Whether you’re an auto body shop or a generic workshop, having an air compressor is one of the best investments you can make. These devices enable you to do a lot in your shop, from operating pneumatic tools to cleaning your workspaces.
Today we’re going to be looking at the best shop air compressors that will help you work smarter and more efficiently. Because these machines can be such a lynchpin of your operations, it’s imperative that you make the right choice.
So, with that in mind, we’re not only going to be showing you some of the best air compressors, but we’ll be illustrating some of the critical features to pay attention to, as well as some tips and tricks to keep them running smoothly.
DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI
Quincy QT-54 Splash Lubricated
Industrial Air ILA4546065 60-Gallon
PORTER-CABLE C2002 Oil-Free
California Air Tools CAT-10020
When it comes to picking out the right tool for the job, the brand you choose can matter just as much as the various features included. DeWalt is a high-quality maker of machines and devices that can keep your shop working efficiently.
This is a pancake-style compressor, which means that it’s both compact and powerful. At just 30 pounds, you can move it around the shop or take it to remote job sites just as easily. There’s even a folding handle on top to make it more comfortable for you. However, just because it’s compact doesn’t mean it will recycle too much; a six-gallon tank is more than enough for most handheld pneumatic tools.
When comparing different air compressors, you’ll want to look at things like air pressure and output. In this case, you can get up to 165 PSI and 2.6 SCFM of air. However, to get more air out, you’ll have to lower the PSI level to 90, which is average for most tools.
What we like about this air compressor is that it comes with a high-efficiency motor. The design ensures that you can work quickly and efficiently without overloading the system. Also, the oil-free pump means that your air will be clean at all times, making it ideal for a wide variety of applications. It also comes with an air regulator so that your tools always work correctly.
When looking for the best shop air compressor, you can either get a massive unit that can run all tools in your work area, or you can buy something smaller and more portable. In this case, we have a centralized air compressor that will work well for auto body shops and anyone who needs a lot of pressure and a lot of output.
With a 60-gallon tank, recycling is not an issue. If you’re not familiar with this term, it refers to how often the compressor will refill with air. The more air it can store, the less it will recycle, which means that you can work for more extended periods without interruption.
As far as performance is concerned, this compressor delivers up to 15.5 SCFM and a max PSI of 175. The lowest PSI rating is 145, so it’s not designed for tools that require less pressure and air. Overall, you should make sure that you need all of this power and performance before choosing this model.
One thing we appreciate about this machine is that the motor is industrial-grade. This means that it will hold up longer than other models, and it doesn’t require as much maintenance and upkeep. Nonetheless, it comes with a one-year limited warranty, just in case.
Next, we have another centralized air compressor unit, meaning that if you want something massive that can power a variety of tools in your workshop, this is an excellent way to go. Also, Industrial Air is one of the top brands making these machines, so you know that you’re getting a quality device.
Whereas the Quincy model above was built for high-powered operations, this compressor is notable because it works well for both high and low-pressure applications. Whether you need 150 or 15 PSI, you can adjust this machine accordingly. Because it has such a wide range, that makes this compressor more versatile, which could be a better choice for your shop.
The other thing we appreciate about this compressor is that it comes with a single-phase motor. This means that it doesn’t have too many intricate parts, which helps cut down on maintenance costs. Also, it uses splash-type lubrication, which keeps the motor running smoothly and doesn’t make your air as dirty as other oil-lubed models.
When looking at the specs of this machine, it comes with a 60-gallon tank, a max pressure rating of 155 PSI, and a max CFM of 14. While these numbers aren’t as high as we’ve seen, they’re more than reliable enough for almost all pneumatic applications. Also, you get a two-year warranty so that you can use it with pride.
When it comes to consumer-grade power tools, Porter-Cable is one of the better options out there. However, since we’re talking about the best shop air compressor, we’re looking at a model that is designed for high-performance use so that you won’t run into problems while on the job.
This is another pancake-style model, meaning that it’s both compact and portable. At 30 pounds, carrying it around is not a problem, thanks also because of the built-in folding handle. It has rubber feet for stability, and so that you don’t scuff the floor or any table you put it on while working.
One thing that you have to realize about air compression is that it creates condensation. This is a natural result of the process, as the water in the air is literally squeezed out as the PSI increases. Thus, it’s imperative that you have a way to drain the water out. Fortunately, this model comes with a valve on the bottom for that specific purpose.
As far as specs are concerned, this compressor comes with a six-gallon tank, a max PSI of 150, and a max CFM of 2.6. These stats are more than powerful enough for many handheld tools, although this model is a bit louder than other pancake compressors, so keep that in mind.
This machine comes with a one-year limited warranty, and it’s built for low-maintenance output. It should last a long time without any significant issues.
Our final model is built to be both powerful and portable. Unlike the pancake-style compressors we’ve already seen, this one is larger and more capable, making it an ideal choice for many shop owners. Also, California Air Tools is one of the more reliable compressor brands, meaning that you know you’re getting a high-quality machine.
