Portable air compressors fill many niches in our world. Consider a few of the places where portable air compressors are used. Finding and purchasing a portable air compressor is a bewildering undertaking for some people. We hope we can make the process a bit easier with some information you should know before making a choice.
What Are Portable Air Compressors Used For?
- Emergency use – If you have ever been stranded far away from help with a low tire or a punctured tire, you can appreciate having a small air compressor to get you back on the road.
- Home and Hobby Use – Many hobbies depend on compressed air. Woodworking and air brush art are two that come to mind. Having a portable air compressor in the garage is handy for using small pneumatic tools and keeping your car tired properly inflated
- Construction – You would be hard-pressed to visit a construction site anywhere and not find a portable air compressor in use.
And the list could go on and on. Compressed air is everywhere. You may be looking for a portable air compressor for your home shop, your garage, or for your car. If you are in the construction business, you may be shopping for a larger or additional portable air compressor as your business expands.
Best Portable Air Compressors
|Product name||Max Air Pressure||Air Tank Capacity||Type of Motor||Motor HP||Noise dB||Weight||Oil or Oilless||Air Flow @ 90psi|
|California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S||120psi||1.0gal||Electric||.6hp||56dB||29lbs||Oil-free||1.2cfm|
|Viair 4503 Auto Function ||150psi||-||12-volt||N/A||N/A||13.05lbs||Oil-free||.97cfm|
|Makita MAC2400 Big BOre||130psi||4.2||Electric||2.5hp||79dB||77lbs||Oil||4.2cfm|
|DEWALT DWFP55126 Pancake Compressor||165psi||6gal||Electric||.9||75.5dB||30lbs||Oil-free||2.6cfm|
|Campbell-Hausfeld SC080500 8Gal||125psi||8gal||Electric||1.0hp||68dB||66.46lbs||Oil-free||2.4cfm|
|Makita MAC5501G 5.5 HP ||135psi||10gal||Gasoline||5.5||N/A||192lbs||Oil||12.5cfm|
|Jenny 30 gal|
5 hp electric
1. California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S – Best Portable Air Compressor for Home Garage Use
California Air Tools are relatively new to the air compressor market. The company started manufacturing air compressors in 2002 with the expresses aim of creating innovative products that can be used anywhere and anytime. Their concept of an oil-free and ultra-quiet air compressor is focused on their mission of “Change the way you work.”
The California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S is listed in the California Air Tools product list as a contractor grade air compressor. We like that for a home air compressor. Contractor grade tools tend to be built a little tougher than the run of the mill home compressor sold through your local home improvement store.
The durability and reliability of a better grade of air compressor mean less worry and longer life in your garage. The CAT-1P1060S compressor from California Air Toos certainly lives up to that expectation. The quality of these air compressors is borne out by the product list.
- Operates quietly producing only 56 decibels
- The oil-free pump produces cleaner air.
- Fewer maintenance costs than oil-flooded pumps
- Two pressure gauges
- On 1’4 inch universal connector
- Thermal overload protector
- 120psi maximum pressure
- The motor operates on 110 volts/60hz. No special wiring needed
- Draws on 4.5 amps.
- All Steel air tank
- Small footprint takes up less room
- Includes air filter
- 1 Year limited warranty
The Big Advantage
The biggest advantage of having the California Air Tools Cat-1P1060S air compressor in your garage is the ultra-quiet operation of this unit. Firing up this compressor in your garage won’t have you wincing at the noise and it won’t drown out the television inside the house.
Comparisons of the California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S air compressor with other models from different manufacturers shows that the CAT-1P1060S operates quieter. This chart makes it easy to see that the California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S leads the pack. Less horsepower, more airflow, and quieter operation equal a superior option for use in a home garage.
2. Makita MAC2400 Big Bore – Best Twin stack Portable Air Compressor
If you are running a job site where more than one tool is in operation at a time, airflow is the biggest consideration in choosing a portable air compressor. Understanding the demands that air tools can put on an air compressor is important in making the right decision for your job site air compressor.
