Last updated on February 20th, 2018 at 12:03 am
Wondering which is the best portable air compressor on the market? This air compressor reviews, guides, comparisons as well as recommendations will answer this burning question.
By the time you get to the end of this guide, you will be an air compressor guru. This article will arm you with the knowledge required to select the best portable air compressor suited to your needs and budget.
Before you decide to buy an air compressor, you have to know what is involved. You also have to understand how it works and factors to consider. Factors like job requirement, weight, air delivery rate, noise level etc. will play major parts in helping you decide the perfect air compressor for your needs.
So, we have put together this content for you. We will start by answering some basic questions and also arming you with the information you need to be confident in deciding. At the end of the review you will find a comparison table.
Are you in a hurry? If yes, use the table of content to go down the page. We would anyway advice you read this complete content.
So, let’s get going. Shall we!
What is an Air Compressor?
An air compressor is a machine that delivers pressurized air on demand. This machine is commonly used in homes, farms, construction sites, mechanic workshops, manufacturing plants etc. It can power tools like sanders, spray guns, drills, staplers, nail guns and many more.
Air compressors are by no means limited to just powering tools. They are also quite handy for inflating flat tires on vehicles and bicycles. You’ve probably seen or use one at a gas station.
How does an Air Compressor Work?
Air compressors function on a very straightforward principle. When you compress atmospheric air, its volume decreases while its pressure increases.
Air compressors have two basic parts that help achieve this goal:
- The power source which can be a gasoline powered engine or an electric motor
- The compression system which is usually an impeller, a vane or a piston (most common).
The compression system is where the atmospheric air is compressed. This reduces the volume of the air while increasing its pressure. The compression system is able to do this with the aid of energy from the power source.
Most air compressors have a tank where the compressed air is stored. This tank keeps the air within a pressure range that enables you use your compressor for more than one task.
Types of Portable Air Compressors
Air compressors can be classified according to the following:
- Power source (Gas vs Electric)
- Lubrication (oil vs oil-less)
- Compression system
This particular review and guide focuses on the compression system. The other two; power source and lubrication were also considered.
Now, let’s check out the three main compressor system types out there:
Types by Compressor System
Reciprocating air compressor
This can also be called a piston air compressor. This is the most common type available on the market right now. It works on the simple principle of “positive displacement.”
When the piston moves downwards in the cylinder, air enters the space vacated by the piston. This happens because of the difference between the normal atmospheric pressure and the pressure inside the cylinder. The air is compressed when the piston moves back upwards. This is what happens in a single-stage compressor.
In a two-stage compressor, the same thing happens except with two pistons. In the first cylinder, the air is compressed to an intermediate pressure. In the second cylinder, air is cooled and further compressed.
The rocking piston air compressor is a variation of the piston air compressor. This type has a rod in addition to the usual piston. Air is compressed by the reciprocating action of the piston and rod.
Dynamic Air Compressor
This is also called a centrifugal air compressor. This type of compressor increases air pressure by increasing velocity of air molecules. It works on the principle of dynamic compression.
Air molecules are sped up with the aid of an impeller. An average Impeller can rotate 60,000 times per minute. The air molecules are then slowed down with the aid of a diffuser.
Dynamic air compressors also have intercoolers. These remove the heat and moisture generated by the air molecules. Moisture can damage the motor.
Rotary Screw air compressor
Like the piston air compressor, this type is based on the positive displacement principle. In this compressor, there are two paired helical screws inside a chamber. The rotation of the two screws increases the pressure of the air inside the chamber while reducing its volume.
Rotary scroll air compressor is a variation of this compressor. Compression of air takes place in a scroll. The scroll features one fixed and one rotating helical component. Their action compresses atmospheric air.
Rotary sliding vane air compressor is yet another variation of the rotary screw compressor. It is made up of a vane, stator and rotor. This type is slightly more complex than the rotary screw compressor but the general principle is the same.
