After twenty three total hours of testing, nine different models of recommended compressor, and a battery of tests ranging from simple to a bit absurd we’ve brought together five of the best air compressors around for those who are working around their home For our money, the DEWALT DWFP55126 was ahead of the rest by a large margin. It had great capacity, recharged quickly, and ran quietly enough that we didn’t need ear plugs around it.
For those who need a compressor for their home that won’t leave them wanting… the DeWalt DWFP55216 is a great option on every front.Buy Now
Table of Contents
How We Selected the Products
There are two main ways a compressor is used: single usage and continuous.
The former is for applications like air wrenches and nailers. The latter is primarily used for tools like sprayers, sanders, and grinders which are in operation for extended periods rather than releasing a single burst of air.
We decided to make sure that as many non-specialized uses as we could find were covered.
That meant any compressor had to meet the following requirements:
- At least 90-100 PSI
- 3 gallon or over capacity
- At least 2 CFM(with one exception)
We were able to discard anything which wasn’t up to those standards easily. While they are on the market, they’re generally used for smaller tasks like inflating balls and bike tires rather than being meant to power tools. If that’s what you’re looking for our resident cyclist swears by a cordless VonHaus model.
From there it was a matter of finding reputable brands, reading online reviews, and interrogating any framing or painting company who’d give us five minutes on the phone. We ended up with a list of nine models in the end, all of which were both recommended and had great reviews.
We excluded contractor-grade compressors for this guide. They’re simply too expensive to justify their purchase for DIY-usage and are often too heavy to be easily moved by the average person. Likewise, we excluded stationary compressors as most home applications require you to move your compressor as you go. While we may test some in the future, we can confidently recommend the Porter Cable PXCMLC3706056 for stationary use as we have access to one which is used to test pneumatic tools and hasn’t let us down yet.
How We Tested the Products
Armed with a framing nailer our first round of testing was simple. Drive nails until the compressor needed to recharge. Several heavily mutilated 2x4s later we were able to make a pretty good approximation of how well each compressor performed during single use applications.
Sustained operation of tools like sanders and spray guns requires a higher capacity in the first place. In this case we just tested to see how long we could run an orbital sander before the compressor stopped.
Pretty simple but all it really showed us was that these compressors were up to snuff. We’re not ones to judge, but we harbored some doubt that the usual use for a compressor was just to run a tool until it couldn’t.
To bring you the real results we had to approximate some real world conditions.
For further testing we also did the following:
- The compressors were brought up and down two flights of stairs to check their real-world portaility.
- Ease of use was tested by having someone who’d never run pneumatic tools hook things up with just the manual.
- To test durability we knocked them off a standard height workbench which is probably more force than a compressor should ever be exposed to.
- Recharge time from empty was measured by… well, emptying the tanks and letting them refill.
- Using a decibel meter we checked to see how loud the compressors were so that we knew if hearing protection was needed.
Four of the compressors were eliminated during this process. One broke during the durability test, one was far, far too loud to be acceptable considering the power output, and the other two just weren’t quite up to the standards of products we’ll recommend.
Our thoughts can be summed up as follows:
- The DEWALT DWFP55126 is the perfect general use compressor for the home. It’s not what you’re looking for when it comes to painting a whole home but it has enough capacity and power to make most tasks requiring pneumatic tools a snap.
- Slightly more expensive and more powerful, the Makita MAC700 is an excellent addition to the home for those who are planning on using their compressor regularly. It provides enough power for most DIY tasks.
- The California Air Tools 2010A was the quietest of the compressors we tested. It seemed a little bit underpowered but we think it’d work great for those who aren’t planning on heavy use.
- The DEWALT DCC2560T1 is a great cordless compressor but we found it lacking for sustained usage. The versatility makes up for it in our eyes, since a plugged in compressor is normally fine for painting and sanding applications.
- Finally, the Bostitch BTFP02012 was the cheapest compressor we could find which made it through our testing and lived up to our standards.
Top 5 Air Compressors
|1. DEWALT DWFP55126||2.6||6 gallons||Check Price|
|2. Makita MAC700||3.3||2.6 gallons||Check Price|
|3. DEWALT DCC2560T1||1.2||2.5 gallons||Check Price|
|4. California Air Tools 2010A||2.2||2.2 gallons||Check Price|
|5. Bostitch BTFP02012||2.6||6 gallons||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Home Air Compressor
Of all of the compressors we’d recommend for home use, the DeWalt DWFP55126 might just be the best. It has a high capacity and the CFM is high enough to run just about anything. On top of that, it’s quite affordable.
Our favorite part was that we were able to use it for sustained use longer than any of the others on our list.
