The Best Home Air Compressors for DIY Tools
Take on new projects with these top-rated home air compressors for inflating, fastening, spray-painting, and more.
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- BEST OVERALLCRAFTSMAN 6-Gallon Pancake Air CompressorCheck Latest Price
- RUNNER-UPPORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free Pancake Air CompressorCheck Latest Price
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCKCalifornia Air Tools CAT-1P1060S Air CompressorCheck Latest Price
An air compressor works by pulling air from the surrounding environment into its storage tank, compressing the air, and keeping it under pressure until the air is released through a pneumatic tool—like a nail gun or paint sprayer—in powerful bursts or a steady stream. They can range from small, portable models that are great for inflating sports equipment, bike tires, or car tires, to large, 60-gallon tanks for continuous air pressure for spray painting projects.
From the best overall to the best home air compressor for large projects, these are our top picks in their respective categories.
- BEST OVERALL: CRAFTSMAN Air Compressor-6 gallon
- RUNNER-UP: PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free Pancake Air Compressor
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S Air Compressor
- BEST FOR INFLATING: EPAUTO 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
- BEST FOR SPRAY-PAINTING: California Air Tools 10020C Air Compressor
- BEST FOR LARGE PROJECTS: Quincy QT-54 Lubricated Reciprocating Air Compressor
What to Look for When Buying a Home Air Compressor
Before buying a new air compressor, take a few minutes to educate yourself on a few of the essential features to consider and how your project or usage determines the type of air compressor you need.
Gas vs. Electric
There are two main types of air compressors: gas and electric.
- Gas-powered air compressors have many of the same benefits that most gas-powered tools have over their electric competitors. The additional power provided by burning gasoline allows these air compressors to be substantially larger and to have a higher horsepower (HP), pounds per square inch (PSI), and cubic feet per minute (CFM). While their bigger size makes them difficult to transport without wheels, gas-powered air compressors avoid being tethered to an electrical outlet, giving them mobility benefits over electric models.
- Electric-powered air compressors can use a cord to plug into an electrical outlet or use battery power. The electric-powered compressors are smaller and much more mobile, provided that a free electrical source, like a generator, is available. Electric compressors are significantly quieter than gas-powered air compressors, but their power output is lower as well. Fortunately, most electric air compressors are capable of meeting the HP, PSI, and CFM required for DIY tasks, such as fastening trim using a finish nailer.
Choosing between the two types is based on your usage requirements. Most houses have available electrical outlets and don’t need the heavy-duty power of a gas air compressor. However, professional framers and roofers benefit from the mobility and output of a gas-powered model.
Horsepower may seem like an odd measurement for an air compressor. Recent mainstream models have included one or two horsepower motors to keep up with the demands of continuous pneumatic tools, like paint sprayers or sanders. Some incredibly powerful air compressors have horsepower measurements well above 1- or 2-HP, sometimes more than doubling the power with up to 5- or 6-HP.
However, for many home projects, a high horsepower motor isn’t necessary. Most home air compressors only have a horsepower rating between 0.7-HP and 1-HP. This size of the motor is more than enough for nailing, drilling, ratcheting, and more. So unless you are looking for continuous output from your air compressor, a lower horsepower motor is adequate.
Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI)
Pounds per square inch, or PSI, measures the amount of pressure the air compressor is capable of exerting when the tank is fully charged. This measurement doesn’t come into play for most DIY projects, as the amount of PSI required is lower than the average maximum PSI of a low-end air compressor.
However, PSI is an excellent indication of the output capacity of the air compressor. For example, a small 2-gallon tank rated for 150-PSI can hold as much air as a 3-gallon tank at 100- PSI. So, the higher the maximum PSI rating on a unit, the more air the container can hold within the tank without increasing the size of the tank.
Air compressors that operate with a maximum PSI of between 90- to 150-PSI are the most common compressors available for DIY use. PSI maximums that exceed 150-PSI are intended for automotive repairs and industrial purposes. Air compressors that do not reach a max of 90- PSI will struggle when used with pneumatic tools, but they are perfect for inflating sports equipment, bicycle tires, and car tires.
Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM)
The most important consideration for an air compressor is the cubic feet per minute or CFM. This measurement indicates the quantity of air that a compressor can produce within one minute at a specific PSI (usually 90-PSI). If a tool uses air more quickly than the air compressor can supply it, you will need to take a break between nails, or while painting to allow the compressor to catch up.
Nailing or stapling doesn’t require a high CFM as the tank has time to refill between nails or staples. Spray painting or sanding requires continuous airflow, which means that the demand for a high CFM is much greater. If the compressor cannot provide enough air for these projects, you can opt for a larger tank to make up for some of the overlaps in supply and demand, or look at a higher CFM compressor.
Oil-Lubricated vs Oil-Free Pump
Air compressors used to require regular lubrication of the piston chambers in the pump until technology and consumer demand prompted manufacturers to create oil-free pumps.