The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore twin stack air compressor is designed specifically for construction job sites where pneumatic nail guns and other small air tools are employed. The Makita line of tools is well known in the construction industry for its reliability and durability. The way a job site compressor is constructed and the features that it provides are important parts of the compressor selection process. Take a look at what Makita offers.
- Cast iron pump with Big Bore™ cylinder
- 2.5 HP 4-pole motor
- 4.2cfm at 90psi
- Roll cage construction keeps your compressor safe on constructions sites
- Low AMP draw for safe operation on construction site electrical systems
- Oil lubbed pump for cool running and less wear
- Discharge tubing is copper finned to deliver cooler air to your tools
- Low RPM pump means quieter operation
- Large industrial air filter for cleaner air and less wear on the pump
- Sight glass on the oil reservoir for easy and efficient maintenance
- Easy to access pet-cock for draining moisture from the tanks
- Thermal overload protection built-in
- Large enough to run two framing nailers
Air Tool Demands
Looking at the average airflow demands of some air tools can give you an idea of how to estimate your airflow needs from any compressor you put on a job site.
NOTE: Air tools such as nail guns do not make continuous airflow demands on a compressor. Using the information on this chart and knowing the number of tools that will be in use on your job site at any given time will give you a better understanding of how much-compressed airflow you need to keep your job site running efficiently.
|Framing Nailer 50 psi||2|
|Brad Nailer 30 psi||4|
3. Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Compressor – Best Budget Portable Air Compressor
For job site performance and ease of use, nothing beats a good pancake air compressor. The small footprint and lighter weight bring ease of use and convenience. If you are looking for a small compressor to keep in your garage, a pancake compressor is a perfect choice. They are easy to store, easy to use, and easy to maintain.
Porter-cable has been in the air tool and compressor business for many years, and the quality of its products is unsurpassed. The Porter-Cable C2002 pancake compressor is no exception. This compressor reflects Porter-Cables history of providing high-quality tools to the construction sector at reasonable prices.
If you are looking for a full feature, construction-grade air compressor at a budget price, the Porter-Cable C2002 should fit the bill nicely. It doesn’t lack anything you could want on your job.
- 6-gallon pancake-style with rubber feet for stability
- Durable oil-free pump for long life with minimal maintenance
- 2.6scfm means quicker recover and cooler running
- Lightweight construction for easy portability
- Twin factory-installed regulated couplers supports two users
- 2 gauges
- Includes regulator
The Porter-Cable C2002 gets the nod as our Best Budget portable air compressor. The Porter-Cable reputation for quality and service and the impressive list of features is enough to make this a top pick in any list of portable air compressors.
Factor in that this little compressor is available for less than $100 and it becomes an instant best budget portable air compressor pick on our list.
4. DEWALT Pancake Air Compressor– Best Pancake Portable Air Compressor
Some times you need a tool that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In the case of pancake portable air compressors, that would be the DEWALT DWFP55126. This pancake compressor rises to the top as an exceptional piece of job site equipment.
DEWALT has been manufacturing tools for years. Their reputation for innovation and quality is well known and they haven’t left anything on the table in designing the DWFP55126 portable pancake air compressor. Looking at the features that come with the DEWALT DWFP55126 portable pancake air compressor makes it clear why this is our pick for the best portable pancake air compressor.
- 165lbs Max pressure for longer work time with fewer compressor starts and stops.
- Quiet operation at 75.5 dB for a quieter work environment
- Oil-free operation for less maintenance
- Two factory-installed outlets support dual users
- High flow regulator for higher performance
- high-efficiency motor optimized for easy start-up in cold weather
- Lightweight 30lb weight for easier deployment
- Ball-type drain valve for quick removal of water
- Low profile stable design for maximum job site safety
Why Choose a Pancake Compressor
Why choose a pancake air compressor over a more traditional style with a horizontal tank or a vertical tank? There are several reasons.