The most notable feature of this compressor is how quiet it is. At moderate pressures (i.e., around 100 PSI), the motor only produces 70 decibels, which makes this one of the quietest models you can find. Considering that it has such a powerful motor (two horsepower) makes this feature even more notable.
Another thing we like about this machine is that it comes with a handle and large rubber wheels. Thus, moving it around the shop or to the job site is really easy, since you don’t have to lift it to get it into place. Also, with a 10-gallon tank, you don’t have to worry about it recycling too often, making it both reliable and efficient.
Overall, this is an excellent compressor that enables you to work quickly without having to buy a massive, oversized machine. If you value portability but you need more power, then this is the best option for your shop.
As we mentioned, one issue that you have to consider when picking out the right machine for your needs is recycling. If you choose a compressor that’s too small, it will recycle too often to work efficiently, which can defeat the whole purpose of having it. Also, the more it recovers, the more wear and tear you’re putting on the motor.
Thus, you have to pick a model with the right tank size. Anything less than five gallons will work best as an inflator or for small power tools, so you probably won’t need that for your shop. Portable models are best between the 6-10 gallon range, but if you want a centralized machine, you’ll need at least 40-60 gallons.
There are a couple of other things to remember about tank size. First, the more air you have inside, the more water condensation will occur. Make sure that you have an accessible drain valve. Second, bigger tanks will require a more powerful motor, which will usually be lubricated with oil. Oil can then get into your air, so if you need it to be clean, you’ll have to try and find one that is oil-free.
For the most part, air compressors are going to give you the same PSI range. Smaller devices will usually cap off at 150, while larger models can go up to 180 PSI. Most tools that require compressed air will operate between 90-150 PSI, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about that. However, with that in mind, you have to pay attention to whether or not you’re maxing out the PSI with your compressor. If you are, then it will add more wear and tear on the motor, which could cause it to burn out sooner.
Nonetheless, the output is going to be more significant than pressure. The output of your compressor is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM), so pay attention to that number overall. To ensure that you’re getting the best shop air compressor, you’ll want to look at your tools and see what CFM requirements they have. Also, keep in mind that the more pressure you use, the less air will come out, and vice versa.
Depending on the kind of work you do in your shop, you’ll either need a compressor that you can move around easily, or one that will stay stationary (or both). Thus, the size of the machine will matter.
Smaller compressors are ideal if you have to work on-site and move to different locations. You can either get one that’s light enough to carry (usually less than 50 pounds), or you can find a model that comes with wheels to make it easier to maneuver.
If you’re going to get a stationary model, you’ll want to be sure that you put it in the best location for your shop. The length of your hose will affect the output and overall pressure, as well as generate more water in the system. Thus, you’ll want to minimize your tubes as much as possible.
Because we care about helping you find the best model to suit your needs, we also want to provide you with some insider information about how to set everything up in your shop. So, with that in mind, here are the best ways to get your air compressor up and running.
If you’re getting a stationary compressor, then you’ll have to make sure that you’re installing it somewhere central where you can work efficiently without having to use extra-long hoses. For portable models, you should think about where you’re going to use them the most, as well as whether or not you’re going to store them when not in use.
Vibration is a natural side-effect of running the motor, which can create a lot of noise. Thus, if you’re concerned by how loud your machine will be, you can neutralize a lot of the vibration by putting pads underneath. Just make sure that they don’t make the compressor unstable, as it could become a tipping hazard.
Large-scale devices will require oil lubrication, which can get into the air. To help alleviate this problem, you can install an air filter at the source so that you get cleaner output. If you’re using the compressor for airbrushing, for example, this can be a huge problem if you don’t take care of it.
One significant issue you’ll come across when using an air compressor is that it collects a lot of water. While having a valve on the machine itself helps, it doesn’t remove the water from the hose. Thus, you may want to build water traps along the way so that your air is as clean and dry as possible.
Finally, think about how you will be deploying hoses and tools in your workshop. In many cases, you don’t want them to drag on the ground as that can affect their performance and get in the way. Instead, you might want to install overhead tees, which will keep the hoses above the workstation and out of harm’s way.
Although this doesn’t have to do with installation, this is a helpful tip for picking out the right air compressor. Think about the types of tools you’ll be using so that you can find a model that provides sufficient pressure and output. Here’s a list to get you started.
Air Hammer - 3 to 11 cfm
Brad Nailer - 0.3 cfm
Circular Saw - 12 (8”) to 17 (12”) cfm
Drill - 3 to 6 cfm
Framing Nailer - 2.2 cfm
Orbital Sander - 6 to 9 cfm
Shears - 8 to 16 cfm
Socket Wrench (Ratchet) - 2.5 to 3.5 (1/4″), 4.5 to 5 (3/8″) cfm
While installation of the best shop air compressor is crucial, we also want to make sure that you get the most out of your purchase. Following these maintenance guidelines can ensure that you’ll be using your compressor for years to come.