Types by Power Systems – Gas vs Electric Portable Air Compressor
Air compressors can be classified according to their power source:
Gas Air Compressor
This compressor runs on gasoline. Pretty obvious given it’s called gas-powered air compressor. What exactly makes the gas compressor different from the electric variety?
The gas compressor does not require an electric connection. Hence, it is not constrained by the absence of an electric extension in remote locations. Fill up your tank and you’re good to go.
Gas compressors come with a pilot uploader valve. This opens and closes depending on the pressure inside the tank. Because of this design, gas compressors can work continuously unlike their electric counterparts. This makes the gas compressor perfect for heavy duty work that requires continuous air pressure.
One drawback of the gas compressor is that it cannot be used indoors. The noise level and toxic fumes produced by the exhaust make the gas compressor outdoor only equipment. Also, there is the safety issue with the very flammable gasoline.
Another drawback is bulkiness. Gas compressors are usually heavy and not easy to move around. Some brands add wheels to aid mobility and circumvent this problem.
Electric Air Compressor
Electric air compressors are powered by electricity. They are more common than the gas variety. They are also generally easier to use, smaller and lighter than the gas compressor.
Electric compressors have an automatic switch. This switch stops the motor when the pressure inside the tank reaches its maximum limit. It also starts the motor when the pressure drops below its minimum point. The automatic switch also shuts down the compressor when no power tools are connected to it.
The only drawback of the electric compressor is that it can’t function without an electric power source. This makes them unsuitable in remote locations where an electrical power isn’t readily available. The electric compressor is really suitable for trimming, finishing as well as indoor repairs.
This is all there is to the Gas vs Electric air compressor debate. Hopefully this information will help you make a suitable choice. Please keep this in mind as your decision would probably come to this.
Types by Lubrication Method
Based on the type of lubrication required, air compressors can be divided into:
Oil-less air compressor
As the name implies, this type of compressor does not require a lubricant to work. They already have permanently oiled bearings. The oil-less air compressor is very convenient to use.
Oil-less air compressor requires little to no maintenance. They are not affected by cold weather or rough terrain. They are suitable for indoor repairs, trimming and finishing in woodworking for example. Only drawback is that this type of compressor tends to overheat.
Oil-lubricated Air compressor
Oil lubricated air compressors require a lubricant. This compressor has an oil bath which lubricates the bearings and walls of the cylinder. The air and oil inside the cylinder are separated by piston rings.
There are two types of oil air compressors. The Splash oil-lubricated compressor features a dipper in addition to the oil bath. This dipper goes into the oil bath and splashes oil onto the bearings to reduce friction.
Pressure pump oil-lubricated compressor has an oil pump. This lubricates all essential parts of the compressor. It uses a crankshaft to make this possible.
The oil-lubricated compressors do not wear out as much as the oil-less variety. They also do not overheat. They are best suited for heavy duty work.
Portable Air Compressor Tank Styles
We bet you’re wondering why this is important. It would be obvious in a little bit. This is because compressed air is stored in your compressor’s tank.
Tank style affects the portability and capacity of your air compressor. The tank style will help you in deciding which air compressor is suitable for you:
Pancake air compressors: These are the smallest and lightest of all compressors. They are very portable. Their tank usually contains 1-6 gallons.
Pancake air compressors do not require lubrication. Maintenance on this compressor is a breeze. They generally perform small to medium tasks such as inflating tires.
Hot Dog air compressors: These are the big brothers to the pancake compressors above. They have a larger tank. Hot dog compressors tend to be a bit on the heavy side.
Although a little too noisy, hot dog compressors require no maintenance. This type of compressor is the go-to tool for many DIY enthusiasts. It powers air tools like staple guns, paint guns etc.
Twin-stack air compressors: These are just like the hot dog compressors. Only difference is that they have two tanks stacked above each other. This configuration means this compressor has a very large capacity.