- Oil-lubricated pumps are no longer commonly seen on home air compressors. Though, industrial air compressors may still use this style because the larger components require regular lubrication to continue working. Oil-lubricated air compressors tend to last longer than oil-free compressors since they are also given routine maintenance.
- Oil-free air compressors are not free of oil. This term refers to the fact that you will not need to purchase or use oil for this compressor. The piston chambers are pre-lubricated and sealed, allowing the pump to function generally without exposure to the air which reduces the lubricant’s viscosity. However, these versions do wear out before the oil-lubricated compressors, so if you plan to use your compressor every day, you should consider an oil-lubricated air compressor. Regular DIY projects shouldn’t put enough strain on the compressor for this shorter lifespan to make a significant difference.
The tank size determines the volume of air that is capable of being stored using a measure of gallons. Most home air compressors will have moderately-sized tanks between one to six gallons in size. These are great for completing all but the most demanding DIY tasks. Tools that require continuous air flow also benefit the most from having a large tank to handle the overlap between supply and demand.
For spray painting, sanding, or grinding, consider an air compressor with a 10- to 80-gallon tank so that the compressor doesn’t need to have the highest CFM to be able to provide consistent pressure through the pneumatic tool.
Before opting for a large tank size, consider what your uses will be for the air compressor. A one-time paint job shouldn’t require an 80-gallon tank purchase, but if you spray paint cars or use a pneumatic sander every day, then it may be a beneficial purchase.
Before purchasing, consider where you will use your air compressor. Will you set it up in a garage or workshop with a long, 50-foot hose, or will it ride around in the back of your vehicle for emergencies? Air compressors can be bulky and heavy with high horsepower for continuous use, or they can have a more portable design that you can carry from site to site or project to project. Units with smaller sizes will also have less power, so you will need to weigh portability needs against power requirements.
Manufacturers have been altering the shape to offset the weight of the air compressor, making them easier to maneuver. Large compressors can have two to four wheels attached to a metal frame, so they only need to be lifted into and out of a vehicle before being wheeled to the job site. Home air compressors have pancake, hotdog, and wheelbarrow shapes with carrying handles and travel-ready cords and hoses.
The most portable air compressors are used in vehicles for emergency tire inflation, featuring power supplies that connect directly to the car. This style is also the least powerful and the lightest, making them easy to carry.
Our Top Picks
With those buying factors in mind, we chose the best home air compressors available, taking into account price, effectiveness, and reputation.
1. BEST OVERALL: CRAFTSMAN 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor
The Craftsman 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor uses its 0.8 HP motor to produce up to 150 PSI of pressure. With a refill rate of 2.6 CFM, this little electric air compressor quickly refills the 6-gallon tank to provide enough force for all but the most demanding pneumatic tools.
The oil-free compressor can be used for automotive repairs, fastening, inflating, cutting, drilling, and even for small spray painting jobs. With its pancake shape and rugged carrying handle, you can easily move this lightweight compressor from site to site. The air compressor comes with a 13-piece accessory kit, including a 25-foot hose, tire gauge, and tire chuck, all at an impressive price.
2. RUNNER-UP: PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free Pancake Air Compressor
Porter-Cable’s Oil-Free Pancake Air Compressor only narrowly missed the top spot, matching the Craftsman compressor in almost every measurement, including the 0.8-HP motor, 150-PSI maximum, and refill rate of 2.6-CFM.
This electric, oil-free air compressor even boasts the same 6-gallon tank, pancake shape, and carrying handle for increased portability and longer pressure output. It includes a matching 13-piece accessory kit, but the one area where the Porter-Cable compressor falls short is the price. Our pick for ‘best overall’ undercuts the ‘runner-up’ narrowly, though either air compressor is a good selection.
3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S Air Compressor
The lightweight, hotdog shape of the California Air Tools Portable Air Compressor makes it easily transportable, and its low price is tempting for any DIYer. A 0.6-HP motor provides up to 120-PSI of pressure at a rate of 1.2-CFM, allowing you to handle most DIY tasks with ease.
The oil-free electric motor operates at a volume lower than a conversation and is suited for indoor use without the risk of hearing damage. The 1-gallon tank doesn’t store a significant amount of compressed air, making it a poor option for sanding, grinding, or painting, but it does allow for a modest overlap in supply and demand. Indeed, it is an excellent purchase for the price.
4. BEST FOR INFLATING: EPAUTO 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
The EPAuto Portable Air Compressor Pump won’t be useful for nailers, staplers, drills, sprayers, or other pneumatic tools. However, this top pick’s low 70-PSI max and refill rate of 1.06-CFM is perfect for inflating balls, bike tires, vehicle tires, and any other inflatable items. The low pressure-output means that overinflating to the point of rupture is not likely to occur.
The air compressor lacks a storage tank. Instead, it pushes compressed air directly into the hose for immediate use. The air compressor can refill flat tires in emergencies. A built-in flashlight helps you locate the tire valve and makes you more visible on the roadside. The compressor plugs into the 12-volt socket in your vehicle and inflates the tire to the pressure you specify. Once the tire reaches the indicated pressure, the unit shuts off automatically.
