It took more than 120 hours of testing in our garage to find the best air compressor Jen would recommend: the Dewalt DWFP55126 6GAL Pancake Air Compressor. This all-around outstanding air compressor has an industry standard 90PSI rating and allows up to 165PSI of potent air. It is well-built, high flow, easy to carry around and highly affordable.
The Dewalt DWFP55126 6GAL Pancake Air Compressor is portable, quiet, high flow and boasts quick recovery times. It is reasonably priced and safe to use.
Our step-up pick, the Dewalt DWFP55126 6GAL Pancake, is slightly more expensive, but is heavy duty (up to 200 PSI), supports multiple tools and stands out with its stylish and versatile design. It comes with wheels so you can lug this around without breaking your back, and has a powerful maintenance free pump.
If you are not ready to spend too much for an air compressor, the Senco PC1131 air compressor is a good budget friendly choice. It has limited storage (4 gallons), but is still high flow, easy to move around and very reasonably priced.
- Should I get an Air Compressor?
- Types of Air Compressors
- Jen’s Pick
- Our Step Up Pick
- Our Budget Pick
- Other Contenders
Should I Get An Air Compressor?
Compressed air is one of the best resources that you can have at your disposal. It is the very definition of green energy, however you are working with a lot of pressure when using compressed air, and it can be very easy to mess things up.
Before delving in, we should note that compressed air, while under great pressures, is not as dangerous as most people make it out to be.
Compressed air can be really helpful, it can help you save a lot of money, it can help with you hobbies a well as those odd jobs around the house, even with your business if the need arises, and even though there are some potential risks and danger involved, those dangers are not that great.
Types of Air Compressors
You will find that this list will show compressors of similar function and appeal. Our list represents handy compressors that can be used for home, shop or small worksite activities, boasting flexibility with minimal weight and features for convenience. We critique the top compressors by comparing usability, ‘friendliness’ and use of technology. Since air compressors have a bitter history of poor efficiency (and irritating electric bills!), we were sure to seek out and highlight compressors with energy saving technologies or low energy setups.
The main things to think about when buying an air compressor are capacity, power use, maintenance and portability. Of course you need to tie in your own personal needs. Compressors are often rated by tank size and generated flow (CFM). This generated flow is merely an estimate of the pace of work the unit can handle, while the tank rating is peak volume at rated pressure.
Choosing the biggest compressor you can afford is not necessarily the best approach. You should try to dig deeper into your needs and ‘size’ your air compressor based on that. What is the typical mode of operation you will be working with? Sporadic use, continual use or prolonged use.
Is it a single or multiple user setup? Consider cumulative CFM ratings for tools or equipment to be used with the compressor. Another important consideration is the limitations in hose size. In incorrectly sized hose on a compressor can greatly reduce efficiency and effectiveness; so be sure also to investigate as to what size hose you can use with your unit.
There are electrical powered air compressors and fuel powered air compressors. It’s not about which one is better or worse. Smaller air compressors designed for home improvements and domestic use are usually electrical. Medium or bigger air compressors, designed for heavy duty use, or to be used to power tools frequently, or even as part of a small or large business, are generally fueled by either petrol or diesel.
The Best Air Compressor: Dewalt DWFP55126 6GAL PancakeThe Dewalt DWFP55126 Pancake air compressor is a handy unit with high air flow and added storage, yet still light enough to be moved around by hand, weighing only 30lbs. Decked in traditional Dewalt black and yellow, this unit boasts a 6Gal steel tank and a 2.5CFM air head for quick recharge and great performance.
The pump is rated at 90PSI (industry standard), and the pancake storage tank will tolerate up to 165PSI of potent air before the brass safety relief valve intervenes. The tank forms the base of the unit, and is fitted with rubber footpads to enhance the compressors already quiet mode of operation. Atop all that is the 120V oil and maintenance free air pump with integrated gauges for tank and regulator set pressures. The pump and gauge casings are all plastic, as is the friendly control knob for adjusting set pressures. The unit is fitted with pro-grade quick connect fittings for attaching hoses, which are unfortunately not included in the compressor’s purchase price.