Twin-stack compressors are heavier than the two varieties above. Manufacturers attach several accessories to make them more portable. These compressors power tools used in trims and finishes such as brad guns.
Pontoon air compressors: Like the name implies, these compressors look like the pontoon boat. Pontoon compressors are essentially the same as twin-stack compressors. Only difference is that their tanks are arranged horizontally.
Wheelbarrow air compressors: These compressors are a variation of the pontoon compressors. They have their tanks arranged horizontally along the length of the compressor. Just like a wheelbarrow.
Wheelbarrow compressors are suitable for heavy duty work. This is because they have very powerful motors. They can be used in rough terrains as their structure prevents mechanical damage.
Stationary vs Portable Air Compressor
When it comes to air compressors, the term “portable” refers to an air compressor that is light enough to be carried from place to place. Compressors that have wheels built in for easy mobility are also termed portable. This type of compressor is the perfect type for DIY enthusiasts, carpenters, painters, handymen and even small time contractors.
Stationary compressors are designed to be well, stationary. They are usually heavy and have more tank capacity. Mechanic workshops, big time contractors usually opt for this type of compressor.
Popular Air Compressor Brands
The hard part is almost over. Which brand should you buy out of the many available? We’ve put together a short list of the most popular brands in the market:
- Ingersoll Rand
- California Air Tools
- Campbell Hausfield etc.
The brands above have many years’ experience manufacturing quality air compressors. Most of them also produce a wide range of power tools. Some products from these brands have been tested and reviewed by us below.
Before we jump into the review proper, you cannot afford to choose an air compressor without considering some of these factors below.
Choosing the Best Portable Air Compressor – What You Should Know
Job Requirement: The tasks you’d be using your compressor for matters a lot. If you’re into DIY home improvements, it would be foolhardy to buy an industrial grade compressor. Likewise if you run a workshop, a compressor suitable for hobbyists won’t cut it.
Air Flow rate: This refers to how fast a compressor can supply air. Air flow is usually measured in Cubic-Feet-per-Metre (CFM). Because every manufacture tests their compressors at 90PSI (pounds per square inch), it is easier to compare the CFM values of many different compressors.
Check out the CFM requirements of tools you plan to use with your compressor and buy a compressor with a higher CFM.
Portability: The portability of an air compressor isn’t affected by just its weight. Shape and design play important roles as well. Slimmer models are easier to carry around than wider models of the same weight.
Tank Capacity: This is also important. A big tank holds more air. This enables you work for a longer time before the motor kicks in to refill the tank. Tank capacity is affected by the style of compressor you pick.
Noise level: The noise level of a compressor is one thing you should also consider. Sound is usually measured in decibels (dB). The lower the decibel rating of your compressor, the quieter it will be. For example, a compressor rated at 60dB will be quieter than one rated at 70.
Durability: A compressor isn’t a tool that you should change every few months. Air compressors are made to last. Brands with features like drain valves, thermal overload protection etc. tend to last longer.
Drain valves remove moisture that may damage the compressor. Heat protection also goes a long way in ensuring your compressor is durable.
Five Best Portable Air Compressors Reviews 2018
To save you time on reading thousands of reviews, we have tested 10 products. We present our top 5 best portable air compressors below:
1, Makita MAC700 Portable Air Compressor Reviews
The Makita MAC700 makes it on the number one spot on our list. This compressor is one we consider a jack of all trades. Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or a professional, this is one air compressor you will love.
This compressor delivers a maximum pressure of 130 PSI. This is the same as 3.3 CFM at 90 PSI and 3.8 CFM at 40 PSI. No wonder the Makita MAC700 can power a trim/upholstery stapler, blow gun, small plasma cutter, a brad gun and even a small impact wrench.
With a horsepower of 2, the Makita MAC700 is one powerful compressor. Its hot dog tank design has a capacity of 2.6 gallon. It also comes with a 1/4″ universal coupler.
