Every contractor or hobbyist builder needs a good air compressor in their toolbox. Air compressors are useful for running air-powered tools and can be used for multiple purposes by themselves. Air compressors can be used to fill tires, power pneumatic tools, fill tanks, and for a variety of other applications.
Air compressors have a lot of components and can be complex. This can make your decision difficult, especially if you haven’t had much exposure to compressors before. Terms like “CFM”,’HP”, and “PSI” are not common terms you hear every day.
That is why we put together this comprehensive list of the best air compressors of 2020. We also included a useful guide full of important features to look for in an air compressor. These compressors on our list have been chosen due to their quality, performance, construction, materials, and their range of practical applications.
The Dewalt DWFP55126 Pancake Air Compressor is one of the most impressive air compressors on the market today. The Dewalt DWFP55126 is a squat oval design with a wide base and large capacity tank. The DWFP55126 has a high max operating pressure of 165 psi and delivers 2.6CFM at 90 psi and 3.7 CFM at 40 psi.
The DWFP55126 has a large 6-gallon tank so it can run for a while before needing to refill. It produces about 75 decibels while in operation, which is on the louder side as far as home compressors go. Overall, it weighs just 30 lbs, which makes it very portable.
This Dewalt pancake air compressor runs using a standard 120V power source and draws 10 amps of current. This means that the DWFP55126 is very powerful, but still runs at a level manageable for your home’s electrical grid so you can be confident it will perform up to paror exceed your expectations when performing the vast majority of your projects.
The DWFP55126 uses an efficient brushless motor to pump air. It has a unique cold-start mechanism that ensures it can start promptly even in colder weather. A specially designed airflow regulator optimizes pressure and performance.
Why we like it
The Dewalt pancake air compressor is a compact yet powerful air compressor for home use that fits a wide range of project specifications. It comes with the trademark Dewalt quality and has high operating specs. The motor is efficient and is designed to work well in all conditions, while the squat design and rubber feet keep it stable and sturdy.
The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore Air Compressor is a smart and powerful twin-stack air compressor that has some unique design and construction features that improve performance. The MAC2400 is good for many uses and runs quietly, despite its overall power.
The Makita is distinguished from other compressors due to the presence of its cast-iron “Big Bore” cylinders. These iron cylinders have a greater surface area than the average compressor, which means they can move more air with each downstroke. The cylinders can be removed for deep cleaning for easy maintenance.
The MAC2400 has a powerful 2.5 HP motor that operates at a low 1720 RPM. Lower RPM is usually more efficient at pulling air. It has operation specs of 4.8 CFM at 40 psi and 4.2CFM at 90 psi. It is suitable for mid to high-intensity jobs like trimmings, decks, and remodels.
The MAC2400 runs using a standard 120V source and has a low amp draw that lowers the risk of tripping a breaker. It has 2 tanks that total to 4.2 gallons, which allows you to run it for a long time before needing to refill. The oil-free design cuts down on maintenance costs and it has built-in thermal protection that automatically shuts off the power if it gets too hot.
Why we like it
The Makita is a solid air compressor with a twin-stacked tank design and high operating specs. It has a strong 2.5 HP motor which makes it suitable for medium-intensity jobs that need a bit more power. It has a low amp-draw and a sturdy steel roll cage design. The oil-free design and the unique cast-iron cylinders which are removable for cleaning means maintenance costs are low and the operation is efficient.
The Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor is a suitably portable air compressor that generates good power and can be used for a wide variety of jobs. The C2002 weighs just over 30 pounds and has a unique design that makes it space-conscious and easy to move.
The C2002 is an electric compressor and requires a 120V power source to operate. It has a low amp-draw and only produces around 60 decibels of noise. That means you can operate it without too much excess noise or annoyance.
The Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor has a relatively high max psi given its overall size. It can put out a max of 150 psi of pressure and has an operational performance of 2.6 SCFM. The C2002 also has a large 6-gallon tank that takes about 150 seconds to refill.
