Start by understanding your air tool needs
Whether you're in the market for your first compressor or ready to replace an old unit we recommend taking a few minutes to think through what you might use it for over the course of the next few years. By design an air compressor can be used for a variety of purposes but you're likely looking for something to sufficiently power your air tools, such as:
- Nail / Staple Guns
- Impact Wrenches
- Air Hammers
- Paint Sprayers
- Rotary tools / Grinders
Whatever air compressor you decide to use will need to met your specific air tools demand for CFM / PSI. If you're new to using air tools or air compressors we have prepared a guide to get you acquainted with air compressor fundamentals. Before you dig deeper let's cover a few basics first:
The terminology that all air compressors have in common:
- Cubic feet per minute (CFM) - This is the throughput, or volume, that your air compressor can handle. This is not to be mistaken with the maximum raw power of your machine, but more about how many different devices it can power at once. This is likely the most important variable for advanced DIY or construction site air compressors
- Pounds per square inch (PSIG) - This represents the maximum "power" your air compressor can output to any given tool. In general you need at least 80 PSIG to power anything meaningful, however it's also best to check your air tool manual before deciding on the best air compressor for you
- Horsepower - The horsepower of a compressor generally defines how quickly and easily your tank can be maintained at full capacity
- Tank size - As you might have guessed this refers to the total volume of air that your compressor can hold and directly corresponds to portability and accessibility
Choosing the right air compressor style
Stationary Air Compressors
Stationary air compressors are typically larger units and intended for use in a shop or garage. They tend to have a lot of power, large tank storage, and will allow you to operate nearly any air tools on the market. If you are doing anything besides basic household repair this may be an option for you.
Portable Air Compressors
Portable air compressors are, as the name states, more flexible units that can easily be transported through the use of wheels and lightweight design.
- Pancake compressors have round, flat storage tanks.
- Hot dog compressors have a horizontal design with a cylindrical tank.
- Twin-stack compressors have two horizontal, cylindrical tanks.
- Wheelbarrow compressors, a great choice for construction crews, have twin cylindrical tanks and wheels for more convenient transportation.
- Portable air compressors tend to be lightweight enough to carry around by hand and make easy work of painting projects.
Breaking down air compressor features
Once you understand the basic features available it will be much easier to select a unit that will cover everything you need:
- An oil-free pump offers reduced maintenance and ongoing expense
- Compressors with a belt-drive system provides quieter operation than a direct-drive system. Just look for units labeled "silent operation" if this is a concern.
- Some of the better air compressor models offer adjustable exhaust vents (great if you frequently work indoors)
- Multiple couplers allow you to work with a few friends or just save time swapping tools. You can buy additional hose splitters as well but keep in mind that you risk reducing your tank pressure faster