The ability to craft and use tools has propelled the human species beyond its humble origins as hunter-gatherers and into the modern age of medicine, space flight, and mass communication. Great monuments to human ingenuity and creativity litter the globe – The Pyramids. Stonehenge. Angkor Wat. – yet in their mighty shadows, smaller tools, no less marvelous for their meager dimensions, can sometimes be overlooked. One such device is the humble air compressor.
Like most other modern tools, it comes in such a wide variety of configurations that attempting to buy one can be quite the challenge. The same is true of the pile of jobs for which the various types of air compression tools are suited. Knowledge, though, is power, and the following guide will provide you with plenty of both. To learn more about air compressors, including how to select the best one for your unique needs and circumstances, just read on.
Compare: The 10 Top Rated Air Compressors of 2016
|Makita MAC700 Big Bore||Makita||$$$$||4.8|
|DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI||DEWALT||$$$||4.7|
|Kensun Direct Drive A1032||Kensun||$||4.5|
|Senco PC1010 Peak||Senco||$$$||4.6|
|PORTER-CABLE PCFP02003 3.5-Gallon||PORTER-CABLE||$$||4.6|
|PORTER-CABLE CMB15 150 PSI 1.5 Gallon||PORTER-CABLE||$||4.4|
|California Air Tools CAT-10020 Ultra Quiet||California Air Tools||$$$$||4.8|
|DEWALT DWFP55130 Heavy Duty 200 PSI||DEWALT||$$$$||4.5|
|BOSTITCH BTFP02011 6-Gallon Oil-Free||BOSTITCH||$$||4.5|
|Ingersoll Rand P1IU-A9 Hand Carry Twinstack||Ingersoll Rand||$$$$||4.9|
No guide like this one would be complete without at least a cursory exploration of what an air compressor is and what it can be used for, which makes it the logical place to begin. Air compressors are exactly what they sound like: tools designed to push a high volume of air into a given area and compress it to a certain density / pressure. The air itself is usually pumped from tanks attached to the compressor itself, through a hose, and out a nozzle or other attachment. Air compressors have a variety of functions, from simply directing a stream of pressurized air to rapidly and efficiently clean a surface to filling up tires and sports balls, and powering the wide array of pneumatic tools on the market today (saws, drills, nail guns, cutting tools, paint guns, and so forth).
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Air Compressors: Their Various Iterations
Air compressors all serve the same basic purpose and operate in the same basic fashion, but the machine itself actually comes in multiple types. You can learn more about each of them below.
Portable Air Compressors
Portable air compressors are, well, portable. Quieter than other air compressors as a rule, they are smaller, lighter, and more mobile than their stationary counterparts (more on those in a minute!). They trade their relative economy of mass for smaller and/or fewer air tanks, however, which in turn makes for diminished air capacity and output. They come in a variety of styles, all of which get their names from the tank orientation and/or design. You can get:
* Tankless Inflators (very small; suitable for bike tires, balls, and so forth)
* Pancake Compressors (the air tank is top mounted and round & flat like a pancake)
* Hot Dog Compressors (the air tank’s design makes it look like a hot dog on a bun)
* Twin Stack Compressors (Double-mounted tanks for maximum air capacity in a standard footprint)
* Wheelbarrow Compressors (Various designs mounted on a wheeled base for increased mobility)
Stationary Air Compressors
Stationary air compressors are the brutes of the lot. Large, loud, heavy-duty machines, they tend to be used predominately in commercial and industrial settings, though they do occasionally make an appearance in home garages, personal hobby shops, and the like.
Electric vs. Gas
You can also subdivide air compression tools into electric-powered and gas-powered units. Like most other gas vs. electric debates, the former is generally more powerful, but it’s also louder, less environmentally friendly, and more work to take care of. Electric-powered air compressors, by contrast, are generally quieter, “greener”, and on the lower end of the maintenance scale. In practical terms, gas operated air compressors make better heavy, outdoor tools, while electrical ones work best as light-duty machines for personal, indoor / garage work.
The Advantages of Owning an Air Compressor
There are several advantages to owning your own air compressor, and they all have to do with the tools powered by such machines. For starters, there is a huge range and number of pneumatic tools and accessories, which means that unless you’re working on something exotic, you’ll never again be without the right tools for the job at hand! Then there’s the issue of power.
Without an air compressor, you might need to have separate power supplies for five, ten, or even twenty different tools. Failing that, you might need to make multiple trips to a gas station and pay for the use of an air pump. With your own air compressor, you’ll have one power supply for virtually every tool in your collection, and the only money spent will be the price of the air compressor itself (and perhaps a new tool or a jug of gasoline).
