Air compressors can power air brushes, paint sprayers, and pneumatic tools, and they can fill a tire that’s low on air. They work by pressurizing (or compressing) ambient air and then releasing that air on demand. Finding the best one to meet your needs can be tough, but knowing the basics about how they work and what separates one model from another can make the process easier.
One of the first things you’ll notice about compressors is that they typically store air in a tank. Air is drawn into this tank, where it is pressurized. The tank will run out of air eventually, and the compressor will have to stop long enough to refill. As you might expect, machines with larger tanks generally cost a bit more and are heavier, so you’ll need to decide whether any extra expense and weight are worth the convenience of fewer stops and starts. There are some models that compress air as it’s drawn in instead of relying on a tank. While these models are the least expensive, smallest, and lightest, they are also the least powerful by far. They can be great for keeping in the car in case a tire gets low; just be sure to consult your car’s owner’s manual to make sure that a compressor’s power requirements don’t go beyond what your car can handle.
When it comes to noise levels, look at the decibel (dB) rating for any models you consider. To give you an idea of what different dB levels mean, consider that a normal conversation usually generates about 60 dB, and a chainsaw clocks in at about 110 dB. Remember, too, that using any machine in an enclosed space can make it seem louder than it really is. If you have to have an ultra quiet air compressor, check out this list of some of the quietest models available. They aren’t the most powerful compressors, but are great for finish work and smaller to medium jobs.
When it comes to deciding how powerful your air compressor needs to be, you’ll come across three measurements related to power. Horsepower (HP) is really the least important number. This is because an air compressor’s pure power doesn’t mean much on its own; instead, you’ll want to know more about the PSI and CFM. PSI stands for pounds per square inch and refers to how powerful the air stream delivered to your project will be. A higher PSI rating means the air will come out more forcefully. Deliverable cubic feet per minute, CFM, tells you how much compressed air your machine can deliver. If you do multiple types of jobs that have different air-delivery requirements, consider a model that allows you to adjust settings to suit your work. If your work is consistently the same, you might be able to spend less on a model that has only one setting. If your jobs are lighter duty (like airbrushing), there’s no real need to spend maximum dollars for maximum power that you’ll never actually use.
When it comes to your power source, air compressors are generally gasoline, electric, or battery powered. Gasoline-powered models are usually the most powerful, but are also the most expensive and could be inappropriate for use indoors or in tight spaces due to the exhaust. Electric models, in addition to being less powerful, can also be inconvenient if you need to move the compressor around in an area that’s not outlet-rich. Battery powered models are limited in that they can only run as long as the charge lasts, so be sure you know what the usual run time per charge is if you opt for one of these.
When it comes to portable models, compressors will either be small enough and light enough to carry or mounted to a wheeled rack for easy rolling.
Visit aircompressors.reviews for comparisons, including pros and cons, of some of the best models for users at all levels.
If you’re a DIYer looking for a lighter-duty unit or maybe looking for something that could be appropriate for a car towing service or roadside assistance use, this site compares some of the best portable models.