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Last updated on January 19th, 2021
Natural air is not only meant to be breathed in. It can also be utilized as a form of energy for home and industrial use to operate light and heavy duty pneumatic tools. This is achieved using an air compressor device that converts air to potential energy that is stored as compressed air. The compressed air or rather pressurized air is used to drive air tools, inflate tires and sports balls among other purposes.
Air compressors come in different types, shapes, and sizes but the portable air compressor units are the most versatile and useful for small and medium duty. Some store enough hosepower for heavy duty applications. In this article, we review the 5 best portable electric air compressor units that can be used with a 120V power supply at home or job site.
5 Best Portable Air Compressor Units for Small and Medium SCFM Needs
Detailed Portable Air Compressor Reviews
Porter Cable C2002 Oil-free UMC Pancake Compressor Review
Measuring only 19 inches long, 18 inches wide and 20.94 inches tall and weighing about 30lbs, the Porter-Cable UMC Pancake air Compressor is very easy to store. Even if you already have other compressors, this little one will ease your job, without digesting your space. Moreover, it is very easy to maintain mainly because it has an oil-free pump. At 150 psi max pressure, the pancake-designed tank holds enough air while at the same time ensuring stability. Weighing only 30 pounds, this compressor is sturdy and its induction motor ensures expanded life and increased performance. It also works well in winter, when temperatures are low.
The Porter-Cable UMC Pancake Compressor starts up quickly and it does not leak. It is equipped with replaceable brushes, to keep the motor in good condition and ensure extended life. The maximum pressure of 150 PSI enlarges the runtime and the High-Flo air regulator protects against large pressure drops.
The compacted design sees that the vital parts are protected, at the same time making the compressor easy to carry around and including cord wrap. The main characteristics of the Porter-Cable UMC Pancake Compressor are its low weight -which makes it incredibly easy to control and to carry with you everywhere, its compacted design, its sturdiness, and its extended life. It is great for those looking for a little compressor to help them do some this and that around the house.
Verdict: The Porter-Cable UMC Pancake Compressor by Porter-Cable is a handy portable air compressor suitable for jobs involving small and medium CFM needs. It is perfect for everything from filling tires to firing nailers and can be easily moved around because of its lightweight and compact design. Its induction motor guarantees long life and optimum performance. Although a little loud, this unit is an ideal companion for every handyman or DIYer.
Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor Review
The Makita MAC700 is a high performance oil-lubricated portable air compressor. It is capable of delivering up to 3.3 cubic feet per minute at 90 PSI and has a maximum pressure of 120 PSI. The unit features a large yet low RPM pump that enables it to operate at lower noise levels than the competition. Although the unit will still wake up a sleeping baby when used around the house, it will not necessarily pose damage to a user’s ears. However, it is advisable to use ear protection gear when using it.
It is not enough to just have a portable air compressor that is quiet. You also need one that provides enough power to get the job done. Of course, there are different grades of air compressors and choosing one largely depends on the type of work to be done. The Makita MA700 features a 2.0 HP motor that powers a cast iron pump which features a big bore cylinder with a piston that delivers an impressive performance.
Besides noise levels and power output of an air compressor, durability is also another critical factor to consider when choosing an appropriate portable air compressor. The good news is that the Makita MAC700 is designed for industrial performance with increased durability. Not only does its low ampere draw reduce the number of times the breakers trip and voltage drops, an issue that causes premature motor failure, but also has a cooler running pump that minimizes wear. The cast-iron hot-dog shaped cylinder and roll-bar handle means that the Makita MAC700 is built to last. The feet have rubber all round to dampen vibration that can otherwise damage components.
The makita air compressor is compact although relatively larger than some of the portable air compressor units. It sits 22 inches high with a length of 18 inches and width of only 10 inches. It is small enough to fit in a truck but might be too large to fit into a small car. However, the cast-iron construction of the MAC700 that is partially responsible for the ruggedness of the unit makes the portable air compressor quite heavy, at a weight of 52 lbs.
