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Top 4 Best Portable Air Compressors of 2018

Best portable air compressor reviews 2018

Best-in-class
Makita MAC2400

Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP Air Compressor

2.5 horsepower motor

Signature Big Bore pump boosts performance thanks to its higher compression and faster recovery time.

Makita MAC2400 Review

The Makita MAC2400 is one of the most powerful portable air compressors on the market and presents itself as a dynamic workhorse powered by a 2.5HP motor capable of producing and sustaining an operating pressure of 130PSI.

Ideal for powering two nailers simultaneously, the MAC2400 comes with Makita’s signature cast-iron Big Bore pump engineered for quick recovery time and improved performance. The machine boasts a roll-cage construction and an oversized automotive style air filter designed to increase air intake and boost efficiency. Made to withstand the test of time, the air compressor also comes with built-in thermal overload and a ¼-inch universal quick coupler. Ideal for a wide range of industrial tasks, lightweight and easy to operate, the Makita MAC2400 is no doubt the best portable air compressor in its class.

Best value
PORTER-CABLE C2002

PORTER-CABLE C2002 Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor

Exceptional value for money

A six-gallon pancake-style tank increases stability on all terrains and is easy to carry around.

PORTER-CABLE C2002 Review

The PORTER-CABLE C2002 could be the best portable air generator on the market if you’re after an unparalleled performance at a price that won’t break the bank. Much more affordable than our best-in-class pick and capable of similar performance, this electric air compressor promises reliable use for domestic and light industrial tasks.

Its low-amp motor outputs one horsepower, sufficient to ensure a 2.6 SCFM at 90PSI and fast recovery time. An oil-free pump reduces maintenance and guarantees a longer lifespan, while the low heft of only 30lbs and pancake design make it easy to transport from one place to another. Another feature that adds up to the value is the 13-piece accessory kit containing a wealth of attachments for cleaning and inflating. Ideal for home use but powerful enough for high-volume demands, the PORTER-CABLE C2002 is undoubtedly the best you can buy.

Also great
Makita MAC700

Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor

Ideal for high-volume tasks

Powerful yet expensive portable air compressor capable of withstanding high-volume job site use.

Makita MAC700 Review

Operated by a 2HP motor, the Makita MAC700 is not the most portable air compressor out there, but it surely is one of the most powerful. Yet, despite its great capabilities, its hefty price and heavyweight have a negative impact on the unit’s popularity.

Just like its bigger brother, the Makita MAC700 comes with a Big Bore pump and cast iron cylinder and is capable of outputting a 130PSI operating pressure. Quiet and comfortable to operate, this machine is ideal to have in a workshop or job site. The oil lubrication minimizes wear while a low-amp draw protects the motor from premature failure. Robust and dependable, the Makita MAC700 is a great alternative to our best-value pick if you need more power and care less about portability.

Best budget
California CAT-1P1060S

California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S Portable Air Compressor

Ultra-quiet operation

Pocket-friendly portable air compressor great for the garage and perfect for a host of household demands.

California CAT-1P1060S Review

The California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S is an inexpensive yet dependable portable air compressor ideal for the homeowner shopping on a budget. Capable of handling most garage demands thanks to its 0.6HP motor and 1-gallon steel tank, this machine promises an outstanding lifespan and produces up to 1.2CFM at 90PSI.

This is enough power for most pneumatic tools, such as your brad nailer, staple guns, or spray painters to name just a few. The universal quick connector is compatible with an array of attachments, and the compressor is also ideal to use for inflating tires and toys or cleaning debris from your worksite or driveway. Quiet and ultra-lightweight, the California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S is easy to carry around and perfect to handle most household tasks.

2. Types of portable air compressors

A portable air compressor is an essential tool to use either at home or at a job site to drive pneumatic tools, inflate your tires, air mattresses or other inflatable objects. Based on the power source, portable air compressors are either electric or gas-powered.

Regarding their build, it is also possible to classify the compressors into several categories of tank design:.

3. Electric vs. gas-powered air compressors

Portable air compressors are either electric or gas-powered. Both types come with pros and cons, and choosing one over the other is often a matter of requirements.

  • Electric-powered air compressors: Are compact and lightweight machines that plug directly into a wall outlet or your vehicle’s cigarette lighter receptacle. They are designed majorly for domestic use, although many models are performing enough to adapt to light and medium-duty industrial applications. However, their mobility depends on the length of the power cord.
  • Gas-powered air compressors: Are larger and heavier than their electric counterparts but their mobility knows no limits. They are also more powerful and perfectly capable of handling heavy-duty applications. Yet, they are cumbersome, hard to transport, and trickier to use by inexperienced operators. These machines are often preferred by professionals but rarely encountered in home workshops.

4. Portable air compressor build

Power source aside, portable air compressors can be classified into four further types based on their appearance.