- Portability – Pancake air compressors offer better portability than wither horizontal tank or vertical tank compressors.
- Weight – With their smaller tanks, pancake compressors are lighter than other styles of compressors, making them more efficient on a job site where frequent moves are necessary.
- Stability – The design of a pancake compressor makes it more stable. The weight distribution and center of gravity are usually much lower on a pancake compressor. A lower center of gravity makes the pancake compressor less prone to tipping.
- Maintenance – Most pancake-style compressors are designed with oil-free pumps. This makes the pump assembly almost maintenance-free.
If you are looking for a workhorse of a pancake air compressor, you shouldn’t look any further than the DEWALT DWFP55126 portable pancake air compressor. You won’t be disappointed in the reliability or performance of this air compressor, no matter what kind of job site you are supporting.
5. Campbell-Hausfeld DC080500 – Best Horizontal Tank Portable Air Compressor
Running larger tools requires more air. That is a given. But does having to run a larger compressor mean more noise and more expense? Not necessarily. There are portable air compressors on the market that can meet the needs of busy professionals without breaking the bank.
Campbell-Hausfeld has the answer to what you need. The Campbell-Hausfeld DC080500 Oil Free 8 gallon compressor is designed for the busy worksite. Boasting one of the quietest operations on the market, the 8-gallon air tank and dual-piston pump ensure a long, trouble-free life.
The features of the Campbell-Hausfeld DC080500 portable air compressor tell the tale of this air compressor.
- One of the quietest portable air compressors on the market producing only 68dB.
- The oil-free, maintenance-free pump is designed to last up to four times longer than most other oil-free compressors.
- 120V, 60mHz
- 125psi max
- 2.4cfm @ 90psi
- 8-gallon large tank
- Weighs 60.8 lbs
Horizontal or Vertical Tanks
Horizontal tank portable air compressors tend to be more stable than vertical tank air compressors. The trade-off of taking more floor space versus an accidental tip that can damage valves, fittings, or even the pump itself is worthy of consideration.
For home use, a horizontal tank lends itself to being put under a workbench or other location out of the way. Vertical tanks tend to stand too high to fit in out of the way places, making them more of a problem if you are short of space. The DC080500 air compressor is as close to having a true commercial-grade compressor without the much steeper cost. In terms of features and ability, the Cambell-Hausfeld DC080500 will get the job done.
If you need a larger air tank and want the long life offered by the dual piston oilless air pump offered by the Cambell-Hausfeld DC080500 air compressor, you won’t be disappointed. With this compressor in your garage, you will have all the compressed air you need no matter what size the project.
6.Jenny 30 Gal 5 HP Electric Air Compressor – Best Electric Portable Air Compressor
Jenny air compressors are not well known to the general public, but among professionals who depend on an air compressor to get their jobs completed on time and on budget, Jenny is a go-to brand. The USA based and manufactured, Jenny air compressors are well respected for their dependability and quality.
The Jenny 30 gal 5 hp Electric Air Compressor is at home on the job site. Ruggedly built of the finest components, the Jenny air compressor will serve any contractor well. Simple to operate and easy to maintain, these electric compressors don’t cause problems on the job site. The Jenny 30 gal compressor is economical to operate as well since it uses 240-volt single-phase power.
Jenny builds air compressors with the contractor in mind. These features prove that out.
- Easy to use start and top controls
- Dual controls
- Dual Voltage Switch
- On-off switch
- Two-wheel configuration for easy mobility
- Oil sight glass for easy maintenance
- Airline filter included
- Lubricator include
- 30-gallon tank
- V-Twin air pump
- 5 hp motor
- 230-volt single-phase power required
- Delivers 19.0cfm at 125psi
- UL listed electric motor
- Thermal overload protection
- 6 ft power cord
So why choose Electic?