Read the Manual - first and foremost you’ll want to familiarize yourself with all of the different aspects of your machine. Don’t assume anything, as that can lead to problems down the road. Also, knowing this stuff will help you work faster.
Use Filters - keeping your air clean and dry will ensure that your tools will work better. Even oil-free compressors can collect dust and debris, so a filter will extend the life of all of your devices.
Check All Connections Frequently - we mentioned that vibration is a side-effect of the motor running, which means that connections and fasteners will gradually become looser over time. Be sure to check these often so that you can tighten them as needed.
Drain the Water Every Time - because water will collect with each use, you’ll want to drain it whenever you use the compressor. This habit will ensure that your air stays drier, which can help prevent damaging your tools.
Change the Oil - if you have a model that is oil-lubricated, you’ll want to monitor it regularly. The machine should have an oil level indicator for your convenience, but you should also recognize that it can get dirty over time.
Keep it Clean - depending on your work, you may have bits and pieces of debris spraying all over the place. If possible, cover your air compressor so that these particles won’t get into the motor. However, you’ll also have to manually clean the device to remove any dust or dirt that collects. Fortunately, you can use the compressor itself to do this.
Overall, the more care and attention to pay to your air compressor, the better it will work in the long run. Typically speaking, models that are neglected are usually the ones to fail first, so don’t let that happen.
Also, be sure to check your compressor if it’s been sitting unused for a long time. In these cases, the motor may burn out or break down when you turn it on again, so it’s imperative that you keep it clean and well-maintained even when you don’t need it.
Regardless of the air compressor you choose, there are a few basic maintenance concerns you should follow to help keep it running as well as it should, and your own safety while using it. Air compressors are safe as far as shop tools go, but users should always be aware that they are essentially canned air under pressure, that is released through a valve. This leaves the potential for injury if not properly maintained.
Be sure to check the valves on the air compressor regularly for any signs of malfunction. If you hear any unusual noise, including hissing, from your air compressor during use, turn the unit off and seek the advice of a qualified technician.
Never leave your air compressor turned on and in auto-cycle, as the unit may malfunction in your absence. While using your air compressor, be sure that the filters and vents are free from blockages or obstacles that may prevent air flow.
Perform regular maintenance on your air compressor to include checking and replacing the air filters and oil to help maintain the functionality of your unit.
Always use proper ear and eye protection when using any power tool and never leave the unit plugged in where small children can reach. Never direct the air flow from an air compressor towards a person.
Remember that if you use your air compressor for the purpose of a nail gun or any other projectile, it will emerge with a great deal of force. Even just the air stream generated by an air compressor can be forceful enough to cause injury or death if used improperly.
You should also take care when using your air compressor around fragile materials, such as glass or thin wood and metal to avoid accidentally damaging these materials.
While most air compressor tanks are coated with a protective covering, it’s a good idea to keep them out of the elements. Over time, rain and extreme temperature changes can affect the effectiveness of the coating, which could then lead to weakening of the seams on the tank. Outside of this concern, air compressors contain many gaskets and valve pieces that can decay when exposed to weather. Once these valves stop working, your air compressor will cease being as effective.
Never expose your air compressor to extreme heat or cold such as fire or snow. Avoid damaging your air compressor tank through dropping, impact or other blunt force. If you do accidentally damage your tank, be sure to take it to a certified repair shop prior to using it again.
It’s a good idea to take your air compressor in for regular maintenance to replace valves and gaskets, or to purchase these parts and replace them yourself. Ensuring all seals are tight will help your air compressor run smoothly and more efficiently, and may prevent damage to the motor.
You may be wondering why you need an air compressor and how it can help you complete your tasks easier and faster. An air compressor uses pneumatic tools, which requires an investment of not only the tank but the tools. Once you do make the initial purchases, however, there are clear benefits.
One, pneumatic tools are often lighter, which can make doing long jobs easier. They also avoid excessive moving parts as the motor is the air compressor, which means the tool takes less wear and tear and may last longer than traditional tools.
If you enjoy refinishing furniture, or want to paint a large item, an air compressor is your best bet to achieve professional, smooth results in a short period of time.
If you are a mechanic or like to repair your car on your own, air compressors will allow you ease of access to previously frustrating areas of your car’s engine due to bolt placement. Pneumatic tools can access areas that are difficult to reach with traditional hand tools.
We’ve already looked at the best shop air compressors, but which one is the best option for you? If you need something compact and portable, then we highly recommend the DeWalt Pancake Compressor. We like the brand, and the machine itself is well made.
For those who have a larger shop and need a high-powered machine that can run a variety of tools, the Industrial Supply Air Compressor is your best bet. While it doesn’t produce as much pressure as the Quincy model, it has a broader range of options, and it’s built much more efficiently overall.
Both of these compressors will provide excellent results for your shop, so you can buy them with pride.