Best Portable Air Compressor

portable compressor behind a flooring installer working on board

The portable air compressor gets endless use. There are a few lucky compressors that get to sit in the garage and collect dust. Most of these are going to be worked to death. Along with their lifespan, they will build homes, offices, and cities. 

The best portable air compressor is going to give you plenty of airflow and years of care-free use. If you think your business is about to expand rapidly, you might want to invest a more durable model that can handle the higher workflow. 

Alternatively, you can buy a couple of smaller models that can enable you to run multiple jobs at once. This article is geared towards the best portable compressors with sufficient air supply for running power tools. If you just need something to air flat tires, you might check the more general compressor buying guide I put together. 

Most of these are all 120v air compressors with high CFM (greater than 2 CFM). Only two of them are under that cutoff.

Note: Most of these come without an air hose.

1. Ingersoll Rand P1IU-A9

product image of Ingersoll Rand P1IU-A9

We’ll review the more well-known Makita below, but first, let’s start with a lesser-known gem,  the Ingersoll Rand P1IU-A9.  If you poke around the other review sites online, you’ll notice that this portable compressor gets passed over and ignored. (Which isn’t surprising since most of these bloggers don’t actually work in the industry). 

Ingersoll Rand, for the uninitiated, is one of the Godfathers in the pneumatic world. They have constantly set the pace in the industry and, until the past 20 years, they have been the brand to own and the company that everyone has wanted to beat. 

A lot of the specifications are identical to the Makita MAC2400 reviewed below. It pushes out 4.3 CFM at 90 psi, which is a nearly identical rating to the Makita. Just like the Makita, it has two connectors on the front, so two workers can use the airflow simultaneously. 

One of the fascinating selling points of this compressor is that it boats a 100% duty cycle. In other words, Ingersoll Rand purports that you can run this compressor non-stop. There are some bloggers who are cautious in their estimations as to what this would do to the lifespan of the unit. I would be one of those. However, with the solid metal piston rings, cast iron compressor head, and synthetic oil lube system, it can definitely handle longer run times than your average compressor and is an especially good choice for those fast-paced roofing nailers. 

This motor only requires 15 amps to run, which allows you to plug it into any household circuit. Ideally, you can find 20 amp circuits, as it helps provide that extra push of power when it starts up. 

At 77 pounds and 79 decibels, the Ingersoll Rand matches specifications with the Makita. With an advertised 100% duty cycle, a 1-year warranty and a brand name that has been around since the 1800’s, more and more folks are choosing the Ingersoll Rand.

Pros

  • Low, 15-amp draw
  • 1 Year Warranty 
  • High quality brand name
  • Capable of supporting two nailers at once
  • 100% Duty Cycle 
  • Oil Bathed for Longevity
 

Cons

  • 77 pounds is heavy

2. Makita MAC2400 Big Bore

product image of Makita MAC2400

This compressor is one of my absolute favorites.  Even though there are a lot of compressors marketed to contractors, this is one of the only ones that was built to operate at a top, professional, level. As a result, it is head and shoulders above most of the other ones we discuss. 

The heart of the operation is the cast iron cylinder. This cast iron cylinder is designed for thousands of hours of abuse. For decades, cast iron heads have been used on small engines, and it was such a reliable system that it was only recently that small engines have begun using the cheaper aluminum heads. 

So this air compressor offers old school durability, and you reap the benefits with a solid cast iron compressor block that is going to hold up well to the abuses of daily fast-paced carpentry use. 

Then, in the middle of this cast iron head, is a larger bore cylinder. This big bore cylinder enables more air to be compressed with each stroke, which shortens the amount of time needed to build your air supply. 

Even if you are using a couple of framing nailers, you and your team can move at full speed, and trust the big bore compressor to keep up with you. 

Then, the entire apparatus is bathed in a small oil mechanism. I know a lot of carpenters want oil-free compressors to limit the maintenance. However, these oil-based lubrication systems are quite easy to maintain. The benefit is that they dramatically extend your compressor’s lifespan. 

One of the big benefits of an oil-based compressor is that, instead of using plastic piston rings as the oilless compressors do, it has metal rings for better wear and longevity.