  • Pancake compressors: Perhaps the most popular type due to their compact and truly lightweight construction. These compressors rarely exceed 30 pounds in weight and have a round, flat air tank of about four to six gallons.
  • Wheelbarrow compressors: Belong to another favorite type, although they are heavier and bulkier. These machines come with a sturdy handle at one end and all-terrain wheels at the other and are easy to wheel around your worksite. Wheelbarrow compressors usually come with large air tanks of six or more gallons and adapt perfectly to heavy-duty demands.
  • Pontoon compressors: Represent another portable variant distinguished by a long, horizontal tank shaped like a cylinder. These compressors have a small capacity of fewer than 4 gallons and are usually heavier than the pancake design.
  • Hot-dog compressors: The funny name is owed to their shape. These portable air compressors maintain the same long tank on the pontoon but display it vertically. They are great if you’re looking for a compact solution with a reduced footprint.
  • Twin-stack compressors: Feature two cylindrical tanks instead of one, disposed one on top of the other. This arrangement provides a higher power into a more compact design; these units typically have a small tank capacity of around four gallons combined but thanks to their excellent performance, are often used in industrial settings.

5. Single-stage vs. dual-stage compressor

These machines can be single-stage or dual-stage, and deciding which is the best portable air compressor based on this criterion is a matter of use.

Both machines work similarly, and the main difference consists in the number of times the air gets compressed between the inlet and outlet valves.

The name says it all; single-stage machines compress the air one time, whereas the dual-stage compressors compress the air two times to double the pressure.

Which compressor do you need?

Before jumping to conclusions believing the dual-stage compressor is the best, take a moment to decide whether it is the best for you.

Single-stage air compressors are capable of producing a pressure of roughly 120PSI, which sometimes rises to 150PSI on the higher-end models. Most dual-stage compressors deliver at least 175PSI, and the vast majority of them are capable of producing much more than this.

However, a pressure between 120 and 150 PSI is more than enough for home use. Most power tools, including brad nailers, paint sprayers, and other air tools used in private settings rarely require a pressure higher than 100PSI. So, before investing in an expensive dual-stage compressor, ask yourself if you need one.

6. CFM & PSI

The two most important variables to consider when choosing a portable air compressor are the cubic feet per minute (CFM) and the pounds per square meter (PSI).

CFM Factor

Is perhaps the most critical feature to consider. This number determines how fast your compressor can supply air to the tools. Most portable air compressors come with CFMs between 0.5 and 3, and you should go for the highest possible value.

The reason is simple; if your pneumatic tool uses air faster than the compressor can provide it, you’ll have to stop working and wait for the tank to refill. Some of the most commonly used power tools may require:

  • 3 CFM – brad nailer
  • 3 to 6 CFM – pneumatic drill
  • 5 to 8 CFM – angle grinder
  • 12 CFM –HVLP spray gun

PSI Factor

Despite the common belief that looking at the PSI factor is essential, things are slightly different. The portable air compressors on the market are manufactured to work with all amateur pneumatic tools, and they all provide sufficient pressure for domestic and light commercial use, while the high-end units are even capable of handling high-volume industrial demands. For instance, all the tools mentioned above require only 90 PSI.

However, a higher PSI means a smaller tank can hold more air, which ultimately means you can invest in a smaller unit with a higher PSI to improve portability without compromising on performance.

7. Tank size

The tank size is another thing you should check before buying a portable air compressor, especially if you want to power tools that demand a CFM higher than the compressor’s output.

Most portable air compressors come with tanks between 1 and 6 gallons. Anything smaller might compromise on performance while anything larger will have a negative impact on portability. A good average for a domestic use compressor is a 3-gallon tank which holds enough air to withstand most garage and recreational demands, including powering a number of pneumatic tools.

8. Tank vs. tankless portable air compressors

Not all portable air compressors have a tank. The tankless models come with a significant advantage as far as portability is concerned, due to their lightweight and ultra-compact design. These machines rely on a high CFM alone to provide sufficient airflow, but they come with a few drawbacks too.

Tankless design

They don’t provide a steady airflow but rather short bursts of air. This makes them ideal for inflating tires and toys but less practical for driving pneumatic tools. They run all the time, as there is no tank to hold the air. This results in a noisier and costlier operation.

Air tank

A portable air compressor with an air tank not only is quieter, but it can even compensate for a lower CFM by storing the air necessary for the operation into the tank. However, if you’re using tools that require a CFM higher than the compressor provides, you’ll have to stop and wait for the tank to refill when the air supply is exceeded.

9. Noise level

Regarding the noise level, the quieter the unit, the better. Portable air compressors can be quite loud, so make sure to check this specification before buying. Noise levels vary widely between models from around 55dB, considered safe to use without ear protection, to over 80dB – a level that can provoke irreversible damage upon prolonged exposure.

10. What other features to consider?

Besides all the above, there are a few other features you should consider before buying:

  • Despite being called in this way, not all portable air compressors are portable. Some units are heavy, cumbersome, and a pain to carry. Before buying, check the overall size, heft, and shape.
  • An oil-free pump can save you the hassle of maintenance.
  • If you want to use various pneumatic tools simultaneously, invest in a unit with multiple couplers.
  • Another important feature is the type of coupler. Choose a model with a universal connector if you want to use the compressor with a broader range of tools and accessories.
  • Also check the accessories the compressor comes or is compatible with. A versatile machine must be compatible with various nozzles and inflating attachments.
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