The C2002 has a squat flattened design which is unobtrusive and compact. Since the console is directly above the wide-base tank, it is stable and there is little to no worry about tipping it over. Indicators on the console are very clear and it has a durable gripped handle for easy transportation.
Why we like it
The Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor is a solid performing compressor that both professionals and amateurs can appreciate. It has a large tank, high max output, and performs well in a wide range of conditions and temperatures.
Up next on our list is the California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S air compressor. This air compressor has an extremely portable design, low weight, and is good for smaller home jobs that may require precision finishes.
The CAT-1P1060S runs on a small but tough 0.6 HP motor that has a peak of 1.2 HP. It has an operating pressure of 120 psi and can deliver a consistent 1.20 CFM @ 90 psi. The motor is specially designed to have a lower RPM, which increases pumping efficiency.
Given how small the CAT-1P1060S is, it is very quiet and only produces about 55 decibels. That is about as loud as a quiet conversation in your home so it’s ideal if you are sensitive to noise. It has a durable steel 1-gallon air tank that can refill in under a minute.
Onboard gauges on the console indicate the current pressure and flow. Above the console and attached to the side of the tank is a solid metal handle with a tactile and durable rubber grip.
Why we like it
The CAT-1P1060S is an efficient and portable small-scale compressor good for smaller home jobs. It has a fast refill time, decent operating specs, and is very space-conscious and portable.
Up next is the California Air Tool 8010 Air Compressor. The 8010 is a powerful compressor with a high amp draw, high capacity tank, and strong operating specs. It is a bit more heavy-duty than some of the other compressors covered on our list and is good for most mid-intensity jobs that require a bit more power.
The 8010 features an extremely large 8-gallon tank that can refill completely in 150 seconds. Despite how large the tank is, it manages to only weigh 54 lbs and is surprisingly portable thanks to the wheel and handle transport system.
The 8010 has a max operating pressure of 120 psi and can deliver 2.0 CFM @ 40 psi and 2.20 CFM @ 90 psi. The motor runs at 1 HP and has a peak output of 2.0 HP.
Why we like it
The California Air Tools 8010 is a powerful and portable air compressor that is well-suited for home use on a wide range of projects. It has a very large capacity tank and produces a low enough amount of noise that it can be used comfortably indoors.
Last on our list is the Makita MAC700 Big Bore Air Compressor. The MAC700 can be seen as a smaller version of the MAC2400 we covered earlier and has several of the same design choices. Chief among those is the presence of Makita’s “big bore” cast-iron cylinders that have increased surface area.
The MAC700 weighs about 50 pounds and has a powerful 2.0 HP motor. It has a max operating pressure of 130 psi and can deliver 3.0 CFM @ 40 psi and 2.6 CFM @ 90 psi. The tank can hold up to 2.6 gallons and takes about 90-100 seconds to refill.
The MAC700 has some interesting hardware choices. For instance, it has copper finished discharge tubes that make heat dispersion more efficient and the automotive-style filter increases air intake. It produces about 75 decibels, which is still in the “quiet” range.
The MAC700 has durable rubber feet on the bottom of the tank, which increases stability and prevents any rocking motions or tipping over.
Why we like it
Overall, the Makita MAC700 is a competent portable air compressor that has a high air intake and output. The cast-iron pistons can move more air per thrust than average and the special internal components do a good job reducing heat from friction and discharge. The tank has a decent air capacity and it it comes with a one-year maintenance warranty.
Air Compressor Buying Guide
Not all air compressors are created equal. Different air compressors specialize in different things and have different levels of operation, technical specs, construction quality, and more. It is imperative to find the right kind of air compressor for your intended project. Here is a list of important features and considerations to keep in mind when looking for an air compressor.
When it comes to air compressors for home use, there are 5 main types you should focus on. Each style has a general shape, setup, and is geared towards particular applications.