Additionally, this compressor can run 30 minutes out of every hour without stopping. This is referred to as the duty cycle, and the Makita has a 50% duty cycle (50% of each hour). 

Now, a lot of the oilless pancake air compressors have a 50% duty cycle as well. With the Makita, you can push those figures from time-to-time without risking the compressor’s longevity as much. Thermal overload protection kicks the motor off if it gets overheated.

So, when it comes to durability, this compressor is an industrial-duty unit and is designed for everyday abuse. It may be the only tool you own that can outwork you. 

The statistics of your compressor matters and this one brings 4.2 CFM @ 90 PSI and 4.2-gallon twin-stacked tanks. The bottom line is, you’ll have ample air flow to run two nailers at once.  At 79 decibels, it is one of the quieter compressors out there. 

It can also be powered by any 15 amp circuit, which means that even when you are working in someone else’s home, you’ll find that it has easy access to power. 

The downside is that it weighs 77 pounds. So you are going to get a little workout in setting it up in the morning. However, you aren’t going to find this much power and durability in a much lighter compressor. With a 1 year warranty, you have the piece of mind that this is a solid unit.

Pros

  •  Durable cast-iron head
  • 4.3 CFM supports two nailers simultaneously
  • Oil-bathed system for durability and longevity
  • Thermal switch prevents overload
 

Cons

  • 70 pound weight is heavy

3. California Air Tools CAT-2010ALFC

product image of california air tools 2010ALFC

This CAT-2010ALFC just might be the best compressor on this list. Super-quiet and with surprisingly high air flow while being light? consider me sold.

Finding the compressor for this third spot was a little more challenging. The Dewalt DWFP55130 was a close choice as it offers slightly lower air flow than the heavy-duty models reviewed above. However, it seems that it tends to run into longevity problems in the field. 

The California Air Tools offers an extremely lightweight unit that is designed for contractor use, especially in homes where the homeowners might be present. With only 56 decibels, it is as quieter than most conversations. This ultra-quiet compressor is unique in this lineup and noteworthy.

You enjoy more airflow out of this unit than most of the others. With 3 CFM airflow at 90 PSI, it is more than enough power to run every power tool on the job site. It also has a much smaller motor with only 1 horsepower, which draws less electricity at 7.6 amps, which means you can easily run it on a generator or on antiquated fusebox circuits without blowing the system. 

The 2-gallon aluminum tank air compressor provides adequate reserve and the oilless piston system makes this one a simple, maintenance-free unit. If you are running a chop saw, impact wrench or another high-capacity tool, you will appreciate the continuous rating of this machine. I don’t fully understand how an oilless compressor can be rated to run continuously, but California Air Tools designates their ALFC as a higher duty rate compressor for those times you need to run it in the red. 

As with most of the other compressors on this list, California Air tools stands behind their unit with a 1-year warranty. 

Frankly, this is one of the best handyman and remodeling units out there. It would be tempting to buy a couple of these units opposed to a single one of the units above as it would allow you and an employee to each have a power source on separate job sites.

Pros

  • 3.0 CFM provides aggressive air flow.
  • Extremely quiet
  • Lightweight for one-handed carrying
 

Cons

  • You pay for Quality

4. Campbell Hausfeld DC040500

product image of Campbell Hausfeld DC040500

Here’s another gem that is easily overlooked. The Campbell Hausfeld name is well respected when it comes to pneumatic equipment and this lightweight twin stack compressor is about to become everyone’s new favorite. 

Unlike the two heavy duty compressors reviewed above (the Makita and the Ingersoll Rand), this one is only sufficient for one nailer at a time. 

However, it is a quiet air compressor. The DC040500 more than makes up for the lighter power output with its whisper-quiet 68-decibel rating. Normal human conversation noise level is only 60 decibels if that gives you an idea of how quiet this is. 

The unique design of the DC040500 uses a twin-piston design. This enables the compressor to work with a 1 horsepower motor instead of the 2 horsepower units above. This puts a smaller draw on the household circuits and allows you to work with a longer extension cord without hurting the motor. 

With a 4.6 Gallon tank, you’ll have ample air reserves for your project, even if you are running a large framing nailer.  It only puts out 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI, but that should run most air nailers. 

