There is almost no industry that doesn’t require the use of air compressors. From automotive, through electronics and general manufacturing, to hospitals, pharmaceuticals, power generation and many other, air pressure is needed on countless occasions. Having the best air compressor can and will make your everyday life easier and is a constant task for companies like Bostitch or California Air Tools to keep delivering the highest quality products driving the industry forward.
The history of air compressors is quite curious, actually. Believe it or not, the first ever air compressor used for our needs were our own two lungs, when people discovered fire. The ability to breathe out our own pressurized air helped spark up our fireplaces. Later on, with the appearance of metallurgy, this became insufficient for the temperatures needed. We had to create air compressing pumps that would get the urn to these higher temperatures, so that the metal can be treated easier. Devices named “bellows” were created then (have in mind that we are still speaking 1500 B.C.). They were hand-help and later foot-operated.
Thousands of years later, John Wilkinson laid down the foundation for the mechanical air compressors with his “air blasting machine” in 1776. These mechanical air compressors were widely used throughout the whole 19th century in mining, building tunnels, compressor plants, and more until pneumatic and electric energy started getting incorporated.
Modern-day air compressors, at their core, are power-converting machines. They use electric motors mainly (although there are some diesel or gasoline models for remote areas where electricity is scarce). They convert power into potential energy and store this energy into compressed air. They all have a tank in which they force more and more air until the tank reaches its maximum limit. This is held inside, until you put it into use. Once you deplete this compressed air, the tank is re-pressurized by the air compressor again.
An often misconception is thinking air pumps and air compressors are the same thing. Pumps don’t have a tank and are way cheaper and quieter but slower. You use them to fill your inflatable pool or mattress. Air compressors are used in areas where we need pressure higher than 1-2 bars (or 15-30 psi).
Types of Air Compressors And What You Need To Know About Them
There are three types of air compressors based on their pressure output: low-pressure air compressors (LPACs), medium pressure air compressors and high-pressure air compressors (HPACs). The pressure discharges from the LPACs is around or below 150 psi. We will be reviewing those in our top portable air compressors list.
In terms of oil use, air compressor pumps are divided into two big groups: oil-lubed and oil-less. The oil-lubed pumps are quieter, cheaper, have less technical development into them and last longer than the oil-less one. The only upside of the oil-less compressors (and sometimes the only important one) is the fact that their air quality is much cleaner than their oil-using competition. These free of oil compressors are the overall better choice. Basically, you will be enjoying lower maintenance costs and cleaner air but these will require more inspections as their inner coating (which substitutes the oil lubrication) wears off with time. With this type of compressor you also reduce your carbon footprint which makes it ideal for closed spaces as well.
Buying It Isn’t Enough. You Also Have To Take Care Of It
Since we’re here to help you choose the right air compressor for you, it will be irresponsible of us to not walk you through some simple steps on how to maintain your newly bought tool. As with any other machine that works and relies on oil for internal lubrication, you will need to inspect and change your oil from time to time.
The oil is located in your compressor and before you start draining it you need to know a few things: first, turn it on and let it run for a few minutes, this will make the oil run down easier. Secondly, let air come inside from the top by removing the cap. Drain the oil into a container. Once all this is done replace the drain plug using an adjustable wrench and refill your compressor with a recommended by the manufacturer oil. Replace the top cap and you’re done. This is the hardest maintenance procedure for air compressors. The rest are way easier. Let’s get on with them.
The second thing you will have to do about your machine is change its air filters. Some are screwed to the body of the compressor but some are simply put there and can be pulled away without any extra steps. Just locate the filter, remove it and place the new one.
Changing your compressor’s belt should be just as easy. Just locate the machine’s pulleys and replace the belt. Usually (in modern models) this all happens inside a plastic or metal box. Older models have their belt exposed.
Oh, and one more thing which is basically left out of any review out there. The air that your compressor sucks in isn’t completely dry, so water will inevitably build up inside your air compressor tank. All of them have water vales which you need to drain out from time to time (as water inside will take some of the space for pressurized air).
The last and most important step is to execute those check-ups regularly or at least once a year since you now are familiar with them. Remember that keeping your compressor healthy is the key to its long and productive life.