Inflators are the simplest kind of compressor and are mostly meant to keep tires in automobiles inflated. Inflators are a good investment because they can save you time and money from trips to gas station air pumps. Air inflators are inexpensive, compact, and can easily fit in the trunk of your car so you can bring them around with you. They do not require much power but have relatively limited use as a consequence.
Pancake compressors are usually short, stout, and have an oval-ish shaped tank that serves as the base. Pancake compressors are popular because they are light, compact, and are strong enough to run some air-powered tools and handle some mid-intensity jobs like baseboards and finishings. Pancake compressors are also usually oil-less which means they have relatively few maintenance requirements.
Twin stack compressors have two air tanks, usually stacked one on top of the other. The extra air tank gives more air capacity which means that twin stack compressors can run for a longer time before having to refill. Twin stack compressors are comparably powerful and can run a wide assortment of air-powered tools. Twin stack compressors are generally considered portable, but they can be on the heavier side at around 70 lbs.
Single-stage compressors are probably the most versatile kind of compressor for home use. These compressors suck and force air through a single motion, hence the term “single-stage.” Single-stage compressors are also affordable and most are well-built and can last for years, provided they are taken care of. Single-stage compressors can range in power from smaller home models to extremely powerful industrial models.
Two-stage compressors are generally very powerful and are mostly used for heavy-duty industrial applications. Two-stage units can be either gas-powered or electric, though they are often electric. Two-stage compressors compress the air twice, which delivers even more air power. 2-stage compressors are generally expensive and can create up to an incredible 90 CFM of airflow. These kinds of compressors are extremely powerful and best suited for heavy-duty projects.
Air compressors have different mechanisms that allow them to pump air. There are 3 main compressor types that have different mechanisms for pressurizing air.
Reciprocating compressors use pistons to generate pressurized airflow. Reciprocating compressors draw air into the tank and compress it into a small space, thus increasing the pressure. They use pistons to accomplish the compression. Reciprocating compressors can vary greatly in terms of strength and overall force and are available in oil-less and lubricated designs. Since they have the most moving parts, reciprocating compressors can jam and malfunction easier.
Rotary screw compressors use a rotating series of interlocking screws to draw air inside the chamber and compress it. Rotary screw compressors, like reciprocating compressors, are considered positive displacement machines because they increase the pressure of air by decreasing its volume. Common rotary screw compressors use helical or spiral-shaped screws that interlock and have very little friction between. Rotary units are usually oil-cooled, but the oil is sealed in a separate chamber so you don’t need to change it out periodically.
There are other kinds of compressor tech out there, but these two kinds are probably the most common you will find in personal air compressors for home use.
Gas vs Electric
Another important decision is the one between gas-powered and electric-powered compressors.
Electric compressors are the more common of the two and come in a wide variety of portable and stationary models. Electric compressors are generally far cheaper than gas compressors and cost less to run because electricity is cheaper than gasoline. However, electric compressors are limited in their usage as you need an external power source. Otherwise, though, electric compressors are generally the best choice for personal home use as most can be powered by a standard home outlet.
Gas-powered compressors tend to be extremely powerful but very expensive to run and maintain. You will most likely find gas compressors being used on construction sites where an electrical grid hasn’t been set up yet. Outside of these narrow circumstances, an electric compressor is almost always the better choice. You should also never use a gas-powered compressor indoors as that can create dangerous and noxious fumes.
HP, psi, & CFM
HP, psi, and CFM are three important metrics that determine the overall operation of your compressor. It is important to know what each term means and how they relate to each other and overall air compressor performance.
HP stands for “horsepower” and is a measure of how powerful the motor is. 1 HP is equal to approximately 745.7 watts. Most compressors for home use fall in the 1-5 HP range though bigger industrial models can top 15-20 HP. Some extremely powerful models can get up to 100 HP but these are almost always for very specific industrial purposes.
PSI, normally just written “psi”, stands for “pounds per square inch” and tells you how much pressure the compressor generates. The higher the psi, the greater force per unit surface area. So for instance, a 90 psi compressor generates 90 lbs of pressure per square inch of contact.