While this is an oilless compressor, they do advertise it as being designed with better parts to last 4 times longer than other compressors in its class. The contradiction to that claim is that Campbell Hausfeld only offers the standard 1-year warranty on their compressor. That said, these seem to run forever, so there might just be something to their longevity claim. 

I’ll cover some cheaper options below, but if you were a solo contractor, this would be the top pick for a reliable, lightweight and quiet compressor to carry with you.

Pros

  • Quiet Compressor
  • 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI ideal for a solo contractor to use.
  • Dual pistons offers faster recovery
  • Oilless Design requires no maintenance.
  • 1 year warranty 

Cons

  • Would be neat if if offered 3 CFM, but this little unit is pretty well rounded as is. 

5. The Porter-Cable C2002-WK

product image of Porter-Cable C2002-WK

The Porter-Cable C2002 might just be the cause of the current housing boom in America. It seems like I can’t walk onto a job site without seeing one of these in use. Indeed, it might be one of the most affordable air sources out there. 

At only 30 pounds, it is every bit as light as the Campbell Hausfeld or California Air Tools we just discussed. And it seems to match them in power output. With 2.6 CFM air supply at 90 PSI, you’ll have that power to keep building. The 6 Gallon air tank stores plenty of compressed air to make sure that you don’t run dry at those critical moments when you need it the most. It also helps this compressor keep up with those fast-paced tasks like laying flooring. 

It is a little louder. At 82 Decibels you might be finding ways to leave it outside while you run an air hose into where you are working. It also uses a cast iron tank which can be prone to rust. Rusting is especially a bigger problem in high-humidity cities. You’ll want to drain the tank frequently (every night) to make sure that rust does not become a problem. 

With a max PSI of 150, you can air up car tires, RV tires, Semi truck tires, and even high-pressure road bike tires more, making it an excellent choice for keeping in the garage for daily vehicle maintenance. However, I’ve seen these last for 2+ years under heavy use in home building. So they seem to be an extremely reliable unit. 

While not the most robust (and probably slightly under-deserving of the number 5 spot), I have a couple of friends who have started their contractor businesses with this unit. So it gets some real-world nostalgia points from me.

Pros

  • Quiet Compressor
  • 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI ideal for a solo contractor to use.
  • Dual pistons offers faster recovery
  • Oilless Design requires no maintenance.
  • 1 year warranty 

Cons

  • Would be neat if if offered 3 CFM, but this little unit is pretty well rounded as is. 

6. Dewalt DWFP55126

product image of  Dewalt DWFP55126

You might have seen in my review above that the bigger Dewalt ran into some complaints. This pancake style model seems to make up for any shortcomings of its bigger brother. 

The big rubber feet are something that is easily overlooked. The wrap around the metal and ensure that no unfortunate scrape marks can be left. Additionally, they help provide more robust isolation against needless vibrations. 

With a 6 gallon tank, it stores and then delivers the air when you need it most. It’s rated for a little more pressure, too. With 165 PSI maximum pressure, it guarantees that you won’t be leaving any half-driven nails, even if working with hardwoods. 

It also has plenty of airflow with 2.6 CFM when operating at 90 PSI. As with all of these units, there is a handy regulator knob that you can adjust to get the proper airflow for your need. The two pressure gauge on top gives you an immediate readout of how much air is in the tank and how much pressure it flowing to your tools. 

As with the Porter Cable above, you have a smaller motor which reduces draw. Dewalt has actually measured the power requirements and certifies this unit for use with a 14 gauge, 50-foot extension cord. This gives you the peace of mind and ability to work further from your power supply. 

The smaller amperage draw is handy when starting it in cold weather as the smaller motor is designed to overcome the resistance that other compressors struggle with. 

One of the unique features that I did not expect to see was the two universal couplers that allow two contractors to work off the same tank simultaneously. You might be a little light on airflow to run two framing nailers, but it would keep up with two finish nailers just fine. 

The Dewalt is one of those machines that other brands try to copy. Once everyone gets tired of constantly purchasing cheap replacement compressors, they often invest more money and go with the Dewalt DWFP55126.