5. BEST FOR SPRAY PAINTING: California Air Tools 10020C Air Compressor
Using a paint sprayer requires significant power to produce continuous pressurized air without the demand of the tool forcing the air supply to diminish below usable pressure levels. The California Air Tools Ultra Quiet Air Compressor doesn’t disappoint with an impressive 2-HP electric oil-free motor producing up to 125-PSI. While this PSI is lower than the average air compressor, spray painting doesn’t require a high PSI, and actually benefits from a lower operating PSI because you use a sprayer to apply, not remove, paint.
The refill rate of 5.3-CFM and the 10-gallon air tank ensures that you will never have to wait for the tank to refill before spraying. The heavy tank sits on wheels for a moderate improvement to its maneuverability, but the compressor’s size still prevents it from being considered portable.
6. BEST FOR LARGE PROJECTS: Quincy QT-54 Lubricated Reciprocating Air Compressor
Boasting a 60-gallon tank, the Quincy 60-Gallon Reciprocating Air Compressor isn’t portable at all. The large tank is designed to be installed in a workshop or garage and provides pressure to your pneumatic tools through a long hose. The outstanding 5 HP motor is beyond powerful, producing a maximum 175 PSI at a refill rate of 15.4 CFM.
With pressure refill and output numbers like that, you can spray paint cars all day without needing to shut down to repressurize. However, all this power comes at a high price. It also comes at the expense of the electric design. Instead, this air compressor is gas-powered and oil-lubricated, meaning that it will require gasoline, regular lubrication, and maintenance to keep working.
The Advantages of Owning a Home Air Compressor
The most significant benefit of adding a tool like an air compressor to your home inventory is that you can start working with pneumatic tools and sprayers that otherwise would be impossible to use. This open door into a completely new tool niche introduces the avid DIYer to spray painting projects that cut down on labor time compared to using a brush and a roller, while also achieving a more even finish.
Air compressors can also be used for deck building, fencing, and roofing if you use it with a nail gun. These air-powered nailers cut the time it takes to finish one of these projects in half as well as making the job easier—less sweat and more enjoyment. If those standard DIY project enhancements aren’t enough to convince you of the value of an air compressor, consider the costly automotive repairs that you have to pay for simply because you lack the tools to do it yourself. An air compressor outfitted with a pneumatic ratchet can reach most nuts and bolts so that basic car repairs can now fall within your DIY realm of expertise.
- Adding a compressor to your inventory allows you to work with pneumatic tools, like finish nailers and air ratchets, which will speed up your projects.
- Using an air compressor for spray painting creates a more even finish that you can achieve in a shorter time than the traditional brush and roller method.
- Nail guns can make quick work of deck or fencing projects.
- Costly automotive repairs can become DIY projects if you use an air compressor and a pneumatic ratchet tool to access difficult-to-reach nuts and bolts.
FAQs About Your New Air Compressor
You should never buy a product before being satisfied that all of your questions have been answered. Take a look at these frequently asked questions about air compressors and their answers below.
How does an air compressor work?
An air compressor works by converting power into potential energy in the form of compressed air, using an electric motor or gas engine. Air is forced into the tank where the pressure begins to build. Once the pressure within the tank reaches the tank’s upper safety limits, it shuts off until the air is released or used with a pneumatic tool.
When used, the air compressor provides a burst or stream of powerful, compressed air to fire nails from a nail gun, spray paint from a sprayer, or loosen automotive nuts with an air ratchet. The tank will then begin repressurizing until it returns to its upper-pressure limits. To shut down the air compressor, simply turn it off and release the compressed air with the ASME safety valve. When the PSI has been lowered to 10, release the drain valve at the bottom of the unit to allow any accumulated moisture to drain from inside the tank.
What size of air compressor do I need?
The size of the air compressor and tank depends on the type of work you will be doing. Jobs that require small, intermittent bursts of air, like finish nailing, are easily tackled with a small home air compressor.
If the requirements of the job call for a more powerful air compressor, consider sticking with a smaller tank, but upgrading the PSI and CFM rating. After all, a tank is only useful if the pump and motor are incapable of keeping up with the job.
Spray painting needs a larger tank because the output of pressurized air during spray painting needs to be continuous. A small tank on an air compressor doesn’t have enough time to fill again before the compressed air is depleted. With a large, 20- to 80-gallon tank, any deficit between the compressed air needed for the sprayer and the compressed air being produced by the pump and motor will be filled by the excess compressed air in the tank.
Consider your applications, then decide on an air compressor size that is right for you.
What projects is a home air compressor used for?
A home air compressor is a versatile tool you can use for many different projects. A small finish nailer can be powered with an air compressor to quickly and easily replace baseboards or door frames. The air compressor could also be paired with a cut-off tool to cut through metal sheets for automotive maintenance or duct repair.
You can also use these incredible tools with pneumatic drills, frame nailers, and sprayers. They can even be used with an air ratchet to apply additional torque to stuck nuts or bolts. As long as you can power a tool with compressed air, you can use it, though the correct size and power output will depend on the project.