Last updated on November 26th, 2021 at 12:17 pm
One of the most important piece of machinery in an auto body shop is the air compressor machine. It’s that important because it’s the source of power for most of the tools used in the workshop, such as sanders, grinders, sand blasters, air hammers, impact wrenches and so on.
Apart from auto body technicians and mechanics, craftsmen like woodworkers use air compressors for powering pneumatic tools like framing nailers, and even home owners use it to fill up tires and other inflatables around the home.
Because it’s a very important machine, it’s also very important to choose the right one for your project, because there’s no one size fits all when it comes to machinery like this.
Choosing a new air compressor can be quite challenging because there’re many options out there and there’re many factors to consider such as the tank size, pressure requirements, air flow rate, power source and even noise.
That is why this article has been prepared to put everything plain and simple, so that you can make the right choice.
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How To Choose The Right Air Compressor For Your Projects
Like I mentioned earlier, choosing a suitable air compressor unit is not very simple. There are many types and sizes out there with different specifications and from different brands.
They’re even named with the names of food like the hotdog and pancake air compressor. You hear that for the first time, and you might be a little bit confused.
Also, there are a lot of terms associated with them you need to take note of before buying, like CFM, SCFM, PSI and some others which I don’t need to mention.
You also have to deal with the choice of an oil-free vs an oiled-lubricated compressor. However, you need not worry because we’ll be taking you through everything you need to know before making your choice.
So here’s what you need to consider, and the questions you need to answer before getting one.
What are you using it for?
To choose the best air compressor that will fit your needs, you have to be honest with yourself and answer the question. What am I going to use the air compressor for and how often will I be using it?
Answering this question correctly and honestly will help you avoid speculation, and aid you to know exactly what you need.
There are two type of air compressor users. Those that need it to just fill up tires, football and some other stuff around the home and will only be using it occasionally, and those that will be using it frequently to power air tools or pneumatic tools in their garage or in the jobsite.
If you’re in the first group, then you don’t need a large compressor. What you need is a small pancake or a small hotdog unit.
On the other hand, if you need an air compressor to power pneumatic tools like impact wrenches, die grinders or even a sandblaster, then you need a larger unit with a bigger tank that has the ability to store more air and produce more CFM continuously. CFM stands for Cubic Feet Per Minute. In literal terms, it stands for the volume of air a compressor can produce per minute.
Air tools or pneumatic tools consume a lot of air, so you need a bigger unit with a bigger pump, a bigger motor and a bigger tank to store the compressed air. How large you go depends on the particular tools you’ll be running and the CFM requirements of the tools.
So, the rule of thumb is check the CFM of all the tools you’ll be running with the air compressor. Add them all up, and add 30 percent to the number you get. That will tell you the CFM of the air compressor you need to buy.
If you have a car shop or a garage for working on cars, one thing I know for sure is that there’s no limit to the size of compressor you’ll need. Go for as large as your money can buy.
Good tools normally pay for themselves quickly as time goes by.
Once you know the size of compressor you need, the second issue you need to be concerned about is the power or electricity requirements.
Air compressors don’t work themselves. Some make use of gas, but most make use of electricity. You need to plug your compressor to a power outlet for it to work.
The standard voltage in the power outlets in your home or garage will most likely be 120 Volts. That is the kind of voltage that powers single stage units with 30 gallon or less storage tank.
If you will be using your air compressor frequently, you may want to call a certified electrician to create a dedicated 120 volts power outlet for it in your workshop.
It is not advisable to run it with the same electric circuit as the one you are using in your home.
Most units larger than 30 gallons can only be powered with 240V electricity. So when shopping for a compressor, make sure to check the power ratings so you know what you’re getting and be prepared on how to power it.
Air compressors make lots of noise, especially oil-free single stage units. Hence if you going to get one, you need to also consider how to muffle the noise so that you don’t disturb your neighbors with it.
You might also consider shopping for an oiled unit instead of an oil-free one. Oiled compressors makes less noise when compared to an oil-free units.
Try to also consider the space in your garage where you’ll store it. Larger compressors make more noise, so make sure you have enough space in your garage so that the noise can be muffled a bit.
Depending on the kind of application or the kind of project you want to undertake, you might a very portable unit.
Your project might demand that you move it from one place to the other. Example includes when you are using it on a job site for framing a building, or installing trim moldings in different rooms in a building.
You don’t need a very big unit for these kind of applications, you need a portable air compressor. Generally, it’s portable if it got wheels on it.
A 20 or 30 gallon unit that got wheels on it like the Industrial Air IL1682066.MN and the DeWalt DXCMPA1982054 are very portable options you can go for. They have wheels and pneumatic tires on them. Hence, they are ideal for jobsite use, because you can easily move them from one part of the jobsite to the other.
The larger an air compressor is, the less portable it becomes. So, if you are going for a very large unit like a 60 or 80 gallon unit, then you have to give up on portability. Those are usually bolted to the ground and are best for workshop use.
