Best Portable Air Compressors of 2017
Having worked in an auto-body shop for over a decade, I have been privy to handling some of the meanest air compressors that money can buy. Most of these were heavy-duty stationary units that worked round the clock and powered multiple tools at the same time.
But there were portable ones too, which made a quick appearance for a task that demanded portability and disappeared under the confines of storage when not in use. That experience proved to be invaluable when I set up my own shingle a few years later.
So much so, that I have become the go-to compressor guide for friends and customers who would like to grease their elbows every now and then.
After doling out information in informal tête-à-tête, I decided that it would be easier to create a blog post that lists out my recommendations for the best portable air compressor.
Considering that the term ‘best portable air compressor’ may be subjective, I have picked not one but five models that I believe to be the best mélange of form, function and value-for-money. Irrespective of whether you are looking to inflate tires or power pneumatic tools, you can easily pick one of these compressors and get started with your work.
#1 – Porter-Cable C2002 Pan Cake Compressor
I will start my list with the most versatile one among them all, the C2002 from Porter-Cable. This is a super-compact pancake compressor that is perfect for most home repair tasks as well as basic automotive work.
For those who are unaware, a pancake compressor is a portable unit with a built-in tank that typically ranges from 1-2 gallons in capacity. The C2002 however, has a 6 gallon tank which makes it ideal for time and power exhaustive tasks too.
Be it inflation, framing, etching, using brad nailers or even using blowguns, the C2002 will surprise you with its efficiency.
The pancake design with the four rubber feet allows easy operation on uneven terrains as well. The construction is top notch. It is largely made of stainless with the vital components duly covered by a roll cage. It weighs a pleasant 30 lbs which is not featherweight but is not overly heavy either. The integrated handle lets you lift it up for easy transport.
Powering the Porter-Cable C2002 is a 120V low amp motor which lets you use it with any standard household electrical outlet.
The compressor output is a very useful 2.6 CFM @ 90 PSI, which also speeds up the recovery time if the pressure drops. However, the max PSI is 150, which allows the tank to hold more air as compared to a 100 PSI max pressure tank.
Usage and maintenance
Usage is extremely easy thanks to the two factory-installed air couplers which allow you and your buddy to work simultaneously. The package includes a 25 feet long hose which can be invaluable if you do not want to lift the entire unit. You can easily position this in your garage and inflate the tires on your car outside. An integrated pressure gauge and regulator allows you to customize the pressure and set it to your desired levels. Also, this is an oil-free compressor which prevents the need for cumbersome maintenance. The only maintenance that it needs is the timely draining of the tank which is made simple by a water drain valve.
What I like about it
- Sturdy and durable unit
- Weighs only 30 pounds
- Integrated handle for carrying
- 150 PSI Max Pressure
- 6 gallon capacity
- 25 feet hose
- 4 Rubber feet
- Oil-Free compressor for low maintenance
- 120V motor
#2 – Campbell Hausfeld Air Compressor
The Campbell Hausfeld FP2094 is a great choice for the budget minded shoppers looking to pinch their pennies but unwilling to compromise on performance.
This is a portable air compressor with a hotdog styled or horizontal tank that has a 3 gallon capacity and maxes out at 110 PSI which is just perfect for most DIY tasks.
The Campbell Hausfeld FP2094 is rated at 0.36 CFM at 90 PSI. That’s not much power, but at the price point, it is more than what you can expect. More importantly, it is more power than what you’d typically need for household tasks. The compressor can be used for tire inflation, nail guns, upholstery tasks as well as air brushes. If you put it to more labor intensive tasks like running a few nailers for roofing, expect it to gasp for air.
Being a hotdog styled design, it is not as easy to move around as a pancake unit. But it weighs just 21 lbs and there’s an integrated carrying handle that allows you to pick it up and move it around easily. When operating on uneven turf, the four rubber feet keep it rock steady. If you hate compressors that start to dance when functional, you will love the stability that it offers.
It is powered by an electrical motor that runs on any standard 110V electrical power outlet. An integrated 25 feet long recoil hose makes it easy to keep move it around the garage/home for your tasks.
The 0.36 CFM at 90 PSI is sufficient for most household tools. The max PSI however, is 110. Also, another thing that must be mentioned is that the compressor reaches 80-90 PSI in excellent time but slows down after that to reach the max. You may want to keep this in mind just to ensure that you have enough time before it kicks in for a refill.
Usage and Maintenance
Being an oil-free compressor, the Campbell Hausfeld FP2094 is super low on maintenance. Apart from draining the tank, you wont be spending too much time on the upkeep. It is easy to transport and the included 10-item accessory kit makes it easy to use this in different applications around home and work. Some of the items in the kit include a blow gun, two inflation needles, one female coupler, two male plugs, an air chuck, one adapter for inflation, tapered inflation nozzle and PTFE tape. Also, being a hotdog styled tank, the pressure gauges are located perfectly to allow easy reading.
