Portable Air Compressor

5 Best Portable Air Compressors for Your Home Shop and DIY Needs

When it comes to home renovations or vehicle repairs, air compressors can help make short work of difficult jobs. Whether you’re nailing up crown molding in your kitchen, rotating your tires in the driveway, or reupholstering an heirloom chair, having a compressor that you can move conveniently will save you time and energy.

The best portable air compressors will help you get the job done quickly while still being light enough to move from the garage to the house with ease. Whether it’s for DIY work or just inflating bike tires on the weekend, portable air compressors can make all the difference.

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Air Powered Tools

There are a lot of tools that can run on compressed air, some of which you might not even realize. It doesn’t matter if you’re a carpenter, mechanic, or a regular homeowner, having the ability to run these tools off of compressed air will make your job easier:

Fastening tools: Nail guns, staple guns, rivet guns, ratchets, impact drivers

Cutting tools: Grinders, cut off wheels, reciprocating saws, nippers, and metal shears

Finishing tools: Paint sprayers, buffers, sanders

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Portable Air Compressors – What to Know Before You Buy

If you’re in the market for a compressor but you aren’t sure which one that you need, we’re here to help. Let us point you in the right direction on a few things you should know about compressors before you run and grab one off of the shelf.

Size: While it may seem appealing to purchase a massive 80-gallon compressor, the truth is you probably don’t need one that big, and it may actually just become an inconvenience. Compressors that big are meant for heavy-duty shop use, not the portability you’ll need as a homeowner. Small “pancake” style compressors are a better fit for light-duty use around the house.

Durability: Not all portable compressors are created equal. You’ll want a high-quality compressor that will last for thousands of cycles. On a roofing job, for instance, you’ll be using a lot of air each time you shoot a nail. Your compressor will be running constantly to try to keep up with you. If your compressor isn’t built for that type of work, you’ll burn it out quickly.

PSI: If you’re not familiar with the term PSI, it stands for pounds per square inch, and it’s a unit of measurement that represents pressure. The best portable air compressors come with adjustable PSI ranges and they’re important for the proper operation of many tools. Overpressurizing certain tools can lead to failure or injury, while not enough pressure will keep the tool from working at all. Flexibility in regards to your pressure range is essential, and many models have regulators that can adjust the pressure for your particular needs.

Air Hose: Your compressor more than likely won’t come with a hose, so you need to know a little about air hoses too before you can be fully operational. There are several types of hose, but the most popular and economical types are either PVC or rubber. PVC is great as its lightweight and it’s less likely to damage anything as you drag it through your home, but it can be frustratingly stiff when cold. Rubber reacts well in all temperatures but it’s heavy and will mark up your walls and any moldings that it rubs against.

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Our Picks for the 5 Best Portable Air Compressors for Your Home Shop and DIY Needs

1. Best Overall Portable Air Compressor:  DEWALT 6 gal Pancake Air Compressor

2. Best Premium Portable Air Compressor: DEWALT FLEXVOLT 2.5 gal 60v Cordless Compressor

3. Best Value Portable Air Compressor: Campbell Hausfeld 3 gal Horizontal Air Compressor

4. Best Portable Air Compressor for DIYers: Bostitch 6 gal Pancake Air Compressor

5. Best Portable Air Compressor Kit: CRAFTSMAN 6 gal Pancake Air Compressor with 13 Piece Accessory Kit

 

1. Best Overall Portable Air Compressor:  DEWALT 6 gal Pancake Air CompressorDEWALT Pancake Air Compressor, 6 Gallon, 165 PSI (DWFP55126)

Our choice for the best overall portable air compressor comes from one of the most trusted brands in the tool industry: DEWALT. This 6-gallon pancake-style compressor has a maximum pressure of 165 psi, enough pressure and volume for nearly any tool. It also operates at 75.5 dBa, meaning it’s relatively quiet – a good thing for long, all-day use.

There are very few DEWALT tools that we don’t like, but we especially like this pancake compressor. Its professional quality, high maximum pressure, and its portability are our favorite parts of this model. This compressor only weighs 30 pounds, light enough for any DIYer to move around the job. The fact that it’s so quiet can’t be overlooked, as there’s nothing worse than yelling over a compressor all day.

There are a couple of things to be aware of, however. Some reviewers state that this model was delivered to them with several air leaks around where the tank and compressor connect. Some others have stated that their compressor head wasn’t connected to the tank at all. Some even popped off when they attempted to remove the compressor from the shipping box.

2. Best Premium Portable Air Compressor: DEWALT FLEXVOLT 2.5 gal 60v Cordless Compressor

DEWALT DCC2560T1 FLEXVOLT 60V MAX 2.5 Gallon Cordless Air Compressor Kit (Made In the USA)

DEWALT has long been the king of battery-powered tools, and this air compressor is no different. This 2.5-gallon air compressor runs on DEWALT’s FLEXVOLT system. FLEXVOLT is their proprietary system in which a compatible battery can be run at 60v or 20v, depending on the tool it’s attached to. This particular compressor runs at 135 psi and DEWALT claims it has the ability to drive over 1,220 brad nails on one charge.

The FLEXVOLT compressor is a really impressive piece of technology and as such, it deserves the win for the best premium compressor. This unit is the epitome of portable, not only for its lack of a cord but also because it only weighs 21 pounds. With a few batteries on hand, you can take this compressor anywhere and accomplish some pretty big jobs.