Electrically powered compressors offer some advantages over gasoline-powered compressors. On some job sites, these advantages can outweigh the benefits of a gas-powered air compressor. When making the decision on which power source is best, consider the following:
- The Environment – Gasoline-powered equipment is definitely not a good idea in an enclosed workspace. The exhaust fumes can easily become dangerous. AN electrically driven air compressor eliminates these dangers in an enclosed space.
- Noise Levels – Electric compressors tend to be much quieter than their gasoline-powered cousins. In an already noisy work environment, anything you can do to reduce the noise level is positive.
- Maintenance – Electrical motors take much less maintenance than gasoline-powered engines. To keep gasoline engines operating at peak efficiency, they require routine and regular maintenance, as well as the ongoing need to refuel the equipment regularly.
- Safety – In many ways, electric motors are much safer in the workplace than gasoline-powered equipment. The need to refuel gasoline engines is always a risky proposition, especially if they have to be refueled while running or still hot. The least amount of spillage in the wrong location can result in an explosion and fire.
If an electric construction-grade air compressor fits the requirements of your job, then the Jenny 30 gallon electric 5 hp portable air compressor should be on your list. It made ours as the best electric powered construction-grade compressor.
7. Viair 45043 Automatic Function Portable Compressor – 12-Volt Air Compressor for Large Truck Tires
In the world of portable air compressors, no one offers such a complete line for so many applications than Viair. From emergency air compressors for your personal vehicle to hard-mounted air compressors for RV’s and commercial vehicles, Viair can supply them all. Viair even has a specialized set of compressors for the custom car industry made specifically to supply air suspension systems.
The Viair line of 12-volt portable air compressors is some of the best on the market. When shopping for a portable emergency air compressor, there are several features that you should expect.
- Reliability – You certainly don’t want to be stuck with a flat or low tire in a remote location or far from the nearest auto shop with a q12-volt air compressor that won’t run or won’t develop enough pressure to properly re-inflate your time.
- Airflow – Many inexpensive 12-volt air compressors may eventually inflate your tire, but it may take an hour or more because they just can’t deliver the airflow at the required pressures.
- Duty Cycle – Duty Cycle is the percentage of time a tool should be run between off times. For example, a tool rated with a 60% duty cycle could only be run for 36 minutes each hour and would need to be turned off for the other 24 minutes.
The Viair 45043 portable 12-volt air compressor meets the demands for a large truck tire emergency portable air compressor. The features list is a clear picture of what you can expect from the Viair 45043 air compressor.
- Thermal overload protector
- Diamond Plate Sand Tray
- Quick connection air hose with heat shield
- Professional style large truck tire inflator
- Dual compartment carry bag
- 40-amp inline fuse
- Dual battery clamps
- Duty Cycle of 100% at 100psi
- Maximum working pressure 150psi
- Weighs only 13.05 lbs.
- Power cord length of 8ft.
- Hose length is 30ft.
One downside to most 12-volt compressors is the need to start and stop the compressor manually when changing tires or checking air pressure during inflation. The Viair 45043 comes with an automatic function that turns the air compressor off if you are not actively filling a tire with air. This saves wear and tear on the air compressor and makes filling multiple tires more convenient.
Big Tires Require Big Performance
Larger ties such as those found on RV’s and Trucks require bigger performance from an air compressor. Higher flow rates mean less downtime. The Viair 45043 portable 12-volt air compressor can meet the challenges of bigger tires. A look at the typical fill rates for some popular size large vehicle tires can be useful. With the Viair available in your RV or large truck, even a low tire won’t cause a significant delay in your plans. In fact, getting the Viair out and hooked up may take more time than re-inflating your tire.
|Tire Size||Tire Pressure||Fill Rate|
|31”||15 – 30psi||2 min 10 sec|
|33”||15 – 30psi||2 min 50 sec|
|35”||15 – 30psi||3 min 30 sec|
|37”||15 – 30psi||4 min 09 sec|
8. ARB (CKMP12) 12V High-Performance – Portable Air Compressor for Off-Roading
Off-roading is one of the most popular past times in the US. No matter whether you are running a high-performance ATV or a full-sized 4×4, you know that air pressure in your tires can be a huge issue depending on the conditions and terrain you are trying to traverse.