Smaller ones like 3, 6, or 10 gallon compressors are very portable, because they’ve got handles on them that will allow you to take them wherever you want.
With that out of the way, here are the best air compressors we reviewed in 2021.
1. Stealth SAQ-12018 20 Gallon Oil-Free Air Compressor
The Stealth SAQ-12018 features a 20 gallon vertical stand hotdog tank with rubber reinforced wheels for easy mobility.
It takes just 1 minute and 10 seconds to recharge or refill the 20 gallon tank of the Stealth SAQ-12018 air compressor from empty to full, which really reduces downtime and ensures continuity of your work.
Equipped with a 1.8 horsepower high quality induction motor powering an oil-free dual piston pump, you get a high performance machine that produces compressed air on demand.
The dual piston pump used here is relatively quiet compared to other units, producing a working noise of just 68 decibels.
It produces air at a maximum pressure of 150 PSI, and air volume of 6 CFM at 40 PSI and 5 CFM at 90 PSI, allowing users to power air tools such as nail guns, grinders, impact wrenches, sanders, hammer drill and so on.
Whether you’re using it in a warm or cold environment, it will start up every time, even when the voltage is low.
2. Dewalt DCC2560T1 60V Max Flexvolt Cordless 2.5 Gallon Air Compressor
If you want an air compressor you can use to fill your tires and even power tools like nailers anywhere you want without worrying about electricity to power the machine, then you should get one like this Dewalt DCC2560T1.
It’s a cordless air compressor unit powered by Dewalt’s 60V Flexvolt battery. The 60V flexvolt battery powers a super-efficient brushless motor and a heavy duty oil-free pump which compresses the air and makes it available in a 2.5 gallon pancake tank.
The Dewalt DCC2560T1 produces up to 1.2 SCFM of air volume at 90 PSI and produces a maximum pressure of 135 PSI, which makes it very versatile for a whole range of applications.
Even though it’s cordless, the Flexvolt battery gives a long run time per charge, in fact when powering a pneumatic nailer, can be used to fire up to 1220 nails per a single charge.
The whole unit weighs just 21.5 lbs and has a rubberized handle which makes it very portable and convenient to carry with just one hand to wherever you need to work with it.
With just 79 decibels of noise produced, it’s a machine you can use both indoors and outdoors without it producing too much noise. Of course, you should always wear ear protection when operating machines like this.
3. Porter Cable PXCMF220VW 20 Gallon Air Compressor
Producing up to 5 CFM @ 40 PSI and 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI, the Porter Cable model PXCMF220VW air compressor has all the capacity you need to handle most of the projects you’ll handle in your shop or on the jobsite.
Projects such as loosening tight-fitting lug nuts with pneumatic impact wrenches, powering pneumatic sanders, filling car tires and even operating framing nailers are comfortably within the capacity of this air compressor unit.
It comes equipped with a V-twin cast iron pump with an easy to maintain 1.5 HP oil-free induction motor that starts easily even on low voltages, even though it’s rated at 120 Volts, allowing easy and convenient operations.
The tank size is 20 gallons, which is not the largest you can go for, but it’s definitely not the smallest as well, and will definitely keep up with moderate air demand tasks in the workshop or on the jobsite.
There are no belts or pulley systems in the setup which means fewer parts to replace and maintain in the long run.
Noise produced is 84 decibels which is not too loud, and it comes equipped with two 7 inch semi-pneumatic wheels for easy mobility and 2 rubber feet to keep it stable during operation.
4. Milwaukee 2840-20 M18 Fuel 2 Gallon Air Compressor
A 2 gallon air compressor might not mean much in terms of size, but if you’re a professional carpenter or home remodeler who needs it to power simple air tools like nailers and maybe feeling of car tires, then this Milwaukee model 2840-20 might just be your best bet.
The coolest thing about it is that it’s cordless, powered by Milwaukee’s M18 REDLITHIUM batteries. This will allow you to use it even without access to power outlets as long as the battery is charged.
It also means if you already use Milwaukee’s M18 batteries, you can use the same batteries to power this unit, hence you don’t have to buy spare batteries.
With the Milwaukee 2840-20, a fully charged M18 battery gives enough runtime to fire up to 1600 nails before it runs down.
Given its small and compact size, you’d expect it to run quietly more than the bigger ones, which it does, producing just 68 decibels of noise.
The small low profile design also makes it very easy to store when not in use and makes it very portable to transport on, around and off the jobsite.
5. Craftsman CMXECXA0331042 10 Gallon Air Compressor
If you want a suitable and reliable 10 gallon air compressor you can use to operate pneumatic tools like nailers, simple diy paint sprayer, chisels, air hammers and so on, then you should definitely check out this Craftsman model CMXECXA0331042.
It comes equipped with a powerful 1.8 Horsepower induction motor coupled with an efficient and durable pump to fill up the 10 gallon tank.
The tank fills up from zero to full in just 3 minutes, reducing downtime and thus speeding up your work.
