Choosing the best shop air compressor will depend on the type of shop you have. In this detailed buyers guide, we will attempt to identify the best air compressors for shop operations.
In certain cases, we will even recommend a specific model for a specific shop. However, it is important to note that at the end of the day the decision must be based on the individual needs of the shop.
How Do Shop Air Compressors Work?
How do they work? Well, beauty is in their efficient simplicity. An air compressor doesn’t require a bulky motor, rather it utilizes a small one to power the compressor.
This compressor can convert your electrical energy into powerful kinetic energy which you can direct to the task at hand.
So, how do you go about selecting the right one? There are a number of traits that you will want to look for depending on what you will be needing your air compressor to do.
In this article, we will discuss the best air compressor for your workshop.
What Is The Best Shop Air Compressor?
This depends on your shop. For Tires, a 6 gallon lower CRM tank should be fine and the Bostich will do wonderfully unless you’ve got a very busy shop, in which case we’d go with California Air Tools as your best mix of mobility and power.
For Woodshop, a smaller shop can get away with a 10 or 20 gallon 5-6 CRM model, we would recommend the California Air Tools model, a larger shop should consider a 15+ CRM and 60-80 gallon tank to keep those sanders online.
The Quincy or the Industrial Air is perfect. For auto painting and machine shops, always go with the higher end and higher capacity tanks, such as the Quincy or the Industrial Air.
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.
5 Best Shop Air Compressors
|Product name||Best Feature|
|California Air Tools 10020C||Quietest model|
|NorthStar Single-Stage Portable||Best Mid-range|
|Quincy QT-54||The most powerful|
|Industrial Air ILA4708065||Highest tank capacity|
1. California Air Tools 20040DC – Garage Air Compressor With Air Drying System
The California Air Tools 20040DC air compressor carries a powerful oil-less pump of 4HP capacity, and it makes a noise level of 75 decibels. The low RPM (1680 RPM) coming from the motors not only enhances the quiet performance but also reduces vibration and creates minimal wear and tear.
The two motors (each 2HP) can run for 3,000 hours before requiring attention. The unit has an air-drying system for water vapor removal.
There are no wheels on the product, so it would suit a fixed position in the garage. Although not as quiet as most users would wish, the California Air Tools 20040DC was liked for its sturdy construction and consistent performance.
Users also loved the affordable price compared to competing brands.
- Powerful motor
- Low maintenance
- Up to 3,000 hours before servicing
- Some units can be louder than quoted by the manufacturer
- Ultra Quiet only 75 Decibels
- Oil-Free Pump for Less Maintenance & Costs
- Powerful 4.0 Hp
2. Industrial Air ILA4708065 – Single Stage Cast Iron Air Compressor
The Industrial Air ILA4708065 is our last entry in our favorites. This model is one of the best shop air compressor models with an 80 gallon capacity and it’s also one, if not the best shop air compressor models you can find at under $1000.
So how does this deliver? First, the ILA4708065 offers a max PSI pressure at 155.
At 90 PSI you get a 14 CFM rating for your tools. Factor in the giant tank and you’ve all the time you need with your air tools.
How Quiet is It
Sound-wise, this model delivers the power with the same footprint as the Quincy at 80 decibels. You can run it for a long time but with this and the Quincy models you might want to do a little soundproofing. Just as a kindness.
Is it Portable?
Portability-wise, this model weighs in at 540 pounds, so unless you are the Hulk you won’t be moving it around anywhere. This is more of an industrial grade model fit for use with a very active shop.
That said, if you are looking for shop air compressor systems with a lot of tank capacity then this model is a great fit.
- Largest tank
- Excellent CFM
- A higher CFM would be good but overall this is an excellent compressor.
