In the world of power tools, pneumatic tools are the elite of the elite. They are the most powerful and among the most versatile. If you’ve got a nut-and-bolt job that requires an extreme amount of torque, you need a pneumatic impact wrench. If you need to quickly install flooring, you need a pneumatic nail gun. If you want to paint a room and have half an hour to do it, you want a pneumatic paint sprayer.
The air compressor is the heart of a pneumatic tool. Without a good air compressor capable of generating enough air to run everything, you might as well go back to your tools that run on electricity.
While finding the right compressor might seem like a daunting task, we wrote these reviews to help you cut through the clutter and help you figure out what’s important and what’s just smoke and mirrors. We added a few extra tips at the end to help you understand the terms you’ll run across while shopping.
|California Air 8010|
|PORTER-CABLE C2002||1 Year||4.40/5|
|Campbell Hausfeld DC080500||1 Year||4.20/5|
The hardest work pneumatic tools will do is in your auto workshop, and the best air compressor for automotive applications is the California Air Tools 8010. Since it’s got the most rigorous work covered, that means it’s a great choice for lesser tasks, especially if you think you might need the untapped potential for extra power.
What makes it great for automotive tools is the size of its tank and the speed it refills. It’s probably not a compressor you’d use in a professional workshop where you need constant access to air, but it’s good enough for the home. It’s also quiet, thanks to the fact that it runs on electricity, and its diaphragm-compressor design means it doesn’t have moving parts to lube. That cuts down on maintenance.
Being king doesn’t come cheap, however. You can get compressors for less than half the price.
Not everyone needs to push a lot of compressed air. Some people can get by on just enough compressed air and would like to get as much value from their investment as possible. For them, there is the Senco PC1010.
On top of packing value into its cost, it’s also among the most portable compressors we looked at. That’s a tremendous plus if you’re shingling your roof or working anywhere that you’ll need a compressor.
The trade-off is that it has a small tank, so you can deplete it quickly if you use air-hungry tools. It also generates a lot of heat when running, so if your job requires a lot of air, you’ll probably overtax the motor.
One of the most common uses of air compressors is to power nail guns. So, people looking to build furniture or cabinets might find the Bostitch BTFP3KIT a headache-free alternative to shopping for a compressor, crown stapler, brad nail gun, and a finish nail gun.
The compressor itself is lightweight and highly portable. That’s a great feature for work that takes you out of the workshop. Even if you leave behind the guns it comes with, you can haul this onto the roof and install shingles.
Since you’re purchasing the nail guns with the compressor, it’s expensive. Although we could see the benefit in just getting the nail guns with the compressor, for most people the idea of buying all four things at once is probably not very attractive.
Porter-Cable’s C2002 is a low-maintenance air compressor that offers one of the best values among all the air compressors we looked at. It is a great choice for home hobbyists who don’t need a lot of compressed air but need access to it consistently.
It’s 2.6 cfm output isn’t enough for aggressive, hard work, but the tank does fill quickly enough that if you’re using it to paint a wall or to install baseboards you’ll have minimal downtime. For the price, that’s a really good value and worth considering over a more expensive compressor that does more than what you need.
It can also leak air, so make sure everything is tightened and the seals sealed. It will also make a lot of noise, so take a look at maybe putting in the next room over with a wall between you and the machine.
Among the things in a home workshop’s inventory, the air compressor has a reputation for being one of the noisiest. That’s especially the case if it is a gas-powered compressor. In addition to the noise of the air being compressed, there’s also the engine.
Campbell Hausfeld’s DC080500 is a great exception to that rule of thumb. It’s among the quietest air compressors available. You can’t sleep next to it while it’s going, but it also won’t rattle your windows. It’s also got a big capacity for compressed air and a fast refill time.
Unfortunately, it also leaks air. So, every time it needs to work, you’re literally throwing money away. It’s already expensive, so on top of spending a lot of money upfront, there’s also the running expense of wasted energy.
One important virtue of Bostitch’s BTFP02012 is that it is designed as an oil-free compressor. That cuts down on maintenance costs in a lot of ways. First, you don’t need to buy oil for it. Second, since there aren’t a lot of parts to lubricate, there aren’t any moving parts that can wear out for lack of proper lubrication. It’s like owning a car that doesn’t require an oil change every 3,000 miles.
The six-gallon tank on the BTFP02012 is good enough to get you through most light-to-medium jobs. If you’re powering rusted lug nuts off, you’ll need to let the tank refill a couple of times, but if you’re just stapling cabinets together, one fill is enough. At its price, it’s a good value.
It is, unfortunately, also one of the loudest compressors we looked at. It also vibrates something awful. Maybe Bostitch could improve its design with dampening features. Its power cord is also a little short.
Makita’s MAC7000 is a compressor built on tradeoffs. It does a few things very well at the sacrifice of performance in other things. That means it’s perfect for a small group of people, but less-than-ideal for everyone else.
Where it excels is noise. It’s quiet enough to knit by. If loud noise drives you nuts, this is one you’ll want to consider. It’s also got a solid construction, giving confidence that it won’t turn into a money pit for maintenance dollars.