From a trusted name in tools comes this powerful air tool support, and a well-built compressor for other light to medium duty applications. Its high flow, ample storage, mobility and price all make the Dewalt DWFP55126 a great offering worthy of consideration.
Quiet, high flow, maintenance and oil free pump
Quick recovery times
Light to medium duty only
Step Up PickThe Dewalt D55146 Air 4.5GAL Compressor is another great pick, particularly suited for applications with multiple tools to be used simultaneously. An ultra-high flow 5CFM air head rests at the heart of this 200PSI project mate. Weighing in at 80lbs, the unit is considerately fitted with pneumatic wheels and a collapsible handle for hassle free move around, and neat storage. Tank capacity is a marginal 4.5 gallons and the compressor head is fitted with two quick connect output connections. There is a dial knob for setting regulator pressure, and two gauges for monitoring tank and set pressures. The style and versatility of the D55146 are its highlights – wheeled mobility and stow away that mimics a convenient travel bag, and a powerful maintenance free pump to drive the point home. Of course with this sort of professional hardware and features the price tag of the unit understandable. Adding this compressor to your bank of tools and equipment will improve your professional presentation and work efficiency. Plus, it’s backed by Dewalt quality standards.
Portable and compact
Quiet, high flow, maintenance and oil free pump
Heavy duty (200PSI max)
Supports multiple tools
Low energy consumption
Higher end investment
Limited tank size
Budget PickThe Senco PC1131 air compressor is a budget friendly option with a traditional setup. The air pump is of the reciprocating kind, with a cast iron head and cylinder sleeve, and flows up to 4.3CFM peaking at 100PSI. The setup includes an adjustable pressure regulator for customising set pressures for the four gallon twin-stack tanks, and the status can be monitored by two 2in dial pressure gauges. The entire assembly weighs sixty pounds, and with a convenient rubber grip handle bar, this unit can be readily mobilised for work or storage. The compressor is fitted with only a single quick connect outlet, but with a one year manufacturer’s warranty, I suppose nuances like this can be ignored. Senco’s PC1131 shines as a rugged compressor capable of sustaining the practical work stress that goes with such a high flow unit. Sporadic maintenance is required for monitoring and changing lubrication oil and of course minimising tank water levels.
Rugged air head
One year warranty
Tending to heavy (60lbs)
Limited storage (4gallons)
Single outlet connection
Other ContendersPorter-Cable’s PCFP02003 Pancake air compressor is sturdy unit from a trusted brand. Tank, fittings, gauges and the works are all professional grade and the unit features a cost-friendly maintenance and oil free air pump. The pump delivers a comfortable 2CFM of hot air, peaking at 90psi and being constrained by a 3.5GAL pro grade steel tank. Peak storage pressure is 135psi which goes a long way in extending the recharge cycle. The unit is powered by a standard 120V connection and weighs only 26lbs – making it easy to carry around and setup. As far as ideal applications, this compressor will be great for use with low CFM tools – small site tasks and trim finishing tools. The small storage hinders the possibility of true workshop support, but this does not detract too much from the value and reliability of this traditionally clad red and black pancake compressor. Ownerships costs are minimised with the rugged pump outfit. Great for start-up.
Easy to move around
Pro Grade fittings and connections
High volume, maintenance and oil free pump
Limited air storage (light use)
So if you are a brand loyalist, then the Bostitch BTFP02012 6Gal Pancake air compressor poses the perfect Dewalt alternative. You get an oil and maintenance free 90PSI air head, fitted to a 6Gal tank rated at 150PSI. Gauges and regulator control are all integrated into the airhead’s black plastic casing and the 2.6CFM pump requires a 120VAC connection. The unit is easily mobilised, weighing only 29lbs and the purchase includes a 25ft air hose for a complete setup right away. Operation is quiet and tank supports are rubber padded for soft standing. This is a welcomed inclusion for those projects where protecting newly installed flooring is critical. This Bostitch pancake compressor is great for air tools in light to medium duty applications.