Finally, using an at-home air compressor can make a big statement about your environmental values – electric air compressors and air-powered tools are about as energy efficient and environmentally aware as you can get!
The Best Air Compressor on the Market: The Contenders
With so many air compressors on the market, all with their own unique designs, features, and selling points (not to mention their own expensive, glitzy marketing campaigns!), it can be hard to differentiate between them all, let alone make a final purchasing decision that you can be confident about. Below, however, you can find three of the top-rated air compressors on the market, vetted contenders all for the title of the best air compressor available. To learn more, read on!
The Direct Drive air compressor from Kensun actually comes in a wide variety of models. However, for the purpose of this guide, consider our budget entry to be the A1032. A small, compact unit, the A1032 is something you can carry around with you, especially since Kensun managed to integrate a couple of nice work-related features into this compressor in spite of its small form factor. If you need a pint-sized air compressor for your garage or RV, this would be the sort you’d want to look for.
Rather than going for sheer budgetary constraint or excess, the smart shopper always tries to strike the best balance possible between the money they spend and the product they receive. In this case, the best air compressor for the money is the PC1010 from Senco, also known as the Peak. Solid and robust, the PC1010 nevertheless manages to be portable. Its one gallon air capacity, generous output, and rapid action make it ideal for light DIY projects and construction, powering your pneumatic tools, and various other personal or work-related projects. If you’re the handyman type and you want a quiet, reliable air compressor for your money, check out the PC1010 Peak from Senco!
If your air compressor simply must be the most powerful, most durable, most attractive model money can buy, you could do much worse than the Makita MAC700 Big Bore. Sky blue and strong as a pneumatic ox, this Makita’s eponymous large bore gives it a bigger output at a higher rate of efficiency, making this compressor great for heavier residential tasks and light construction. Of course, it can still handle tire inflation and other such tasks, too. If you aren’t fussy about spending money as long as you get a tool that can tackle just about anything you can throw at it, this MAC700 is a great option.
The Primary Considerations of an Air Compressor Purchase
It doesn’t matter if you spend one dollar or one million – if you purchase a product or tool without a thorough knowledge of what it does, how it works, and the extent to which it is able – or unable! – to further the specific goals of its new owner (that’s you!), you’ve wasted your money. Wasting cash is always ill-advised, and part of the function of this guide to air compressors is helping the reader to avoid doing it. That’s why you can find an outline of the four chief considerations involved in any air compressor purchase. Study them, keep them in mind when you shop, and your purchase is all but guaranteed to be one that will please and profit you for years to come.
Price: Let’s face it: Budgetary concerns are important. The first metric most shoppers will consider when making a purchase of a new tool or other item is its sticker price. Be warned, however, that although money is obviously important, there’s more to the value of a thing than its MSRP.
Output: Thrift is important, but it pales in comparison to the output rating of your new air compressor (a statistic / rating which is measured in cubic feet of compressed air generated per minute and/or PSI pounds of compressed air per square inch). What good, after all, is a few extra bucks in your wallet if the tool you just bought can’t do the job due to insufficient airflow? Each air compressor is different in this regard, so make sure that yours is adequate for the jobs you need done, whether they be simple (inflation of tires, sports balls, and so forth) or more involved (DIY projects, construction, and the like). Also, make sure that the airflow provided is sufficient to power all your pneumatic tools repeatedly and over the long term.
Performance: The overall performance of your chosen air compressor is a very important metric to evaluate – perhaps the most important. Performance isn’t just about raw power in terms of air output, either, although that’s certainly one part of it! Among other things, you also ought to consider the features included with your machine (or the lack thereof), its durability and maintenance forecast (this can add a lot of money and hassle after the sale if ignored!) and depending upon your specific intentions, its power-to-weight ratio and/or portability.
Aftercare: What happens to your tools after you buy them is every bit as important the purchase itself. In fact, it’s an indispensable facet of any intelligent purchase. When buying your air compressor of choice, make sure the warranty is suitable and adequate, that the parent company has a good reputation (if it’s bad, customer service will be lackluster at best, nightmarish at worst), and so forth. It may seem like a non-issue now, but a year down the road, a good warranty backed by a customer-centered company will save you time, money, and untold frustration.
Model by Model Consideration-Based Breakdown
In the following section, you’ll find each of the air compressor models in this guide broken down in terms of the four primary pre-purchase considerations outlined above.
* Kensun Direct Drive A1032 MSRP: $69.99 USD
* Senco PC1010 Peak MSRP: $109.90 USD
* Makita MAC700 Big Bore MSRP: $199.00 USD
NOTE: Each compressor’s airflow / output rating will be defined by the industry standard CFM (Cubic feet per minute) or PSI (Lbs. per square inch) ratings. Where available, both ratings will be given.