It produces a maximum pressure of 150 PSI and a flow rate of 4.0 cfm at 90 PSI, making it suitable for a variety of pneumatic tools.
Equipped with 2 quick connect couplers, two tools can be connected at the same time, allowing up to two people to use it simultaneously or prevent you from having to remove and replace tools constantly.
There are 2 sensitive gauges that measures the tank pressure and the tool pressure at the same time. And talking about the tank pressure, there’s a built-in safe valve that leaks out air once the maximum pressure has been attained, thus preventing you from overfilling the tank.
For easy mobility, the Craftsman CMXECXA0331042 comes equipped with two 8 inch no-flat tires and an upright handle to help move it through rough jobsite terrain, and also a rubber feet to keep it standing and stable during operation.
6. WEN 2202T 20 Gallon Oil-Lubricated Air Compressor
If you don’t want to spend much on an air compressor but you still need one with a pretty big size tank like 20 gallon, then this WEN 2202T might just be what you’re looking for.
The WEN 2202T is a very budget-friendly air compressor compared with other ones I’ve seen that even have smaller tanks.
Although it’s an oil-lubricated unit, which means you have to change the oil every ones in a while to keep it running properly. However, it also means less noise produced compared with the oil-free ones, because the oil lubrication really brings down friction and noise in the engine.
The 20 gallon tank is made of reinforced steel and allows up to a maximum pressure of 135 PSI, while it produces air flows at the rate of 5.0 CFM at 40 PSI and 3.8 CFM at 90 PSI.
It features a 15 amp induction motor and a single-stage oil-lubricated pump which works efficiently to fill up the tank with usage compressed air at high pressures.
To monitor the working pressure, the WEN 2202T comes equipped with 2 pressure gauges, one to monitor the internal pressure in the tank, while the other monitors and regulate the pressure of the air flowing out of it through the hose.
It features an onboard handle and 2 no-flat tires for easy handling and mobility.
The only downside of the WEN 2202T is that it only comes equipped with one ¼ inch NPT quick connect coupler to attach an air hose to. This means you can only work with one tool at a time. This is not really big deal to me though, considering the price at which it’s being sold.
7. Quincy QT-54 Splash Lubricated Reciprocating 60 Gallon Air Compressor
The US made Quincy QT-54 is one of the most reliable and well-built 60 gallon air compressor I have reviewed.
It comes equipped with a single phase motor coupled with a 2 stage cast iron belt drive pump which produces up to a maximum pressure of 175 PSI in the reinforced cast iron vertical tank.
The pump life is rated for 30,000 hours which is quite impressive, but I’m quite sure you can get it to last more than that depending on how well you use it.
The heavy-duty Baldor industrial motor is connected to a large blanced cast iron fly wheel which provides a smoother operation and better energy distribution.
With the Quincy QT-54, the air flow rate at 175 PSI is 15.2 while at 90 PSI is 15.4, which makes it the ideal air compressor you need for high air-hungry pneumatic tools used in auto workshops like impact wrenches, grinders, for paint sprayers and even sandblasters.
Obviously, this is a stationary machine that doesn’t come with tires or wheels. It has a 60 gallon tank which means it’s very heavy weighing up to 475 lbs. and needs to be bolted to the flow to keep it from travelling during operation.
The Quincy QT-54 is designed for efficiency, as it’s splash lubricated and runs at a lower RPM to ensure it runs cooler and at a reduced wear.
8. Makita MAC2400 4.2 Gallon Dual-Cylinder Air Compressor
Like the MAC700, the Makita MAC2400 is another Makita air compressor that comes equipped with a big bore pump, practically meant to make the recovery process quick when the tank losses pressure.
The Makita MAC2400 is oil lubricated and also runs at a lower RPM compared to similar sized units. The lower RPM coupled with the fact that it is oil lubricated and it’s made of durable cast iron reduces the wear and tear in the pump, ensuring that you get many years of service from the machine.
What I like about it
Where it can be improved
9. California Air Tools 8010
If you want to buy a really quiet air compressor, the California Air Tools 8010 is one of the first unit we’d recommend.
It’s an oil-free model, but it’s quieter than even some of the oil lubricated ones.
If you want to work in an area where noise is a huge issue, then you seriously consider getting this unit. The tank fills up quickly in less than 3 minutes and recovers quickly in less than 30 seconds when the pressure falls down during use.
What we like about it
Where it can be improved
10. Ingersoll Rand SS5 60 Gallon Single Stage Air Compressor
This is the Ingersoll Rand SS5. You need to bolt this on the ground because it’s a heavy duty 60 gallon single stage air compressor. It’s very heavy and can be quite unstable (travels) when switched on. So, get it bolted to the ground.
It’s a single stage air compressor, which means air compression is done in just one stroke, and tank fill up pretty quickly. You can start preparing all you air-demanding tools now, because it’s this machine can keep up.
What we like about it
Where it can be improved