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An air compressor can be a godsend at home, in the garage, or on a job site. While portable cordless tools are valuable, air tools tend to cost less than their battery-powered counterparts. While they're limited by things like compressor portability and hose length, there's a reason nearly every auto shop and construction crew has some version of a compressor on site — they're rugged, reliable, and, in some cases, irreplaceable.
There are several factors to consider when shopping for an air compressor. A reliable brand name is important to some, although several lesser-known companies specialize in compressors. Tank size can be a big deal depending on the job at hand, and the maximum PSI that tank can hold is equally crucial.
Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) or Standard Cubic Feet per Minute (SCFM) are also important metrics that measure the rate at which air flows in and out of the compressor tank. The higher the CFM or SCFM, the more tools you can use at once, or the higher the duty cycle you can get out of those tools. For the sake of keeping things comparable, the compressors on our list are mostly designed for airing up some tires or running a finishing nailer or two rather than running an entire shop full of auto repair air tools.
We considered these metrics and came up with this list of affordable air compressors made by some of the top brands in the industry.
Bostich is a company well known for reliable, rugged fastening tools (and office supplies, oddly enough) built for tradespeople in the automotive and construction industries. One thing that folks in both of those industries rely on is air tools, and Bostitch makes many great compressors to pair with its durable tools.
This 1.2-gallon trim air compressor is a good example, with a compact design and a tank storage pressure of 150 PSI. It's a well-executed roll cage design, putting the controls front and center while also adding features like a power cord wrap and an accessory pocket. The cage also serves to protect the compressor itself. The unit delivers 2.8 SCFM at 90 PSI, a reasonable amount for using a tool like a Brad nailer or air stapler.
Some buyers among the hundreds of Amazon reviews mention that the one-year warranty is a little short. But Bostitch does offer replacement parts and a handy DIY-er — you know, the type that would buy an air compressor in the first place — should have no problem installing a new pressure valve. And Bostitch does offer plenty of larger options on its website, should one need a more heavy-duty piece of equipment. However, the excellent design, portability, and reliability of this model make it worth its $175 price tag on Amazon.
California Air Tools
Noise is often an issue with air compressors, especially when used indoors. Some of the larger units can be nearly deafening — as the unlucky guy who was set up next to the compressor in my last auto shop, I can attest to having had to wear ear protection all day, every day. Even smaller portable compressors like the ones we are listing today can produce some pretty impressive sounds, with many hitting over 80 decibels. For comparison, that's about as loud as a freight train!
One of the better-rated compressor brands in terms of noise is California Air Tools. Buyers note the compressors' reliability as well as the relatively quiet operating volume. The company markets several of its compressors as "ultra quiet," and while that's a relative term, it does apply in this case. The California Air Tools 8010A, for example, produces about 60 decibels, comparable to a busy restaurant. Its aluminum tank reduces the risk of rust and makes the unit more lightweight than a traditional steel tank.
For $222 on Amazon, this wheeled oil-free compressor has a capacity of eight gallons, maxes out at 120 PSI, and it's oil-free for those of us who forget to oil up our tools regularly. It's under 40 pounds, making it fairly easy to move around as the job requires, and many online reviewers point out that one can't even hear the compressor running in a garage when they head indoors.
One of America's most trusted brands, the former Sears exclusive is now available nationwide in several stores, including Lowe's and Ace Hardware. Craftsman's reputation for affordability and reliability may owe somewhat to nostalgia, but the company does make some great tools — even after the brand was purchased by Stanley Black+Decker in 2017. Craftsman's air compressor selection is no exception.
One of the best-reviewed compressor options, the Craftsman CMEC6150, is only $184 on Amazon. This pancake-style compressor has a six-gallon tank and comes with a variety of accessories, including a 25-foot air hose with quick connections pre-installed, a tire chuck, a blow gun, and a basketball needle.