Being able to adjust air pressure can be vital at times. Removing air from tires is no problem. Adding air pressure back can be an issue unless you have the forethought to include a top-notch 12volt air compressor in your kit.
ARB is well known in the off-road world as the producer of quality 12-volt compressors designed just for rough country use. The ARB CKMP12 is the perfect addition to your off-road tool kit to ensure that you have air anywhere you might find yourself.
- Sealed construction for moisture and dust resistance
- The cylinder bore is hard anodized for less friction
- Carbon fiber piston seals
- Equipped with an overpressure safety valve
- Internal thermal protection for the motor
- Inline fuse protection
- Comes packed in a hard style case
- 19 ft air hose
- Fittings kit for all your compressed air applications
- Includes a washable air filter element
- Available accessories include an air tank and a mounting kit
Keeping things in place in your all-terrain vehicle, no matter the vehicle size is always a problem. Rough country can soon have parts and tools rattling around and scattered around the vehicle no matter how diligent your efforts to contain it.
Chose your Options
The ARB CKMP12 comes in two different configurations. The portable unit comes with a hard storage case that resembles a plastic toolbox. All the loose parts, air hose, and compressor fit into the box. A hard box is much easier to strap down to a vehicle than a soft-sided case.
You can opt to purchase the ARB CKMP12 as a hard-mounted kit. The kit comes with the compressor, the wiring loom, air hose, and all the extra attachments. Once mounted, you never have to worry about being without a compressor or having a box or bag full of compressor and parts sliding and banging around your off-road vehicle.
9. Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor – Best Small Portable Air Compressor
Storage space can be a premium in some vehicles, especially some small ATV’s or motorcycles. Still, there can be times when you need a compressor that can do a big job, but you need it in that small package. All too often, the small compressors with the cigarette lighter plugs just can’t get the job done.
The Viair 00088 88P compact portable air compressor is small and lightweight. Don’t let its size fool you. This is no discount store cigarette lighter plug air compressor. The little machine packs features and performance that some bigger air compressors are hard-pressed to meet.
Viair doesn’t skimp n features, even on its smallest and lightest portable air compressors.
- 12-volt operation
- Max pressure 120psi
- Small footprint – 9.8” L x 3.2” W x 5.6” H
- Weighs only 4.75 lbs.
- 10-foot power cord
- 16 ft air hose included
- Built-in 120 psi pressure gauge
- LED work light
- Dual battery clamps
- Solid brass twist on air chuck
- Three-piece inflator accessory kit.
- 0.64cfm at 90psi
The Problem with Heat
Compressing air creates heat. In a small compressor, the heat can cause problems. Most small compressors don’t have the means to dissipate that heat fast enough to provide long duty cycles. Large air compressors can incorporate lots of cooling fin area and fans to drive air across the top of the air pump cylinder. Small compressors lack these features.
In the case of the Viair 88P portable air compressor, the cylinder head has generous colling fins and the aluminum alloy is capable of quickly dissipating heat. This alloys a longer duty cycle than most comparable ultra-small air compressors. The Viair offers a duty-cycle of 25 minutes. With the capability of filling a 225/60R18 tires to 30psi in a minute, you will never have problems with heat or duty cycle when you carry the Viair 88P in your vehicle.
10. Makita 10 Gal. 5.5 HP Gas – Construction Grade Gasoline Powered
When you can’t get the airflow from a smaller electric air compressor, you may need to step up to a construction grade air compressor. These heavier and larger air compressors are still portable but deliver as much as twice the airflow and higher maximum pressures than their smaller cousins.
The Makita 10 gal. 5.5 horsepower gas peered twin stack air compressor offers what any worksite requires. The reliability, capacity, and functionality of the Makita air compressor are favorites with professional contractors.
