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Best Air Compressor Buying Guide

Best Air Compressors - A Buyer's Guide

When it comes to choosing the best air compressor, there are a lot of choices but it all comes down to what is the best for the job at hand and the budget you have to work with. For example the best shop air compressor is not going to be the best portable air compressor, and while a budget air compressor may be appealing it isn't necessarily going to be the best air compressor to use if you're a contractor or professional.

We have very carefully chosen the air compressor brands that we carry to only provide you with the best of the best and top of the line brands. We hope this helps eliminate confusion and makes choosing an air compressor a little easier. To start, you MUST buy a from a reputable brand, this is why we only carry compressors from best in industry names such as Ingersoll Rand, Rolair, Jenny, and Eagle.

This air compressor buying guide will give you all the information you need to know to choose the best air compressor for your needs. Here's a quick chart that allows you to visualize the main factors to consider.

Best Air Compressors Chart

Let's start with some helpful definitions.

Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) - pounds per square inch is a measurement of air pressure that is delivered by an air compressor. The higher the number the higher the volume of air that can be compressed into a tank.

Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) - Cubic feet per minute is the volume of air delivered in one minute of an air compressor running at it's optimal conditions. There are several different CFM ratings out there but make sure you are looking at the delivered CFM as that is the actual volume of air that will reach the end of your hose and your tools.

What grade of air compressor do you need?

Air compressors fall into 3 general categories or grades.

Consumer level air compressors which are small units and are useful for inflating tires, sports balls, and running air tools with low volume and PSI requirements. Typically consumer grade air compressors have a maximum PSI of 135 and 7 CFM or below. They are usually fairly light-weight, portable, and small in size, not taking up a lot of room.

Professional or Contractor grade air compressors can power air tools with greater PSI & CFM requirements and even multiple air tools at the same time. They come in a wide range of styles, ranges of portability, and ability to deliver different volumes of air. These are typically used by contractors, auto shops, and other tradesmen. These machines are more durable and can take more wear and tear.

Industrial air compressors are the highest grade of machines out there. They have advanced features and can deliver the highest needed air flow for extended periods of time.

Is a portable or stationary air compressor best for you?

Make sure to consider whether a stationary or portable unit is going to be the best air compressor for your needs long term, not just what you need the machine for today. Considering the portability of your air compressor is a very important factor to think about as the range and ease of portability of air compressors varies greatly between machines. Stationary units aren't made to be transported at all - but instead should sit in your garage or shop. Hand carry units on the other hand are extremely portable and light, well for an air compressor that is. They are made to be carried from job sites or work locations and easily stowed away or stored. Finally, wheeled air compressors are somewhere in the middle. While not as light as hand carry units they are much more portable than a stationary air compressor. They can be wheeled from here to there and can be lifted into and out of a truck, though you may need two guys depending on the unit you choose. As you might imagine the more portable the machine, typically the less power and air flow it's going to push. With that said, there are some very powerful portable machines that may work for you. Shop our selection of portable air compressors.

How much air flow or CFM do you need?

CFM or cubic feet per minute is the most important factor to consider when buying an air compressor. It tells you how much air the compressor can deliver and if it will in fact power the tools you need it to. You want to make sure you are reading the delivered CFM and not any other number or the displaced CFM. Delivered CFM is what actually makes it to your tools and the only reliable number to consider. Here at Air Compressors USA we always provide the delivered CFM so there is no guess work on your part.

To determine your CFM needs examine the tools you plan to use. Find the tool with the largest CFM needs and multiply by 1.5. This will give you a nice buffer to ensure you have plenty of air power and may even allow you to power large tools in the future.

If you are going to be running more than one air tool off of your compressor at the same time you need to consider the air needs of all the tools you may operate simultaneously. To do this, add up all the CFM needs of all the tools you plan to operate at the same time. Most lower grade or consumer models are made to only operate a single tool at a time but commercial or contractor grade machines can power multiple tools.

Best Portable Compressors

Here are some of our expert recommendations for common uses for portable compressors.

Best Pancake Compressor

Iron Horse 6 Gallon 2 HP Pancake Compressor

Iron Horse Pancake Compressor

This little workhorse is perfect for your garage or shop. It delivers 2.5 CFM at 90 PSI, has a 6 gallon tank, and a 2 horse power engine. You will be hard pressed to find another pancake compressor that can deliver these numbers and it is affordably priced at $199. 

If you need to run several roofing or framing guns at the same time: Rolair 4090HK17

The Rolair 4090HK17 is the best air compressor for running several nail guns at the same time. It is a wheelbarrow style machine so you can easily

Rolair_4090HK17load it into the back of your truck, though it is heavy so you should have two guys to load and unloaded it, but it is highly portable and easy to get from job site to job site. This unit delivers 9.3 CFM at 90 PSI and can run 3-5 framing guns or 4-7 roofing guns at the same time. The 5.5 HP Honda engine that comes standard with automatic idle control meaning your fuel will go farther and your compressor will last longer. This is our top pick for framing and roofing contractors.


Click here to shop the Rolair 4090HK17

If you need a super quiet air compressor to run your trim or finish guns: Rolair JC10

Sometimes you need a super quiet air compressor so you can carry on a conversation while you're working. The Rolair JC10 is only 39lbs and the quietest air compressor we've come across. It delivers 2.35 CFM at 90 PSI and is only 60 decibels loud, quieter than the average television or vacuum cleaner. This is an oil-

Rolair JC10less and compact compressor, meaning it's easy to carry, store, and maintain. This is a perfect little unit for running trim or finishing nail guns.

Click here to shop the Rolair JC10.

Below is our cheat sheet which contains the most important elements in choosing an air compressor listed in order of CFM from lowest to highest.

This table is best viewed with a device with a large screen, either a tablet or computer, not a phone.

Air Compressor


Power Type

CFM @ 90 PSI

Tank Size



Jenny AM780-HC4V
Hand CarryElectric4.1 @ 100 PSI4 GallonNone$636
Rolair 5715K17WheelbarrowElectric7.39 Gallon12 Month$899

Rolair 5520K17A


Electric7.320 Gallon12 Month$1,159

Rolair 5520MK103A




20 Gallon

12 Month


Rolair 4090HMK103/20


Gas8.720 Gallon12 Month$1,099

Rolair 4090HMK103

WheelbarrowGas8.79 Gallon12 Month$1,035

Rolair 4090HK17

WheelbarrowGas9.39 Gallon12 Month$1,099
Rolair 4090HK17/20WheelbarrowGas9.320 Gallon12 Month$1,191
Rolair 6590HK18WheelbarrowGas13.89 Gallon12 Month$1,199
Rolair 1040HK18WheelbarrowGas14.39 Gallon12 Month$1,506
Rolair 7722HK28Wheelbarrow
Gas17.09 Gallon12 Month$1,635
Rolair 8422HK30WheelbarrowGas20.19 Gallon12 Month$1,759