The Makita brand boasts of the advantages of its big bore engineered pump cylinder on this model. We were pleasantly surprised to see they were right. The noise level on the Makita MAC700 is very low at 80dB.
This compressor is oil-lubricated. It comes with a conveniently located oil drain for easy maintenance. The oil sight glass on the Makita MAC700 is a big plus in our book.
The Makita MAC700 features a tank drain valve. It also has a finned discharge tube that works hard to keep this compressor cool. We love that we can use this compressor indoors since it is electric powered.
As much as we love the overall function of the Makita MAC700, portability is a big issue. Weighing 52 lbs, this compressor is on the heavy side. The lack of wheels means you always to carry it to move it around.
Regardless of its slight portability problem, the Makita MAC700 is one compressor everyone will love. Whether you’re a handyman or a hobbyist, this compressor is one that you will enjoy using.
2, Porter-Cable C2002-WK Portable Air Compressor Review
The Porter-Cable C2002-WK comes in second place on our list. This compressor is a hobbyist and home repair enthusiast dream tool. Don’t believe it? Check out what we found out.
The maximum PSI on the Porter-Cable C2002-WK is 150. This compressor delivers air at the rate of 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI. The Porter-Cable C2002-WK handles home repairs issues like nailing, spray painting, inflation etc. with ease.
The Porter-Cable C2002-WK has a pancake tank design. Its tank has a capacity of 6 gallons. This compressor is electric powered and works amazingly well for 0.8horsepower.
This pancake style C2002-WK is oil-less. This means it requires very little maintenance. Weighing in at 34 lbs, this is one of the lightest compressors we tested.
Why exactly do we love the Porter-Cable C2002-WK? It comes with an air coupler and a plug already installed on the air hose. Talk about saving you some installation stress.
The 13 piece accessory kit that comes with this compressor is not to be sneezed at. The Porter-Cable C2002-WK also has a tank drain valve to remove moisture that could damage your compressor. The rubber feet on the C2002-WK save your floors from scratches when you use it indoors.
Although the Porter-Cable C2002-WK is an amazing compressor, we had some issues with it. The noise level for one is enough to wake the dead. The rubber feet on the legs of the compressor stops it from vibrating too much but doesn’t prevent it from making you feel like the earth is quaking.
Other than this, the Porter-Cable C2002-WK is an excellent compressor for home repairs. Any DIY enthusiast and hobbyist will be foolish to pass up this air compressor.
3, Bostitch BTFP02012 Portable Air Compressor Review
On the number 3 spot is the Bostitch BTFP02012. This is another amazing tool for DIY enthusiasts and hobbyists. This is what we found out testing this compressor.
Bostitch BTFP02012 delivers a maximum pressure of 150 PSI. Its air flow rate is 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI. This compressor powers brad guns, nail guns and inflates tires, air mattresses etc.
This air compressor has a 6 gallon pancake style tank. It requires electricity to work. With one horsepower rating, the Bostitch BTFP02012 is suitable for most home repair tasks.
Weighing just 29lbs, the Bostitch BTFP02012 is very portable and compact. This compressor is oil-less. That means little maintenance which is a huge bonus.
The Bostitch BTFP02012 comes with rubber feet. This protects your floor from scratches when used indoors. It takes this bad boy 1 minute to get to maximum pressure.
One of the many great features of the Bostitch BTFP02012 is the dual outlet. This means you can work with two air tools simultaneously like we did. And the regulator on this compressor is pretty amazing. At 78.5 dB, the noise level is quite low for a compressor.
Our only problem with this air compressor is the fact that it does NOT come with an air hose. Also, we wish the power cord was longer. Other than that, the Bostitch BTFP02012 passes with flying colours in our book.
4, ARB CKMP12 Portable Air Compressor Review
The ARB CKMP12 is the fourth portable compressor on our review list. If you’re one who is always going off the beaten track, then this compressor will be your constant companion.
