Car Bibles is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
A standard shop air compressor is typically designed with the DIY user in mind. It can be used to perform basic tasks such as tire inflation, blow cleaning, nailing, and airbrush painting. You can also find an industrial grade one with the capacity to tackle extensive jobs in an automotive maintenance shop.
However, it can be a bit confusing trying to figure out which is the best shop air compressor on the market figuring that they all come with different performance specifications. To help make the decision easier, here’s a list of some decent air compressors that we highly recommend.
The Best Shop Air Compressor
The Rolair Plus may be an overachiever in a number of ways, and that’s why it tops our list. First, it’s a compact, 2.5-gallon, oil-less compressor that’s designed to promote fuel efficiency. It runs on a 1.0 HP Honda engine with automatic idle-down, a feature that greatly reduces the amount of fuel consumed when it’s running. With a noise rating of 60 decibels, you can take a phone call or listen to music without having to power down the compressor.
It’s capable of putting out 2.4 CFM at a standard pressure of 90 psi, which is enough for light projects like inflating tires, installing trims, and auto detailing. The tank is a bit under 40 pounds, has an ergonomic carry handle, and has a space-saving design that can fit under a work table. Since it’s an oil-free pump, it requires minimal maintenance and there’s no risk of messy spills.
60-decibel noise level
2.4 CFM at 90 PSI
- Weight2.5 gallons
Protected from accidental knock overs with a roll cage
Lightweight and compact design
Features a rust-resistant aluminum housing
May experience leaking issues
Requires constant refilling
Not suitable for commercial use
The Bostitch Pancake Compressor is a great choice for working in a noise-free environment during the cold weather. At 78.5 decibels, the compressor runs relatively quietly, while the high-flow regulator supplies you with the optimal level of air. The system is supported by an efficient motor that pumps at a speed of 2,700 rpm and pushes out a maximum of 150 psi.
It can deliver 2.6 SCFM at a standard pressure of 90 psi. That’s enough to fill an inflatable mattress. The motor also allows for easy starts and operation in cold weather. Thanks to the dual couplers, two people can use it at the same time so long as they aren’t powering air-hungry tools.
0.8 HP motor
78.5-decibel noise level
150 PSI Maximum Pressure
- Weight6 gallons
Can support two users
Easy starts in cold weather
Easy to move around
Pancake design gives it a steady base
Regulator isn’t quite precise
Short power cord
Overheats with extended use
The high price tag on the Ingersoll Rand Compressor is a reflection of its advertised durability with features that can offer thousands of hours of service life. First, it comes with a cast iron pump that can run for up to 15,000 hours with minimal to no issues whatsoever. Then, it’s lubricated with an all-season synthetic lubricant that can offer about 2,000 hours of service before you need to change it out.
With a 5-horsepower motor and 175-psi maximum pressure, it’s a great tool to have in demanding jobs such as dry cleaners, woodworking shops, repair shops, body shops, and car washes. What’s more, its 60-gallon tank offers enough airflow to handle air-intensive jobs. The best part is that it’s fitted with radial fins that facilitate 360-degree cooling of the system to prevent overheating issues even with extended use.
Two-stage air compressor
175 PSI maximum pressure
15,000 hours of extended pump life
- BrandIngersoll Rand
- Weight60 gallons
Perfect for auto body garages and crafting shops
Protected from overheating
Provides thousands of hours of service
Too large for some DIY projects
Not easy to lift or move around
Doesn’t come with wheels
If you are looking for a tank with fast recovery time and tolerable noise levels, then the Stealth Air Compressor may be a great addition to your workshop. It takes only a few minutes to recover after replenishing the initial tank, thanks to its efficient motor, which pushes out 5 CFM at a standard pressure of 90 psi.
It’s equipped with a high-power induction motor that generates 1.8-hp and maintains the noise level at only 68 decibels. The tank is made from heavy-duty steel and moves around easily with the help of the large, 8-inch rubber wheels. The wheels are supported with a steel stand for extra support when it’s being used vertically.
5.5 CFM at 40 psi
150 psi peak pressure
8-inch rubber reinforced wheels
- Weight20 gallons
Corrosion-resistant, heavy-duty steel body
Fast recovery time
Can be easily started in cold weather
Long life cycle of over 1,000 hours
Short life cycle
Large in size
Produces a slight humming noise when the motor is running
With a powerful 1-hp motor, this 8-gallon air compressor generates 120 psi maximum pressure, which is adequate for light DIY projects in the garage. It has an energy-efficient design, and you shouldn’t expect it to reflect on your electricity bill.
The tank is made from high-strength steel and is fitted with an oil-free, dual-piston pump system that’s built for durability, and is advertised to have a life cycle of over 3,000 hours. It’s rated at 60 decibels, which makes it about 30 percent quieter than most air compressors.