Pros

  • 165 Max PSI
  •  2.6 CFM at 90 PSI is more power for nailing hardwoods
  • Low amperage draw 
  • 1 year warranty 

Cons

  • 75 db noise is right on the edge of annoying

7. Bostitch BTFP02012

product image of Bostitch BTFP02012

No review would be complete if we left the Bostitch BTFP02012 off the list. 

The Bostitch brand name is well-trusted and this unit is one those that build air pressure quickly and works all day without complaining. As with the other pancake compressors on this list, it uses an oil-free pump for maintenance free use. 

The 150 max PSI is more than you’ll need for just about any application out there, and the 6 gallon tank keeps pace with all of the other contractor-grade models out there. With a 2.6 CFM airflow, you can enjoy an unhesitating power source from which to work day after day. 

At 78 decibels, it is slightly louder than some of the other compressors on this list. This also boasts a cold weather start, for that reassurance that you won’t have to baby your compressor when working on the coldest days. 

There are several accessory kits available for the Bostitch and you can save money by purchasing it with a nailer. However, if you already have the power tools you need, it is also sold as a stand-alone unit.

Pros

  • 150 Max PSI
  • Available in a combo kit makes it very affordable
  •  2.6 CFM 90 PSI  keeps pace with the industry

Cons

  • 78 db noise is a little louder

8. Dewalt DCC2560T1 Cordless Compressor

product image of cordless Dewalt DCC2560T1

I was going to leave this one off the list because it is a little under-powered for my taste. However, you have to admire that as a cordless compressor, it offers the ultimate portability. 

This one is going to require one of the new 60v Flex Volt battery packs. It does come with one Flexvolt lithium-ion battery and a fast charger, but I would probably purchase at least one more. 

The new Flexvolt line of batteries is incredible. They can switch between parallel and series configuration, allowing them to deliver greater power when that is needed, or offering longer run times when you use the battery with smaller equipment. 

One of the surprising uses for this unit is airing up flat tires. Because it is 100% cordless, it is perfect for taking along when offroading on the dunes or the backwoods of Arkansas. Unlike the tiny 12 volt compressors that take forever to inflate, this one can complete inflate a truck tire in minutes and get you back on the road. 

Of course, it was designed for the construction worker. It offers 1.2 CFM at 90 PSI. That’s going to be a little light for a lot of framing and roofing nailers, but constructions are swearing that this little machine is keeping up. If you are going to try running a framing nailer, you can expect to eat through 5-8 batteries a day. 

It especially excels when used for finish work. Designed to lay down over 1,000 brads before recharging the battery, you can get 2-3 days of work out of one charge (depending on how fast you work). 

The downside is that this little guy is loud. It seems to runs at 85+ decibels (unofficial, uncalibrated measurements), but you don’t need a device to tell you that this one is ear-splitting!

Pros

  • Cordless = unlimited portability
  • Easy To Carry
  • Ample Power For Finish Nailing and Brad Nailing

Cons

  • Underpowered for anything larger than finish nailing (can do Frame nailing if you burn through the batteries)
  • Loud. Possibly over 85 Decibel. (Need to do more testing)

9. Senco PC1010

product image of cordless Senco PC1010

This compressor gets a lot of love from craftsmen. It’s super-quiet 65 decibels (estimated) sound levels means that you can continue your conversation when it kicks on. 

It also offers a 1-gallon aluminum tank, making the entire unit only 20 pounds to carry around. This makes it especially attractive for homes with smaller children who need to be able to use the compressor when mom and dad aren’t around to help. 

It also stores very nicely. Tuck it away in a drawer or on a shelf. It’s so small your biggest problem will be remembering where you put it. 

At only 1.4 CFM when running at 90 PSI, you’ll be limited to using it for brad nailers and finish guns. But that makes this one a dream come true for finish carpenters and those who like to build crafts in their garage. 

It can also air up vehicle tires but plan on it requiring just a little more time.

Pros

  • Super Quiet
  • Super Lightweight
  • Super tiny
  • 1.4 CFM at 90 PSI is suitable for brad and finish nailing

Cons

  • Underpowered for anything larger than finish nailing

Summary

The Porter Cable is really great for  a cheap unit that is portable, and holds up surprisingly well. 