The ARB CKMP12 maxes out at 150 PSI. Its air flow rate is 2.65 CFM at 90 PSI. This compressor is great for inflating tires, camping gear, air lockers and even powering impact wrenches.
This compressor is the only gas powered one on our list. Weighing just 16 lbs, the ARB CKMP12 is the lightest compressor we’ve reviewed. The best part about compressor is that fact that it can be mounted in your vehicle. No need to carry it even though it’s super light.
Another thing we love about this compressor is that it comes with a NPT quick connect air coupler already installed. Anything that saves us extra stress is good in our books. It also comes with a pretty accurate gauge.
The braided hose it comes with is definitely another plus. There is also a filler adapter which clips to the air valve. This frees up your hands. Amazing right?
Of course there are some slight issues with the ARB CKMP12; we would be doing our jobs well if we didn’t throw enough tests at this to see its limits. After working with compressor for a while, we noticed it started to overheat.
Also, we had to attach a tank we bought ourselves to this compressor. Who doesn’t hate spending extra?
The ARB CKMP12 is a great compressor despite all this. If you’re an outdoor aficionado or just need a compressor for airing your tires and inflating your tires, this compressor is one you’d be hard pressed to pass up.
5, California CAT-6310 Portable Air Compressor Review
Last but by no means is the least the California CAT-6310. This is another jack of all trades compressor. This is another tool professional and hobbyists will both love.
This compressor delivers a maximum PSI of 120. That is the same as 2.35 CFM at 90 PSI and 3.80 CFM at 40 PSI. Powering an upholstery stapler, blow gun, brad gun and even a small impact wrench is no problem for the California CAT-6310.
The California CAT-6310 is one powerful compressor with a peak horsepower of 2 and normal 1 horsepower. It comes with a 6.3 gallon tank. And is low maintenance thanks to its oil-free design.
This is the quietest compressor we’ve tested. At 60 dB, it is quieter than a regular conversation between two people. The low AMP draw of this electric powered compressor is another plus.
A drain valve and a thermal overload mechanism are other features we love on the California CAT-6310. The CAT-6310 is the only dual piston pump on our list. It compresses air fast, 2 minutes to fill the entire tank.
The California CAT-6310 weighs 49 lbs which is a little too heavy in our book. It makes up for this with wheels and rubber feet. You just lift and wheel it around with the handle.
Although we loved testing out this compressor, we noticed a few things. The break in smell can be a bit alarming if you’re not used to working with compressors. Also the handle for wheeling the compressor around could be longer.
The California CAT-6310 is one air compressor we’d recommend to all DIYers, handymen and other professionals out there. It’s a dream tool that anyone would be smart to buy.
Best Portable Air Compressor Comparison Table
A comparison table for you, summarizing the features and helping you compare the top air compressor we reviewed
|Porter-Cable C2002-WK||Bostitch BTFP02012||California CAT-6310||ARB CKMP12||Makita MAC700|
|CFM at 90 PSI||2.6||2.6||2.35||2.65||3.3|
|Tank Size (gallon)||6||6||6.3||–||2.6|
|Noise Level (dB)||82||78.5||60||97||80|
Still undecided on which air compressor to buy!
Let’s make it easy for you:
Looking for the best portable air compressor for air tools, the Makita MAC700 is the compressor for you.
If you’re looking for the best portable air compressor for car tires, air lockers and inflation of camping gear; then the ARB CKMP12 is the compressor for you.
If you’re a DIYer or a hobbyist looking for the best portable air compressor for home use, check out the Porter-Cable C2002-WK.
If you’re living in an apartment complex and need the most quiet air compressor, the California CAT-6310 has got you covered.
That’s all for our 5 best portable air compressors. If you’ve gotten to the end of this review, then you’re completely ready to buy a portable air compressor.
If you still have questions, leave us a comment and we’d get back to you.