1.0 HP motor
60 decibels of sound
- BrandCalifornia Air Tools
- Weight8 gallons
Fast recovery time
Has a short handle
Tips over easily
Poor quality rubber tires
Not everyone is a fan of large air compressors in their garage, especially if you don’t have demanding projects. If that’s you, then the 6-gallon Dewalt Pancake Air Compressor will do just fine. On standard operation, it can deliver 2.6-SCFM at 90 psi, but that can be more at its maximum pressure of 165 psi. The compressor is lightweight and has a wide base for extra stability when it’s in operation. A ball drain valve fitted at the bottom helps to drain out the excess air in the tank.
At 75.5 decibels, it’s not the quietest air compressor and you’d have to deal with a slight vibration. Also, Dewalt needs to fix a nagging issue with the hose fittings since it has been noted that they tend to leak air with time.
75.5 decibels noise rating
165 psi maximum pressure
2.6 SCFM at 90 psi
- Weight6 gallons
Lightweight and portable
Features a ball drain valve for easy cleanup
Ideal for DIY projects
Poor quality hose fittings
The Campbell Hausfeld is a great pick for hours of service with minimal downtime. With a maximum psi of 125, you can use it for any kind of task from light spray painting to nailing. The motor life can offer up to 5,000 hours of service with minimal issues. Along with that, it generates 1.0 horsepower to ensure optimal performance at any temperature.
The unit comes with easy-to-read dual gauges and slightly at the top of the gauges are dual quick-couplers for fast and easy connections. The gauges and motor are housed in a roll cage, and since it’s an oil-free mechanism, you won’t have to take it apart to lubricate the motor.
125 maximum psi
Oil-free, maintenance-free pump
- BrandCampbell Hausfeld
- Weight8 gallons
Easy to carry
Easy cold weather starts
Suitable for small and medium tasks
Gauge isn’t very precise
Difficult to get replacement parts
Not large enough for commercial use
For a little versatility, you can opt for the Industrial Air Compressor, which has a bit of modern design and can be used both horizontally and vertically. When it comes to performance, it’s pumping speed stands at a staggering 3,450 rpm, and can deliver a maximum pressure of 155 psi.
In addition, it’s fitted with a durable, cast iron, twin-cylinder pump with great heat dissipation properties. You will appreciate how easy it is to access the onboard controls whenever you want to switch it on or off, or set the regulator.
1.0 HP motor
155 PSI maximum pressure
- BrandIndustrial Air
- Weight20 gallons
Fast refill rate
Easy to move around
Fitted with a high speed and efficient motor
Drain at the bottom isn’t easily accessible
Experiences overheating issues
Tips over easily when used or transported vertically
Best Shop Air Compressors Buying Guide
When buying an air compressor, you need to ask yourself why you need it. You might only need it for light jobs like filling tires or blow cleaning around your garage. Alternatively, you might need it for more intense jobs that involve pneumatic tools such as a framing nailer, impact wrenches, die grinders, stapling, or spray painting guns.
You obviously don’t need anything fancy for basic tasks and any high-quality compressor over six gallons will do. However, if you need to power tools that consume a lot of air, you need an air compressor with the ability to store more air and deliver a sufficient amount to keep the tools running. Regardless of what you need, we have to admit that your buying decision is largely determined by how much you know about air compressors. That’s why for this section, we will sharpen your knowledge of air compressors.
The Advantages of Owning a Shop Air Compressor
An air compressor may not be as effective as a pressure washer, but it emits enough pressure to remove dirt and particle buildup. You can use it to get rid of dust in the entire shop or to blow the dust off vehicle seats, mats, and other surfaces.
Power tools are expensive and can cost a bit over $300. Having an air compressor allows you to use cheaper pneumatic tools such as nail guns, staplers, and impact wrenches. The pneumatic tools produce good results and work just as fast as power tools so long as they are powered with a good air compressor model.
- It can be used for numerous applications in woodworking, car detailing, and auto repair work.
- It will help you maintain the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle.
- When painting, it gives the surface a smoother finish, which is somewhat hard to achieve with a hand brush.
The Most Common Types of Shop Air Compressors
Air compressors have become increasingly important for home and workshop use. That’s why it’s important to distinguish between the types available so that you can get the best machine that suits your needs. So, here are the common types to expect.
Oiled or standard air compressors are rather demanding and require regular maintenance by lubricating the pistons to keep them working and in good condition. The lubricating oil needs to be changed regularly. Otherwise, it can cause irreversible damage to the pistons. However, after all the fuss, you are guaranteed a greater output and longer service life than the oil-free version.