The Campbell Hausfeld is worth the added money for the benefit of being quiet

But I still think that most serious contractors should go with the Ingersoll Rand or the Makita 2400

 

You’ll notice that I don’t review any 12-volt compressors or portable tire inflators and only two small trim and finishing compressors. There are smaller options available on the market with CFM as low as 1 to 1.5 for running trim nailers. Most of these run close to the same price as the ones already reviewed, and they are just as loud and nearly as heavy. It makes sense to invest your money in a system that isn’t limited to trim work or inflating tires, but that can also be used for more robust applications.

carpenter using yellow brad nailer on white crown molding

Buying Guide

Before you invest in a compressor, here are some handy questions to answer to make your decision easier. 

1. How Much Air Will You Need?

If you are setting up a paint booth, these compressors aren’t going to cut it. You can consult our handy air compressor sizing guide to help you get an idea of how large of a compressor you will need. Every one of these will deliver ample air for tasks around the house, and most of them are made for contractor grade work. If you are doing a lot of work with impact wrenches you will want to invest in a larger tank (typically greater than 8 gallons). 

2. Horsepower, PSI and CFM

This is extremely connected to the above point. In practice, horsepower doesn’t matter as much. You are limited to about 2 horsepower if you are looking for a unit that us going draw less than 15 amps. The more important points to watch is the amount of airflow as measured by CFM (cubic feet per minute) or the maximum pressure output as measured by PSI (pounds per square inch). 

3. Noise

For some of us, this is a more important consideration than for others. In one shop I worked at, the compressor was so loud that you couldn’t talk over it. When it finally died, the boss invested in a quieter unit and even added an insulated wall around it to help protect our hearing. If you are working in client’s houses or will be in the same room as the compressor, your ears will appreciate a quieter design. Dramatic hearing damage can occur at noises greater than 90 decibels and all of these units are under that restriction.

4. Working and Storage Space

Some companies sell their heavy wheelbarrow style compressors as being “portable”. Technically, they are correct, so long as you have two folks available to unload it on the job and you have a smooth path on which to roll it. All of these are light enough to be carried, and some of the 30-pound units could be more easily carried for long distances. You want to make sure that the unit you buy will match the environment you’ll be working in. 

5. Style

I find the style of the unit to be one of the least important. The hotdog style and pancake style and twin stack styles all work extremely well. Where the different styles can be handy is when you are storing or transporting the unit. The pancake models seem to take up more usable floor space than the hotdog or stacked models. They are a little harder to work around if you have a narrow area to carry your tools. 

6. Power Source

All of the units on this list are ideal for American homes where 120 volts is the common power supply. There are also smaller 12-volt models available that can air up your car tires from the cigarette lighter.  As you move into larger units, 220 volts becomes a more common requirement. Pay attention to your power requirements to make sure that you’ll have adequate electricity to power your new compressor.

Common Tasks For These Compressors

In addition to airing up your cars, trucks, and bicycles, these compressors are going to be handy for a wide variety of other household tasks. Thanks to the adjustable regulator, you can dial the pressure up or down in order to adjust them to your need. Keep in mind that when you decrease the pressure, the airflow goes up (and vice-versa). 

Here are some of the tasks that are commonly asked about, and any one of the units on this list would be able to handle. 

  • Blowing out the water lines of an RV for Winterization
  • Running a Finish Nailer
  • Running a Brad Nailer
  • Running a Framing Nailer
  • Blowing water out of sprinkler systems
  • Running Air ratchets

You could also run impact wrenches for shorter periods of time, but they would likely be operating at partial power. 

Why You Should Buy A Portable Compressor

Buying an air compressor makes sense for a myriad of reasons

  • Saves you money. Not only do you no have to pay a professional to do something, but you will also make those repairs sooner, fixing them before they deteriorate any further. 
  • Saves you time. Whether you are blowing dust bunnies out of your computer or running a brad nailer, these devices are designed to make short work out of your biggest tasks. 
  • Saves your effort. Ever try building something with only a regular hammer? A few minutes with an air nailer and you’ll never go back. 
  • Protects your Investments. If your tires are aired up to the proper level and the dust is blown out of your refrigerator coils and your home sprinkler system is properly winterized, you will save hundreds in expensive repairs by extending the lifespan of these belongings.