- High air flow, single stage – 14 CFM at 90 PSI
- 155 PSI max pressure for optimum tool performance
- Integrated control panel includes tank and working pressure gauges, air flow regulator, two quick connect air outlets, and pressure relief valve
3. Quincy QT-54 ,2V41C60VC – Best Air Compressor For Tire Shop
Now we are getting into the industrial-grade equipment range. The Quincy QT-54 has a whopping 60-gallon tank, so it’s possible that you might quit for the day before it does.
This juggernaut has a great CFM rating of 15.2 at its highest PSI of 175. At the lower PSI of 100 you will get a CFM of 15.4!
This is a lot of compressor and it has a 5 horsepower rating to back that up. So, will the neighbor’s neighbors hear it?
While it packs a lot of power it is also efficiently designed, producing a rating of 80 decibels like the smaller NorthStar listing.
Not Mobile At All
As far as your portability, this one is a no-go. Weighing in at 475 pounds, this is a stationary model, designed for bigger jobs that you are running in-house.
That said, this is one of the best air compressors for shop use. If we had to choose one, this is the best air compressor for the money.
- Highest CFM
- Great horsepower
- Excellent running time
- Cost factor
- Industrial-duty US-made Baldor motor
- Capacitor start motor with built-in thermal overload
- Less than 5 PPM oil carry-over (blow-by) rating
4. California Air Tools 10020C – Ultra Quiet Shop Air Compressor
Our second entry is the California Air Tools 10020C. We like this model both for convenience and relative silence.
At 70 decibels and a 10 gallon capacity, you are getting almost double the tank capacity of the Bostich and a volume level that your neighbors and family will appreciate.
So, how does it perform? Well, the 10020C has a dual performance rating, producing 6.40 CFM at 40 PSI or you can use it at a 5.30 CFM at 90 PSI.
It also has a maximum PSI of 125 if you need it. This gives you a choice range so that you can select the level of power versus energy efficiency as-needed. This model sports a 2.0 Horsepower rating.
As far as your portability, it weighs in at about 83 pounds but this unit comes with a handle and wheels so you can easily get this where you need it to go. As it is electric, you’ll only be limited by the length of the extension cord.
- Great CFM for the price
- Quiet performance
- Smaller tanks mean more refill downtime
- Ultra Quiet, only 70 Decibels
- Oil-Free Pump for Less Maintenance & Costs
- Powerful 2.0 Hp with Low amp draw - 7.0 Amps
5. NorthStar Single-Stage Portable Electric Air Compressor – 2 HP, 20-Gallon Vertical, 5.0 CFM
NorthStar provides a strong offering for medium-to-large level workloads with their Single-stage portable model. With a 20 gallon tank, you will get a lot more runtime and less hassle waiting for the motor to refill than you would with a smaller model.
Weighing in at 205 pounds, this model is a bit more heavy-duty, but it’s got durable, ‘flat-free’ tires and a ball bearing mechanism in place so you should have little problem getting it where you need when you have to go mobile.
Let’s talk power. The NorthStar delivers a CFM of 6 at 40PSI and a 5 at 90PSI, with a maximum 135 PSI capacity so it should meet the requirements for a large number of your tools.
It has a horsepower rating of 2.0 like the 10020C. Last but certainly not least, with an 80 decibel rating it’s louder than our previous 2 models but that is the trade-off when you simply need more a workshop air compressor power and running time.
- Durable construction
- Good running time
- We’d like more CFM at this weight but it’s manageable.
- 2 HP 115V/230V 15/7.5 Amp dual voltage induction motor
- 2-cylinder cast iron single-stage pump
- Delivers 5.0 CFM @ 90 PSI; 6.0 CFM @ 40 PSI
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 that 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 if 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 the 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does The Dryer Do in My Shop Air Compressor?
The dryer cools the air circulated within the compressor so that the moisture is removed, compressor efficiency, and dry air.
Where can I get more details regarding my shop compressor’s airline system design?
If a concise, white-paper type analysis on any of these products is required for purchase approval with a commercial shop then we recommend that you contact the vendor directly.
Last update on 2020-10-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API