What Air Compressors Are Mostly Used For
Before we move on with our handpicked top 5 air compressors, let’s point out a few of the most common uses of these devices:
- High pressure for gas cylinders
- Moderately pressured clean air (from oil-less pump) to a surface-supplied diver
- For Pneumatic tools such as jackhammers
- Filling up tires
- Medical/Hospital gas supplying
Completing this list to its end would be impossible due to the many applications of air compressors and we decided to keep it down to the most important ones as otherwise it wouldn’t have left us enough time to talk about the spotlights of our review: the best portable air compressors we picked.
Portable Air Compressor Reviews
Now, what you will need to be paying extra attention to during our description of these products is their output air pressure and their overall handling convenience. We feel like these are the two most crucial features to user-satisfaction when it comes to the best air compressors out there. Don’t worry about the other things such as weight, noise, the way it looks and of course how useful it is exactly, as we will cover it all. Let’s get started, shall we?
Top 5 Air Compressors Comparison Chart
*All our reviewed units are low-pressure air compressors (LPACs) in terms of their output pressure. In the table, we specify them based on their internal lubrication.
PORTER-CABLE C2002 Review: The Best In Its Class
Really, apart from all the positive reviews, this compressor is getting, we are literally blown away by it (no pun intended). In fact, if our 5 air compressors list has any kind of order this might very well be the best product we will be reviewing so it comes first on our list. Porter-Cable have never disappointed us with their products and this one makes no exception. It packs and oil-free pump design which grants you the worry-free life you want to have around your tools. Sure, all other reviewers love to point out that the fact that this compressor is maintenance-free but as we suggested in our maintenance segment, you have to inspect these oil-free devices from time to time, ensuring the inner lubricating coating doesn’t wear off.
Something definitely worth mentioning here is that the low-amp 120V motor will never let you down in a cold weather, which to some is a major selling point. Extension cords are of no issue to this bad boy as well. It has a pancake style 6 gallons tank which combined with the 150 PSI pressure will store compressed air for longer tool runtimes. The C2002 also weighs just around 32 pounds making it the perfect companion to carry around your workshop or various working sites.
Furthermore, all the vital components in your tool are safely packed below the handle and console cover. The water draining valve is conveniently placed and easy to use.
The 2.6 SCFM (Standard cubic feet per minute) at 90 PSI will allow quick compressor recovery time. What this means is that the air compressor will be able to quickly refill itself with pressurized air while you are working, after you finish your job or in between your breaks. It has two air couplers which in theory allow two people to work at the same time but we will get to that later in the “Cons” section (you will find out why).
There are also many other little pros of having this product such as the cord wrap that it has which allows you to store it easily as well as its rubber feet which stabilize it on any surface. It is small details like these that separate the good products from the great ones.
Firstly, something which might only be affecting the users in California (but a con nonetheless) is that this product may contain chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm (As per California’s Proposition 65). It hasn’t been thoroughly tested towards this matter but the State of California prefers being on the safe side of things even with the slightest indications (from their own testings). All the rest of the world has whitelisted this product as 100% safe.
Remember the two air couplers part we mentioned earlier as an upside of this product? Well, it can also be a downside, and here is why: Imagine having 150 PSI in your hands any time you request it. This air compressor is designed to deliver this kind of pressure whenever you need it but when you get another person in the equation things might get tricky. Some customers who have colleagues working on their own projects at the same time as them report that the output pressure goes down significantly faster and the compressor can’t keep up.
We decided to test this out ourselves, and we were surprised at how well this thing handled even when two people used it at the same time. Sure, it wasn’t exactly 100% the same compared to only one person using it, but it wasn’t that bad either. Even though it had to be mentioned here, it still doesn’t quite match the “downside” stamp people are trying to put on it.
Final Words On The PORTER-CABLE C2002
There are countless reasons why this product headlined our list and many of them will most likely go unnoticed by you, as this product has been designed to make itself invisible, causing no inconveniences and we can vouch that this is the case here. Working with this air compressor is a breeze (again no pun intended) and you will get used to not having any mechanical issues in no time. Buying it is definitely worth any price tag they put on it, and that excludes the fact that it generally doesn’t take an arm and a leg to buy this compressor. Buying this ensures you get the top portable air compressor on today’s market.
Bostitch BTFP02012 Review: Looking For A Great Deal? Look No Further!
Even though the Bostitch air compressor is second on our list it truly is second to none in most aspects. Buying this can never turn out to be a mistake. It basically is like a cheaper, lighter, identical twin of the Porter-Cable C2002 which is ignored due to its name. Sure, Bostitch is a reputable brand, but as you know, on today’s market the name sells and here it is just not good enough for the BTFP02012 to get the first prize.