The compressor itself produces 2.6 SCFM at 90 psi, enough to power a pair of nailers. The unit has dual quick-connect couplers installed for just that. It's also compact, light, and stable, with a carrying handle built into the plastic pump housing and rubber feet to keep the compressor in place.
The pump is oil-free, leaving maintenance off the table, and at 78.5 decibels, it runs about as loud as the average compressor — meaning maybe leave the garage door open or put some ear protection in if you'll be working close to the compressor. Of course, if one needs heavier-duty options with larger tanks and a higher SCFM rating, Amazon's Craftsman store has several options, including battery-powered ones and 20-gallon tanks.
When we talk about top brands, DeWalt is always going to make the list. The "yellow brand" of tools has been around since the 1920s, with many of its tools (including the compressor we'll discuss here) assembled here in the United States. It's another brand owned by Stanley Black+Decker, but daily tool users recognize the DeWalt brand as its own beast, a reliable and durable toolmaker.
DeWalt's most popular pancake compressor on Amazon, the DWFP55126, is a great balance of performance and price. It's specifically designed to work well in cold weather, which is a common problem among compressors. It features two built-in universal couplers, allowing for tag team action or dual wielding of air tools right out of the box. The pump is maintenance-free, and the six-gallon tank can handle a whopping 165 max PSI, although it only produces 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI, which is in line with many of the other compressors on our list.
And while 78.5 decibels isn't the quietest compressor on our list, it is average for this size of compressor. At $199 on Amazon, this compressor is definitely one of the more solid, average options on our list, albeit one with a surprising air pressure capacity.
Often mentioned as one of the best toolmakers in the country, Makita's unique teal color scheme is seen on job sites across the country. The company's tools are typically high-end products, but that's not to say it doesn't produce affordable tools, and even its more expensive offerings are typically worth the price in quality, durability, and reliability.
The Makita MAC210Q Quiet Series Air Compressor design is really tough-looking — engineers clearly considered the protection of the motor, building a metal roll cage around the most vulnerable part of the tool and welding that to the air tank. The design actually made this compressor a runner-up for 2020's Pro Tool Innovation Awards, coming second to our next entry.
Running at only 60 decibels, it's a very quiet compressor, matching the California Air Tools compressor we mentioned above as the quietest on our list. The maximum pressure in the two-gallon tank is 135 PSI, which is higher than our average, and its one-horsepower induction motor can fill the tank in just 65 seconds. The compressor will run $314 at Home Depot, and its rugged design makes it a perfect pick for those more rugged jobs — or just for less careful users.
This German toolmaker might be one of the lesser-known companies on our list, but Metabo has been around since the 1920s. SlashGear has mentioned Metabo in our listing of the top-rated tool combo kits available at Lowe's, and the company even won a Pro Tool Innovation Award in 2020 for its pancake compressor, dubbed "The Tank."
The Metabo EC914SM is a tough-looking little compressor, earning the nickname "The Tank," and the specs on this tool make it one of the best on our list. Its maximum tank capacity of 200 PSI is at the top end of our list, and its 4 CFM at 90 PSI is enough to power two framing nailers at once or even more heavy-duty tools like a half-inch air ratchet. The metal handle and large protective casing over the compressor motor make this compressor a rugged, durable choice.
This long list of great features, with a price tag under $200 at Lowe's, makes this one of the best choices for a user who needs to get a lot of power out of a small package.
DIY enthusiasts, home mechanics, and even the occasional penny-pinching professional will attest to the quality of many of the tools available at Harbor Freight. The massive discount tool store isn't the be-all and end-all of tool shops, but if one goes in knowing what's great — and what to avoid — the local HF can save shoppers a lot of money while still letting them acquire a solid set of tools and tool storage.