What I like about it
- Priced under $80
- 3 gallon capacity
- 110 PSI max
- .036 CFM at 90 PSI
- Ideal for a variety of household tools
- Oil-free pump for low maintenance
- Integrated handle for easy carrying
#3 – Bostitch BTFP02012 6 Gallon 150 PSI Compressor
With a 6 gallon tank and 150 PSI max pressure, there is very little to choose between the Bostitch BTFP02012 and the #1 pick in this list, the Porter-Cable C2002. In fact, the only notable difference that I could find is that this does not include a hose in the packaging. And of course, you’d have brand preferences. Some prefer a Porter-Cable while others wouldn’t budge beyond Bostitch.
Personal preferences apart, both of these are high quality portable units that are worthy contenders for the best portable air compressor in the market currently.
The Bostitch BTFP02012 boasts of a bunch of features and enough power that makes it ideal for use in a small professional set up. It can easily be used for powering staplers, spray guns, pinners, framing nailers (in some circumstances) and brad and finish nailers. Not to mention the usual applications like airing up tires.
I love pancake styled compressors. They are easier to move around than a hotdog styled unit any day. The BTFP02012 has a reasonably compact sized tank that has a diameter of approximately 14 inches. It weighs approximately 33 pounds which is 3 pounds heavier as compared to the C2002. But thanks to the immaculately positioned top handle, lifting and carrying this is a breeze. Think of it like lifting up a large sized toolbox. Like most pancake styled models, it has four rubber feet to prevent it from wobbling or to assist while using on uneven surfaces.
It features a standard 110V compressor that draws approximately 11 amps to operate. You can easily run this on a standard 15 amp circuit without the risk of tripping the breakers. However, this applies when you plug this directly into a power outlet. If you plan on using an extension, which I believe you will, ensure that it is at least a 12 gauge one and not more than 50 feet in length.
The Bostitch BTFP02012 is rated to deliver 2.6 SCFM of air at 90 PSI which is more than sufficient for most power tools that I have mentioned earlier. It powers up quickly (in less than 3 minutes) to reach the maximum PSI and has a reasonably fast recovery time in case it kicks off.
Usage and maintenance
Like most oil-free pump compressors, the Bostitch BTFP02012 is extremely easy to use and maintain. It has a conveniently located power switch; positioned right on top of the unit and a set of large gauges which make it easy to read the pressure even from a distance. Draining the condensation is a breeze due to the drain valve on the bottom of the tank. However, the size of the nut is quite small and you may find it a tad difficult to turn, especially if you are wearing gloves. Also present on the unit is a cord wrap. The only let down that I find is the ridiculously short cord. It is only 5 feet in length and unless you position the compressor in one place and rarely move it, you will definitely need an extension.
What I like about it
- Compact, pancake styled unit
- 6 Gallon tank capacity
- Max Pressure 150 PSI
- 33 lbs weight and 14 inch tank diameter
- 2.6 SCFM of air at 90 PSI
- Powers up in less than 3 minutes
- Works on a 15 amp circuit
- Drain valve for easy drainage
#4 – DEWALT DWFP55126 165 PSI Pancake Compressor
The list and my recommendations for the best portable air compressor are almost complete and I figured that it was time for one of my favorite portable compressors, the Dewalt DWFP55126. This is a pocket-sized powerhouse that boasts of a 6 gallon tank and maxes out at 165 PSI. That means that it delivers more air for a longer time frame as compared to any other model in this list.
But that’s not the only reason why it features in this list with the best air compressor reviews. It is a beast of a unit that is compact but powerful enough to tackle most of the household as well as small-shop tasks that you throw at it.
Like I said at the start of the post, I have mainly picked air compressors that can be handy around home powering pneumatic tools. But some of these units, like this one, boast of extended capabilities that make it more than handy in a small-shop set up. The Dewalt DWFP55126 can tide through brad nailers, spray guns, 18/23 gauge nailers and air up your tires with ease.
It weighs a very handy 30 lbs and has a large padded handle on top of the unit which makes it a breeze to carry around home or your work site. The construction is excellent as one would expect from Dewalt. The casing is mostly steel and most of the components are protected by a polyethylene casing. Rubberized feet on the bottom keep it stable during operation even if the surface isn’t the smoothest.
The DWFP55126 is powered by a standard 120V electrical motor that requires 10 amps to run. It works easily on a normal household 15 amp circuit along with any other tools that you may be operating on it.
