5 Best Shop Air Compressors For The Money
The best shop air compressor will greatly depend on the type of shop you have. If you’re just using the compressor to fill tires, you would be fine with a smaller air tank with a lower CFM rating. If you have a busy shop where you do repairs or woodworking in, we would suggest something with a little more power to it.
It’s important to remember that each one of your air tools has a certain specification. If your air compressor doesn’t meet this specification, it won’t give you the performance you’re looking for. Most air tools will require a minimum of 4 CFM but can go over 30 CFM depending on what it is.
We highly suggest the Quincy QT-54 for any shop because of its high PSI and CFM rating. However, the NorthStar compressor has more CFM, but at the cost of PSI.
Below, we have 5 air compressors that we reviewed. Each one suits a certain application better than the others. We’ll go over their CFM and PSI rating, what they’re best for, and how they’re powered.
Best Shop Air Compressors
Our Top Picks
1. Quincy QT-54 – Best Overall
We chose the Quincy QT-54 as the best overall because of its fantastic performance, high CFM & PSI rating, and durability.
This was certainly our favorite air compressor for many reasons. First, we want to mention the high PSI rating of 175. It doesn’t take too long to fill either.
From 0-175, it took 4 minutes and 2 minutes from 95-175 PSI. We were quite impressed by how quick it was. The whopping 60-gallon tank stores all of this built-up air quite well. It has a 100% duty cycle, so it’ll stay running all of the time.
As far as airflow is concerned, we weren’t disappointed. This compressor put out 15.2 CFM @ 175 PSI and 15.4 CFM @ 100 PSI. It allowed us to use multiple tools such as sanders, nailers, air wrenches, and a plasma cutter with ease. We had no issue with the compressor losing power. This is all thanks to the beefy 5.0 HP motor and splash lubricated pump.
Since the compressor runs at a lower RPM, it keeps it cool. In addition to that, it has a finned tube intercooler for maximum cooling and increased valve life. The aluminum head also helps with the heat dissipation.
Since this is a splash lubricated compressor, it will require some maintenance on your part. However, if you replace the oil once every 2,000 hours, you ean easily get 30,000 hours of life out of it, maybe more.
Mounting the regulator and filter on the piping was simple and you will need 3 wires, two hot and one ground. This compressor would have been perfect if it has not been for the loud operation. It runs at 80 decibels, which is enough to need earplugs.
If you’re looking for something small for your garage, then we chose the Ingersoll Rand Garage Mate for you. It’s portable, affordable, and has a 100% duty cycle. It’s the ideal compressor for tire inflation, small pneumatic tool application, and more.
It may not have as high of a PSI rating as other compressors on the list, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t perform just as well. It has a maximum PSI of 135. It takes 3 minutes to fill from 0-135 PSI and just under a minute to fill from 70-135 PSI. All of this air is stored in the 20-gallon durable, portable tank.
This 2 HP compressor has a decent CFM rating of 5.5 CFM @ 90 PSI. It’s not the highest, but it does a good job with smaller tools. It can power a brad nailer, air chuck, small impact wrench, and other smaller pneumatic tools. It’s more suited for home use than it would be for anything else. We used it to inflate our RV tires. It was able to inflate 17” tires to 32 PSI in just about a minute per tire.
Upon our inspection of the unit, we observed the thermal overload motor protection and enclosed belt guard. There’s also a service valve, relief valve, pressure gauge, and side drain valve. All of which are easy to access. There’s also a convenient automatic start/stop pressure control with a manual on/off lever.
If we had to complain about anything, it would certainly be about the noise level. We measured it to be around 80 decibels.
What We Like
- Great for home use
- Powerful motor
- Continuous duty
- Lifespan of 15,000 hours or more
What We Don’t Like
- It’s loud
We enjoyed using the NorthStar Portable Gas-Powered air compressor. It’s a great 20-gallon air compressor with wheels for portability. It’s equipped with a Honda GX160 OHV engine with a low-oil shutdown for maximum convenience.
This compressor has a maximum running PSI of 130. It took 2 minutes to fill from 0-130 PSI and 30 seconds to fill from 65-130. This was exceptional when compared to other compressors in its class.
Furthermore, while the compressor is running, the low vibration technology keeps the unit running smoothly. In our opinion, this feature alone makes the compressor totally worth it.