Minimal maintenance required
Two output quick connect connections
Ingersoll Rand’s P1IU-A9 Hand Carry Twinstack compressor is a truly professional grade air compressor with a traditional air head and rugged construction. The aluminium air head is driven by a high efficiency 2hp motor, readily energised by any 120VAC outlet. Total air storage on the unit is a somewhat limiting four gallons but the 4CFM air generator enables quick recovery and sustained use. Pressure gauges are tucked away beneath the compressors steel out-frame, adding to the rugged preparedness of the unit. Max working pressure is 135psi, which is well above the industry standard for service air. A convenient dial switch controls the compressors set pressure, and there are two quick connect couplings for easy hose attachment.
With a traditional aluminium air head, and a reciprocating piston setup, you will of course have to carry out maintenance activities on your compressor from time to time. Biannual oil changes and sporadic cleaning should do the trick. Otherwise, it’s routine checks and safety feature maintenance. The P1IU-A9 is priced fairly, not too bad for this ‘work-horse’ unit.
Heavy duty pro-grade air head
One year warranty
Higher end investment
Requires maintenance Another great compressor pick is the Rolair FC2002 2HP twinstack. Much like the Ingersoll Rand in size and capacity. The longstanding ‘underground manufacturer’ boasts dazzling opportunities. Pleasing styled in green with black and white trim, twin stack air tanks are fed by a reciprocating piston type air head which features rugged aluminium and cast iron construction, and professional connections and fittings. The unit’s service air flow is rated at 4CFM and has a 4.3gal storage capacity which makes it great for pneumatic tools of all kinds. Included in the setup is an adjustable pressure regulator, and the standard gauges for monitoring set and tank pressures. There is a handle for tugging the compressor about, but at 70lbs sitting weight, it can be quite the task moving this thing around. On site however, operation is hassle free and the manufacturer backs its claim to quality with a 12-18 month limited mechanical warranty.
Heavy duty pro-grade air head
One year warranty
Single hose connection
Standard pressure maximum Campbel Hausfeld’s HU502000AV is a premium pick from a trusted name in air products. This unit vaunts an impressive 20 gallon tank and a 1.5hp maintenance free air pump. The excitement wanes however when we are faced with the unit’s low air flow capacity and extended recovery times. This unit is a great consideration for those applications where running pressure isn’t a great concern. With a 20gallon buffer, the limited flow becomes less of an issue on a practical basis, and the true value of the ‘2000AV’ begins to shine – storage storage storage, and the solid castors that make wheeling the unit around a breeze. The added storage saves on utility expenses and mobility is always a welcomed mark of versatility. No oil, no maintenance – large storage, mobile convenience and smooth operation.
Massive storage (shop size)
Maintenance free pump
10 year tank guarantee
Single outlet connection
Low flow setup
My final addition to the list is California Air Tools’ CAT-4620A 2hp twin stack air compressor. This is a competitive brand that has rolled out all the punches for a smooth and quiet compressor that transforms the perception of onsite service air. The unit operates at only 70 decibels, making it one of the quietest compressor of its size and class, with a bit more storage as well (4.6 gallons). At the core of this unit is a twin head 4.3CFM oil and maintenance free air pump, with service output controlled by an adjustable regulator fitted with tank and regulator pressure gauges. There are two quick connect service outlets integrated into the compressors steel frame. Construction of the CAT-4620A is rugged and compact, and the assembly weighs only 64lbs, making the unit mobile with a bit of a tug. But not only will you save on noise and time with this buy, but with the CAT4620 you also save on electricity – the 110V unit has rated running current at a meagre 14A, and the unit features low ‘start-up energy’ technology. Also included in the purchase package is a one year limited manufacturer’s warranty, which often comes in handy for start-up brands such as these.