* Kensun Direct Drive A1032 airflow / output rating: 100 PSI
* Senco PC1010 Peak airflow / output rating: 120 PSI
* Makita MAC700 Big Bore airflow / output rating: 40 PSI @ 3.8 CFM, 90 PSI @ 3.3 CFM, 130 PSI (Maximum output threshold)
The Kensun Direct Drive A1032 is a budget air compressor that tries hard, but ultimately falls short. In fairness, let’s go over this unit’s good points first. Kensun, Inc.’s A1032 is the only air compressor reviewed in this guide to offer both a pressure gauge and an integrated flashlight for low-visibility work environments. Light as a feather and shipped with a nice little carrying case, this compressor is also eminently portable, which isn’t something that can be said of other machines. Multiple hose adapters are included, and both the hose itself and the cord are generous in terms of length. Finally, an electric motor makes for whisper-quiet operation. Unfortunately, for all its successes, when it comes to actual usability, the A1032 is virtually useless. The overwhelming majority of past users report such unacceptable shortcomings as:
* Motor burnout / overheating
* An average maximum output of 40 PSI (this machine is rated at 100 PSI)
* A non-readable / incorrectly calibrated pressure gauge
* Nearly incomprehensible instructions
Ultimately, user reports seem to indicate that during its lifespan, this offering from Kensun works well enough. Of course, when the uses one can wring out of that lifespan can be counted on the fingers of one hand, that’s hardly a mark in its favor.
The Senco PC1010 Peak is our pick for “Best Value for the Money”, and with good reason. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that this unit is what the A1032 strives to be. Light, quiet, and powerful for its size, you can expect this little Senco to give you great service for your hard-earned dollar. If there’s a drawback to the performance of the PC1010 Peak, it’s one of size. Simply put, this is a light duty air compressor. If you like to work on at-home DIY projects or even light construction, this machine will do everything you ask of it. On the other hand, its comparatively low maintenance requirement notwithstanding, the Peak’s output, tank capacity, refill rate, and related ratings simply aren’t up to the challenge of medium to large scale jobs.
The Makita MAC700 Big Bore is this guide’s choice for the market’s best overall air compressor. At sixty pounds, the description of this model as “portable” is a bit dubious, but it can certainly be lugged around if the user is willing. Needing to use this Makita air compressor as a stationary tool (which is what most prior users have done) is a small trade-off to make, though. Electrical operation keeps this high-quality machine purring like a baby kitten, and its components are lubricated with oil, extending its operational life with minimal effort. All-metal construction done in an attractive sky / powder blue also helps to up the durability of this machine. As far as actual usage is concerned, all that can be said – indeed all that needs to be said – is that the MAC700 will do just about anything you ask of it, whether you require it for some home renovations, mid-level construction projects, for use as a pneumatic tool power supply, or what have you. Between its generous output rating, extra-large bore, tank-like construction, and welcoming “mateablity”, there will hardly be a task or tool too large or exotic for this compressor to handle.
One extremely important note: Use the lubrication oil provided, and replace it regularly! Failure to do this will drastically shorten the life of this Makita air compressor, impede its performance, and cause undue danger to the user.
NOTE: Each of the units reviewed in this guide are covered by a one year warranty.
Kensun A1032: In terms of customer service, Kensun’s reputation is somewhat checkered. Some users report prompt, “extra mile”-type service, while others report a minimum of effort from Kensun’s customer service team. Most customer service tickets have resulted in a replacement product rather than repairs on a faulty one.
Senco PC1010; Senco is a company with a glowing reputation for the construction and usability of its products. Unfortunately for its customers, it seems that the corporation has taken the common path of referring service issues to so-called “authorized Senco dealers”, whose individual service policies are hit and miss. As a result, users of Senco products are almost universally delighted with their purchases while they work as advertised, but they can do little but hope for the best when service is finally required.
Makita MAC700; To put it bluntly, based on prior user assessments, Makita is a company that can be counted on to deliver great post-purchase service if the user can just luck into talking to someone in authority. Low-level customer service agents are rather inept, but persevere, and your concerns will be addressed in due course. Once that happens, resolution is swift and satisfactory.
Sifting through the bevy of air compressors on the market today until you come to a confident purchasing decision can be challenging, but thanks to this handy primer, it no longer has to be! In fact, the best advice in the entire guide can be summarized like this: The Makita MAC700 Big Bore is our best overall pick for a reason. Still stuck even after getting this far? Buy the Big Bore, and you’ll be walking on (compressed) air before you know it!
Thanks for reading – happy shopping!