The overall build quality was exactly what you’d expect from DeWalt. Absolutely, rock solid. It puts out a lot of CFM and with the pancake style tank we found it to run for much longer than expected during testing.
It’s also pretty quick to regenerate, especially considering it lacks some of the horsepower of the next on our list. And, while it’s not cheap, it’s definitely a great cost for value ratio.
Under testing, the DEWALT DWFP55126 quickly proved a fast favorite and the versatility can’t be beat.
That said, you’ll also have to lug it around since this design doesn’t have wheels. The higher weight that comes with the large tank made this a little bit problematic during our stair testing but most people should be able to manage without any difficulties.
It’s also not particularly quiet, you’ll want to make sure you have some ear plugs around if you’re using it in a confined area. In the open air it’s still under the 85dB warning level that’s recommended by OSHA however.
- Excellent CFM rating
- Relatively quiet running
- Super high build-quality
- Versatile in use
- A bit hard to lug around
- Not suitable for prolonged, sustained usage
2. Upgrade Option for a Home Air Compressor
We’re not sure if the price difference here is justified, but the Makita MAC700 is a standout compressor for those who need something special for their workbench or garage. It’s the monster motor, sitting at 2.0 HP that’s the biggest draw here.
Simply put, despite the seemingly small hotdog style tank, which only holds 2.2 gallons of air, the larger motor actually leaves the MAC700 quite capable of working sustained projects… at least for intermittent usage. You may not spray paint a whole room in one go without having to stop, but you’d be surprised.
That said, it’s still not great for high CFM applications like running a sander or spray gun. We’re sorry, but a household compressor just… it’s not going to cut it if you were planning on spraying a car in a reasonable amount of time or finishing huge woodworking projects with pneumatic tools.
The build-quality is as-good or better than the DeWalt that ended up being our favorite and we found it to be quite portable.
But… well, we’ll leave it to you to decide based on the difference in price points.
If you want a powerful, home compressor that you’ll be able to take pretty much anywhere, the MAC700 is a great option. Just be aware it’s a bit expensive and it’ll be up to you if it’s worth it or not in the end.
- Very powerful motor
- Best for burst applications of those tested
- High build-quality
- Quite portable
- Small tank limits use in some cases
- Rather expensive for a small upgrade
3. Best Wireless Compressor
First things first: this DeWalt compressor was designed for a very specific use. That explains the low CFM at 90PSI, this is primarily a tool for framing and finishing nailers but we found it performed well enough we’d recommend it for home use.
The coolest thing was the fact that it’s work off the 60V Flex batteries that power quite a few of DeWalt’s high end tools. If you already have one of these batteries around you’re impressed anyways but the fact they can keep a compressor powered through most of a day’s nailing is pretty impressive.
The cons are, of course, that battery power limits the CFM output of this compressor and render it unsuitable for quite a few tools. If you’re primarily looking to power nailers, however, it’s an excellent option.
It’s also rather expensive.
For a professional carpenter this DeWalt wireless compressor might just be a dream come true. For everyone else… weigh the lower power and higher cost carefully but it can still be a godsend around the home by freeing you from cords.
- Powered by batteries
- Rather quiet
- Designed specifically for nailers
- Easily portable, even considering the lack of cords
- Underpowered compared to our other picks
4. Quietest Home Compressor
California Air Tools 2010A
While a bit underpowered and on the higher end of the price scale, the 2010A was just the right size for most home tasks and with a running decibel level of 60 is also the only one of these compressors that might let you work for extended periods without hearing protection.
It’s also well-built for the most part. While online reviews pointed to some quality control issues that tends to happen with any kind of machinery, even our top pick had a few people claiming the factory messed something up.
Other than that, it’s really a bog-standard compressor of its size. Meaning that, if treated well, it should last for decades. All of California Air Tools compressors are rather quiet, it’s their entire claim to fame and they live up to it.
It’s not something you want for sustained usage of the compressor, however. Take a look at the bigger 8.0 gallon 8010 model if you really need to go big while indoors. We still feel this is a better option for most home use, however.
For indoors, this compressor performs admirably when compared to our top picks. It still wasn’t our favorite as we felt it was occasionally underpowered during testing.
- Well-built compressor
- Extremely quiet, comparatively
- Very portable
- Oil-free pump to reduce maintenance
- A bit underpowered
- Rather expensive
5. Best Budget Air Compressor
While the BTFP02012 was our budget pick, it was only barely edged out by our favorite DeWalt in this case. It performs near the same specifications, but it’s louder and doesn’t have that same “solid” feel to it.