The Dewalt DWFP55126 has a maximum PSI of 165 with a rating for 2.6 SCFM* delivered at 90 PSI for quick recovery. With most household tools requiring between 2-3 CFM, it delivers enough power for a sufficient time period to power your tools without too many interruptions. If you are looking for continual flow of air, then you may find this lacking though. Also, heavy duty tools like grinders and power-intensive sprayers are a tad too much for this.
Usage and Maintenance
The oil-free high efficiency motor hums to a start without any hiccups even in low temperatures. The DWFP55126 also has dual industrial couplers that allow you to use two tools at a time. However, if you are using nailers or other heavy tools, then you may find the performance dipping in a very short time. So, if you wish to use both the hoses, then at best use it for inflating tires faster. The high flow regulator ensures that you get the most out of the compressor every time. An easy ball valve makes it easy to drain too.
What I like about it
- Compact size with 6 gallon tank
- 165 max PSI
- 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI
- Can use two tools at the same time
- Oil-Free pump
- Starts easily even at low temperatures
- High flow regulator
- Easy drainage
#5 – California Air Tools 5510SE Air Compressor
My final pick in this list of air compressors, is the 5510SE from California Air Tools. Like all the other models in their range of air compressors, this one is silent as a mouse (60 dB only) and if you intend to use this inside your house, you’ll love the whisper-soft operation.
To top it off, it boasts of a 5.5 gallon tank, a wheeled design that makes it easier to transport as compared to lifting by hand and a very efficient performance that pits it against much higher priced and hyped models.
The Air Tools 5510SE is perfect for using with power tools like nail finishers, staplers, framing guns and spray guns. Other than this, it will air up your tires in the blink of an eye and you can also use it for minor automotive tasks (cleaning)
Most people are put off by the slightly bulky appearance of the 5510SE. It has a hotdog styled design with a cylindrical tank and weighs a bulky 44 pounds. But when you tilt it using the two handles and use the wheels, you’d hardly notice the weight. In fact, it is easier to move about than most of the pancake models in this list. The construction is mainly stainless steel and it is this added durability that increases the weight. I’d happily take that tradeoff any day. When you rest it straight on the ground, the rubber feet allow stable positioning.
It is powered by an 110V electrical motor that requires just 8.5 amps to power up and fill the tank. The power up time is extremely fast at just under 2 minutes. If you were bothered about tripping the breakers, then this one is perfect for you.
The CAT 5510SE has been rated at 2.20 CFM at 90 PSI and 3.10 CFM at 40 PSI which is excellent for household use. It has a max pressure of 120 PSI and it takes just 50 seconds to recover from 90 to 120 PSI. Also, it is designed for an extended duty cycle which allows you to run it for a longer duration before it kicks in.
Usage and Maintenance
The California Air Tools 5510SE is an oil-free machine that has a dual-piston pump at its core. Being a non-metallic pump, this offers excellent resistance to abrasion and corrosion, thereby prolonging the lifespan of the compressor. Unlike most other compressors at this price point which boast of a 500 or 600 hour lifecycle, the 5510SE has a whopping 3000 hour lifespan. Also integrated into it, is a thermal overload protector. However, the 5510SE does not include a water separator like some of its brethren. That is only a minor let down and certainly, not a deal breaker.
What I like about it
- Super silent operation at just 60 lbs.
- 5.5 gallon stainless steel tank
- Wheel Kat design for easy transporting
- Dual Piston Pump for low maintenance
- 3000 hour lifecycle
- 2.20 CFM at 90 PSI
- 120 Max PSI
Buying the best air compressor
Despite all the tech talk, buying an air compressor need not be a decision that makes you rip out your hair in frustration. With some simple tips, you can avoid ending up with an expensive mistake and pick the best portable air compressor for yourself.
I have written a detailed buying guide that is a lot more comprehensive than this one that you can check out over here. But for now, let me quickly share some essential features to look out for while buying one of these.
The Intended use:
Some people pick up an air compressor for inflating tires after an off-roading trip and then wish to extend the use to running multiple roofing nailers. Doesn’t work that way. You’d need to be aware up front of what tools you will be powering with the compressor. This will allow you to pick one with the right CFM rating.
This is the number that you should always watch out for. It is way more important than the PSI or the HP. In fact, just plain ignore the HP rating. The CFM value determines the amount of air that the compressor will be able to deliver to the tool at a particular air pressure.
Along with the weight of the unit, also pay attention to the dimensions. Does it have one or more handles to allow you to move the unit? Or even better, does it have a wheel cart on the bottom?
Is it electrically powered or is it powered by gas?
These are the most important factors that can determine your purchase. However, these are by far not the only ones. Ensure that you read through my buying guide before making a purchase.