When it came to using our pneumatic tools, we weren’t dissatisfied. The compressor is capable of producing 13.7 CFM @ 90 PSI and 14.7 CFM @ 40 PSI. It allowed us to run framing nailers, air hammers, air chucks, and impact wrenches. We even used two at the same time and the compressor was able to keep up with them.
As far as we’re concerned, this compressor is well-built. It runs at a lower RPM to keep the unit cool, has floating-type Swedish steel valves to deliver a longer valve life, a V-style cylinder for cooling, and an oversized flywheel for even cooler operation. If the oil gets low in the machine, the low-oil shutdown will kick in to avoid damage to the pump.
Unfortunately, even though it’s supposed to be 100% duty and never shut off, it gets way too hot to let it run for a long time. We suggest turning it off every 20-minutes or so. Can get this at northern tool.
What We Like
- Powerful motor
- Decent PSI rating
- Able to run multiple tools at once
- Splash lubricated
- 100% duty
What We Don’t Like
- It gets too hot when running constantly
If you’re looking for a small compressor that can inflate tires and run the occasional pneumatic tool, then check out the Puma Industries compressor. It’s a great little device that can be placed out of the way when not in use.
For such a small compressor, it sure does pack a punch. It offers 135 PSI with constant running operation. This is ideal for high-demand products, or at least as high demand as this compressor can withstand. Additionally, it only takes 2 minutes to fill from 0-135 and less than a minute to fill from 65-135 PSI.
Since the compressor is so small, holding only 1.5 gallons of air, we didn’t expect much of an airflow output. It supplied us with just 2.2 CFM @ 90 PSI and 3.0 CFM @ 40 PSI. There’s not much we can do with this machine aside from inflating tires and running light-demand pneumatic tools such as a small impact wrench. However, it did what it was supposed to do otherwise.
The compressor runs on just a 12-volt DC power plug, so it can be plugged in virtually anywhere. There’s a deep cooling fin to help keep the pump running cool and last longer. It doesn’t require oil, so there’s minimal maintenance on your part, which is something we like in an air compressor.
Unfortunately, this compressor is unusually loud and doesn’t quite hit the mark for multiple tool use.
What We Like
- It’s small and portable
- Doesn’t take up a lot of room
- Can be plugged in just about anywhere
- Quick fill and refill time
- Constant duty
What We Don’t Like
- Unusually loud
- Not for multi-tool use
Last up on our list is the INdustrial AIr Hi-Flo single-stage air compressor. We’ve always been fans of the Industrial Air brand because of its durability, reliability, and overall performance. WE can say with honesty that we weren’t disappointed with this model.
The Industrial Air ILA4708065 has a maximum PSI rating of 155 for optimal tool performance. It only took 4 minutes to fill from 0-155 and 2 minutes to fill from 75-155 PSI. It has a large 80-gallon ASME ait tank with integrated pressure gauges, an air flow regulator, quick connector outlets, and a pressure relief valve. There’s more air in this tank for longer run times as well.
When it came to our pneumatic tools, this compressor provided them with 14 CFM @ 90 PSI and 15 CFM @ 40 PSI. We easily operated a spray gun, air hammer, impact wrench, air ratchet, and a sandblaster. We even hooked up two of them at once and they didn’t suffer air withdrawal or fluctuations.
Since this is a splash lubricated compressor, it will require some maintenance. However, there’s an oil-level sight glass that allows you to keep track of how much oil is in there. You will have to change it every 2,000 hours or so. Our only dissatisfaction with the compressor was that the housing was leaking oil.
What We Like
- Ideal CFM for shop use
- Good PSI output
- Quiet operation
- Quick fill and refill time
What We Don’t Like
- The housing was leaking oil
Who Uses Shop Air Compressors? (By Shop Type)
When you are selecting the best compressor for your shop there are some attributes that you will need to focus on. Specifically, what do you intend to use it for? Some usage examples are as follows:
Tire shop or Rental Truck Service Shop
As portability is an asset in this case, a small compressor of 6 – 10 gallon capacity will typically meet your needs. Check the CFM requirements of the pneumatic tools which you will need to ensure the portable selection has the necessary power.
A 10 or 20 gallon compressor with a CFM of 5 or 6 will power most of your tools in a smaller shop. However, with a medium sized shop or larger, you have to consider a larger tank and more power.