Some might argue that the build quality of this product is simply inferior to its top competitor, but throughout our review, we did not find a single issue with it, nor we stopped at any point telling ourselves “this won’t stand the test of time”. Both these products are extremely solid and well-made, and putting one ahead of the other in terms of quality is just wrong. Let’s call it a tie.
To tackle the issue of constantly having to compete with their rival, the guys over at Bostitch decided to get creative. They made all sorts of premium packages available to you. Some of them include inflation and blow gun accessory kits, nail guns and others. Now, let’s get to the upside of this product. All in all, there is a reason this air compressor is called the best air compressor for tools in all reviews and websites.
The 6-gallon tank, as in the C2002 is great for long-run work errands. This air compressor is also oil-free which contributes to its longevity and convenience. COld weather is of no issue here as well. One great feature is that it is relatively quiet (78 dB), so not only it will get the job done with zero efforts, but you almost won’t hear a thing during that. It is lighter than most of its competition weighing at just 29 pounds.
Its pump delivers the same 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI as the C2002. As we said, you won’t really find any vital differences between these two if you are new to air compressors.
Our only complaint here is that this air compressor (as well as the rest of this class) won’t keep up if you are using it professionally. It will do wonders for framing, fencing or projects where you generally don’t fire the nailer rapidly and it can easily sustain a framing nailer, but if you are sheathing, for example, it will not keep up.
Final Words On The Bostitch BTFP02012 6 Gallon 150 PSI Oil-Free Compressor
Whether you buy this product or the Porter-Cable C2002 you won’t regret your decision. They are both amazing products. What makes this air compressor stand out though, is the fact that it’s lighter, therefore more convenient to carry around and it really quiet, which will make your work environment a tad more tolerable. We suggest getting this product as some of its special Kits which include further tools. These air compressor kits bring the price for value ratio to great levels.
California Air Tools 5510SE Review: The Whispering Air Compressor
As written in their brand slogan, California Air really aim high when it comes to integrating their products with the latest innovations and this product is a pure showcase of all that. Nowhere else will you find such a brilliantly quiet working machine. We included it on our list, as some people need their air compressor to be as quiet as possible due to sensitive working environments or other reasons. The secret to this feature of theirs is that the motor inside this unit works at about 1700 rpm (rounds per minute) which creates less noise than competitor air compressors. This also creates less wear on the motor itself, adding more years to that oil-free life. You also get a handy 5.5-gallon steel pressurized air tank attached to the compressor. This compared to our previously listed devices is a little bit less. Furthermore, it weighs more (46 pounds) bumping up the overall weight of the product. It has wheels though, which makes it fairly easy to move around.
As stated, this model is oil-free. This contributes to cleaner outgoing air and fewer maintenance costs. The maximum pressure (120psi) is good for most uses but fades a bit compared to its competition which revolves around 140-160 psi.
Once again we just have to mention how quiet this thing is. 60 dB is almost as quiet as an autumn rainfall or a normal conversation between people. Imagine this level of noise coming from something that generates pressurized air! Incredible, isn’t it?
Sure, this thing is quiet and all, but when it comes to actual work it falls short of being able to handle most of your daily work tasks. The maximum pressure of 120 psi feels far less than 150 when operating. It does bring you 3.1 CFM at 40 psi and 2.2 CFM at 90 psi, but that still is less than what we showed you earlier.
Furthermore, even though it has a nice set of wheels on it, the added weight will be felt if moved too much. Don’t worry, though, as if the steel version is too heavy for you, just get the aluminum version. It costs a bid more but weighs around 20 pounds less and people are quite happy with it.
Conclusion On The California Air Tools 5510SE
Even though it doesn’t stand up to the C2002 and the Bostitch BTFP02012 in terms of maximum air pressure and other features, the California Air Tools 5510SE has its own tricks up its sleeve. It has a stronger tank (due to the steel frame) and operates at insanely low decibel levels. That added reinforcement adds a few extra pounds, though. Ultimately, if noise is a major issue in your workplace, go with this one.
DEWALT DWFP55126 Review: The Underdog Of Air Compressors
In this mid-tier price range, the Dewalt DWFP55126 is the decisive winner in terms of PSI. Its upper limit is 165psi but still delivers 2.6 SCFM at 90 psi, which is on par with the rest of the competition. In terms of real power, well… Don’t get your hopes up that much. Now, don’t get us wrong, we loved the unit and that is why it is even on our list, but reading about it on the internet might give you the wrong idea. In terms of high performance with your air tools, you are safe, as the high flow regulator and the couplers guarantee you will get the most out to your air tools, instead of the flow being cut down on the way. It is also relatively quiet (not as much as the California Air Tools 5510SE) and on the somewhat cheap end of the spectrum.
