom of the frame are rubber feet that do a good job providing traction and minimizing any rocking and vibrations. Given the higher CFM and psi, it is strong enough to handle some more demanding jobs with tougher materials.
Why we like it
The MAC700 is a perfectly competent air compressor for home and garage use. It puts out a decent amount of power so it’s suitable for mid-intensity jobs around the garage and performs to a high standard. The tank and frame are durable, and the model is exceedingly portable and unobtrusive. The rubber feet on the bottom keep the machine grounded and minimize any noise from vibrations.
Garage Air Compressor Buying Guide
Since you will be using your compressor in the garage, you want something that does not produce an excess amount of noise. Air compressors can produce between 50-70 decibels, with more powerful models topping 80 decibels.
Here are some figures for sound comparison. 50 decibels is about as loud as a normal conversation in your house while 60 decibels is about as loud as a conversation in a crowded room with background noise. 70 decibels is as loud as a normal TV at about half volume and 80 decibels is comparable to noise from a garbage disposal.
An ideal air compressor for home use will produce between 50-70 decibels. Any louder than that is in the “loud” compressor range. Even if your compressor is in the lower decibel range, it can be a good idea to wear ear protection to prevent irritation from sustained noise.
Larger industrial air compressors can weigh over 200 lbs. while home-use models can weigh as little as 25 lbs. In general, there is a tradeoff between size and power. Larger compressors are powerful but produce more noise. Conversely, small compressors are less powerful but are quieter.
A garage compressor should be small enough that you can move it around without too much effort but powerful enough to handle medium-intensity jobs. In our estimation, a good garage compressor should weigh around 40-50 lbs. Anything in that range should have decent portability without sacrificing too much power.
The majority of air compressors for home and garage use electric motors. Electric motors are efficient, smaller, and can be used wherever there is an external power source. Most electric compressors do not contain any oil, which cuts down on lifetime maintenance costs.
Between electric motors, there are _belt-drives _and _direct-drives_. Belt-driven motors use a taut band around the gears to generate torque. In general, belt-drive motors are easier to maintain and quieter than direct-drive motors. It is easier to replace the belt on a belt-motor than the gears on a direct drive too. Most electric compressors feature belt-driven motors.
Gas compressors exist and tend to be large and powerful. The drawbacks of gas-powered compressors are that you need a supply of gasoline and they can produce fumes, which makes them not ideal for indoor use.
If you decide on an electric compressor, you need to consider the amp draw. The amp draw refers to how much power your compressor draws when it is in operation. If the amp draw is too high, then you run the risk of tripping a breaker.
Electrical grids in modern homes can usually handle about 15-20 amps before tripping a breaker. Fortunately, most home-use compressors draw anywhere between 3-8 amps, a low enough amount you don’t have to worry about power failures.
Voltage is also important. Most home compressors can run on a normal 110V outlet though there are exceptions. Voltage drops can make your compressor less efficient, which is one reason why we don’t recommend using a compressor with a generator. Generators fluctuate in power which can affect performance.
Type of Compressor
Compressors use different mechanisms to compress air. There are 3 general types of air compressors, each with a different method for compressing air.
Reciprocating compressors are probably the most common type. Reciprocating compressors use a series of undulating pistons to create a vacuum and suck air through the tubes. It is essentially the same mechanism used in your car’s engine. Since reciprocating compressors have a lot of moving parts, they can produce a lot of friction and heat. This also means that they run louder than other types and can break easier. Fortunately, many modern reciprocating compressors are oil-less which reduces overheating and noise.
Rotary compressors are powerful and often used for heavy-duty applications. Rotary compressors use a series of helically-shaped screws to squeeze air through a sealed chamber. The air is compressed and forced through the tubes at high pressures. Reciprocating screws produce less friction than pistons which means they make less noise and are less prone to failure from mechanical damage.
Scroll compressors are used in compressors in several kinds of technology, such as refrigerators and high-power vehicle engines. Scroll compressors involve 2 gear wheels, a stationary larger one and a moving smaller one within. The smaller wheel moves inside the larger wheel and compresses air, forcing it through the tubes and out of the nozzle.
Scroll compressors are extremely precise and produce high-quality clean air. Scroll compressors are commonly used in the electronics, dental, and pharmaceutical industries as they are precise, clean, and efficient.
HP, psi, & CFM
HP, psi, and CFM are three important parameters that determine how effective your compressor is. It is important to know what each measurement means and how the three work together to determine compressor performance.
HP (horsepower) refers to how much overall power the motor produces. 1 HP is equal to about 745.7 watts, so a motor operating at 1 HP produces that much power. The more horsepower your motor has, the more forcefully it can pull air into the tank.
“PSI” (normally written “psi”) stands for “pounds per square inch.” Psi measures how many pounds of pressure your compressor generates per square inch of area. So, for example, if your compressor generates 100 psi, that means the expelled air produces 100 pounds of force per square inch of contact.
CFM stands for “cubic feet per minute” and measures how much cubic volume of air your compressor produces. The higher the CFM then the more air is flowing per minute. For instance, if your compressor is rated at 30 CFM then that means it moves 30 cubic feet of air per minute.
CFM and psi share an important relationship that affects how your compressor performs. Consider a hose with water flowing through it. If you place your thumb over the nozzle and restrict the opening, the water will increase in pressure. Since the amount of water stayed the same (CFM) but the amount of space decreased, the water pressure (psi) increased.
The same reasoning holds for air compressors, even though they use air instead of water. A compressor needs to be able to maintain a high CFM and high psi to be as effective as possible. If a compressor has a high CFM but a low psi, it will not push air as forcefully and will run out much faster. Many air-powered tools require specific CFM and psi ratings to work properly so make sure your compressor can perform as required.
Thermal Overload Protection
Given that they have moving pieces that produce friction, compressors can get hot from continuous use. If the engine gets too hot it can cause damage. That is why most modern compressors are built with thermal overload protection that automatically shuts off the motor if it exceeds a certain temperature.
Air compressors are heavy-duty tools so they need to be comparably durable. The best air compressors are made from light but durable metals such as steel or aluminum. Most air tanks or compressors are made from aluminum as it is both lightweight and resists oxidation from air.
It is also important to take the design into consideration as that affects durability as well. A good compressor will have a wide base so it remains stable in operation and a roll cage to protect it from damage.
Top Pick/Final Words
Our top pick for the best air compressor for garage use goes to the Dewalt Pancake Air Compressor. The Pancake has an ideal mix of size and power and manages to be suitable for mid- to high-intensity jobs while only weighing ~30 lbs. The Pancake errs on the louder side as far as garage compressors go, but it’s still quiet enough that you can operate without creating undue noise.
No matter if you are serious about construction or are a hobby builder, a good air compressor is an invaluable tool to have in your arsenal. Air compressors are versatile machines and have many applications, from filling tires to running air-powered tools. A portable air compressor for home and garage use can help with those small home jobs like sidings, finishing, and nailings.
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