Furthermore, you’ll need it for tools such as dual-action or orbital sanders. For medium, to large wood shops we recommend an 80-gallon air compressor with a 15+ CRM.
Auto Paint Shop
Considering that high volume paint sprayer is typically going to utilize a CRM of 12, you will want to ensure that this need is met.
In addition, you have a large volume tank (think 60 to 80 gallon) to avoid downtime and encourage maximum productivity.
Grinders, routers, Mills, lathes, and more… A machine shop needs power and volume so you want to go with a high CRM coupled with an 80-gallon industrial tank.
What Is A Good CFM For Shop Air Compressor?
Generally speaking, most air tools made to work with portable air compressors require around 5 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air 75 to 90 PSI (pounds per square inch). Bigger tools like grinders and pneumatic saws can require 10 CFM or more at over 100 PSI.
How Much Does A Shop Air Compressor Cost?
A decent air compressor for a home shop or garage costs anywhere between $600 and $1400. Professional automotive shops, on the other hand, need a little more power.
Most automotive shops use an air compressor that has at least a 10 gallon tank and can support pressures of at least 135 PSI. Those cost anywhere between $800 and $1,400 dollars.
Buyers Guide – What To Look For
When you are choosing an air compressor, an important factor is going to be the size of your tank.
In order to determine what size tank you will need you must first determine what you will be using the tank for. Larger tanks are optimal for when you will be needing steady air pressure for longer periods of time.
If you only require short bursts of air, such as for powering a nail gun, then a smaller tank will work just fine.
What you should keep in mind is that with a smaller tank you will have less time before you will run out of air, forcing the motor to kick in and refill the tank.
Two measurements that you will see associated with air compressors are your PSI rating and your CFM. PSI stands for ‘Pounds per square inch’ and CFM is ‘cubic feet per minute’.
So, what do these mean? PSI is your air pressure. This is important as this determines the power of the airflow and a higher PSI means that you will be able to store more air in the tank.
PSIG is another value associated with PSI, measuring the pressure difference between your tank and the air which is outside. The CFM, by contrast, is the flow rate of compressed air.
This is important because the CFM rating is going to determine the air compressors’ suitability for powering various tools. Make sure to check the CFM requirements for the air tools which you have at home to ensure that the compressor which you select will be up to the task!
Horsepower is basically the amount of work which your engine can do and how efficiently it can do it. You might be thinking of it in car terms, as a measurement of sheer power.
It is certainly a factor but it is not the be-all-end-all of selecting an air compressor.
That said, a 10-horsepower compressor is not going to be able to do the work of a 100-horsepower compressor. Ever.
So how do you decide the horsepower you need?
For air compressors, the 3 main values are going to be your CFM, your PSI, and the horsepower. Find out how much PSI is produced for the best results.
As an example, a horsepower rating of 5 or 10 can produce 100 PSIG (PSI vs. air pressure) with a rating of 15 when it comes to your CFM.
So a 5-horsepower rating would be more fuel or energy efficient if it fits your CFM requirements. As a general rule, most air compressors will produce around 4 CFM with a standard 100 PSIG per every ‘point’ of horsepower.
Your decibel rating is another important factor when deciding on the right air compressor. Air compressors can make a lot of noise.
Depending on your own sensibilities and those of your neighbors then this can be a deciding point when it comes to how often you will be using that air compressor.
Typically your modern air compressors are going to have a decibel rating that runs between 40db and 90 db. The lower the rating the better when it comes to selecting the best QUIET shop air compressor.
Look for an air compressor that specifically advertises as quiet whenever possible, as those which do not will typically produce 80-85db. Your neighbors and likely your family will want to have a few words with you!
Portability can be an important factor when deciding on the best air compressor for a small shop. For instance, if you want to use the air compressor for tires, the best selection for your shop is going to need to be portable.
Otherwise, you’ll need to roll your car into the workspace and that’s just not practical.
Air compressors can range in various sizes, from the small and flat ‘pancake’ compressor to the larger models which are going to be more stationary by necessity. This also relative to your air tank capacity.
So, how do you decide the needed size? A larger tank is going to be better for a solution that provides more continuous airflow.
Quick burst tools such as nail guns will not require this but if you have bigger jobs then you will want a more powerful air compressor and one that has the capacity to see the job through.