Verdict: If you are looking to inflate tires, clear leaves from the yard, or power an air tool, the Makita MAC700 portable air compressor will provide the output you need. Its valve regulator will ensure that the right amount of pressure is delivered to your air tool. The unit has a fast recovery (will get from 0 to 130 PSI in a minute) so that you won’t have to wait for long before the tank is filled up with air and available for use again. The only major downside with this tool is the regular maintenance required because of its oil lube pump type. Its size also can be a bit of a problem during transportation especially if you have limited space on the trunk of your small car
Excell SAC22HPE 2 Gallon Ultra Quiet Air Compressor Review
Measures 18.9 x 17.8 x 14.8 inches and weighs only about 40 pounds for easy transportation and storage. Unlike the Makita MAC700, the Excell air compressor features an oil-free pump and is one of the quietest air compressors in the industry operating at 61dB. You can use it with the confidence of not waking a sleeping baby when used around the house or cause noise pollution in a quiet neighborhood.
In addition to its long-lasting oil-free pump, the SAC22HPE excell air compressor also features a heavy-duty 1 HP direct drive induction motor that offers a maximum pressure of 125 PSI and 2 SCFM at 90 PSI. So, no belts or pulleys to adjust or change! Its control panel is conveniently placed with gauges and quick connect right at your fingertips for easy operation. The unit is also fitted with large rubber feet to dampen vibration and keep it from walking as well as increase stability while in operation. The roll cage, on the other hand, offers protection for all components from impact.
Another outstanding feature of this portable air compressor is the ability of its motor to start up with voltage supply as low as 90V. This, together with the ability to operate on a 14 gauge 100ft extension cord, makes the unit great for rural areas with limited power supply.Additionally, you don’t need to worry about the season of the year because the motor can start even in temperatures as low as -14 degrees F.
Verdict: The 2 Gallon Excell SAC22HPE ultra-quiet portable air compressor is a great equipment purposely designed to deliver the performance you need without noise. It is perfect for indoor applications such as trim or finishing jobs. However, because of its relatively low SCFM, this unit will only drive low to medium-duty pneumatic tools that require less than 2 SCFM at 90 PSI. The low voltage starting capability of its motor and the ability to start at temperatures as low as -14 deg F makes this equipment ideal for use in rural areas.
Bostitch BTFP02012 6 Gallon 150 PSI Oil-Free Portable air Compressor Review
Like the Porter Cable C2002, the Bostitch BTFP02012 also has a pancake design with a 6 Gallon air tank. The unit is compact and weighs only 29 pounds thus increasing portability. It also occupies a small storage space hence easy to transport especially with limited space.
Bostitch portable air compressor features an oil-free, maintenance-free pump that delivers 2.6 SCFM* @ 90PSI with a maximum tank pressure of 150 PSI. It features 2 easily accessible 1/4 inch output couplers to allow you to connect two air tools at the same time. Pressure gauges are conveniently placed at the control panel for easy monitoring.
The air compressor is bundled with additional accessories such as a 50 feet Rubber/PCV Blend Air Hose made of hybrid polymer for increased durability and flexibility even in extremely cold temperatures. Other accessories include a tire chuck and gauge, a couple of inflation attachments, a blow gun and rubber tip, safety nozzle, and 1/4″ NPT male plugs.
Unfortunately, the noise levels of this pancake-type portable air compressor is quite high at 80dBA. That makes it unsuitable for use in very quiet environments or enclosed rooms. Moreover, you need a pair of ear guards when running the equipment.
Verdict: With less than 1 HP and not more than 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI, the Bostitch pancake portable air compressor is suitable for low volume applications. It can therefore be used to operate tools such as low pressure sprayers, nail guns or even inflate tires and air beds. An outstanding feature of this air compressor is the dual couplers that allow you to power two air tools simultaneously. Generally, this equipment is a great air compressor for home use. It even includes the basic accessories such as 10 Piece Inflation and Blow Gun Accessory Kit and a 50 feet Rubber/PVC Blend Air Hose as bonus.
Portable Air Compressor Buying Guide
There are many different kinds of air compressors on the market. Some are good for home users, while others are suitable for portable use or for use in a machine shop. Before you buy an air compressor, you should think carefully about what you want to use it for and how heavily it will be used. This will help you to ensure that you are satisfied with your purchase for many years to come. The following are factors to consider when purchasing a portable air compressor:
1. Power Supply
The first thing that you need to consider is the kind of power supply that you want for the air compressor. You can find air compressors powered by gas or electricity. Gas powered air compressors are very reliable and have the added benefit of being relatively portable since you can power them via free-standing gas cylinders. A good gas compressor will last you for many years and offers a lot of power. However, gas compressors can be expensive and they also have the added downside of requiring good ventilation. A gas compressor is not a good choice for a cramped workspace.