Harbor Freight's own line of low-cost air compressors, McGraw, is featured in its stores as well as on Amazon. While some lower-powered options are available for less money, this six-gallon pancake features 150 max PSI and a pump that runs at around 83 decibels. The 2.8 SCFM it produces at 90 PSI puts this compressor in line with many on our list, and it has many of the same features as more expensive models, including dual quick-connect hookups, oil-free design, an integrated handle, and solid rubber footing. All this for only $130 in-store and online once the site restocks.
While all of its compressors are highly rated, both on the Harbor Freight website and Reddit, the amount of money one saves by going this route justifies getting something a little larger —maybe this 20-gallon, 135 PSI vertical tank that runs $240 on Harbor Freight's site or stores. Rated at 4 SCSM, it's perfect for most garage air tools and has a built-in handle and wheels for ease of movement.
One of America's best tool brands by any metric, Milwaukee's bright red products have been exceeding customers' demands for nearly a century. While Milwaukee's price tags are higher than the competition, online brand loyalists often call out the company's better "feel," wide variety of industry-specialized tools for tradespeople, and rugged reliability as justification for that higher cost.
Milwaukee makes a wide variety of products, from hand tools to lawn care equipment. And while Milwaukee makes several smaller tire inflators, the wide adoption of its M18 Fuel battery system makes us want to focus on this 2 Gallon Compact Quiet Compressor. It runs quieter than most comparable battery-powered compressors at 68 decibels. It's easy to move around, with an integrated roll cage that doubles as a built-in handle, making it durable enough to be tossed into a truck bed after use.
At 1.2 SCFM, it's mostly appropriate for lower-power tools like a single nailer, but it can fire up to 1,600 nails on a single battery charge. As part of the M18 FUEL line, its batteries are compatible with over 250 other Milwaukee tools, including these standouts. It'll cost shoppers $379 at Home Depot, but that's perfectly reasonable for a Milwaukee product, especially if one has already invested in other tools that use the same battery packs.
Ryobi is a brand that seems to get a lot of unearned criticism online, but the company makes a great tool for the average homeowner. SlashGear is a big believer in the brand, as we've recommended many of its tools over the last few months while steering shoppers clear of some lower-quality ones. Even if one is simply getting into a new trade or hobby, Ryobi's tools are affordable enough to try something new — or something weird — and not be too disappointed if that tool doesn't work out.
The Home Depot exclusive brand uses its One+ battery line to deliver a good portable compressor in this little green monster. The One+ Portable 18V Horizontal Air Compressor can handle up to 120 PSI, and Ryobi says it can inflate nine car tires on one charge. Being a well-designed portable with a built-in handle, it also eliminates hose length limitations, allowing the user to simply pick the 14-pound unit up and move to where it's needed.
The drain valve is a simple ¼-turn design, and as part of the Ryobi One+ family, hundreds of other tools can be powered by the same battery packs that keep this compressor humming. While it's not suited for much more than tire inflation or a nail gun, its current price of $180 at Home Depot makes it a great addition to a DIY-er's tool suite, especially for those buyers who have already invested in the One+ system.
Stark USA imports a number of good compressors that balance power output with noise. While the company has only been around for a little over a decade, its compressors have already proven popular among pro reviewers and shoppers.
The Stark USA 65151 is a lemon-yellow 10-gallon compressor that can hold up to 125 PSI and features automatic shutoff. With a rating of 3.5 CFM at 90 PSI, the use of more heavy-duty tools isn't out of the question, and its 65-decibel noise rating puts it on the low end of our compressor spectrum. The cast-iron cylinder is stable and durable, with large rubber feet on the front end and large wheels on the back for easy transport.
Amazon reviews note that a recent redesign by Stark led to the replacement of the cheap plastic handle the unit used to feature; it's since been fitted with a sturdier metal one. However, it is worth noting that Stark USA is not in the manufacturing business, as its tools are imported and rebranded. But at $210 on Amazon for a well-reviewed compressor featuring a tank with 10 times the capacity of many of our other choices, Stark is a brand worth considering as its compressor packs a lot of power in a small, affordable package.