It’s solid enough that at 60 pounds, it’s also among the heaviest compressors we looked at. When you wrestle it into place, don’t plan on moving this around. It’s also pretty expensive compared to other compressors you can buy.
Craftsman used to be the gold standard of tool quality, performance, and durability—backed by a lifetime warranty. Based on the brand’s six-gallon pancake air compressor, the brand has fallen on some hard times.
It’s not that it’s bad, but there are a lot of other options that are so much better. It won’t blow you away with its tank capacity, refill speed, or air output power. The Craftsman is just average, for an above-average price. It’s also on the loud side of air compressors at 70 decibels.
It does come with a lot of handy accessories so that you can do a lot more than just run tools on day one. It doesn’t justify the expense, however.
There is one job that the Excell SAC22HPE would be best suited for, and that is powering a spray gun used for painting details on a car or use in hobbies. Among the compressors we looked at, it’s got the smallest-capacity tank. So, it’s not suitable for anything that will require a lot of air for consistent, moderate use like a nail gun, or in large spurts like an impact driver. We also don’t like that its cord is awkward and that the tank is heavy. That means putting it in one place near where you use it. That would be the uses we highlighted above.
It’s better suited for those by the fact that it’s quiet. It’s also affordable. So, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on a compressor that is a lot more than you need.
We usually like to try to find something positive to say about everything we review. In this case, we’re having a hard time. The only good thing about the Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV is that it doesn’t cost a lot of money.
It also doesn’t do anything particularly well, and it has a small tank capacity. So even though it’s the most affordable air compressor we looked at, it’s a spectacularly bad value.
In other cases, we’d suggest some low-key use for an air compressor with so few redeeming qualities, like to spray paint for hobbies. In this case, the air compressor is so ungodly loud that it renders moot any attempt to derive peace and serenity through crafting.
Getting the right air compressor for pneumatic tools is a lot more straightforward than it might seem. Because it involves terms and measurements that most people don’t use, it can look more difficult than it is. We put together this quick guide to help you understand how to cut through the jargon and make the right choice.
Your first step is always going to be examining why you need a compressor. Most uses around the house aren’t all that heavy, which means you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to buy the world’s most powerful air compressor. You can get by with something a lot more affordable.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a professional-grade workshop where the demand for compressed air is substantial, you’ll need to shop for a powerful air compressor that can keep several tools going at once.
You can split compressors into the number of stages they have in their operation. It’ll either be one or two.
Single-stage compressors just compress air and push it. It’s usually good enough for light uses like paint sprayers, inflating tires, and short use of tools.
If your demand for air is heavier, for example, you need to use an impact wrench to remove truck tires in a workshop, you may wish to consider a two-stage compressor. In a two-stage compressor, air that is already compressed is allowed to cool so that it expands a little bit. Then it’s compressed all over again for use. The result is much greater power.
Two basic units of measurement you’ll want to familiarize yourself with are horsepower and cubic feet per minute (cfm).
Horsepower is a measurement of an engine’s power. This will give you a good idea of how powerful a compressor is going to be in generating compressed air. It doesn’t always track perfectly that the most powerful engines are the best compressors, but it is one measurement.
Cubic feet per minute is the amount of compressed air created. This will help you better know whether a compressor can handle the job since most pneumatic tools have basic requirements in how much air they need. Do a little math, and this will give you an idea of how many tools you can operate, too.
One last thing to figure out is how you want to power your compressor. You have two basic choices, gas or electric.
Gas compressors are usually a little more powerful because the output is generated by an engine; and gas just tends to put out more power than electrical wall current. If you need a portable air compressor, gas-powered compressors are a good choice because you won’t be limited in your reach by distance from an outlet. On the downside, they tend to be a lot noisier and more expensive. Plus, you do have to worry about the exhaust.
Electric compressors are good if it will remain in place close to an outlet. Always remember that the longer you need to run a cord, the more power drop-off you’ll have, and electric compressors tend to be limited in that. They are quieter than gas compressors and you don’t have to worry about exhaust fumes.
Some of our other popular air compressor posts:
Pneumatic tools are handy to have around the house. One thing they all have in common is the need for a unique power source. Buying the right air compressor to use with your pneumatic tools is a critical investment.
In our reviews, we chose the California Air Tools 8010 Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free 1.0 hp Steel Tank Air Compressor as our Top Pick. It’s the best suited for automotive tools, which is the most serious work, so it can handle anything. If you shop for value, we recommend the Senco PC1010 1-Horsepower Peak, 1/2 hp running 1-Gallon Compressor. It’ll get your roof re-shingled and won’t break the bank. If you want to buy a compressor and a starter set of tools, take a look at the Bostitch BTFP3KIT. We think it’s the best combo deal around.
Those might not be the right choices for you. Perhaps you want something a little different. We hope you found these reviews helpful in figuring that out and took value from the tips in our buyers’ guide. We wish you the best of luck in purchasing the right air compressor.
Featured Image By: Quiet Hut, Flickr
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!