Electric compressors are available in several styles and are perfect for workshop use. There are smaller, portable compressors that can be used via a car’s cigarette lighter system, but these are low powered and only really for inflating tires and performing other minor jobs. Bigger electrical compressors are suitable for use in a static environment such as a garage or workshop, but it is important to note that if your household has older wiring you may struggle to power a bigger 110V electrical compressor, and a 220V compressor may require you to have extensive electrical work carried out. Smaller compressors should not be a problem, but they are often lower quality and underpowered compared to the high-end workshop systems.
2. Pump type – Oil lube or Oil Free?
One recent innovation in the world of electrical compressors is the oil-free compressor, which is also known as the maintenance-free compressor. These systems are designed for people who do not know a lot about power tools and do not want to invest time in learning how to maintain them. The benefit of oil-free compressors is that you do not have to be pro-active about maintaining them. You will get a much longer useful life out of an oil-free compressor than a neglected oiled compressor. Additionally, if your work involves transporting the compressor to and from the job site, the oil-free compressor is more convenient because it can be carried in any orientation without worry of oil spill.
However, an oiled model will run quieter, prove more reliable and last for a lot longer if it is properly maintained. This advantage becomes even more pronounced if you use high-quality synthetic pump oil for your oiled compressor because it will last for a long time between changes and support smooth and efficient running. One thing to remember is that no compressor, even an oil-free one, is really completely maintenance free. Even oil-free compressors will need to be drained periodically. If you expect to put your compressor through heavy use then you should purchase an oiled one.
Another consideration is how much power you need. More horsepower is not necessarily better in the world of air compressors. The most important thing is the air flow and the efficiency of the device. If you are planning on buying a compressor for home use then two horsepower should be fine. If you want one for a workshop then get one that is slightly more powerful.
PSI is the short form for pounds per square inch. It is the unit for measurement of pressure. A low PSI pump is perfectly acceptable for inflating tires. However, if you want a compressor that can tackle some bigger or more demanding tasks then you should look for one that offers at least 125 PSI, or 150PSI is ideal.
SCFM is in full the Standard Cubic Feet per Minute. It is the measure of air flow a compressor is capable of producing. Air flow is one of the most critical features of compressors. It assists in deciding the most appropriate compressor for a particular purpose. For instance, if you want to use an air ratchet or a small impact wrench then you will need an air compressor that offers 6.0 SCFM at around 90 PSI. Some other tools, such as tools for spraying paint, will work at 40PSI, but most tools require 90PSI. If you want to use bigger tools, then you will need a more powerful compressor. Do not purchase a compressor that is lower in performance if you think that you will want to use heavy-duty tools with it. This is a false economy and you will end up wanting to replace the compressor quite quickly. Actually, as a rule of thumb, a compressor should have an SCFM rating that is at least 1.5x higher than required by a pneumatic tool.
6. Size of the Tank
The tank is where compressed air is stored. So, the larger the tank size the more compressed air is in storage to be used to operate pneumatic tools. The size of tank that you need for your air compressor depends on the purpose of the compressor. If you plan on using the compressor exclusively to pump up tires then a small pancake type tank will be fine. For that kind of use the most important thing is that the compressor offers at least 125PSI. If you want to use air tools, however, then you will need a 20 gallon tank, or bigger. A 30 gallon tank is a good choice for a dedicated home mechanic or a small workshop. Bigger tanks and higher SCFM ratings are better for tool use.
Getting The Best Deal
Air compressors are typically promoted as being consumer, contractor or commercial grade. Consumer grade compressors are adequate for casual garage use, but many dedicated mechanics leap straight up to contractor grade compressors because they can cope with bigger air demands and run a wider variety of air tools. Commercial grade air compressors are incredibly large and expensive and are overkill for most people. They are designed for use in environments where the compressor will be running all day, every day. They are very powerful and reliable, but they are not necessary unless you know that you will be using them in extremely demanding situations.
Buying an air compressor is a big decision, and you should think carefully before you spend a lot of money on one. If you have any doubts, err on the side of slightly more power and features, so that the compressor will serve you well as your needs evolve.