Maintenance and oil free
Double head setup
One year warranty
Tending to heavy (64lbs)
The Master Flow MF-1040 is a portable emergency inflator for auto applications. Favorably priced, this 6lb compressor can deliver up to 1CFM of service air at a peak pressure of 150PSI. That’s way more air than most of our everyday SUV’s or sedans will need – emergency or not. True to its market, the MF-1040 is powered by a convenient corded connection to your 12V socket. As a handy travel tag-along this black and yellow air pump is ideal, but certainly not something you would consider for shop use or pneumatic tools. To begin with, there’s no tank, which means no stored supply. Which, when you think about it means straight pumping rather than ‘compressing’. I suppose this is why the manufacturers choose to use the word ‘inflator’. Yet still, as a handy source of service or emergency air in automotive applications, and at a reasonable price, we had to mention the Master Flow MF-1040 for its practicality and convenience.
Light duty use only
Are air compressors safe? As long as they are used appropriately, and as long as they are stored within the recommended parameters, then you have nothing to worry about.
A quick note can be made here in order to debunk most of the myths surrounding air compressors.
First off, these compressors are extremely strong, capable of taking quite a bit of punishment and abuse.
Second, with regular cleaning and draining, you avoid the risk of corrosion and corrosive damage.
Third, if you feel that you are in danger, or that the tank is becoming weaker, you can simply take it in for a checkup and see whether or not that is the case.
What are the main things that make these compressors dangerous? First off they are under pressure most of the time, so if a weak area appears it can rupture and explode. Second, if you leave air inside of it, moisture can build up causing corrosion. Third, if the tank sustains repeated impacts, or if for some reason it warps on one side, it can cause weakness in the structure, thus a rupture might be imminent.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How much should I spend on an air compressor?
It depends on your needs mostly.
A small unit, designed for usual house chores and small activities could cost you a couple of hundred dollars, while a stronger more powerful unit can go for as much as a few thousand dollars.
2. What should the compressor tank be made out of?
Ideally, the tank should be made out of aluminum.
Older tanks were made out of steel, and there are still a couple on the market however they are relatively hard to find.
Aluminum is stronger and at the same time lighter than steel, so it wins on both sides of the fence.
3. How big should the tank be?
The answer to this one depends on how many pneumatic tools you have at your disposal, as well as how often you use them.
If you are aiming to use it for your home, every now and again to handle some repairs or small projects, you would be looking for 4 – 7 gallon tanks.
If you are using pneumatic tools regularly, and you rely on compressed air for the majority of your projects, this means that you tend to use multiple tools at once with the same compressor, meaning that you would be looking for 10 gallons or more.
4. Will an air compressor add more money to my regular bills?
If you are using it constantly, then yes, however there are a lot of power tools that can be used with compressed air, thus rendering their electrical or even fuel powered counterparts obsolete.
So in essence you would be saving money on your electrical bill as well as extra fuel costs by switching to compressed air.
5. What can compressed air be used for?
The vast majority of things.
From airbrushing, to nail guns, to tattooing needles, and even jack hammers and drills. There is actually a wide variety of tools that work using compressed air.
6. How do we know that a tank is strong enough before buying it?
First of all, a visual inspection can let you know whether or not bumps and warps have occurred.
Second, by tapping and testing the tank out you can get a feel for its thickness and how much pressure it can take.
Third, each and every tank is tested prior to leaving the factory. See if they have a quality assurance badge or certificate on them, which can prove that the tank has been tested and cleared for distribution.
7. Are there any details that I should check before buying the compressor?
Test it out before actually paying for it, and check all the gaskets and joints to see if there is air leaking out or not.
Here is a video that can provide a lot more details regarding what you should look for when buying an air compressor:
8. What unit of measurement should these compressors have?
P.S.I. (pounds per square inch)
There are multiple units of measurement for pressure, however P.S.I. is the universally accepted one, and the one that is used to measure the guidelines of all the pneumatic tools on the market.
9. If I feel something rattling or sloshing around in the tank, should I buy the compressor?
You are looking to have a compressor in perfect condition. Never buy it second hand, and if you hear rattling or sloshing inside the tank while buying a new one, let the retailer know and ask for a different one.
10. How strong should a tank be for me to consider buying it?
Again, it depends on what your needs are.
Make sure that the tanks is solid enough not to burst if accidentally knocked off a work bench, as well as able to contain a lot more pressure than you would actually need in the first place.
The seller should be able to provide you with the technical details of the units that he or she has in stock, and you can make up your mind that way.