Features on the Makita 10 gal. 5.5 hp compressor include:
- Honda GX 160 4-stroke gasoline engine delivering 5.5 horsepower.
- V-Twin style air pump for cooler running
- Up to 12.5 CFM at 100psi
- All gauges and connectors are located under the pump and motor for improved protection
- 12” non-flat tire for easy mobility around the job site.
- ½” non-regulated ball valve for use with a secondary air tank
- Automatic idle control for economical operation
- Oil-lubricated air pump for cooler running and reduced wear
- Automotive-style air filter
- Oversized gauges for readability
- Fully enclosed belt drive meets all safety regulations
- Large flywheel fan for extra cooling capacity
- Oil sight glass for instant readings on lubricant level
- Dual brass couplers
- 10-gallon air tank
Gasoline or Electric?
Sometimes the choice of whether to opt for gasoline or electric air compressor is forced on you by the requirements of the job. Up to a point, electric air compressors make more sense. They require less maintenance. You don’t have to refuel them or change the engine oil. Gasoline compressors have large drive belts that need replacing on a regular basis.
However, there is a point at which the compressed air needs of the job are such that the electric motor needed to drive the compressor becomes so large that they are unmanageable. These large electric motors often require special electrical services that may not be available or a job site, or electric service may not be available at all. Larger compressed air needs for larger tools or a remote location with no electrical service make a gasoline-powered portable air compressor a necessity. IN that case, the Makita MAC5501G 5.5.hp Big Bore Portable Gas-powered air compressor is a perfect choice.
How To Choose a Portable Air Compressor?
Choosing a portable air compressor is more involved than finding one that is a color you like. More important to the decision are variables like:
- What power source is the best of you. Do you need a 12-volt compressor or one that runs on 110 volts or even a gasoline engine?
- How are you going to use the air compressor? Will it be used to fill a tire when you are away from home? Do you need to be able to run one or more pneumatic tools? Is your air compressor going to be used on a job site?
- What Size compressor best fits your needs. Will a small portable 12-volt compressor be adequate or do you need a tank large enough to maintain air supply for a busy workshop?
These are all questions that you will need to answer to find the right combination of features, capacity, and power to make an informed decision about the best portable air compressor for your needs.
Buyer’s Guide: What To Look For
Consider what kind of uses the compressor will need to meet. Some of the more popular uses for portable air compressors are
- Tire inflation
- Construction work
- Airbrush painting (airbrush compressor reviews)
- Auto bodywork
Power Source: Gas or electric
How and where the portable air compressor will be used is another consideration. Electric air compressors tend to need less maintenance and upkeep. Gasoline-powered compressors tend to be larger and heavier. However, some job sites may not have electricity, and a gasoline-powered air compressor is the only option.
The larger the tank, the expectation is that the air compressor itself will not have to work as hard to keep up with demand and that you can use more tools. This is partially true. Tools that use a higher CFM of compressed air will benefit from a larger tank to buffer the air pump from the rise and fall in demand that most air tools create.
Airflow is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) and determines how many tools you can safely run from your portable air compressor. You should know the CFM requirements of your tools and plan your air compressor purchase so that you have adequate airflow for your tools with a bit of extra margin.
Oil-free or oil flooded
Portable compressors offer two options in the way the air pumps are lubricated. Most of the smaller portable air compressors are now considered oil-free. These compressors are engineered to use special alloys of metal in the cylinder and special sealing piston rings made of Teflon or carbon fiber that doesn’t require any kind of liquid lubricant.
Oil-flooded compressors use a lubricating oil that helps cool the air pump as well as make the moving parts slide easily together without damage or excessive wear.
Making the Decision
With an understanding of how to choose a good air compressor for your needs, we hope that this article helps you find the portable air compressor that is a fit for your situation. In the end, starting the process armed with the best information gives you a head-start on the decision-making process.