What is really impressive about these 30-pound units is literally the fact that they are 30 pounds. All that they pack inside plus their 5-6 gallon tanks make it a worth mentioning feature. You will be able to carry this unit around as much as you want. Some users complain that you will have to often refill it if not plugged in and that it might leak, but we have found no such issue in our weeks of using it.
Before we head to its advantages, let’s address the elephant in the room – the power. If it is being used by a single user performing mid to light tasks, this will quickly become anyone’s best friend. Add a second person working with it, though, and it may disappoint you. This has, in fact, been tested, and while it still tries to do its best, it simply fades compared to a single person using it.
All things aside, this air compressor can really deliver when you need it. The 165 max PSI isn’t just made up, it really lives up to it. That combined with a 6-gallon tank creates a quite nice tool to be in your hands. Its motor doesn’t have any issues starting up in cold weather nor working through an extension cord.
It can deliver and while it delivers you can barely hear it. Chances are, that this won’t add any noise to your workshop or working environment, as it produces just between 70 and 75 decibels of noise.
If you are in the car detailing business, for example, you will need to get used to refilling this unit. 6 gallons just aren’t enough even if you set the psi to 100. If you get a chance of keeping the unit plugged in, do your best to keep it that way and you won’t have to worry about a thing. Carrying it around is easy, though!
Final Words On The Dewalt DWFP55126
Honestly, in this price range, few can match this type of output air pressure and build quality (when used by a single person). If you are planning to work with your colleague simultaneously, we’d advise you to opt for the Porter-Cable C2002. Either way, this unit is relatively cheap, lightweight, quiet and powerful. It is well worth your money!
Central Pneumatic Cast Iron Vertical Air Compressor Review: Well…
We were quite split to whether add this product to our review, but here it is. To be entirely honest, we just felt like Central Pneumatic deserved a chance. They have been amazing with some of their past products and we wanted to see what the issue with this model was. What first caught our attention was the multiple customer complaints. Usually, customers complain all the time about everything, as everyone has specific needs that cannot be matched with a universal product and there will always be someone unhappy. Here though, people had a point with some of the key issues, so we checked if that was true. In short, it was.
Out of fairness to the product, we will review some of its upsides before going down the negative stuff road as it seems like the customer issues were just faulty air compressor units.
It has a nice air delivery of 5.8 CFM at 40 psi and 4.7 CFM at 90 psi, which is more than all of our reviewed units. The max psi, though, is 125. To add to your comfort it has rubber feet. That combined with the huge weight makes it quite stable on any surface. It is the only oil-lubricated model on our list, which can be viewed as an upside due to the fact that oil generally lubricates the compressor, motor and any other mechanical parts better.
For the oil inside of it, it has an oil-level indicator. This comes in handy when you need to run your oil-changing routine. Also, the motor has thermal overload protection which is a nice thing to have, just in case.
Well, first off, the indicators for the air pressure and oil levels often do not show the true value. This is a common issue among all models of this line. We will try to ignore any other complains, as we couldn’t reproduce them with our own unit. It really seemed fine to us.
One thing we can’t ignore, though, is the fact how heavy this thing is. Yes, we get that it stores 21 gallons, but having that much pressurized air ready to be discharged at such a low psi makes no sense, as you will most likely need to move it around, and once you do you will feel that the wheels on this thing aren’t as much as a relief as you might think.
Some Final Words On The Central Pneumatic Cast Iron Vertical Air Compressor
We realize we might have been a little bit more harsh on this compressor than we should’ve been, but it’s for your own good. We tested this model for good two weeks and even though we found no issues besides the one with the gauges, we still do not recommend it over the rest of the reviewed units here. The C2002 is simply so much easier to use due to its small size. It gets refilled really fast and can be carried around as much as you want to. This big guy right here has to be dragged around your workplace with both hands to get it from one spot to another. Sure, it has a big tank, but if your work consists of something which takes more than 30-40 minutes, the tank will run empty either way. Also, the price doesn’t help here at all. For this price, you can get two of the Bostitch BTFP02012 units! Either way, if your work is stationary and you need a decent discharge, this might be the right tool for you.