Don’t get us wrong, Bostitch is definitely on top of their compressor game. The 6.0 gallon capacity is perfect for an in-the-shop home compressor and it was still easily portable despite lacking wheels. It really only has any issues in comparison.
It’s designed well for both job-site and home usage and if you’re just running nailers in the field it’s definitely our go to.
The main problems we had were that the regulator seemed to fluctuate on occasion and the pressure gauge tends to move a bit even when the compressor isn’t in use. It’s minor, but we can’t recommend it for things like spraying like we would the DeWalt.
Like all of our top picks, it’s oil-free. This reduces the maintenance involved with the compressor quite a bit. With these compressors available these days, it’s kind of hard to recommend anything else.
For those who don’t mind putting up with a few quirks, this Bostitch compressor is an excellent, cheap way to get into pneumatic tools. It wouldn’t be our first suggestion for a replacement, but we had some truly great compressors to compare it to as well.
- Budget priced
- Compact pancake design
- Easy to move around
- Powerful for the price
- Regulator is slightly inconsistent.
- Lower build quality than our top picks
Who Needs an Air Compressor?
If you’ve never worked with pneumatic tools then you’re in for a treat. Pneumatics have remained a staple in professional settings since their inception… and for good reason.
The advantages are pretty easy to sum up:
- Tools are cheaper for the same quality
- Lighter than electric tools
- Air compressors can be found which are powered by gasoline
- The tools are simpler, requiring less maintenance
- Safety from electrical hazards
- They produce less heat
The main disadvantage?
Well, you need an air compressor or your tool is just an expensive paperweight.
Making sure you have an air compressor in the garage or workshop can open a whole new world of tools. Yes you can purchase most pneumatic tools in an electric model and unlike yesteryear some of the electric tools are on par with pneumatic tools when it comes to power output.
But they’re also much more expensive and require more maintenance since they have their own motors. Pneumatic tools are also much more lightweight, making them easier to use throughout a workday for professionals.
What to Look for in an Air Compressor
Compressors are a tricky subject, and figuring out what works for your needs can be a difficult process.
The first thing you’ll need to consider is your usage. The needs of someone who wants to paint a car and someone who’s fixing a fence are going to be spread out by a wide margin.
For most people sustained usage for hours at a time isn’t on the menu. If it is for you, then you’ll need to make sure that you go with a high capacity compressor with enough PSI to keep you going with minimal interruptions.
Understanding Compressor Capacity
Compressor tank volume is just how big your tank is. While it’s often used as a big selling point, it’s not really all it’s cracked up to be. A slow, weak compressor can be hooked up to a tank the size of a 747 but it’ll take forever to pressurize the tank.
Instead, the important rating is cubic feet per minute or CFM. This determines how much air your compressor can handle at maximum capacity. Higher CFM means a faster charge on the tank and a greater overall capacity than a tank of higher size.
Think of the volume of your tank as a kind of buffer for when you’re exceeding the CFM of the compressor. Once you reach a low enough pressure there will be a cut off and the compressor will need to recharge the tank until it can deliver adequate power.
We’ll go over what’s needed for most applications in a moment, but for now we also need to understand power.
The power of a compressor is measured in PSI. With too low of PSI you won’t be able to operate a pneumatic tool at all, so it’s important to check the ratings on your tools before you commit to a purchase.
For most applications 90-100 PSI is perfect. Since we’re talking about a compressor for around the home there really aren’t that many reasons to go much higher. Those who are working with blow molding plastic or wanting to fill paintball tanks will need a more powerful compressor.
The important thing is to make sure that you’re able to get your tools powered.
Most air compressors use oil for lubrication. Inevitably a trace amount of oil will get into the air line in any compressor which isn’t oil-free.
That’s… really no big deal for the majority of home applications. Where this becomes a problem is when you’re painting since oil will cause spotting as the paint is sprayed down.
If you’re planning on painting with your compressor it’s a good idea to find an oil free model. If you don’t see it in the future, however, you can save money by using a traditionally lubricated compressor since they’re generally cheaper if you’re within the same power range.
If you’ve never run a compressor, you’re going to be surprised at how loud even the quiet models are.
But here’s the thing: you need ear protection if you’re above 80dB. Chronic exposure isn’t just irritating, it can lead to hearing damage and tinnitus. While theoretically the damage doesn’t begin for a few hours, it’s still uncomfortable.
Make sure to invest in some ear protection if you’re using a compressor.
Air compressors take a lot of wear and tear, we recommend keeping the paperwork for the warranty around. Limited warranties are commonly available with air compressors but comprehensive coverage is something to consider if it’s available for the tool you’re buying.
It’s not a requirement, but the extra peace of mind afforded by a good warranty is nice.