CFM stands for “cubic feet per minute” and is basically a measure of the total volume of air your compressor can put out. So if your compressor is rated at 2.6 CFM then that means it can displace 2.6 cubic feet of air for every minute of operation.
CFM and psi interact with each other in important ways. Consider the case of water flowing through a hose. If you cover part of the top with your thumb and make a narrow opening, then the water increases in pressure and shoots further, even though the same total amount of water is being forced through the hose. The extra pressure makes the water move faster and with more force.
The same principle is behind the relationship between CFM and psi. As CFM increases, pressure tends to increase as well. That is why it’s important to have an air compressor that can maintain high CFM and psi levels. A high CFM and low psi will not expel the air forcefully. Most air-powered tools have specific CFM and psi requirements to run properly.
Given that the volume of gas can change properties at different temperatures, SCFM (standard cubic feet per minute) is often used as a measurement of air compressor performance at a specific pressure and temperature. In the US, SCFM measurements are based on room temperature (60-70 degrees F).
Electric compressors have two general types of motors: direct-drive and belt-drive motors.
Belt-driven motors use a taut belt around gears to generate friction. As the engine runs, it turns the belt which in turn powers the compressor pump. Belt-driven motors are generally more powerful and are less prone to hardware failures. Belt-driven motors periodically require replacing the belt drive.
Direct-drive motors use gears that spin while in direct contact with each other. The rotation platter sits directly on top of the motor and there is no belt. Direct drive motors are normally used in smaller compressors because they are quiet and efficient. But since physical spinning parts are in direct contact, they can produce a lot of friction, which can cause mechanical failures.
If you choose an electric compressor, then you need to make sure it has the right power requirements. Most electric compressors are 120V and can run on a standard home electrical outlet. In rare cases, you might have to purchase a tool transformer if the voltage does not line up.
There is also the amp-draw. Amp-draw is a measure of how much current your compressor pulls at any given time. Most home electrical grids can handle about 15-20 amps before they get overloaded and trip a breaker. Most air compressors for your house have a low amp-draw between 2-8, so there is generally little worry you will blow a fuse.
If you have an inconsistent current, then your compressor will be less efficient. This is a major reason why it’s not recommended to use an electric compressor with a portable gas generator. Gas-generators are prone to voltage drops, which affects current, which affects compressor performance.
Air compressors can get pretty loud, with the loudest models producing over 70 decibels of noise. Most portable home compressors operate in the 50-70 decibel range. For reference purposes, 50 decibels is as loud as a quiet conversation in your house, while 60 decibels is about as loud as the hum of an air conditioner from 100 feet away.
70 decibels is about as loud as a car speeding across the highway from 20 feet away or about as loud as a normal vacuum cleaner or TV in your living room. Anything louder than 70 decibels is in the loud range and can cause irritation or damage from long exposure. If your compressor runs louder than 70 decibels, then you will want to wear hearing protection like earplugs while it’s in operation.
Compressors come in all kinds of weights and materials. Based on our experience, the ideal compressors weights between 40-70 lbs. Compressors in this range manage to be powerful while still retaining some portability. If you are not worried about portability and instead want more power, the heavier the compressor is the more powerful it is in general.
You also need to consider the materials it is made out of. We have found that compressors made out of lightweight, durable metals like steel or aluminum are the best option. Aluminum is a good material for tanks as aluminum is more resistant to oxidation from the air than several other metals.
Our top pick for the best air compressor is the Dewalt DWFP55126 Pancake Compressor. The DWFP55126 is a powerful unit that can put out a significant amount of pressure at a high CFM. It is very versatile and can be used for pretty much and home use you can think of. Despite the power, it manages to be portable and is made from durable materials.
Air compressors are designed for specific tasks. So it’s important to get a compressor that performs in a suitable way for your projects. This guide covers some of the basics of air compressors and will give you a starting point on your search.
I have an unhealthy obsession with contracting and renovation. I’ve been a contractor for over 15 years and I love tackling challenging projects to make them look amazing.