They tend to operate quietly and the tanks are hard-wearing. They are the best for getting a lot of work done in a short time. That’s probably why they are popular for industrial and commercial use. The downside is that oiled compressors are more likely to get contaminants in the air line. That’s why they are not the best for painting when you are using a spray gun.
Oil-free compressors come with a permanently lubricated piston and, therefore, require minimal maintenance like frequent oil changes. However, you still need to take care of them by ensuring that the components are in good condition every six months or so. They are made up of fewer parts and wear down faster in comparison to the oiled alternatives. This is probably why they are more affordable.
They are the best for light, DIY, or any non-commercial project in your home or shop. Also, no contaminants get into the air line, and this makes them suitable for spray painting and clinical projects.
What to Consider When Buying a Shop Air Compressor
Before you splurge on an air compressor for your shop, there are few things to consider when it comes to the design and performance elements of the machine. Here’s an in-depth look at key specs that you should consider.
- Tank Size
You ideally want to have a tank that can handle both light- and heavy-duty jobs in your garage shop, but at the same time don’t want something that will take up a lot of space. That’s why you should choose a tank ranging from 6 to 30 gallons. A 30-gallon tank obviously gets depleted less often and can provide enough airflow to spray paint a whole car.
Your choice may also be affected by the type of tools you have. For instance, if you work with a lot of air-hungry tools, then you should buy a larger air tank.
The weight of a compressor greatly determines how easy it is to tote around, but other factors can also reduce a machine’s portability no matter how lightweight it is. For example, a bulky or wide compressor may feel awkward to carry around and you may prefer to have it sitting stationary at one point.
The same case for a machine that doesn’t come with a handle, and you have to use both hands to pick it up. Other than that, a machine fitted with large wheels and a long handle makes it easy to move from point A to B with the least effort.
- CFM Requirement
The CFM, or cubic feet per minute, is a measure of the volume of air that an air compressor can deliver in a minute. It will help you determine if the air compressor is powerful enough to get the air tool to its optimal operating capacity. This is because air tools have specific CFM (SCFM) requirements, where small tools need about 0 to 5 SCFM and large air tools need about 10 or more to run.
The SCFM information of an air tool is often indicated on the user guide it comes with. Alternatively, you can consult the manufacturer's website. If the air compressor can run multiple tools successfully at the same time, then it needs to have the combined SCFM for all the tools. Also, the more CFM an air compressor has, the less likely it will have a pressure drop when running tools with a long air hose.
If you plan to use the air compressor in an enclosed environment, then you will appreciate a quieter machine since it’s more pleasant to operate. Most of the portable air compressors range from 60 to 80 decibels. The decibel scale is somewhat different, in that, something as little as a 10-decibel increase can mean that the machine gets twice as loud.
For instance, a 70-decibel machine is twice as loud as a 60-decibel machine. An 80-decibel machine can be three times louder. Any small reduction in the decibels will help make the machine’s noise level a bit more tolerable.
Tips for Buying and Using Shop Air Compressors
Any air compressor with a 30-gallon tank or less can connect to a standard 120-volt outlet. It’s typical for most garages or homes to have a 120-volt outlet, but if you don’t have one, have a certified electrician create one for you. It’s advisable to connect the air compressor directly to the power outlet. Using an extension cable may lead to a voltage drop that can damage the motor.
To make efficient use of your air compressor system, fix any leaks on the system as soon as you detect them. Do another leak inspection after about two weeks. This is because you will correct the system pressure after fixing the main leak, and this may cause other unnoticeable leaks in the system to grow.
- Limit the use of your air compressor to indoor use to prevent corrosion caused by dust and water vapor.
- Consider using an ultrasonic leak detector, which will help you identify the source of the leak and the leak rate.
- Use desiccant dryers to remove moisture from the air to keep it from condensing in the air compressor.
Best Shop Air Compressors FAQs
Before buying any new tool for your workshop, it’s prudent to ask a few questions to ensure that you get the best deal out there and totally understand what you are bringing into your shop. We will help by answering some of the burning questions that first-time buyers have.
Q. Is there a way to make an air compressor quieter?
A: You can stop the problem at its root by insulating the motor, which is the main source of the noise. Consider using rubber grommets to muffle the noise.
Q. What is a roll cage?
A: A roll cage is a metal gauge fitted around an air compressor to protect the dials and external switches from damage. It also keeps the machine stable and will prevent it from rolling over on its side.
Q. How do I determine the right pressure to use?
A: The air tools you use will determine the amount of pressure you need. Consult the manual for the recommended pressure and choose an air compressor that can deliver the required pressure.
Our Top Pick
We chose the Rolair JC10 Plus as our top pick since it’s light and has a small profile that’s ideal for a workshop setting. It also requires no maintenance at all. The tank can hold enough pressure for finishing and trim jobs, and operates quietly with little to no vibration.