Some Extra Considerations
Now that we know the technical specifications that we’re working with, it’s important to make sure that you’re able to run the tools that you’re using. Almost any compressor will supply the 90-100 PSI required to power the average pneumatic tool.
Where things get a little bit tricky is the CFM rating. In order to keep a constant flow of air to your tool, you need to exceed the CFM usage. This is especially important for jobs like spraying paint, where time can be critical and you may not be able to allow the tank to recharge before you need to act.
For the most part at least 2 CFM is needed for running nailers and at least 3 CFM is required for most other household tools. For professional use you may end up needing 10 CFM or more which none of our picks lived up to, you’ll almost always need a stationary, extremely expensive air compressor to achieve that kind of airflow.
Here’s the key: to keep your tools running you want 125%-150% of the required CFM of the tool.
The problem with running too close to your tool’s capacity, say 100%-110% is that air’s density varies greatly based on the ambient temperature. This will cause some level of variability in the actual compressed volume of the air intake of the compressor.
Altitude is also a factor, as air becomes less dense when you rise above sea level. Fortunately it’s relatively minor, so unless you’re living on top of the tallest mountain in your state and appropriately size your air compressor it shouldn’t be an issue.
Keep in mind that CFM ratings are always for intermittent usage, not for constantly pushing air through the tool. In most cases the rating will be for a 25% workload, meaning that the tool is only running a quarter of the time.
It seems like a bit of a cheat but we found that this is close to actual run time when using things like sprayers and sanders where the work needs to be checked frequently.
Maintaining Your Air Compressor
While tool maintenance is cut down by going pneumatic, you’ll still have to do some basic work on your air compressor. This will prolong it’s lifespan and make sure you don’t have any issues which can affect your tools down the road.
We avoided any compressor which required oiling. While it’s not that big of a deal, we felt that the easy availability of models which require no oil there’s really no point in going backwards. It’s greener and requires less work on your part, but instructions can be found in your manual if you insist.
That leaves us with just a two pieces of maintenance to perform as needed:
- Air Filters- You’ll want to check your air filter regularly and replace it whenever it begins to look like it’s clogging. A clogged filter will make your machine work harder to pull in air, so just open the manual for your model and look. It’s a simple process.
- Belts- If the motor begins to squeak, rattle, or make odd noises that don’t include a horrendous grinding the belt is your first stop. Try to keep a replacement on hand, but even the heaviest use won’t mean you need an entire drawer full of them.
Simple enough, right?
Air Compressor FAQ
Q: Will x compressor power x?
A: All of our compressors were able to power common tools like nailers, with the exception of the wireless DeWalt model. The real question boils down to how long. You’ll also need specialized compressors for tools like ½” air wrenches and other heavy pneumatic tools. These should all work for anything which isn’t industrial grade.
Q: How much CFM do I need for most tools?
A: In our testing, 2.0 CFM proved to be a good baseline but most home usage is for things like nailers and smaller air ratchets. Spray guns and sanders were also tested by us, but as a general rule Northern Tool has an excellent set of guidelines.
Q: What’s the difference between tank size and CFM in a compressor?
A: Your compressor’s tank holds air at the target PSI. Some extremely small compressors are available which pull directly from the air, but they’re not suitable for pneumatic tools. The tank acts as a buffer between the compressor’s cycle and your tool. The compressor will come on when under the set pressure.
Q: What is a two-stage air compressor?
A: Two-stage compressors put the air through two different tanks, compressing the air a second time. They’re usually big machines and they’re primarily used in commercial and industrial applications rather than around the home.
Q: Do compressors use a lot of electricity?
A: It depends on your usage. They don’t have much higher amperage draw than most power tools used around the home but they tend to run longer when used frequently. We don’t think it’s necessarily a concern for the average person but in industrial applications a compressor may end up using an enormous amount of power.
Q: Is there a better way to paint than pneumatics?
A: Spray painting is an extremely air intensive task. Getting anything done in a reasonable period of time requires a specialized compressor, none of ours ran a spray gun continuously for any real length of time. Electric operated spray guns are an option, or renting a compressor and spray gun, but the specialized compressors required can’t really be recommended for those who aren’t professionals.
Making sure you have the best air compressor for your needs is an excellent way to open up a whole new world of tools. It’s just a matter of making sure you get the right one.
For our money, the DEWALT DWFP55126 is a great option for those who are working at home. The air capacity, power, and long term durability are hard to beat and it’s portable enough you can get it wherever you’re headed.
Air compressors are a great investment for the home DIYer. It’s an upfront expense, but it opens up a world of cheaper, lighter, high-quality tools that you simply can’t use without one. Why not get started on your new tool collection today?