The main complaint that reviewers have had about this compressor appears to be related to its small tank. While using attachments that use constant air flow (blower attachments, impact guns, etc.), the compressor has a hard time keeping up with the amount of discharged air. If these are your intended uses, you might want to consider an option with a larger tank.

 

3. Best Value Portable Air Compressor: Campbell Hausfeld 3 gal Horizontal Air Compressor

Air Compressor, Portable, 3 Gallon Horizontal, Oilless, w/ 10 Piece Accessory Kit Including Air Hose & Inflation Gun (Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV)

For those among us that don’t require a heavy-duty tool and would like to save some hard-earned money, the Campbell-Hausfeld 3-gallon Horizontal Air Compressor is a tried and true option. It has a maximum air pressure of 110 psi and comes with a few extras like a coiled hose, quick-connect fittings, tire inflator, and blower attachment.

The thing that appeals to us the most about the Campbell-Hausfeld 3-gallon Horizontal Air Compressor is its price. For under $80, you get a perfectly serviceable, lightweight, and portable air compressor that’s good enough for most uses around the house. While it probably won’t power large framing nailers reliably, it will pop finish nails into trim work without any issues. It’ll also fill bike and vehicle tires, and can even be used with a paint sprayer.

There are some common complaints from reviewers with this particular machine. It tends to be more than a little loud. While most DIYers can deal with a little noise, this compressor is slow to build up pressure, so you’ll be listening to it for a while. If that’s a problem for you, you might want to consider a more expensive option.

 

4. Best Portable Air Compressor for DIYers: Bostitch 6 gal Pancake Air Compressor

BOSTITCH Pancake Air Compressor, Oil-Free, 6 Gallon, 150 PSI (BTFP02012)

The Bostitch name has been around for a long time, almost 125 years to be exact. During that time, they’ve been known as a reliable tool and machinery company that builds a quality

product. Their 6-gallon pancake air compressor continues that tradition. This model has a maximum pressure of 150 psi while also running at 78.5 dBa, meaning that you’re getting a powerful compressor with a quiet-running motor.

We would be proud to keep this compressor in our shop for DIY-use. We like that this simple, easy-to-use compressor is compact and light, weighing only 31 pounds. It also has dual-outlets, making it ideal if you need two types of nailers on the same project but don’t want to keep attaching and detaching them. This is another compressor with a noise-level we can easily tolerate. All this adds up to enough points to take our best portable air compressor for DIYers award.

 

5. Best Portable Air Compressor Kit: CRAFTSMAN 6 gal Pancake Air Compressor with 13 Piece Accessory Kit

CRAFTSMAN Air Compressor, 6 gallon, Pancake, Oil-Free with 13 Piece Accessory Kit (CMEC6150K)

Realistically, everyone has to start somewhere. You might not have all the tools your shop needs to start performing your own maintenance on your equipment or vehicles. This CRAFTSMAN 6 gallon Pancake Air Compressor comes with a kit of 13 accessories to help get you over that initial hurdle. It comes with items like a PVC hose, tire chuck, male and female connectors, a blower, and other tools to help you get started. It also has a maximum output of 150 psi, making it powerful enough for most of the pneumatic tools a homeowner or DIYer will use.

The accessories are nice, but this is just a good compressor. It has enough power to get the job done without being a large, cumbersome unit. It’s also relatively inexpensive when you consider the extras you’re getting with it. It’s perfect for a home shop and some renovation use.

There have been complaints of the accessories being low quality, and at this price point, we believe that. Also, a popular complaint is that these units simply don’t hold air as well as other compressors on our list, meaning it will leak down quickly when off or run more often when the switch is left on.

Our Thoughts

While all of these compressors are good tools, they have their strengths and shortcomings. Some are more powerful than others, while some will save you some money in the long run. We’ve taken all that into consideration as we compiled this list.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, the Campbell-Hausfeld will do the job. If it’s ultimate portability you need then DEWALT’s FLEXVOLT compressor simply cannot be beaten. Finally, if you just need a reliable compressor to get the job done without fail, the DEWALT 6 gallon pancake air compressor is the choice for you.

Air Compressor FAQs

Can I leave my air compressor on all the time?

You really shouldn’t. Unless you’re in a production situation like a full-time shop with 24-hour work, you should turn your compressor off when it’s not in use. Yes, waiting for a compressor to fill up can slow your workflow down a bit, but leaving it on will drastically reduce the compressor’s lifecycle. You’ll end up replacing it before you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of it.

Can I leave my compressor with pressurized air in the tank?

Leaving your compressor with air in the tank is not a big deal. Most tanks will bleed down over time through small leaks in the system, which is normal. Even if your tank doesn’t bleed down, it will be okay. The biggest issue is that compressed air often has quite a bit of moisture in it, possibly leading to corrosion in the tank. That being said, condensation can build up in an empty tank too so it’s actually unavoidable.

Do I need to drain moisture out of my tank? If so, how?

It’s definitely a good idea to blow moisture out of your tank if you can at least a handful of times a year. Some smaller units don’t have drain valves, but many of the better quality models do. There will be a petcock on the bottom of the tank that needs to be opened for water to drain out. If you add ten to fifteen pounds of pressure to the tank, you can speed the process up safely.

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